Yo, I wore leggings out in the world today for the first time in years. Like literally years, like from before I had my first orgasm is probs the last time I wore leggings in the street. Most days when I step out of my house I make sure that the contours of my silhouette are grid-like, smooth, confined to lines like the streets of my city. Straight-leg men’s cut black jeans, button-down shirts, fitted caps and kicks all equal my bouncy butch armor. Nothing about these singular items of clothing are connected to any one gender presentation. For me and only me, they signify protection and deflection. In these clothes, I’m able to control who sees what of me and when. I don’t want anyone to see parts of my exposed flesh just because I’m walking down the street. That makes me uncomfortable, makes my skin itch like whoa, and I’m stressed to the ends wondering who’s seeing what and wishing I was in control. Form-fitting feels different than tailored and my form is something I’m super protective of — so why the fuck did I decide to wear leggings today?
The proportions of my body seem so out of sync with the measurements of the clothes-buying world. I’ve got stubby chunky legs, thick thighs, small hips, a beer belly, DD breasts that deflate and inflate with the seasons and a soft back that curves like my grandmother’s did. None of this is bad. Matter of fact, alone in my room, I do the body-worship dance. But motherfuckers don’t make clothes for my round body-worshipping ass. Ok, fine, talk to me about tailoring, talk to me about this one website that has 30% off on all their button downs and I’ll still show you a person (ME) that can’t get all that together and still function in my daily life. I’ve only got so much time, jeezus christ, can some of these deals come with an assistant? Also, I’m picky and don’t want to look like a boxy stud in a tuxedo. Men’s clothing rocks. I love it all but but but what about my soft everything? Shopping for clothes gives me anxiety for eight million reasons and then I found this pair of black leggings with badass gold zippers and all that shit in my brain got quiet for a minute and then I paid for them and here we are.
I wore the leggings with a black “Girl in a Coma” t-shirt, an unbuttoned black and grey button down, and silver and black kicks. Looking myself over in the mirror, I remember thinking, “Damn, I got a fat booty.” Mostly I just notice my gut, especially when I’m resting beers on it but this morning it was all about the butt. And then I was all, “Haha, I’m a fat-booty butch in leggings.” This is my life. This is my early-morning I-haven’t-thought-about-the-patriarchy-or-white-privilege-yet, getting-ready-for-work thought process. But shit was weird the second I hit the block.
Real quick: I feel like I’m constantly navigating multiple worlds. There’s the straight, mad-aggro hyper-hetero man world, a.k.a. the patriarchy, and then there’s the world with all my queermos and then there’s mad other worlds probably that I don’t fuck with cuz I’ve only got so much time and so many heartbeats. On a regular day, a day where I’ve got my “brown butch thing” down, I’m a fly ghost in the world of men. They don’t comment on me or the shape of my body nor do they hold open doors or even pretend I exist. I am 100% okay with that all of the time. If anything, I catch two things. I get the, “Oh why are you a man-dyke?” bullshit or the, “Holy shit, you’re a dyke?! That means I can objectify EVERY WOMAN EVERYWHERE with you, right?!”. I normally dodge all of that bullshit like a pro. Thank you iPhone earbuds, thank you real books made out of paper, and thank you side-eye I’ve perfected since birth.
Leggings apparently set off the switches for men that have nothing better to do than ogle bitches on the corner. I live and work in the hood and there are beautiful thick-bottomed women everywhere. EVERYWHERE. They’re as common and as celebrated as Coco Helado carts.
So I don’t know why my B-rate, wide flat butt caught any dude’s attention but the eyes of men were upon me. Gag. Like fucking gag. I knew I’d made a wardrobe error of sorts when the first dude I passed on the train platform was like, “Nice booty, girl.” I wanted to unzip my skin and wear something else. Just the fact that my thighs and behind were on semi-display seemed to make it okay for men to comment on them. I caught my homeboy, a dude that’s called me his “little brother,” gazing at my body when I picked up the keys I’d accidentally dropped on the floor. Yo, what? Also, cis-brown-bro-dudes opened doors for me like all of a sudden I was a person to them. It felt so weird — like a gift that was two shades away from being something I wanted. It felt good but weird and insincere and totally dependent on the amount of ass they were allowed to see via me. Where does one return a gift like that?
But none of this is new. Women-identified folks, trans identified folks, and queermos of all types write about this shit all the time. But me, I’m just used to being Queermo the Friendly Ghost, floating unobserved in the world of cis-men.
The flip-side of this non-feminist cis-dude bullshit is that all of a sudden I felt cut off from the soft and beautiful underworld inhabited by everyone else — decent, open, non-aggressive people, often queer, often femme-identified, at least in my experience. I feel like my butch/hood-esque presentation provides an almost all access pass. Instead of checking that privilege, I’ve just been 100% down for it and expectant of it. It’s like those are sometimes the only moments I get in real life where I’m not a ghost, where I’m included in real life and my opinion, my smile, my self is worth something to others. All of a sudden the presentation that makes my mother so nervous, that makes people wonder why I’m at a baby shower or what bathroom I’m gonna use is giving me a moment of shine. It’s an actual existence. Queers and weirdos can spot me a mile away and for some I’m a safe space to gush about a secret girlfriend or the good old “I see you, you see me” homo head nod. The speakeasy undertones of my queer existence are so badass, I love the code-switching and the acknowledgment of my existence from others like me.
But in leggings, HOLY SHIT, the difference was/is huge, ginormous. I felt as awkward and out of place as I did when I was a lonely ugly queer in high school. Not one person from any of my worlds reached out to claim me. Where did everyone go? Why did leggings make me this other invisible thing? Now granted, I didn’t feel like my usual confident self but something else was off.
How do leggings negate butch? How did they negate me? Obvs what makes me who I am lies past fitted caps and side shaves, and runs deep between hair follicles and skin cells but…but? I forgot how connected my identity is to everyone else. I know there’s this idea of the shmoozy butch: the one chick in men’s clothing that acts like they’re Don Draper, Lesbian Jesus’s gift to queerkind, and the orgasm-giver during the holidays. I’m not that person. Even if you think I am, I’m not. I just wanna make good and radical people smile, feel loved, feel present. I know what I look like. I’m a fucking welcome sign for all queers within a 20-mile radius of me and I like it. I’m proud of it. I just wanna say “hey girl” to you and to your people and also say “hey human” to all those who don’t go by ‘girl’ cuz I’m down for you and I mean it. I’m that person and holy shit how come it wasn’t as easy to be that person in leggings?
What is it about femininity that makes people hate on a queer? On a person? Confession: I’ve kinda dismissed femme-invisibility. I always kinda thought “femme invisibility” was some bullshit, like bullshit enough to use quotation marks whenever I mentioned it. Sometimes, I’m a fucked up humanoid living in my own world and totally checked out to things that aren’t my life. Me acknowledging something doesn’t make it all of a sudden valid, it makes me all the more ready to stand up and feel frayed by humanity, by my own oblivion, by a shred of privilege I try to ignore cuz everything else is so much bigger. I always unfortunately translated femme-invisibility as a holler thang aka something that has to do with your ability to get hollered at, to get flirted with, to get your shine on. I didn’t equate FI with fucking community. COMMUNITY. Community is the thing we all need to survive.
Glad I keep my asshole thoughts to myself and unpack them there first because people would literally be slapping me all the time. I’m stunned by the intensity of ingrained misogyny and it’s mine, it’s all my shit. Inwardly dismissing other people’s experience as not that serious because it didn’t pertain to my immediate life was some lazy, sexist, bullshit non-radical thinking. I’m not about that. The fight to always exist in equity with others, to be an ally through actions and not lip-service, create solid communities, live a life filled with genuine acts of social justice, starts with me checking myself. All the time, every day, every time something fucked up or too new flows through my skin, it’s my job to figure out who I’m really serving by holding on to said beliefs/words/emotions. Why do I use the word “queer”? Why do I call myself a “woman/person of color” when my grandma called us Puerto Ricans and Spanish? Why do I think femmes have it easy? Why do I want more spaces to be QPOC only? Shit is real.
One day of wearing some damn badass black leggings gave me an ice bath of hyper-visibility to straight men and immediate exclusion from the comfort of the worlds I inhabit: queer, female, butch. In leggings, all of a sudden, I had no access to la famiglia. I can’t imagine social interactions/life always being that way. How are my people surviving out there? So many of us don’t have any community where we live, no matter how we present or identify.
Leggings may be the fun, wildcard, attention-grabbing aspect of this piece but like shit, I’ve gotten all the way to the end and I’m like “damn it’s not even about the leggings”. Leggings played a part in affecting my gender presentation but what I’ve learned is that my connection to and understanding of the queer community must be continuously updated. Public speakeasy-like code switching acknowledgment is one very important aspect of feeling connected to community. I’m lucky enough to live in a city where that happens frequently and now I’ve got to consistently step my game up. When there’s something I don’t understand or a group of people that I consider to be part of my community but I don’t know anything about their needs or wants or the foundation of their social justice struggle, I need to step back. Step back and reevaluate, find a discussion or a forum that’s open and go and keep my mouth shut and just listen. listen, respect, and then listen some more. I need to read words from the mouths of activists, write down the things that will make me a better human, and with great humility talk to people, not probe them or humor them, but stand there and give every ounce of compassion, empathy and humanity that I have.
Will I ever wear leggings again? Yo, thank La Virgen, that I bought two pairs because yes, leggings.
Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” column exists for individual queer ladies to tell their own personal stories and share compelling experiences. These personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.