Hi crush monsters, this is Straddler On The Street, a feature where I celebrate all of you incredible Autostraddle readers by hunting you down, demanding you chat with me, and then writing about you on the Internet so we can all crush on you. Get excited, because butterflies in your stomach 24/7 is a fantastic way to live.
Header by Rory Midhani
Straddler On The Mountain: Mel, 26
Full disclosure, Mel has been put in my cabin at A-Camp twice now (Blackheart Feelings Forever!), and I think she is the most darling, warm, amazing, bubbly human in the world. I might be a tiny bit biased, sure, but after you read this interview I have a feeling you’ll agree with me.
Mel works front of house at a hotel in Toronto, and you can tell from her friendly nature that she’s perfect for the job. I’ve watched her welcome new campers into her A-Camp cabin family, reach out to friends who looked like they needed a hug or a smile, and offer coffee to anyone able to wake up before the breakfast bell went off on Mount Feelings. Mel actually won the Kipper Clothiers campership this time around, and you’ll know why when you see her amazing style (seriously, can you even handle these outfits?!). We spoke about Toronto, working at a hotel, her Filipino family, and All The A-Camp Feelings.
Hi! What do you get up to every day?
As far as work goes, I’m a hotel receptionist. As far as day to day leisure goes, you can probably find me on my bicycle around the city, hanging with Straddlers or lesbos or family, thrift and vintage shopping and eating out or occasionally cooking. I have a very healthy relationship with cheese and ice cream. They should be taken out of dairy and put into their own food group.
Um, I totally support that. What is your favorite kind of cheese? And what is your favorite ice cream flavor?
Picking one favorite variety is like picking a favorite child. But at the moment, it’s gruyere cheese and roasted marshmallow ice cream from Greg’s Ice Cream – roasted marshmallow reminds me of s’mores and A-Camp.
Oh YUM. My favorite cheese is brie, but my family loves gruyere.
Melted brie, yes. Or plain, love it.
Backing up, can we talk about your job? You work at a hotel? Tell me more!
My job is fairly straightforward. I went to school for hotel management and work as a guest service agent/receptionist in the front office. I mainly check guests in and out and generally assist people with requests, reservations, suggestions for food, etc. Customer service in this capacity isn’t the best paying job, but I generally like the industry. I’ve met so many different people from everywhere and every walk of life. And I hope to travel more in the future… maybe out West. I kind of love Canada.
I also kind of love Canada!
I know! You lived here! Please come visit! I’ll take you to Sushi on Bloor!
I want Sushi on Bloor more than anything. Aside from Sushi on Bloor, where are the best places to eat and drink in the Toronto area?
Oh there are so many in so many different categories! I’ll name a few… Toronto is known for peameal bacon (Canadian back bacon sandwiches), and it’s best to get this at St. Lawrence Market at the Carousel Bakery. The staff that works there are plenty friendly too. If you are a meat eater, The Black Hoof is phenomenal. They’re mainly known for charcuterie since they cure their own meats, but they have small but fantastic fish dishes, raw horse sammies and cocktails. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, I like Fresh. It’s a local, casual chain downtown with delicious smoothies, great noodle and rice bowls and cute servers that are queer and queer friendly – I go for the food and cute girls, duh. And close to where I work there is a marvelous place called Lucien that focuses on food and ingredients that are local, artisanal and organic. Love. It.
Hm, so I just asked about Toronto but you currently live in Missasauga. Are you there because of work? Or do you prefer it to Toronto?
Most of my family is based in Mississauga. I have a rather large family here, specifically. I’m close to my family and extended family… it comes with Filipino culture and my general upbringing. Even though it’s a bit of a drag to commute to Toronto, I really like the area I live in. I plan on moving to Toronto in the next year, though. It’ll make life easier since I work downtown and most of my friends live in the city too.
That all makes sense. What are some of the most interesting things that have happened to you working at the hotel?
Best things I can tell you that won’t get me fired?
Haha, yes please.
My favorite perks are meeting genuinely friendly faces and occasional free passes to concerts. I can’t name names for privacy reasons, but making friends with tour managers, getting your name on VIP guest lists and drinking champagne with DJs and ambling home with little sleep at 8am then working that same afternoon later is pretty swell.
That sounds so cool!
Haha, that only happened once, but it was so fun! Conversely, there are some real pieces of work that come in.
I can imagine.
[A lot of them are] just regular people that think they’re the sun and the moon and expect you to move mountains for them. Big egos and little patience. But it comes with the territory. You need slightly thicker skin in front of house.
I’m always so embarrassed when people are jerks in public.
Right? That happened with a guest a few days ago. [They] kept cursing out my staff and I over something that wasn’t our fault and that we had no control over, in the middle of the lobby, in front of other staff and guests. We don’t mean to piss on your parade, [but] life happens!
Ahhhh, that sounds awful. I don’t think I have a thick enough skin to handle customer service – I prefer talking to you Straddlers, you are all so nice. Now, let’s talk style and gender presentation. How do you identify with regard to your gender and sexuality?
I mainly use queer to describe myself – [it is the term I am] most comfortable with – but gay or lesbian works too.
How would you define your style?
I’m a dapper femme.
How did your style evolve?
It has evolved gradually. Up to my early twenties I was more of a tomboy or t-shirt and jeans kind of girl. I still am at heart, but going to school and working downtown you’re exposed to different styles and backgrounds and such, so I’d pick up bits from the city in general.
Do you have any style icons?
My specific style icons are Jenna Lyons, Luca Rubinacci (bespoke menswear tailor, as seen in The Sartorialist and GQ), and now Esther Quek. I remember picking up one of my brother’s GQ magazines a few years ago, seeing Luca featured and thinking, “Wow, that man is handsome in those clothes!” I love the idea of mixing traditionally masculine and feminine clothing into one outfit, or even skewing one way or another on the daily.
Yes! One of the things I love about your style is the way you’re able to be super dapper one moment and then really femme the next. I think a lot of people struggle with that because they think they have to choose. Do you have any advice for people experimenting with different styles or trying to find the right style for themselves right now?
I say don’t be afraid of trying and failing with new styles ideas. Draw from what’s immediately around you – I started the dapper bit with stealing my dad’s neck and bow ties from his closet – and work your way out of that comfort zone. I have a smaller budget, so about half of the clothing I own is second-hand, upcycled, or vintage. It’s possible to have style on a budget – I did so as a college student.
Yeah, your style is so rad! Okay you knew this question was coming… do you have a celeb crush?
Anna Silk from Lost Girl. HOT. And Canadian, natch.
YUM. Now… can we talk A-Camp feelings?
Vanessa, you have opened the floodgates, damn you!
I am ready!
Kidding, they were ALWAYS OPEN. A-Camp has been the singular most extraordinary and life-changing experience in my life. Before camp, I was simply okay with being queer. I didn’t have a lot of queer female friends despite being in one of the most queer-accepting cities in the world. I was JUST fine. Then A-Camp 2.0 happened. I think a friend described it as something I never knew I needed, as taking your first breath of fresh air. The community and friendships fostered through Autostraddle and A-Camp, they’ve changed my life infinitely. There are so many cuties and hotties and interesting people at A-Camp! I’m a much happier and more confident person since camp empowered me as such.
I’ve also come out to the rest of my immediate family because of camp, and I guess to the rest of my extended family with this interview. I was met with resistance from some family members, and it still hurts, but I have to live my own life truthfully and proudly, no fucks to give.
I was going to ask about your Filipino roots, and how that background has impacted your queerness and/or your life experience.
I grew up in a mixed background, [with my] conservative Filipino Catholic, church-attending family – both my parents are Filipino immigrants – and my Canadian liberal roots. The whole Catholic Filipino conservative bit, and Catholic schooling through grade school and high school, probably kept me (poorly) in the closet for longer than I should have been. But I know I’m so fortunate [to have grown up] with the loving and supportive parents and family that I have, despite the stigma of homosexuality or the tokenizing of gays [that is] so typical within the Filipino community.
That is really good to hear – thank you for being so open with sharing that. Finally, how did you discover Autostraddle?
Either through an ex-girlfriend or by reading the recap of Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s “Telephone” video. Around early 2010.
Both excellent ways. Do you have anything else you’d like to say to the Autostraddle community?
Thank you. Simply thank you for providing this safe, queer, positive space. There are too few spaces online and in real life that provide this sort of community and experience.
*Bonus: Are you in love with Mel’s style? We are, too. That’s why we will be publishing a very special Style Thief featuring Mel in the not-so-distant future! Lizz is gonna help you steal her look, so get ready to be the dapperest femme on the block super soon.
If you would like to be featured as a future Straddler on the Street, please email vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com. Include a few photos, 3-5 sentences about yourself and put “Straddler Submission” in your subject line. Approximately a million people have submitted so far, so please be patient as Vanessa goes through her inbox — you’re all sexy with really smart brains, and don’t you forget it!