True Confessions of a Queer Lisa Frank Enthusiast

Like questionable haircuts and the 1998 version of The Parent Trap, Lisa Frank is one of those things I’ve never outgrown. We had one falling out around 2004, when I entered high school and decided I would have nothing to do with anything I had enjoyed during the onset of puberty. I even went so far as to pretend to not like Star Wars when a cute girl started talking to me about it (literally shuddering as I type this). I have since learned the error of my ways, and Lisa and I were back in business when I went to college, where I learned that it’s okay to like things that were popular before 2001. In fact, it was kind of the cool thing to do, which was very convenient for a kid who was still replacing the batteries in her Tamagotchi.

Why am I rambling about Lisa Frank? Is it important that whatever made a series of craft supplies and stationery absolute crack in the nineties has not worn off for me yet? Does the fact that I have made $50 Ebay bids on a Lisa Frank backpack when I did not even have $50, represent a longing for my childhood, or a deep need to rediscover my innocence? Sure, maybe. But I’m all about Lisa Frank right now because of what she means to my understanding of gender, sexuality, and the fluid nature of both.

A great deal of dialogue in the queer community is rooted in testimony — “This is my coming out story,” “This is my experience as a lesbian, gay, trans*, etc. person” — and appropriately so. Because we don’t have a wide range of role models in the media or the more vocal parts of society, we need those testimonies to help each other, to build our community and make ourselves safer, better, and more knowledgeable.

One of the gay community’s favorite form of testimonial has to do with family and childhood and things that mainstream society considers “foundational” or “formative.” These factors are often cited as justification or reasoning for one’s current gendering and sexuality. A great example of this is Born This Way, a blog that posts pictures of queer people as children to demonstrate the timeline of their self-expression, and show that they were interested in feather boas or Tonka trucks since they were toddlers. This is frustrating to me for a number of reasons, chiefly that dialogues of “proof” are a) beside the point and b) limiting us to already constructed notions for what masculine and feminine can be. This also enforces the idea that gender identity is not fluid, but instead something that can be seen as a static position we show signs of even as children.

I am a masculine-presenting dyke. We’re talking fledgling bowtie collection, always trying to outdapper myself, closet full of boys’ clothes, give me the mens discount haircut dyke. I still rock the glitter and a few more outlandish pieces because why not, but for the most part, people would read me as Butchy McButcherson.

via my nana’s albums

This is me as a kid. Pink was my absolute favorite color and Lisa Frank was my whole life. I was all about being a princess and playing with my Barbies and pretending I was a mermaid. I don’t think I loved these things because I believed they were “girly.” I think I loved them because I loved anything that was bright and shiny. I was in dire need of a sparkle intervention. I also loved running around outside and pretending to be a Jedi and coming up with fantasy worlds where I was the warrior-hero. I was never without a sword or bow and arrow. I was into a lot of things not because they were boy things or girl things, but because they were things that made me happy.

Looking at images of myself as a child, I think most people would consider me a “girly girl,” and there’s nothing wrong with that. I can be a masculine-centered person now, and I don’t need to apologize for any other way I have ever presented in my life. I am completely unapologetic in all the ways in which I have ever been *not* masculine-presenting, because there is no need for me to prove to you that I am a queer person, that my gender presentation is masculine, or that it is something in need of justification or outside approval. If I pull on heels and do my eyebrows tomorrow, good for me. And good for all of us, because we need to accept every stage of ourselves and every new incarnation of ourselves. There is no right or wrong way to do gender, or to do your sexuality. Our Holiest Mother Shane said shit is fluid, amen.

And here’s a link to the Lisa Frank Store. Just because.


Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” 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.

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Hard-lovin' butch made of tears, sweat, and spit, in that order. Full-time writer, part-time lover, freelancing in fancy cheese and cider. Made in America but making a darn good life of it in Dublin, Ireland.

Kate has written 126 articles for us.

56 Comments

  1. Thumb up 2

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    The idea of pretending to NOT LIKE STAR WARS is horrific and scarring. What a difficult time.

    Great essay. I think there can be a lot of essentialism about being a “girly girl” or a “tomboy” associated with sexuality. I;m now a HUGE girly girl– but through most of my adolescence I hated clothes and shoes and all girly things because of the associations that went with them. Although Barbies and dress up clothes were a huge part of my childhood.

    thelingerielesbian.wordpress.com

  2. Thumb up 9

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    I adore this article. Pics of baby butch with pigtails is SO WIN.

    Lisa Frank anecdote: Last year I worked at a summer camp, to which I brought my rainbow-strapped Lisa Frank lunch box (with this design, for your reference: http://i53.photobucket.com/albums/g63/Tameisha1/Lisa%20Frank/LisaFrankKittens.jpg
    At this camp the counselors go by nicknames, and the kids have an insatiable urge to find out your real name. My lunch box had “Lisa Frank” written in several places, and my 8 year olds were convinced they had uncovered my identity as such. Shouts of “I KNOW FOXHOUND’S REAL NAME! IT’S LISA FRANK!!” echoed across the lawn, thus making all my childhood dreams come true.

    But srsly, can’t get over the love I have for those baby pics and they way they AFFIRM your current gender expression and identity as a human being, rather than detract from it, or become something you feel you have to explain away. I was a cute kid, and now I’m a cute lesbian. Problem solved.

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      that story is so adorable but also so very sad because those children obviously never knew the joy of lisa frank :( her popularity died out around 2002-03 which makes me feel super duper old.

      and yes! i totally love seeing people’s kid pictures because i like seeing the evolutions from adorable baby to babealicious babe. we’re all totally amazing gorgeous creatures no matter how we’re expressin’ it, that’s the only explanation i need.

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        I eventually had The Lisa Frank Talk with my campers but they just.. didn’t understand. I held a moment of silence for that bygone era.

        However, my gender identity/expression will henceforth be known as “babealicious babe,” so when one door closes, you know. Thanks bringing that terminology into my life.

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        I’m 15, I fucking loved Lisa frank my entire life. I was like :0 oh pretty colors. And I don’t know maybe the smell of the stationary packaging. Or something. I had Lisa frank everything. I was In a word, OBSESSED.

  3. Thumb up 5

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    This is awesome! Although I’m not much of a Lisa Frank fan, I love what you’re saying about gender expresssion. I always feel a weird mix of undeserved guilt and embarassment when people see pictures of me as a kid in my dress-up clothes or comment on even my current expression (wearing cargo pants one day, a sundress another). I think it nags at me because I’m one of those weird in-betweeners hovering somewhere between butch and femme that no one can quite put their finger on (har har).

    I am still paralyzingly insecure about gender expression, but every time I read an article like this, I feel slightly more secure in my bizarre gender expression that no one but me seems comfortable with. I think if you can bid $50 on a Lisa Frank backpack, I don’t have to feel guilty about splurging on more cargos and simultaneously, more O.P.I.

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        Thank youuuu, that’s kind of amazing to hear! They ARE both practical! Cargos do not require me to tote around an annoyingly heavy purse (which I feel ridiculous carrying) and sundresses let my legs feel freeeee!

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      your gender expression sounds one hundred percent awesome because a) however you do you is absolutely perfect and b) who doesn’t love a lady who rocks the variety?

      i know dykes who feel straight up ASHAMED that they had a “femme stage” and it makes me so sad. there’s no reason for any of us to feel ashamed about anything we ever did with our body. like i said, i am superbutch but i used to femme with the best of them, even if it was kind of bad and my heels broke a lot because i didn’t know how to walk in them. i think the way that society demands that we “prove” we are not “normative” makes us feel bad for all the times when our appearance doesn’t directly refute that assumption, which is utter and complete bullshit, fuels femme invisibility and putting femmeness down when femmes are total GODDESSES. my rule is no shame ever, we are too awesome for that shit.

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        i was once ashamed with how “femmey” i was in high school, but it’s mostly because i wore unflattering clothes and just looked a little goofy.
        now i feel like i can accept it as a vital step in becoming stylish.

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        Kate, I so appreciate that! You’re right — rocking the variety is it’s own cool. Femmes are goddesses, and I think that gender expression is a beautiful thing. Truly, how freeing is it that we can be who we are on the inside on the outside? It may not be accepted, but I feel very lucky to have the confidence and independence to do so, even if — as I said before — I’m occasionally self-conscious about the fact that I don’t click into one label seamlessly.

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      This is me, too. I sometimes worry that my variability makes me not present ‘gay’ enough, but my wife LOVES the fact that I am both more butch (brought the power tools to the relationship) and more femme (can wear a dress) than she is. And, plus, if I’m worrying about not seeming gay enough – I have a wife. So there’s that.

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    There was an audible gasp at pretending not to like Star Wars.

    I had no idea there were Lisa Frank clothes. I loved Lisa Frank stuff when I was kid. It was all bright and shiny and had dolphins, you can’t go wrong with that.

  5. Thumb up 4

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    I AM SO GLAD YOU CAME OUT!!! As a Lisa Frank enthusiast, that is.

    I will always have a place in my heart for the bright and whimsical world of Lisa Frank. When I was little, my mom couldn’t afford the nice Lisa Frank pencil pouch or trapper keeper. BUT, I will never forget her buying me the plain colored, economy brand school supplies and helping me completely cover every singe one of them in a Lisa Frank sticker rainbow.

    Love this.

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    YES, this. There’s no need to prove you bucked gender norms as a kid in order to validate your later queer identity. Because gender and sexual orientation are separate things, even though the stereotype is that they’re always connected. I am way more femme now, bangin the ladiez, than my younger tomboy self who had a boyfriend. So what? We ought to let people of all ages express their gender and sexual orientation however they please, and permit their feelings and expressions to change. Shoot. In Our Holiest Mother Shane’s name I pray for this to come to pass, amen.

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    I can’t explain to you how happy I am that you wrote this, because I was and am the exact same way! I was a kid who loved Lisa Frank and basically anything bright and colorful (though, not sparkly things; that shit will NOT come off!) because it was captivating to me, while simultaneously I was a kid who loved to climb trees, experiment, and help my dad work on cars or build things. When I was first coming out, I really thought that I needed to somehow explain my childhood “girlishness” to everyone or otherwise hide it, because I had given into the notion that everyone thought that gay girls were exclusively super-mega-hardcore-tomboys as children, and “girly” or at least, in my case, moderately “girly” girls were always supposed to be heterosexual. I’ve since come to realize that that is definitely not the case, and I can’t thank you enough for writing about this. I hope this article helps other gay girls who are just coming out or trying to figure out their sexuality so that they don’t have to have the same misconception that I had.
    Thank you.

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      you are so totally welcome <3 i was totally clueless about this back in the day and it caused me so much unnecessary stress, i really hope that we can get the word out there so less baby queers have to go through even more hurt and hardship when they're figuring themselves out

      re: explaining the "girlishness", i did the EXACT SAME THING, especially since when i was coming out to most of my friends i was still pretty femme-presenting and was panicking about how to explain the fact that i used to *gasp* wear high heels and express attraction to men. i've since learned that it is totally not worth the worry and hell no to apologizing for anything involving your gender or sexuality.

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    Oh my gosh yes. Thank you. I was a “girly girl” when I was little too and loved fancy dresses and lacy socks and also playing with my barbies in the mud and digging up dinosaur bones and not once did I ever really think “this is a boy thing” or “this is a girl thing”. It was just about what made me happy. And that is all that should matter. Nowadays I think I overthink things, and I need to maybe just chill and enjoy myself. :)

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    This was a perfect article about gender expression, thank you! I think now that I’m actually dating a girl, I’m way more fluid with how I want to dress – (Hmm..4″ heels one day, but ladies love me in a tie so I’mma go with that tomorrow), but I’ve still never really been able to reconcile my appearance pre-high school. Now I realize that there’s nothing to reconcile because the way I dressed at the time came from factors that had nothing to do with my sexuality, whether repressed or open.

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    As someone who has ranged from bows and dinosaur shirts to LWLJB and back to skinny jeans, I appreciate this. I finally just got tired of trying to figure out how I feel like expressing myself and just started having fun with life and fashion.

    I have determined that I will never again look as cool as I did in this picture though.

  11. Thumb up 1

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    I can definitely relate – I feel naked without makeup, yet I can’t stand dresses or skirts. I feel ridiculous WITHOUT heels (seriously) and recently cut all my hair off.I flat out refused to wear a dress to my ball, but there’s no way I’m wearing a tux, I’d feel weird. (So that’s gonna be, uh, interesting.) But yes, slow clap.

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    This should be a whole section of autostraddle. I get so angry when people demand my gender expression be static. I also disagree with the idea that shiny, sparkley things are feminine. I should be able to like whatever I like and not be questioned as at the end of the day

    WHO DOESN’T LIKE SPARKLEY THINGS?!

  13. Thumb up 1

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    I think Lisa Frank should design a logo for all us girls with fluid gender expression. I have a distinct memory of trying to run away as a kid with nothing but an extra shirt and my box of Lisa Frank stickers because THEY WERE THAT IMPORTANT. I was the kiddo in a fancy dress shooting toy arrows Katniss-style in the backyard trying to rescue my princess. Still kind of am. Now I know I can thank Lisa Frank.

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    This was amazing because I felt odd about how I can go from femme to andro-femme in a drop of a dime. When I went out to party a former flame saw me in a dress when she met me in a blazer, tie and slacks and was like, “whaaa?”

    Drunk I was like, “IT’S FASHION NOT AN IDENTITY CRISIS, GAAAAAAAH!!!”

    That has been my motto ever since and I just like to wear things along all the gender spectrums that makes me feel and look confident and wonderful.

    Lisa Frank was my life in 4th grade, my life.

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    this article was such a pleasant surprise! i was expecting some sort of “things that are ironically cool are cool lololol” lightweight piece and instead there was clear discussion of complex things! i have read a lot of narratives where people felt repressed as children and, while those are needed too, this is a nice change of pace.

    also way to go autostraddle with all of these new-ish writers!

  16. Thumb up 0

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    I… I feel like I sleep-wrote an article and somehow got it posted on Autostraddle. I am also a butch-presenting queer lady who is still obsessed with Lisa Frank. Most days, I dress in cargo shorts, men’s v-neck, and plaid, but my computer is covered in Lisa Frank stickers.

    I am pleased to know I am not alone in this situation, and I am also pleased that you are now writing for Autostraddle, because you are awesome!

  17. Thumb up 1

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    I am also a Lisa Frank enthusiast, but I very much identify with this discussion of gender. I look more feminine but I don’t *feel* that feminine, and I hate it when people try to label me as femme because it feels like they’re trying to make me more feminine than I am (this is mostly straight people). Especially when gender is such a performance that really everyone is constantly in flux, how can anyone ever put a label on anyone else?

  18. Thumb up 1

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    Thank you for writing this, especially the bits about gender, which I think really needed to be said, but also thank you for reminding me that Lisa Frank exists.

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