We all have periods of time in our lives when we find ourselves conforming to an identity or a style that isn’t quite… us. Maybe we know it at the time, or maybe we don’t figure it out ’til later. You know those pictures you show your friends and they’re like “WOW! You were really different!” or “Is that even you?” or “man, that looks like a totally different person!” This seems to happen a LOT with queer people, as we try out different presentations. It has happened a lot with the staff of this website, even! Allow us to show you.
Las Vegas, NV – 2002
I was in undergrad at the University of Michigan, where most of my friends were sorority girls from rich suburban (Chicago / New York / New Jersey) families and I was the weirdo. I met my boyfriend at my waitressing job. He went to a different school, and his Great-Aunt and Great-Uncle, who’d raised him, lived in Vegas, so this picture is from our summer trip out there. We went out there a lot. I wasn’t old enough to drink yet but somehow I managed these drinks. I think the next day we went to a giant porn store and had lunch at Hooters.
I was trying my best to be as normal and as boring as possible then. Like I flattened out everything about my personality that made me different — I played down being smart, I played up being sexual in a specific way that was attractive to frat boys, I went to the sports games and concerts that my boyfriend wanted to go to and pretended like there weren’t any concerts or readings I’d want to go to, if anybody had asked me what I wanted, which nobody did. I wanted my life to be as easy as the lives that surrounded me, but it never did.
Molly P, Contributor
These are from my time as a person who tried to look as much like a “girl” as I could for things like prom and my sister’s wedding, etc., because I was really starting to understand how different I was from all my gal friends. (Well, not all, but that came later.) The prom picture on the left with the black-and-white flowered dress is from my senior prom, and my date, a boy, got another girl pregnant that night. Bullet-dodging skills: 10/10. I love femmes, and I love how they dress, but I feel itchy and uncomfortable in those trappings myself. I wore a tailored suit to my wedding.
Kayla, Staff Writer
Washington, D.C. – 2009
So, this photo was taken on the day when I convinced my mom to let me and my best friend skip school to drive up to D.C. to attend a Senate Finance Committee hearing on healthcare. I had a pretty serious political/NPR/CSPAN/”I want to be the President Of The United States” phase, which like, fine. BUT WHAT AM I WEARING? AND WHY AM I LITERALLY STANDING ON THE FRONT STEPS OF THE SUPREME COURT? THIS IS TOO MUCH. If you look closely, you will note I am wearing a push-up bra. Not pictured: The fake glasses I also wore during this phase.
Midlothian, VA – 2010
DID WE ALL HAVE A PHASE WHERE MOST OF OUR PERSONALITY WAS JUST LIKING THE MOVIE INCEPTION? DID IT HAPPEN TO CORRESPOND WITH OUR BLUNT BANGS PHASE? Please tell me I am not alone here. Also, if you’re wondering why the Inception poster is…in my mouth…I have zero answers for you. But I did post this photo approx 7 times on tumblr.
Ann Arbor, MI – 2010
I went through a bit of an identity crisis when I first started college (mainly because I realized on some level that I wanted to date women but kept that repressed af), which led to me deciding to be a super girly girl at a Big 10 school who unironically loved attending football games and school spirit. Eventually, I figured out yellow was not a very good color on me and that I hated football games and that frat parties are terrible.
Erin, Staff Writer
Columbia, SC – 2005
Look at the smile on me in this picture. Jesus, look at the fleece zip up. I’m willingly at an American football tailgate in this picture. Time really has a way, doesn’t it?
Maree, Staff Writer
New York, NY – 2009
I was about to graduate college, and took a spring break trip to New York City — which I had dreamed about living in for years, but had only ever visited once for 8 hours. I hated it, moved there anyway, and finally gave up on the basic bitch pompadour two years later.
Houston, Texas – Cool Gay Youth from 2008-2010
So when I talk about myself in high school, I usually skip to the part where I was really into convincing everyone that I was straight and white and looked like a girl who loves horses (see next photo set). But I want to redeem myself by mentioning that there was, in fact, a time in high school when I was myself – that is, very very gay without knowing. Look at that too-small Shane blazer! I hadn’t even seen The L Word because I was a freshman in high school, but I just knew in my soul that it was the best gay heartbreaker accessory. And would you just look at that haircut! It’s really hard to have long hair that screams “I am so gay and if you mistake me for anything else that’s on you” but that’s exactly this Alex Vega-level of hairstyle is doing. And then, things took a turn for the weird big belt buckle!
Houston, Texas – Miss Teen Texas from 2010 -2012
Who is this girl? Where did she come from? Why did she abandon her previously cool, gay ways to look like a star-spangled beauty pageant princess? I went to a performing arts high school, so I really didn’t have to look like this. My high school had no dress code. We could wear whatever we wanted. Everyone was gay and artsy. So what happened here? Honestly, I think it was a rough patch of intense assimilation. I was dating someone who came from a wealthy, white oil-money family and I was trying to mold myself into an acceptable image for the family in that relationship. Also I went to a really fancy theatre summer camp with a bunch of rich kids who had already performed on Broadway during this time, so I knew that I’d have to look like them if I wanted to hang in any capacity. It was a brief stint of trying to be rich and white, but wow, it was just long enough to really internalize some of that stuff into the sneakiest, hidden parts of me. Tbh I’m just glad that I can look at this picture now and laugh.
Valerie Anne, Contributing Writer
New York City, NY – 2006
I was in a sorority in college. I met a lot of girls I became really close friends with, and we had a lot of interests in common, but I couldn’t help but feel different sometimes. (Spoiler alert: Despite my best efforts, I was gay and they weren’t.) So I tried to be like them, I tried to like dressing up like they did; I let them do my hair and makeup and pick out dresses for me. I tried to like boys like they did, I tried to like drama like they seemed to. I hadn’t figured out that I prefered pants to dresses – and that it was okay. I hadn’t figured out my style, but I know it’s not little black dresses and silver cross necklaces. Not for me. Not anymore.
London, England – 2009
Three years later, still hadn’t figured out that it was okay if my style was not baby blue and floral prints. I have a feeling I let my friends dress me here, too. Skirts like this looked so cute on my friend! They’re just not for me. As fun as it was to color coordinate with the Tower Bridge, I’ve embraced my jeans-and-chucks life, and have unlearned my mother’s rule that women have to wear dresses to be dressed up.
Carrie, Staff Writer
Beverly Hills, CA – 2011
Like many a music major before me, I wound up working for an arts organization after college, which meant attending a ton of donor events — AKA charming rich white people into coughing up cash so that less wealthy white people can play music by even whiter people for their entertainment. This photo came from one such event, held at (naturally) a mansion in Beverly Hills. I felt itchy and uncomfortable the whole time, and not just because I didn’t have my formal wear/gender presentation game on lock yet. You’ll note, also, that this was at the height of my Scarf Phase. The glasses/Chucks combo points to a more hopeful era ahead. (I now use that scarf as a pocket square.)
Victoria, BC 2009
This was back when I was a baby gay and REALLY wanted everyone to know, hence the short spiky hair which is not exactly the gender expression that fits me best, even though it was fun for awhile. My (gay) friend Cristian and I did a trip to the big city Vancouver from the small city Victoria we were living in, which is where this picture was taken. Look how excited we were to find a gay section at the Rogers video rental store (remember those places??) Ah, back when going out to gay bars and seeing other queer people on the street was a thrilling experience. Now I live in Vancouver a few blocks from the gaybourhood and it’s no big deal. Also, I now identify as bisexual, but that’s a whole other story.
Halifax, NS, 2010
Also still rocking the super short boyish hair in this photo, but with more of a lesbian hippie vibe now. This picture was taken on a camping trip to McNabs island just off the coast of Halifax, where I had moved to do a Master’s degree and also where I got my first serious girlfriend! I am pretend pouting in this photo since I had attempted to make a spider dog over the campfire with the veggie dogs I had brought along and it turns out that only works with real meat. These days I’m no longer vegetarian, so there goes another lesbian stereotype down the drain.
Cameron, Saturday Morning Cartoonist
Cleveland, OH – 2009
Senior prom. I wasn’t out yet really, just to a couple friends. I was trying to impress the first love of my life by wearing a dress. Y’know to prove to her (and everyone in my class, really) that I could be pretty because then SURELY I’d get the girl. I attended her wedding a few weeks ago, if you’re wondering how that plan worked. She and her wife looked lovely and I did not wear a dress.
Syracuse, NY – 2010
Like many a baby gay before me, I decided to try drag. Drag! An art that is confident and sexually charged and set to culturally relevant music, all things I decidedly am not! But you know. You go to college and you try things to figure out who you are. You do things because you can. Sometimes you have an unfortunate chinstrap/goatee hybrid. Sometimes you take dollars out of an RA’s mouth. Sometimes both of these happen and you know in your heart drag isn’t for you, but you do it once a year for another three years anyway. You turn out way more boring than your college photos suggest. It’s okay.
Carolyn, NSFW Editor & Literary Editor
Northern Ontario – 2004 (?)
This photo of me at a cottage was probably taken in grade 10, but it could have been taken at almost any point in high school. I did not know what to do with my appearance when I was younger, because of a lot of internalized misogyny that told me girls could be smart or pretty but not both and that I couldn’t be pretty anyway and that smart girls did not care about clothes and it was better to not try than to try and have people make fun of you for it, and anyway I hated my body so much already and not engaging with how it looked was one way to erase the fact that it even existed at all. Instead of letting anyone think my body might deserve to feel good or take up space in the world or that I might care, I wore: ill-fitting jeans, usually bought in threes; t-shirts, crew or v; my hair in a ponytail almost exclusively (note the elastic line, and the scrunchy stolen from a dance costume around my left wrist); and, um, white socks paired with black foam platform sandals, apparently. I hate myself a lot less now. I also wear none of those things.
Montreal – 2010
Vaguely asymmetrical highlighter-blonde hair, purple cardigan, v-neck t-shirt or sweater, earrings that looked like neon Smarties. I like to think of myself as someone who never had a baby gay phase but this university-era photobooth take is firm evidence to the contrary.
Sarah, Business & Design Director
Poplar Grove, IL – 2001
I tried on a lot of different looks in high school and this particular look was from the year that I became close friends with POC for the first time in my life. My friend group consisted of Bosnian, Bengali, Pakistani, and Mexican friends who referred to ourselves as “The Amazing Brown Kids”, ABK for short. I started wearing a darker shade of lipgloss, beanies, zip up hoodies and hoop earrings.
Poplar Grove, IL – 2003
Pictured: Pure Catherine Zeta-Jones mania. What you see behind me is a very small piece of what I called “My Catherine Wall” which was basically hundreds of magazine clippings wallpapering my room. If you can believe it, I had no idea I was a lesbian. Perhaps the Jennifer Lopez inspired pink-velour tracksuit makes it markedly obvious. Don’t worry, I eventually figured it out.
KaeLyn, Staff Writer
Sheridan, NY – 1994
The year of budding puberty and shorts that are somehow too long and too high and too wide all at the same time. The 90’s were a weird time, ya’ll.
Jamestown, NY – 2000
My senior year of high school, I placed 3rd runner up in the Lakewood Area Junior Miss Pageant, which was a scholarship pageant, OK? There was a dance/athleticism section and a talent section and a pageant walk, but no swimsuits and you had to have a certain GPA to compete. I wrote a speech about how my family was a quilt..or something. I also embarrassed myself by literally breaking down into a happy sobbing fit on stage because I was so overwhelmed with teenage feelings and I have forever since had empathy for every person who loses their shit melodramatically on reality TV. Anyways, this is a thing I did and yes, I styled my own hair for the gown portion. I was lucky number 13 (see handwritten felt patch) and our opening dance number was to Beauty and the Beast’s “Be Our Guest.” We were the dinner plates; we had to wear pink leotards and plastic cutlery on our heads. Very classy. To be honest, the other contestants were some of the funniest, smartest, most badass girls I’d ever met in high school. I was on the precipice of figuring out who I was and who I wanted to be and bonding with a bunch of equally overachieving young women from other schools was exactly what I needed. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only queer one in the bunch, now that I think about it…
Laura M, Staff Writer
NY – 2012
I went to Santacon a couple (few?) times in the years right after I graduated college. Not proud. Would definitely not attend now.
Laneia, Executive Editor
Albuquerque, NM – 2008
I’d come out a couple of years prior and had just recently moved in with my first girlfriend, so I definitely thought I needed to look ‘gayer’ than before. What you’re seeing here is me at 27 years old in camouflaged cargo pants-turned-(long)-shorts, weird spiky hair and no bra. Not a sustainable look. The truth is that my presentation pre-2008 was 100% more authentic than this embarrassing attempt to butch myself up, bless my heart.
Alexis, Staff Writer
Marriott for Prom – 2010
I was pretending to be very straight and I think the photographer may have known that wasn’t the case.
Reneice, Staff Writer
New York, NY – 2010
This was my 21st birthday dinner. I was still chemically straightening my hair which makes me look way older, and generally making a lot of style and lifestyle choices that didn’t reflect my true self. I wasn’t out which had a lot to do with it, and was also just ignorant of other options and aesthetics at that point.
Priya, Staff Writer
Yorba Linda, CA – 2012
This was my closest childhood friend’s wedding. I was out of college, finally out to myself and was just out of my first real relationship with a girl. I was still wearing makeup and straightening my hair, neither of which I do anymore. Despite having wanted to cut my hair short for a long time, it wouldn’t be until another year and a half after this photo was taken that I would. OH, and I was wearing a sari, a traditional Indian outfit for women. I present masculine of center now, so I wouldn’t be caught dead in one of these (even though I love that it’s so pretty and colorful!)
Raquel, Staff Writer
Austin, TX – 2013
I think this picture may be a little different than many, in that rather than being “not myself” because I was Not Straight, here I am not myself because I am trying so, so hard to look gay. I was newly out, had just broken up with my first girlfriend, and in trying to find another girlfriend I worked hard to fit the image in my head of who I was supposed to be as a Queer Lady. I cut off all my hair and drunkenly got it bleached like Megan Rapinoe (oh, sweetie). I did not figure out yet that you don’t need the suspenders AND the vest AND the tie AND the beanie, honey. My poor sweet mother looks appropriately happy about it. Now, this is what all my graduation photos will look like, forever.