Monday Roundtable: I Was Not Myself Those Days

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.

Riese, Editor-in-Chief

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

Montana, 2000-2005
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.

Cecelia, Writer

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.)

Casey, Contributor

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.

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  1. My biggest one ended up quite metaphorical. I volunteered in a library full of quite bigoted women, went to uni and looked for office jobs. That was all my life was at the time. Obviously I was closeted in a place like that (they talked a lot about ‘not trusting’ lesbians as if merely being into women was a sign you might be a rapist & they would have lost it w any sense of transness). I lived in the colours black and white. Jeans & sportswear were banned. I felt I was transgressing as I never wore a dress but it was all suits & smart trousers & button down shirts & cardigans. Not me at all but I thought it said ’employable’. Im aspie & had no experience & nobody employed me. Anyway, I ended up ill w anxiety issues (thinking ‘how do I look’ all the time will do that) so gave up the hunt for the start of rat race & became a poet. Now I live in sportswear and jeans & it’s green, white & yellow not black & white. there’s more than one way to be butch so don’t let being afab stop you if you want to be a bit lazier w it. But all my regular clothes piled up by my bed. I didn’t want to open my wardrobe doors for ages. So for years my closeted & out of closet lives were quite literal.
    The slightly more fun one was, I had a crush on a neighbour. Essex boy footballer. I wanted to attract him by looking like a WAG. I dressed super femme & talked w a fake London accent (to be fair my dads from London). It was all short shorts & sexy t-shirts & bikinis. Not me at all but I don’t really regret it as it was fun and experimental. Im bi and i got a lot of attention even if not much came from him. (and before anyone thinks I’m super wealthy, he’s a championship player & I live w parents, it wasn’t beckham!)

  2. I am another one of those people who tried to look more gay in college! I went to an all girls college and I specifically remember everyone’s shock when I said I was gay and the “You can’t be gay, you don’t look gay” comments. All of that was ridiculous because I feel like most of the student body was either gay, bi, or bi-curious. Why did me having long hair mean I was straight? So during winter break I cut all my hair off and bought men’s clothes just to fit in more. That phase lasted from about 2003 to 2008. It took another 6 years, though, so really figure out what to do with my longer hair and what type of clothing I actually liked wearing. It’s still a learning process but I am at least closer to my ideal look than I ever was in high school, college or my mid-late 20’s.

  3. This is so good! And thank you for making me feel normal having taken some time to find my look!

  4. Oh wow, I love all of this so much!

    Last year, a queer organization in my city hosted a “Queer Prom”, essentially like a do-over for all us queermos who were not out when we actually went to prom (and also for all the teenaged queermos who WERE out and didn’t feel comfortable going to their school proms). I wore a button-up, a bow-tie, and a blazer, and had a BLAST. Before going out, I posted a side-by-side picture of my Queer Prom outfit with a picture from my high school prom, back in 2007, when I wore a baby blue strapless dress and had my hair up on a bouffant. Quite a stark difference.

  5. These are amazing, and now I really want to dig up those photos of me with long blonde hair and color-coordinated future-soccer-mom clothes posing next to my first serious boyfriend.

  6. I came out at 24 and most of these pictures are my early 2000s and now I’m weirdly uncomfortable and a little bit anxious

  7. Carolyn, I think you were just too advanced for high school. Those white socks paired with black foam platform sandals are top notch.

  8. I have never been as obsessed with fitting into the mold proposed by peer pressure as I was at 11, and thereby never as far from my True Self. And That Is Why I Think The Hogwarts Sorting System Is Wrong!!!!1

  9. “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” – oh no this is still me. Carolyn, congrats on evolving past this!

      • At first I couldn’t tell which one was Laneia in those pics and then I read “short wierd spiky hair” and I was like Ah ha! ? Def have also had a trying to butch it up phase, which for me consisted of vests and fedoras.

  10. There are very few existing pictures of me from high school and I’m glad! At the end of freshman year I decided I wanted short hair after always having had really really long hair. I also made the decision that my cousin was the right person to cut my hair and then I would attempt to maintain it by myself. I quite stubbornly cut my own hair for like 2 1/2 years before slowly trusting a professional to help me get it to something not atrocious. Even then it took a while cause I was terrible at communicating what I wanted, partially cause I just DIDN’T KNOW! But now I know that mid-ish length short hair doesn’t work for me, cause my hair is quite wavy/curly in unpredictable ways. Of course I also had awful “style” in combination with this awful hair cut. Like lowkey could have been cosplaying a clown some days.

  11. oh boy. i’m just now starting to realize that the inchoate sense of awkwardness and uncomfortable hyperawareness of my body — verging on dysmorphic territory — that was with me for most of middle and high school likely had a lot to do with the way i was dressing. the carefully curated and affected character of myself that i was playing wore a lot of impossibly tight skinny jeans and tall boots and dated a man. for most of that time i was obsessively aware of my body and the fact that i was being looked at, tugging on skinny jeans that threatened to split their seams when i sat down and adjusting ill-fitting push-up bras. i was affected and inauthentic, partly because that’s just how we all are at that age but also partly because i was trying to repress the lesbianism flickering in the corner of my field of vision, too vague to be discernible as what it was but strong enough to know that SOMETHING scary was hanging out in my subconscious that i didn’t want to engage with.
    which is all just a long-winded way of saying that when i look back at every picture of me taken before very recently, i look very obviously overly posed, awkward and uncomfortable in clothes that i never should have worn. which is also just a long-winded way of saying that i swapped all my bodycon dresses and painted-on jeans for sweaters and loose, thrifted levis, i’m currently dressed like 1970s fran lebowitz, and i am very happy and content.
    anyway, this roundtable was a delight to read.

  12. haha oh man, carolyn circa 2004 was high school me – except i wouldn’t have taken my hair down even for a picture.

    for me it was because i hated basically all women’s clothes (and couldn’t figure out why?? mystery???) but didn’t see any other option, so i wore whatever was the least intolerable, usually in the wrong size. it was pretty revelatory when i found out, however many years later, that i could have POSITIVE feelings about how i looked. just not in that.

    (i was also attempting to date a boy at the time, which worked out about as well, lol. prom pictures of us were Unfortunate.)

  13. “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” —- AUGH this was my pre-adult self too. so many scrunchie-supported ponytails and resolutely-non-girly clothes.

  14. This is me leaving work today. Grumpy ‘I don’t give a fuck, bu I want some cheese sticks face”. Oh, but I wasn’t always this amazing…

    Enter high school. I had this delusion that if I wore shirts 4X too large for me, then it would cover up my self-concious body shame. And check out those jean cargo shorts! Boy was I fashionable in Freshman year. And band camp to boot! Then for Sophmore year, I thought it would be so hip to shave my head and continue to wear shirts 10x too large for me. Notice any sense of trans or gayness yet? Me neither.

    Senior year. Mom kidnapped me and somehow got me to wear a colored shirt for Senior pictures. I visit my Grandpa and find this awesome pair of cargo pants at the Army Navy Store. I loved them so much I bought 4 identical pair and wore nothing but those pants for the next several years… You think I’m joking… But look! I’m on top of a fucking mountain and still found those pants! Cargo FOREVER BABY!

    For my study abroad program at 19-20, I decided to branch out a bit into the fashion world. Notice my white socks with yet more cargos and a fashionable maroon wind breaker! OR how about that graphic T-shirt over long underwear? Or hell! I even went to a national chess tournament in a graphic tee, and cargo shorts. Oh yes, I was destined for great things! Still no sign of gay or me being trans yet… hmmm.

    And here for good fun is me trying to adhere to stupid gender stereotypes and be fem. To be fair some days I do feel fem and do the whole dress thing. But mostly it’s just whatever. What I got from all this is: it’s crazy how little sign there was that I was trans growing up. Not sure. Off to eat pickles and bed. It’s a good combo, I promise.

    • I lived in cargo pants when I was a kid! But I also lived in the mountains, so it was kind of fitting. Also, I love your work outfit!

    • I can in some ways relate to this, more so the poor fashion sense. I think it took me until my mid 20’s to really improve. Now that I have plaid in my life I don’t want to go back!

      • The funny thing about plaid is… when I first transitioned, I gave away my entire wardrobe (which was mostly plaid) because “girls didn’t wear plaid”. Now, a year into transition, plaid has once again somehow taken over my closet. There’s just no denying what works ;)

        • Oh I know. I had a fellow straddler(who in the past was kind of famous around these parts) once ask if she can mug me for my plaid. It was 1am at a coastal bar, so no.

  15. Oh man this is equal parts hilarious and comforting. Because y’all I am in One Of Those Phases right now. Partly because I’m in too much pain and too busy making sure I don’t faint all over the place to care about anything but comfy clothes and not passing out (and also not wearing compressing socks that look like old lady pantyhose). Partly because I can’t make a decision about what I wanna do with the hair situation (do I grow it out or no????? i can’t decide) so it’s sitting at a SOLIDLY AWKWARD UNDERCUT so I wear hats 110% of the time (like I even fall asleep in them sometimes) and it’s bad y’all.

    This is giving me hope that I’ll get through this decidedly awkward phase and emerge an even cuter queer butterfly or moth or whatever.

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