Neither Here Nor There: A BUTCH FEMME Photo Essay

How do I tell you about my relationship to fashion? It’s my longest and most complex relationship to date. We have gone through a lot. In childhood, I would lay my outfits out on the floor of my room the night before I was going to wear them. My ultimate weekend activity was going to the mall. My mother would punish me by taking away my newest jeans and sweaters and not allowing me to wear them for a month, instead of grounding me like a normal kid. I always liked clothes and wanted people to know that I picked what I was wearing, that my choices and personal style showed off me. But I became fully obsessed when I stumbled across the Style Network. The Style Network catapulted fashion into another realm. I watched my first catwalk fashion shows. I watched shows about people getting rid of their clothes, redefining their style, and learned about famous fashion designers through docu-series — I couldn’t get enough.

The older I got, the more interested in fashion I became. I realized that fashion would literally be a lifelong passion. As I grew older, I also embraced the fact that I was gay. I entered into this entirely new arena of self-expression, not only with clothes themselves and what I was wearing, but how I could now more fully play with what clothes meant as a queer person wearing them. More recently, this has become a constant in my brain. I’ve been trying to pinpoint myself and my style on the sliding scale between Butch and Femme. I’m not really comfortable with any stylistic identities. I am not on either of the polar ends of the scale, but neither do I feel like Soft Butch, Tomboy Femme, Androgynous, Boi, or Power Dyke resonate either. I feel like I can’t limit myself I guess.

Fashion, to me, is more important than a label, and so is being able to wear what I’m attracted to clothing-wise vs what fits into a definable style category. What was once a super exciting opportunity to be able to try things because I was gay is now something I’m afraid of. I don’t want to be pigeonholed into a specific category or subject; I want to be seen as everything and nothing. I want to be seen as authentically myself, and to push myself to fully experiment with my favorite art.

I wanted to put together a series of editorial style photos incorporating elements of both the hyper masculine and hyper feminine. I have lofty hopes of becoming a fashion stylist (call me, beep me if you need assistance). And I want to look the part, and make the point that I am an authority on fashion and what looks good. I wanted to allow myself to be as adventurous with style on myself as I am with other people. I wanted to encompass everything and nothing that is masculine or feminine. I put looks together that I have never worn, pieces I never even thought about wearing as one cohesive ensemble. I wanted to mix items like a men’s oversize plaid coat and a feminine apron-style dress with gritty Doc Marten boots. I was excited to wear such a loud rainbow vest, because it’s a piece that is extremely hard to ignore, and fully says “here I am.” Also, who in their right mind would ever want to wear so much beige? But as I pieced all the items together, I honestly got very excited because to me it looked pretty good! The barrettes I made myself, and were the entire inspiration for this project. I had seen similar all over fashion blogs and editorials with words like “sex,” “girls,” and “anxiety.” I coveted them, but over $100 was a little much for two crystal clips. So I customized my own, and they led me on this playful adventure.Here’s to more experimentation, feeling good in my bod, and feeling like I can do this.

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Katie Mayo: A fashion obsessive currently based in the Midwest. She is working her way up as a fashion stylist one pants leg at a time. When not scouring the internet for the latest thing she can be found watching Avatar: Legend of Korra, or PAQ. Please DM her with fashion questions on Instagram @sooomayo. Akilah Grant-Sullivan: A photographer with an eye for fashion and beauty living in Chicago. Loves anything utilitarian inspired. Talk to her about her love of olive green.

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10 Comments

  1. I WANT THOSE YELLOW BOOTS!

    I, too, discovered the Style Network when I was younger, in my mid-teens. It also changed my life, for a while, anyway. I eventually grew out of my obsession with fashion–or maybe my depression just grew so large it overtook everything else. You, however, my dear, were clearly meant for this path, or catwalk, as it were.

    But really I need those yellow boots.

    • I just noticed that the :kissy-face: emoji and the :okay-hand-sign: emoji I used renders as “???”
      Thus making it seem like I think your fashion is bewildering instead of *chef’s kiss*. Ah! Bad internet!

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