Thank You, Ex: For the Baseball Jersey I Wore Constantly as a Baby Gay

THANK YOU, EX. Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya in a baseball jersey that is unbuttoned and a black sports bra and a backwards cap, taking a mirror selfie. It's made to look like a retro postcard with a stamp.

Thank You, Ex is a series of essays about the good things we were gifted by exes and kept.

Not everyone was surprised when I came out as a lesbian, but a few people were. Most notably: my boyfriend at the time. People — him, myself, everyone around us — were definitely surprised and confused that my coming out as a lesbian did not immediately lead to a breakup. We stayed together for a few months, and I even somewhat accidentally ended up living with him in his mother’s townhouse in Houston for three weeks, which was originally only supposed to be a few-nights stay on my way out to Los Angeles where I planned to start my post-college life.

He didn’t technically buy the baseball jersey for me; his mom did. The three of us went to an Astros baseball game, and she saw me eyeing it in the men’s section of the gift store. It’s just a standard baseball jersey: gray, buttoned down the middle, HOUSTON embroidered across the chest. She didn’t look at the price tag when she insisted on buying it for me (but I did, and nearly $100 on a jersey for someone who doesn’t really follow baseball seems absurd). She didn’t question my desire to get it a couple sizes up.

She didn’t, of course, know I was gay. I was still a little hazy on that detail myself, too — hence my inability to end my relationship with her son. But when our relationship did end a few months after that baseball game, I finally let myself act on all the desires I’d been silencing for so long. I leaned into lesbianism hard. I spent hours every day swiping on Tinder for women around Los Angeles and then, when LA didn’t work out, in Chicago where I moved in with two friends. I quite literally brought a photo of Kristen Stewart to the hair salon and asked for her undercut. I rewatched The L Word (because, yes, I had already seen it all when doing a very bad job at being in the closet). I had no idea how to be a lesbian, so I clung to cliches. I went to gay bars. I started writing for Autostraddle. I said “I’m gay” as often and as loudly as possible.

Even though femme lesbians were really the only representations of queer women in the media I consumed then, femmeness felt out of reach then. I thought that in order to be seen as gay, I had to shirk femininity, even moreso than I already had been doing rather deliberately for a few years prior. I associated femininity with the heterosexual costume I was wearing before. I wanted a new costume, so I constructed one: black leather-look leggings, a sports bra or tank top and, as the pièce de résistance, the Houston Astros baseball jersey, unbuttoned.

I took mirror selfies in this new costume and posted them on tumblr, on Tinder, on the short-lived Chicago-specific dyke dating app called, I kid you not, Scissr. I wore it to improv shows, while biking, to Musical Mondays at Sidetrack. The look wasn’t all the way butch, existed somewhere in a futch realm. I wore black or dark blue lipstick and floral Doc Martens. Sometimes I wore a single dangly earring in my left ear. I acquired more sports jerseys, including a bunch of long-sleeved Real Madrid soccer jerseys that I wore over mock turtlenecks. I was not and have never been a jock. The only sport I’ve consistently followed in life is tennis. But this futch jock fuckboy image I constructed was my entry point into queerness.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya with straightened hair and side bangs wearing a Real Madrid soccer jersey and taking a mirror selfie

It was easily just as much of a performance as when I was playing the role of girlfriend to a nice boy from Texas. Even though I was more authentically expressing myself as a lesbian by trying to date women, there was so much artifice and contrivance to the way I dressed. I undeniably felt hot, even if I didn’t feel entirely like myself — perhaps…especially because I didn’t feel entirely like myself. I clung to that baseball jersey, ironically a remnant of my recent heterosexual past, as a way to prove my own queerness to myself, reconstructing my image to match the way I felt unmade and made new by coming out.

Does anyone come out of the closet knowing exactly who they are? How they want to be seen?

I tend to drastically change the way I dress during moments of upheaval, and if I’m being honest, coming out sometimes did feel like an upheaval even as it did liberate aspects of my self. It was hard moving through the world as a queer person. It was easy to change the way I dressed.

I returned to a version of futchness after during my drawn-out and painful breakup with the girlfriend who followed the boyfriend. The baseball jersey briefly reemerged. I loaded up on oversized t-shirts and preppy long-sleeved striped tees and polo shirts at thrift stores, wore chains, cut my hair dramatically again (this time, cribbing the cut from Timothée Chalamet). I borrowed and never returned a pair of my friend’s Adidas track pants. These, along with a white Uniqlo men’s t-shirt my guy friend accidentally left behind after staying with me for a weekend, became the new go-to costume. It’s fitting that the look I cultivated that year hinged on things I took from other people. I wanted to feel like anyone other than myself.

It’s all documented on Instagram, this folding back into a previous self. It’s strange to look at the photos — not unpleasant, but strange. This, apparently, is what I do when I feel lost. I put on a futch costume. But I always come back to my femme self eventually. I think she’s the most authentic version of myself, but it took me a while to get there.

Photo 1: Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya taking a mirror selfie, wearing a white tee and gold chain with Adidas track pants. Photo 2: Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya in sunlight in a striped large tee. Photo 3: Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya in a white tee with a chain necklace, a bandana around her neck, a red blazer, and sneakers.

I know I’m supposed to be writing about something an ex gave me; I know I’m cheating by writing about something his mother gave me. There are, I suppose, some intangible things I’ve held onto from him. My fondness for the subgenre of indie rock I call “sad white boy music.” The fact that I can’t look at tuna without thinking of the “Too Much Tuna” sketch from The Kroll Show. 

But the jersey is the only physical thing I’ve held onto from that relationship, and even though it doesn’t at all match my high femme gender expression these days, I can’t get rid of it. The soccer jerseys have all been given away. I have only been to Houston the one time. I can’t remember the last time I even wore the baseball jersey. But it’s hanging in my closet as I write this. It has moved with me from LA to Chicago to Brooklyn to Las Vegas to Miami to Orlando. It’s long enough to wear as a mini dress, and perhaps that’s how I could style it to fit my new look. It’s the only object that’s tethered to two distinct past versions of myself: to my straight girl era and to my baby gay futch era. It’s unique, almost sacred in this paradoxical alchemy.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 847 articles for us.


    • (Especially as a briefly former futch who cut off all her hair and started wearing plaid. I hate plaid I love my hair long, and although I never had a Houston jersey I have my pits and femme as I am I will never shave them again. Not just a presentation thing I also have a bad ingrown hair issue.)

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