In order for you to understand my relationship with my clothes, I need you to understand my relationship with myself. Up until I graduated middle school queer people and I had a certain degree of space between us. My favorite shows all starred straight characters, my close friends were all straight and in total I only knew of one queer person in my life. All that changed in the fall of 2015.
When I got to high school I was surrounded by homosexuals. Most of my friends moved to different schools. Really the only remaining acquaintance I had was a member of a small “gayer” group of friends who played Cards Against Humanity during lunch. Combine that with my involvement in choir and suddenly my world was a lot more…colorful.
A lot of people, through a combination of my energetic personality and friend group, thought I was gay. A lot of people straight (or not so straight) up asked me if I was gay, and I discovered a few years later that one of my friends had attempted multiple times to set me up on dates with other men. To this day I still don’t know when that happened. Somehow despite the amount of hints the universe was giving me, I still missed the point.
Instead, I rejected anything queer in my life. I rejected RuPaul’s Drag Race for blending what I thought gender should and shouldn’t be, I rejected my friends who experimented with calling themselves gender-fluid because I didn’t understand what they were talking about, nor did I even try to, and I rejected the idea that I was anything other than a straight male rock that couldn’t be moved no matter how strong the gay winds around me roared.
I may have been as smart as a rock, but I was not as sturdy. As time passed my perception of queer people changed from a distinct allied tribe to people who I knew on a deep level and cared about. I saw real three-dimensional relationships with joy, despair and dramatic New Year’s Eve breakups. I had always thought of romance as a purely physical thing, but as I saw more, I began to understand that I was and always had been wrong.
My perception of myself changed too. Sparing the gory details, high school eroded my ego from a rock to a pebble. The strong convictions I had about myself flew out the window and were replaced with massive insecurities. As I moped my way through my teens, I could no longer answer the questions of sexuality as easily as I used to. My own self-concept rattled around in my brain as the lines between “me” and “them” blurred until I eventually couldn’t see them anymore.
It wasn’t like turning on a lightbulb or popping out of a large cake for me. Internally I was exhausted, and my sexual awakening took the form of a long, weary sigh. Okay, I’m bisexual, now I can rest. Of course, that rest was short lived as I then began to panic about the effect being openly queer would have on my life, and I threw myself into the closet until I couldn’t bare it anymore, which was about three months in total.
Coming out went well, truthfully my personality throughout my high school years that most of my friends and family had already suspected as much (See above: Friend setting me up with multiple men). It was odd to see these stories of other queer folks battling for acceptance, only to fall into the loving arms of a family that accepted me long before I did.
The following year I changed my definition to pansexual. For those of you who have never even heard of a “Kinsey Scale” here’s a basic rundown. Bisexual is now accepted to mean attraction to two or more genders and pansexual is now accepted to mean attraction to all genders and to be attracted to those genders the same amount, that is unless they aren’t. The thing with queer definitions is that they’re more flexible than those of words like pencil and pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Instead, you can mix and match them to fit your personal needs. While in the past I had said that I was basically eighty percent straight, my celebrity crushes became Taika Waititi and Ron Funches, so, I realized my sexuality might be a little more balanced than I initially thought, and pansexual seemed liked the best term.
It was at that point I discovered a pansexual hoodie on Etsy.
At the time I was looking to diversify my clothing and I thought it would be nice to own some actual pride merch. I ordered it and a few weeks later it arrived. I immediately decided to break it in by walking my dogs with it on. The moment I walked out of my house something…different hit me. I almost cried. I had long since accepted my sexuality, but I wasn’t safe and warm in it. This jacket provided me with a way to be accepted by my allies and to stealthily evade my enemies. I didn’t know a piece of clothing could do that.
So, I wore my pansexual jacket and rode off into the sunset. The end. Stay gay Cavs.
Except it’s not the end. The thing about opening yourself up to being queer is that it opens you up to other things. After all, once you’re out of the closet, you might as well explore the room. If my sexuality could be internally negotiated, why couldn’t my gender?
One of the truths of woke queer life is “If your body doesn’t dictate your gender, and your likes and interests don’t dictate your gender, then the only thing that dictates your gender are strong, inalienable feelings that you are that gender.” For the individual that truth begs the question “Do you have strong inalienable feelings that you are your gender?” I asked myself that question and yet again I couldn’t answer it as easily as I used to.
Gender anxiety takes hold of your whole body. My legs felt like stacks of vibrating hexbugs, my arms felt like popsicle sticks wrapped in hair-matted Velcro and my stomach felt like a lava lamp. I slowly reexamined the 19 years of decisions that lead to that moment. When I looked back, it had honestly all felt like more of an obligation to my gender than an active participation. When people said things like “good man” to me, I thought to myself “oh right, that’s how they see me”. I realized that perhaps the reason I was so put off by my friends calling themselves gender fluid was that I couldn’t possibly imagine anyone feeling strongly enough about their gender to open themselves up to the stabbing pitchforks of violent homophobia/transphobia.
I didn’t know what I was, but I knew “man” didn’t begin to cover what I was experiencing. I told a few friends that I was non-binary, an umbrella term for genders that don’t fit into the “traditional” male female dichotomy. It was around that time I bought a gay and a non-binary wristband.
Those elastic bands are a little tight and sweaty, so I primarily wear them in times of stress as a sort of more discrete thunder blanket for myself. This past Christmas I also acquired heart shaped aviators, which isn’t necessarily gay in theory but is definitely gay in practice.
This past winter break also brought more clarity with it. After much soul and internet searching, I settled on being genderless. No male, no female, no preferred pronouns. I am nothing, gender-wise. That realization inspired me to make some changes. I changed my Twitter handle to read “Pronouns? I prefer verbs” before then changing it to read “Pronouns are my own”. I changed my staff bio for the Ledger to have they/them pronouns to see if anyone would notice. It was not lost on me that I was now experimenting the same way my friends in high school did. It was at that point I discovered this I Put the No In Non-Binary sweatshirt.
This was everything to me. It’s bright pink so no one can miss it. It’s warm and secure so I can be. Above all else, it spoke to me specifically. This wasn’t just a series of colors that the right person could decode, this was a public statement. “I’m non-binary, I love puns.”
That takes me to today. Hi, I’m Jason. I’m the Features Editor for The Campus Ledger. I enjoy walking my dogs and listening to comedy podcasts, though I have been on more of an interview kick recently. My pronouns are whatever/who cares. Life is too short for me to lust after labels that don’t apply to me, and I know plenty of people will more than happily provide their own labels for me. To those who knew me as a rock, I’m sorry, and I hope by reading this article you know that I genuinely understand now.
I don’t even think of these clothes as outfits nowadays. They’re more outward expressions of the mountains I had to climb to get to where I am now. It’s funny looking back on my life in my own words. When I first dug down into the depths of my sexuality, all I wanted to do was pass, to allow myself the space to try to live an unperturbed life. Now, all I really want is to be seen.