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Some Sense on/of Style: Queers, Capitalism, and Conformity

When many people think of queer men, they often think of Fashion, of Style, of Carson Kressley. Whether we like it or not, queer men are inextricably linked to the world of fashion within the national imagination. For a long time, this was something I resisted. I enjoyed the fact that I had been wearing the same t-shirt since middle school and walked around in sweatpants. I felt that this was contradicting the popular stereotypes that queer men were all genetically predisposed to be the next great fashion designer, or if we were unlucky, the next Santino Rice. I took pride in my mismatching shirts. I dared to wear navy and black.

It wasn't until more recently that I began to consider Style a bit more seriously. After all, what's wrong with being stylish? The truth was, I did know how to dress myself in the morning. I did not need my mother to pick out my clothes for me. I could look at clothing racks and decide what would look good on me, on others. I'm not claiming that I'm particularly talented when it comes to fashion, or even that I have anything other than common sense on the matter. What I realized, was that there was a part of me that did know SOMETHING about what looked good. For some reason, I think I was ashamed of this fact. I felt that it made me a hypocrite. I spent so much time trying to change people's stereotypical notions, and yet here I was, secretly enjoying clothing and wishing I were wearing something other than my 9th grade volleyball jersey.

Also, as a political person, I felt as if I had a moral obligation to dress poorly. Or, at least that's what I told myself. I thought that by not buying new clothing (at least not very often), I was resisting capitalism in a way, resisting the lure of conspicuous consumption. I was avoiding supporting the capitalist structures that once put me and my family on food stamps. I was resisting the colonialism and human exploitation of sweatshop laborers in countries like Thailand and Bangladesh, and the femicidio that is going on right now on the Mexico/U.S. borderlands in these sweatshops. By not dressing well, I was saving these women's lives.

Perhaps someone needed to disabuse me of illusions of radical grandeur, but that was what I told myself. On a certain level, I still believe this to be true. We should resist capitalism and consumer culture. Sweatshops are terrible and exploitative and we should do something for the missing and murdered women of Juarez, Mexico.

However, I also have to acknowledge how internalized homophobia pushed me to this anti-capitalist politic of... anti-fashion. On some level, I didn't want to be like all the other gay guys out there (or at least, how I imagined them to be). Maybe I like to be different, or maybe I was afraid of what it would mean to look gay. I wish I could say it were just an anti-capitalist passion that drove me from Style, but the truth is that homophobia also played a role.

More recently, I've come to embrace style. I believe there is a level of subversion that is present within style. When I embrace fashion, I participate in the deconstruction of gendered norms. My tight pants not only hug my ass, but they queer my ass. They queer me. They queer those around me who witness my queer gender performance. Style feminizes, and I embrace the queer femininity that comes with that style.

What I struggle with is how to reconcile my desire for queer subversion while simultaneously acknowledging my anti-capitalist politics. How does one embrace style without participating in oppressive structures? Does it mean that I only shop at some place like American Apparel because they don't use sweatshops? But then I'm still participating in capitalism, even though it might be slightly better than most stores out there. Are the two politics compatible? Or do I have to give one up? If so, which and why?


Sandouri Dean Bey said...

you've got a real conundrum on your hands :)

whit said...

I was in American Apparel the other day--weird clothes clinging to young flesh everywhere one cared to look. My pal said that the store wasn't about the clothes at all but rather about the young flesh it covered. Also icky feeling about the way we were supposed to feel connected to the immigrant women in the photos sewing our clingy t-shirts. I guess it's better than buying crap from China, but I'm not so sure.

I think you are correct that your fear of fashion came from an internalized fear of the feminine--but I will say that I often feel a twinge of disgust for all the dull Banana Republic clad boys with their perfect hair and condescending smirks. I don't think that it's really about the clothes though. You can make yourself pretty without becoming an idiot consumer--there are lots of cool things at thrift stores still. You can make your own style from the junk shops if you choose to go that route.