Ever since I was a kid, I've been drawn to a girly look.
I always preferred playing in lipstick to playing outside. By the time I was nine, I was expertly winging liquid liner and contouring the hollow cheekbones of my babysitters before they left for their post-babysitting dates.
Most days, you can find me in my typical attire of obnoxiously shiny, patent leather, sky-high Mary Janes; a seven-nation army of colorful bangles; bright red, pink or mauve lipstick; heavily mascara-ed lashes and one of my signature sexy-but-sweet vintage replica dresses.
But I'm also A LESBIAN. (I guess you could say I'm quite literally a "lipstick lesbian.")
I adore being a lez. The queer life is the blessed life, as anyone who has ever tasted the sweet lips of another woman knows. Girls are gorgeous, insanely smart and amazing at sex. And they have BOOBS.
So yeah, no need to pray for me, honey. I'm one of the lucky ones.
But this is where it gets complicated: While I feel like I radiate nothing but strong gay beams of energy into the universe, not everyone picks up on my homo vibe. And my love for girly pastels and sexy black lace doesn't exactly make me visible to society, let alone my own community. I've got a classic case of "femme invisibility."
Since I don't dress like your typical "textbook lesbian" (which is a bogus concept anyway, since style and sexuality are two different things), most people don't think I'm gay just from looking at me.
I love a woman in flannel and cropped hair. It just isn't me. And I've made the choice to be myself, even if it means confusing the hell out of a few straight boys or forever having to out myself to the girls at the gay bar who have concluded that I'm just another cute straight girl hanging at the gay bar.
For as long as I can remember, I've tried to imagine life as a visibly gay woman. I've wished we all were born with a lesbian birthmark so we could pick each other out in a crowd (or at least outside a gay bar!).
I've expressed this dilemma -- ad nauseam -- to my co-workers. One particularly dismal morning, my executive editor Emily set this lovely pink little pin at my desk:
It's called a "social alert button," and there are a slew of awesome ones ones from the Word for Word shop on Etsy. Their purpose is to "alert" the masses as to how you're feeling (Yes, Cramps, Migraine Day, Social Anxiety) or how you identify (Slut, Atheist) without having to scream it from the top of the Chrysler building.
The pin made me smile. Pink is my favorite color, queer is what I am, and femme is my favorite f*cking word. I stuck the pin to my black leather bomber and walked outside.
I have to say, I felt different as I walked around Madison Square Park.
I have zero qualms about holding hands or locking lips with girls in public or loudly announcing my sexuality to everyone in the room. But this time, I wasn't out because I was someone's girlfriend. I wasn't out because I was boozily waving a giant rainbow flag at a pride parade. I was out just by being Zara, doing everyday Zara things: picking up a vegetable roll at Fairway for lunch, decompressing with a solo glass of wine at Sarabeth's after a long, soul-sucking day, punching the crap out of the punching bag at the gym.
I did all of these boring everyday things with my Queer Femme button on. I felt "out" in a more profound way than usual.
It felt amazing, like I was authentically representing myself. And even though the pin also garnered a slew of disapproving looks from perfectly blow-dried New Yorkers, that didn't rattle me in the slightest. In fact, it empowered me.
Because this is who I am at my core. I'm a queer woman. No amount of pretty vintage dresses will ever rob me of that.
With each dirty look from a passerby, I felt stronger. I also realized how much I benefit from people assuming I'm a nothing but a "harmless" straight girl with long lashes and sweet smile. Turns out that when I'm advertising my queerness, I don't always get that door held open for me or that cup of coffee on the house.
This experience really made me think about all the people in the world who don't have the luxury to be who they are. If I sported a queer pin in most places (even in my own country), I could end up arrested, beaten up, a victim of a hate crime or at least harassed.
And while I might sometimes feel like an invisible lesbian, I live in a place where I have the choice to freely express my sexual identity wherever the hell I want. That luxury alone makes me want to wear the f*ck out of my Queer Femme button all the time.
I don't want to benefit from the privilege of my perceived straightness. I don't want the discrimination to be saved for only my queer brothers and sisters who "appear" queer.
If you have an issue with my queerness, I want to know about it ... so that I can stay the f*ck away from you and NOT give you my business or bestow my sweet smile on you.