Rust Belt Bakery and Double Consciousness

This post was submitted by Logan when asked to complete the following thought: dapperQ walks in to a bakery in small town America…

Definitive Rust Belt sensibilities in tandem with an unusually progressive college town. An out-of-the-way bakery across the street from an elementary school, my polling place. It’s a short walk from my house, and on a day like today, where spring seems to have come surprisingly early, I can’t really say no. See, this town is definitely smaller than my hometown, but much bigger than where I’d been living the past four years; many days I miss the pace of small-town life, and stopping in at this little place tucked between brick houses and stop signs helps me slow down and breathe. Which means I’m here a lot.

Usually, I’m the one (visible) queer amongst a cloud of stay-at-home moms on morning walks with their young children, who are surely all friends with their designer baby pinks and blues, some toy boasting a surprising ability to annoy all passers-by, and matching state of the art strollers, complete with a cup holder for the parent’s gourmet coffee. The moms seem to collect here, sometimes unintentionally, and take breaks over petite cupcakes, shamrock cookies, quiche, and lemonade. The place is both a market and cakery, so it offers an eclectic array of sweets and sandwiches, local coffee and homegrown quaintness. Today though, it’s quiet. Maybe too late in the day to catch the morning ritual.

As I walk in, I suddenly remember everything I’m wearing. Packing, in designer men’s jeans, a design on the back pockets and a dark wash that’s difficult to find. I’ve developed a hypersensitivity around doors – about my presentation as I approach and walk through them. Dark red, almost copper flat strap loafers. It’s far from fear; just a simple awareness. A mindfulness.

A brand new and deep red Banana Republic half-zip sweater with khaki trim, over my tightest binder and simple undershirt. Maybe even a double-consciousness, seeing myself in my own mind but also aware of how others are seeing me. Dapper queer.

I open the screen door, and the women working here look up from the counter and kitchen. As I put down my messenger bag at a table and set up work for the day, I am cognizant of them attempting to discern some hint of a consensus about my gender. Maybe being a Libra makes me particularly prone to this imagery, but I can’t help but picture them literally balancing a scale: “Those shoes are definitely men’s shoes. But are those… breasts? Wait. Not tall enough to be a guy. And look at those hips. But… what about that hair? Maybe he – she? – will talk and then I can tell…” And every time I sense myself being read this way, I wonder whether I really need to know whether their scales tipped one way or another – and which way that was. I smile, acknowledging both their presence and their confusion, and walk toward the counter.

I peruse the display case, trying to make up my mind among choices I’m not used to having. I stray from my typical Americano and biscotti, opting for a local coffee and from-scratch red velvet cupcake. The clerk is kind, but visibly let down when I (intentionally) use cash rather than a card that would give away a name and a gender. I sit and get to my work, and slowly so does the rest of the bakery. Occasionally, I catch sideways glances, particularly from new customers as they stroll past. But I like leaving questions unanswered. And besides, this red velvet is a little too smooth for me to worry much about anyone else.

Sometimes it’s not this benign. Some days the scrutinizing is more obvious, and more hostile. But I’m from this life. Those four years in a small town were just like this, ongoing reconciliations of space and my slowly evolving queerness. So as a transplant from the Corn and Bible Belts into this Rust Belt, these screen doors and negotiations are far from unfamiliar. And despite the distracting smells and double-consciousness, I can’t help but think: a rust-colored belt would’ve been fabulous for this outfit.

Thanks for this, Logan (who is very dapperQ in the photo above right.) I related so strongly to the headspace I rent-for-free to my preoccupation of what others think. And I, too, find myself more interested in the spaces between – which I convey largely by how I present myself in terms of style. And wonder why I would ever want anyone to be able to assume much of anything about me? Except that, as much as possible, all of this is chosen. (And then I am reminded of how many more paradigms I am undoubtedly yet still imprisoned by.)

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