Last week, I indulged in some fashion blogging for dapperQ after a long, hard summer of all work and no play. In addition to my usual projects, I decided I would try to pull off a very last minute back-to-school college campus style post. Within hours after advertising casting calls through various LGBTQ campus groups, I received a photo submission from a very dashing and dapper Yale senior named Katie Miller. I sent an e-mail thanking her for the submission and went about eating my peanut butter and honey sandwiches and watching rerun flicks on IFC.
It wasn’t until about an hour after I sent my e-thanks that my partner and I realized that this was not just any ordinary Katie Miller. This was THE KATHERINE MILLER. You know, the highly accomplished cadet who resigned from West Point because she could no longer hide her sexual orientation and compromise her integrity under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). The Katherine Miller who, while at West Point, was ranked ninth out of a class of 1,157, held a GPA of 3.829, and exceeded maximum scores on the military’s fitness test. The Katherine Miller who sacrificed years of military service in order to stay true to herself and also publicly pursue the fight against DADT so that we can all live in a better America. The Katherine Miller who was one of the former U.S. service members who helped Lady Gaga spread the message to repeal DADT by escorting her to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. The Katherine Miller who was recently named one of the top 10 college women of 2011 by Glamour Magazine. The Katherine Miller who continues to persevere and thrive as a leader at the very prestigious Yale University. Yes, THAT Katherine “Katie” Miller.
I immediately took the opportunity to interview this amazing role model because she embodies the type of courage and self-esteem that dapperQ is trying to promote. During our pre-interview discussions, she mentioned that she recently went through a style transformation and has adopted a look that is more masculine-of-center. So, here’s what Katie had to say about fashion, short hair, lipstick femmes, Lady Gaga, and being true to oneself.
dapperQ: How would you describe your current style?
Katie: Well, I seem to be fulfilling several roles right now, so it’s fairly dynamic. Today, for example, I went from business formal, to casual, to sporty. When I’m attending activist events or representing OutServe, the organization I’m part of, I’m suit and tie. Though, I keep my hair faux-hawky and messy, which gives me a chic look. If I were a man, I would guess it would be described as “metro.”
dapperQ: Speaking of hair, you mentioned in a previous exchange that you did not start dressing more masculine until late last semester when you cut your hair. Can you tell me about how your style has evolved?
Katie: Certainly. Before coming to West Point, I had recently come to terms with my sexuality. In Ohio, lesbians dressed in cargo shorts and polos from American Eagle. I used to wear a thin head band and put my hair up all the time: sporty and a little gay, but not enough that people would suspect I was gay.
When I got to West Point, I cleaned up my style a bit, wearing men’s Express jeans and button-ups. At West Point, we didn’t get to wear civilian clothes very often, so I always looked neat when I had the opportunity: all my shirts ironed and my shoes shined.
But then people began to suspect that I was a lesbian, not necessarily because of my dress. So, in my second year at West Point I began dressing much more feminine. It made me more popular with the male cadets if I wore my hair down and wore form-fitting jeans and tank tops or dress tops. It also alleviated any fears from the other cadets that I was gay.
When I resigned from the academy in August 2010, it was important that I keep up a feminine, military appearance. When I appeared on interviews with my hair pulled back in a tight bun, wearing women’s clothing and looking “pretty,” it made a greater impact than if I would have come off as a butch.
dapperQ: Why do you think that dressing in more feminine clothing made a greater impact?
Katie: The fight to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was based on proving that gay service members are just like all other service members; We look like everyone else (straight), act like everyone else, and have the same ability to do our jobs as everyone else. By wearing my hair up like they do in the military and dressing feminine, when I did television interviews people could perceive me as just another service member. If I were to have a “gayer” haircut or worn a tie, they would have perceived me as being a lesbian first and a soldier second. Media engagements were always directed at appealing to a conservative audience, uncertain about gays serving in the military or outright opposed to it.
dapperQ: How have people reacted to your style transformation now that you have returned to a more masculine style of dress?
Katie: I guess I should preface this by saying that what spurred me to disrupt the “ideal” media image was my West Point rejection letter. I held onto my hair because I knew long hair would help me fit into the military if I had gotten readmitted back to West Point. But, I really hated the hassle long hair was, and I didn’t feel like it was part of my identity. When I looked in the mirror, I could never be happy because I didn’t like having long hair.
So, I mentioned to my rugby captain at Yale that I wanted to cut my hair (she also had short hair), and she really encouraged it. In fact, she set me up with this hair stylist prodigy (Kebra Sedam, Yale 2013) on campus, who apparently cuts all the queer women’s hair when they’re transitioning from long hair to short.
My friends on campus and on the team all wanted to attend the hair cutting ceremony (laughs), but we closed the event to gender non-conforming women only, for moral support reasons. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out. So, I met this girl in her dorm room, my captain brought me a beer, and she cut my hair. When she cut my ponytail off, I was so relieved at the weight that was literally lifted off my neck. I felt better about myself already.
dapperQ: (Laughs) I’m loving this!
Katie: (Laughs) It was such a bonding moment for us all, I felt. To an extent, I didn’t even care what it looked like. I just wanted to get rid of it. Thankfully, I ended up really liking it.
dapperQ: Well, based on the photos, you are rocking it well!
Katie: (Laughs) Thank you!
dapperQ: So, how have people reacted to the hair cut and style transformation?
Katie: My friends loved it. They just said it fit my personality better. I was initially concerned that it would severely decrease the size of my dating pool. I remember girls not dating me even when I had long hair because my personality was “too butch.” Unexpectedly, my dating pool has actually increased exponentially. I feel that everyone, no matter male or female, looks at me a little longer when they pass by.
Women are curious. Men are confused.
But the number of men and women who have hit on me has increased as a result of my hair cut. There is something attractive or at least interesting about women who are visibly queer. It was a wonderful surprise! I did it for personal reasons, but it helped out romantically as well.
I’m attracted to women who present themselves femininely, but it’s SO hard to find them since feminine women are naturally assumed to be straight. It’s not like you can just pick out a lipstick on the street. But I’ve found that they will take the initiative and approach me now.
dapperQ: Have you experienced any challenges when it comes to dressing dapperQ? If so, what are they?
Katie: I knew that cutting my hair was compromising my media identity. I was clearly an out and proud and gay woman, and that was inconsistent with the “gay service-members are just the same as straight service-members” mantra that OutServe, and other LGBT organizations, had been using throughout repeal. You didn’t see masculine women in the movement, just as you didn’t see feminine men in the movement.
dapperQ: Have you encountered any obstacles, such as fit and sizing, to finding clothing and accessories that represent your style?
Katie: Oooh, yea. I’m like 5’3″. Men’s suits absolutely will not fit me. I buy women’s size two, and hem the pants. Ties, though, are great. Skinny ties are in, which are all that look appropriate on me.
In terms of casual dress though, I can still buy men’s jeans , sometimes untailored, and have them fit. I always struggle to hide my hips. They’re wide for my height, and I suppose great for child rearing.
dapperQ: Where do you shop for masculine-of-center clothing?
Katie: I still like Express for men’s jeans. If I’m investing, I’ll go to the Buckle (BKE brand is my absolute fav) and get a more expensive pair. Though, American Eagle is still great for cheap butch jeans. As for casual tops, I’m a bit hipster, and just go with v-necks from various places. For dress tops and my suits, I go to NY&CO, which sells women dress clothes. But they’re much more gender-neutral than people give them credit for. All it takes is a tie to make a women’s suit masculine.
dapperQ: What advice would you give to others who are seeking courage to transgress men’s fashion?
Katie: Despite all the hype about fashion, there’s nothing sexier than confidence. And if you feel good about who you are and how you dress, others will see that as well.
dapperQ: So, on to the personal stuff. Are you dating?
Katie: I’m in a distance relationship with a woman who graduated Yale last year. I think I wooed her with my hair (laughs). She’s an actress though, so she may be joining you in NYC soon, which would be wonderful for us. I’ve had the freedom to date many more women since I’ve transferred to Yale. But, I think at my essence, I’m a monogamous woman.
dapperQ: Where can our readers find you hanging out during your leisure time (not to encourage any stalking)?
Katie: (Laughs). I’m starting to develop a taste for wine and beer now that I’m 21. I love casual happy hour meet-ups, and New Haven has great bars, restaurants, and happy hours. Though you’ll usually see me running the streets, as I’m an avid jogger.
dapperQ: I have to ask, what was it like accompanying Lady Gaga to last year’s MTV Video Music Awards?
Katie: She’s sincerely genuine about her fans and especially her LGBT fans, who supported her before she was big. I felt like she cared about me and our community. She cried when the other service members and I shared our stories with her, and wanted to help us by any means possible. Also, SO many cameras. It was pretty unreal.
dapperQ: Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
Katie: If I had one more thing to say, it would be that there isn’t anything that can replace the feeling of feeling like your appearance matches who you are on the inside. Whether that means cutting your hair, telling someone that you’re LGBT, or dressing differently, the personal fulfillment overcomes all apprehensions.
All photos courtesy of Katie Miller unless otherwise noted.