Note: This is the third in an on-going series that focuses upon how masculine presenting gender queers are bringing their dapper selves to the workplace.
Susan: Thanks for making time to share your story, Kate. Can you start off by telling me where you live and the type of work you do?
Kate: Sure, I live and work in the Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) area in Texas and work in the insurance industry as an adjuster.
Susan: Whoa. As someone born and raised in the Lone Star State, I know better than many of our readers that Texas brings a whole new level of complexity and challenge to being a CorporateQ.
Kate: We moved here last February from Washington state because of job promotions, so it’s been interesting and heartbreaking. It’s hard to go from feeling protected and comfortable in our surroundings to having to watch out for ourselves a bit more…it’s affected everything from buying a house to medical care. But, there are some really nice “born and raised” Texans who make up for the not so nice ones.
Susan: Well, I’m glad to hear it’s not all bad. How long have you identified as a dapperQ and how would you describe your sense of style?
Kate: I’m relatively new to the dapperQ identity, but I’ve always been drawn to masculine fashion. From my hair to my clothes, I rarely, if ever, look to options for women when making choices. On any given day in the spring or summer, you’ll find me in a men’s button down shirt, men’s jeans or slacks and men’s dress shoes. In the fall and winter, I really enjoy wearing a men’s vest or sweater with a men’s dress shirt, a necktie or bow tie, and men’s dress boots. I’m drawn to clean lines and simple colors: dark blues, grays, blacks and browns. But, I also enjoy integrating patterns or bright colors, especially when I can show it off in a tie or dress shirt. I’ve recently started wearing braces (suspenders) and plan to wear them more frequently in the summer with my short-sleeved shirts and bow ties. I guess you could say I enjoy looking geeky, but polished, and I’m still learning what that means for me.
Susan: What can you tell me about your experience of being a corporateQ?
Kate: It’s great that you asked for input from those of us that go to work dapper because I’ve been wearing ties every day for a couple months now and I’ve noticed an unexpected difference in how I’m perceived.
First, I want to say that my employer is very supportive of diversity. Every employee from the top down is required to be respectful of differences in all manners, including sexuality. However, having a diversity and inclusion policy doesn’t guarantee that someone agrees with it over their own personal beliefs and it’s unrealistic to think that everyone is open to authenticity.
Since presenting myself in a more dapper, masculine fashion, I find the disapproving stares to be longer and the awkwardness of avoiding potential interaction with me appears more amplified. Even when I make eye contact and say hello, the most common response is eyes to the ground and rushing by as quickly as possible. This response doesn’t seem to be from any one particular type of person. I get this response from men and women of all ages and backgrounds.
Susan: Did this happen overnight? Warm and friendly one day, then add a tie and poof: awkward silence?
Kate: I wouldn’t say it’s ever been “warm and friendly” except for a few kind souls, but maybe more tolerated. It’s always been pretty obvious from my look that I’m “not like other girls.” However, since adding in the ties, it almost feels as if wearing a men’s button down shirt was acceptable, but the second I put on a tie, I crossed some sort of unspoken line.
Susan: So many folks to whom I am speaking experience a similar phenomena of the tipping point. The bow tie seems more acceptable, for instance, but the necktie is not (no pun intended). The necktie is okay but don’t button that top button. But, your situation sounds pretty harsh most of the time.
Kate: I’ve noticed the biggest reactions come from using the restroom when other women are present. More often than not, the mood turns tense when I come walking out of a stall. Conversations stop, eye contact is nil and sometimes I get a double take. It’s pretty similar to my interactions in the hallway, but somehow, it becomes more acceptable to show their intolerance. I also bind, so I’m not sure if at first glance they think I am a man, which is funny to me because I don’t consider myself that masculine, but somewhere in between.
Susan: Most if not all probably know you “belong” there but, in my experience, our fashion choices make some folks downright angry. Like, there are rules that everyone knows and everyone follows and we think we are too good for them.
Kate: At first I questioned whether it was my own insecurity, but I knew I felt better dressing this way. Over time, I noticed looks of disapproval more and more, so I started using a restroom on a different floor that had less traffic. I found myself dismissing the importance of feeling good with what I’m wearing just so I wouldn’t be judged.
However, that train of thought only lasted a short while. I realized it was ridiculous for me to avoid the convenience of the restroom on my floor just to avoid making someone (or myself) uncomfortable. If anything, I needed to keep showing up, so that it hopefully becomes part of just a normal day at the office. I now make a point of acting like I belong there, because I do. I take all the time I need to wash my hands, fix my hair, straighten my tie and carry on. When it’s particularly tense, I just have an internal discussion with myself and think: they just wish their boyfriends/husbands (or maybe even their girlfriend/wife) dressed like me!
Susan: In a sense, it’s easy to argue that we are talking about ‘first world problems.’ So we want to wear a bow tie to work and we aren’t supported. Boo hoo. In a country with rampant unemployment we are lucky to have jobs. And we have a choice as to what we wear and we are choosing this more difficult path. But, I think each of us who do this are pioneering a new path that isn’t bound by the boy/girl box. This is a perfect example of where personal authenticity and activism meet.
Kate: I never considered transitioning to a dapper style as activism. I was just excited to finally find a fashion style that matched how I felt on the inside. Finding dapperQ had a direct influence on why I started leaning towards a more dapper style. Hearing the term “masculine of center” finally made the pieces fit for me. Once I saw how cool everyone else looked, I was like, this is how I want to present myself as well…and I can do this because others are bravely doing it too!
But, I suppose anytime a person steps outside what society considers the norm, you’re, in a sense, an activist. So, if by dressing this way, I can help someone else have the courage to be themselves, then that’s all the more reason to buy more ties!
The awkward interaction has been a small bump in the road, as my experience for the most part has been encouraging. I received compliments from male and female colleagues and management in my unit, especially in the first few days, which just encouraged me to keep going. I’ve even had a few questions, my favorite being “Are you just trying to jazz things up?” to which I replied to with a simple “Yes!” and a smile. I welcome it though, because I feel questions are gateways to understanding, disapproving stares are not. It’s made me aware that we still have a very long way to go in accepting others as they see fit to show us. Regardless, I feel confident coming to work each day and I’d like to say I’m one of the best dressed in my unit, even over the men!
Susan: Often not a high bar, but I hear you.
Kate: I long for a day when people understand I’m not trying to be a man (but if I was, that’s OK too). I just want to be me and look good doing it. I don’t see myself ever going back, only going forward and eventually obtaining a few custom suits, which I’m very excited about. And I just want to say thank you. dapperQ gave me the confidence I needed to bring my authentic self to the office, and for that I will forever be grateful.
Susan: Brilliant. Thanks, so much for sharing your story and making the path easier for those who follow in your dapperQ footsteps.
If you are interested in being profiled, please write to [email protected] re: CorporateQ. Give us a few paragraphs describing your experience and include a photo or two if you can. We are also interested in hearing stories of those of you whose location, industry or circumstances would never allow you to dress in a gender nonconforming manner and we can keep your experience anonymous.