Note: CorporateQ is a series that focuses on how masculine presenting gender queers are bringing their dapper selves to the workplace.
Sarah Herklots: Tell me a bit about what you do.
Mellina: I work in the marketing department of a Fortune 500 company.
Sarah: How long have you worked there? Have you always held the same position?
Mellina: 10 years next month. Four years in marketing.
Sarah Herklots: Have you identified as a “dapperQ” that whole time?
Mellina: Not exactly. One of the reasons I joined this company was because it is known to be very LGBT friendly. It was the first place I could start fresh and be out. So, 10 years ago I was still finding myself.
Sarah Herklots: What has been your experience being employed there?
Mellina: Very positive. I can express my gender without issue. It has always been that way.
Sarah Herklots: What were you doing before this job? Could you share with me a bit about your life before?
Mellina: Sure. I was working for a smaller, privately owned furniture company in South Florida. I worked in operations management. I had that job since the 11th grade! I worked there for 6 years.
Sarah Herklots: WOW! It sounds like you did a lot of growing / changing while employed for the same company. What were some of the challenges that you faced? How did this affect your identity / expression as it morphed throughout the years?
Mellina: Since people had known me from such a young age, I didn’t feel comfortable being myself as I grew and changed. Also, I think as you try to move up in the corporate world, it is very hard being a woman alone. When you are more masculine identified, some people really don’t know what to do with you.
Sarah Herklots: Is this true of your current job as well?
Mellina: At my current company, there are quite a few LGBT people in executive positions. Where I currently work, I found the opportunities to truly be wide open for the first time.
Sarah Herklots: What inspired you to share your story with dapperQ?
Mellina: I think it is important for everyone to be themselves at all times. It might be tough, and you may even experience career setbacks. But, gender non-conformity is the next frontier. If more people work side-by-side with masculine women, trans men and women, and others, they will realize that not only are these people normal, but they hold a special value. We see the world differently, and that’s good for business.
Mellina (left) with wife Sarah (right). Photography by Hannah Ludlow
Sarah Herklots: When I was in the corporate world and my co-workers would discover that I had a girlfriend, they would often start treating me like “one of the guys.” (They would actually say things like “You’re totally a dude!” or “We can bro-talk with you, right?”) I identify and present as femme, but once they learned of my romantic involvement with women many, cismen felt licensed to start talking to me about what women they thought were hot around the office, what they did last night, etc. At times, I felt like participation in that was a silent requirement for me if I wanted to move up in the company. Does anything like that ever happen to you?
Mellina: That is an interesting question. I face a different problem. Often, people do not see me as one of the guys. Even other LGBT people. And, that drives me crazy.
Sarah Herklots: Can you give me an example?
Mellina: I am in a rather unconventional marriage. My wife is also masculine identified. Since everyone (even gay people) also want to figure out the top and bottom, I always end up being the bottom. The wife. My wife doesn’t even look at things that way, but it is most people’s perception.
Sarah Herklots: Funny how so many people are still so programmed to identify certain stereotyped binary gender roles. Even those in the queer community.
Mellina: That is why I think gender identity is so important. My masculinity does not take anything away from my wife. Our very close friends get it, but to new people, it is a bit puzzling.
Mellina (left) and Sarah (right). Photography by Hannah Ludlow
Sarah Herklots: How has that affected your sense of style? Do you feel you’ve adapted your style has since you’ve been with your partner?
Mellina: Absolutely. We have fed off of each other.
Sarah Herklots: In what way?
Mellina: I won’t go into detail for fear of absolute embarrassment, but let’s just say we both needed help when we met nine years ago. It was almost like we were each other’s cheerleader. She would buy a tie, then I would go to the men’s department for jeans. She would get masculine shoes, so I would have the courage to pick up a pair of boxers. We kept encouraging each other. I couldn’t truly be myself until I met her. Because she cheered me on.
Sarah Herklots: That’s great that you were able to grow together in that way. (I remember your wedding feature from a few years ago.) So what are some of your style staples?
Mellina: Night on the town: tailored blazer and bespoke dress shirt.
Sunday bbq: a beautiful straw hat, boat shoes, pressed shorts. Hanging out with the boys: some sweet high-tops. Work: mostly button downs and cardigans. My workplace is more casual, so ties are not usually called for. But, when the occasions arrives, I am all over it!
Sarah Herklots: Were there any particular sources of style inspiration you found while you were coming into your style-self?
Mellina: My two top dapper guys are David Beckham and Lebron James. I especially love how they both seamlessly float from casual to formal. Fran Lebowitz!
Sarah Herklots: What is something style-wise you feel you have mastered?
Mellina: Accessories. In fact, my cuff-links were publicly complimented at a work function last night. I am not one who can pick up a fine tailored suit every month. So, I keep things fresh and new with accessories. Ties. Cuff links. Pocket squares. Socks. Even a matching flask. Lots of Warby Parker glasses. Endless hats from Goorin Bros. Get your basic slacks, blazers, shirts and jeans. Mix things up everyday with accessories.
Sarah Herklots: These are great tips! I suppose that’s why you’ve joined the dapperQ team?
Sarah Herklots: I would love to see you write an accessories piece!
Mellina: I like it.
Sarah Herklots: Thank you so much for sharing your story.