Welcome back to Style Dossier, Gabrielle Royal’s column that profiles stylish queers across the country. In this edition, Gabrielle is featuring the ever so stylish Erica Moise, an attorney and LGBTQ rights activist in a Style Dossier / CorporateQ mashup. CorporateQ is a series that focuses on how masculine presenting gender queers are bringing their dapper selves to the workplace.
Erica Moise is an attorney and LGBTQ rights activist that lives and works in fabulous Ferndale Michigan. She practices law as a solo practitioner and serves as the President of the Stonewall Bar Association. Her dream is to open up a non-profit law firm that defends the legal rights of LGBTQ individuals. Whether it’s a transgender client who was harassed by the police, or a gay person who gets fired for who they love, Erica feels very passionately about removing the barrier between not having the money to hire a lawyer and access to justice. She is currently in the research phase of how to fund and start up such an organization, and she hopes to soon be able to make this a reality for the LGBTQ community in Michigan. Erica also thoroughly enjoys music, cookies, walking everywhere that she can, and adoring her cat named Cupcake.
Outfit details: Suit: Bar III at Macy’s; Shirt: Alfani; Tie: Thrift store; Pocket square: Macy’s
dapperQ: Who is your biggest fashion icon and why?
Erica: Madonna has always been my idol. I’ve loved Madonna ever since I was a little girl, and watching her style evolve throughout the years taught me about self-expression and self-acceptance. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the “Vogue” video, and seeing Madonna rocking out such a classic black suit was just something I deeply identified with. Madonna has never been afraid to boldly express herself through fashion, and she broke so many gender and sexuality barriers throughout her career. Breaking gender barriers, expressing myself through hair and clothes, and openly being who I am without giving a f*ck about what society thinks are all things about me that are heavily influenced by Madonna. Also, Michigan isn’t a very LGBTQ friendly state. We have to deal with a lot of closed mindedness and discrimination here. I love that Madonna is also from Michigan and rose above that same closed minded thinking and those same “old fashioned values” to become one of the biggest music and fashion legends of all time. I hope that I can also rise above that and do something similar in terms of helping the LGBTQ community. She’s truly inspiring to me.
dapperQ: How much of your personal style is influenced by your identity?
Erica: My personal style and my identity have always been intertwined. I was the little girl who absolutely hated wearing dresses. From the very start, I knew that I wasn’t like the other kids. I didn’t identify with what society was telling me I was supposed to like as a little girl. I was always jealous of what the boys got to wear. I first came out as a lesbian when I was 14 years old and faced a very tumultuous coming out. From that point forward, my gender presentation has fully evolved. I was never what you would describe as “femme.” I’ve always been a tomboy. However, when I was younger, I did walk the androgyny line because I was afraid to be fully masculine presenting. My clothing used to be a mixture of clothing from both the men’s and women’s department. When I got to law school, they tried to beat it in my head that I would have to “conform” to gender somewhat in order to become a successful attorney. Then an interesting thing happened. I graduated, and I decided that I would never let the legal profession force me to be anything different than who I really am. I decided that I would define who I am, not the antiquated gender norms of the law. I now only wear men’s clothing. I feel amazingly comfortable and happy in a suit and tie. I love dressing dapper. I love fitted baseball hats. I love how comfortable white t-shirts and boxer briefs are. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my whole life because I’ve finally embraced that butch is beautiful, and I’m finally living my full truth. Even if that means that I have a harder road in my career because of it.
Outfit details – Suit pants: vintage 1960’s suit found at a thrift store; Shirt: Alfani; Tie: Ralph Lauren
dapperQ: Why is queer visibility important and how does fashion help create space for members of our community?
Erica: Queer visibility is important because it puts a real live human being behind the labels that society often times sees as a negative thing. It says, “We exist and we aren’t ashamed to be who we are, regardless of what you think.” Being visible shows that we are a resilient community that won’t be driven into the shadows by hate and intolerance.
Fashion is an opportunity to express yourself. Earlier this year, I got admitted to practice law in the United States Supreme Court. In April, I attended the oral arguments at the Supreme Court in the Obergefell v. Hodges case (the case that ultimately led to the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality nationwide). I chose to express myself through fashion and let the very conservative legal profession know that a butch dandy queer like myself not only existed, but existed loudly and proudly. I wore the black suit/lavender shirt combination you see in the photos. I was by far the most gender non-conforming lawyer listening to the oral arguments in the Supreme Court Lawyer’s Lounge that day. I definitely got my fair share of stares and looks from the other lawyers in the room. When the arguments were over, I walked out onto the front steps of the United States Supreme Court, on the biggest day in gay rights history, as a queer lawyer dressed in a really sharp men’s suit. In front of me, I saw thousands of supporters waving HRC equality flags and chanting. I stood there for a moment and took it all in. Being able to stand there on that day while dressed in a way that fully expressed who I am was one of the most powerful moments of my entire life. Fashion was my way of saying to the world that day, “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!”
dapperQ: Tell us about your biggest fashion and/or shopping fail!
Erica: Back in the year 2000, I thought it would be an awesome idea to buy a faux leather/faux fur vest. The faux leather was black, and the collar was blue faux fur. I not only bought it, I actually wore it. I don’t think that there is anything that I’ve ever bought that was as offensive to fashion as that. Hands down the winner.
dapperQ: What advice would you give our readership? What advice can you offer to people who fit outside of society’s understanding of traditionally masculine and feminine styles?
Erica: Take any conventional wisdom you hear and then ignore it. Push the boundaries. Be yourself. If I were to have listened to everyone throughout my life that told me I couldn’t do something because of who I am and what I look like, I’d still be making pizzas. I would have never pushed myself past society’s limited expectation of me. Is the world a challenging place? Absolutely. Is everyone going to accept you for exactly who you are? No. But those are exactly the people you don’t want in your life. Embrace yourself first, and then embrace and celebrate those who love you for who you are.
I’d rather have someone dislike me for my gender non-conformity, but still be myself. I think it’s more damning to pretend to be somebody or something you’re not in order to make other people comfortable. Life is truly too short for that.
Outfit details – White t-shirt: Hanes; Jeans: American Eagle
dapperQ: I work at NYU Law, so I am always excited to interview people working in this space who also look sharp doing it! Tell us about your profession working in law/legal services. Do you face any challenges as an LGBTQ person in this field and how does your style play into your day-to-day interactions with your clients?
Erica: I absolutely face challenges as a queer person working in the legal profession. The law is already a white male dominated profession. Being a female lawyer is hard enough. When you add the fact that I’m gender non-conforming on top of it, it creates the perfect storm of hostility. Last summer, I went to court on a routine pre-trial conference to set a trial date with opposing counsel. I had already said my name to the judge about 3-4 times (he even asked me, “Are you even a lawyer?”), and once I began to speak there was no question that I am a woman. At one point while setting the trial date, the judge interrupted me and said, “Counselor, you are aware that it is customary to wear a suit and tie to court?” I hadn’t worn a tie to court at that point in my career, I was wearing a black suit and a collared shirt, and everyone knows that women do not customarily wear ties to court. He said that on purpose to insult me about my gender non-conformity. I remember turning around to a packed court room, and seeing the shock on everyone’s face. Opposing counsel even came and talked to me in the hall. He was mortified by how the judge had just treated me. I’ve had a few other judges purposefully continue to call me “Eric” after I’ve made it quite clear that my name is “Erica.” And opposing counsel can often underestimate me and dismiss me and my intelligence. That is, until I surprise them with my skills.
On the flipside, my clients tend really like the fact that I’m different. I didn’t become a lawyer so that I could be invited to play golf with judges and prosecutors, or so that I could become a part of anyone’s country club. I became a lawyer to advocate for my clients, and that’s who matters to me. I tend to deal with a lot of LGBTQ clients, and I think that my style is helpful in that capacity. Those clients are getting someone to represent them that understands the issues. I understand what discrimination looks like and feels like. I understand what it’s like to look different. My goal is to continue to push boundaries within the legal profession. I’ve come to fully accept that I am not like the other lawyers. As uncomfortable/upsetting/frustrating as it can get to be treated differently, I know that this is what I’m meant to do. I’m a natural born fighter, so I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Outfit details – Suit: Bar III at Macy’s; Shirt: Covington; Tie and Pocket Square: Pierre Cardin; Shoes: Stacy Adam’s
dapperQ: How did you hear about dapperQ? Why were you interested in a feature?
Erica: I’ve been following dapperQ for a few years now. I found them on Facebook, and I was impressed that I could finally peruse fashion choices for people like myself. Earlier this year, I e-mailed dapperQ to inquire about queer clothing companies so that I could find a truly dapper outfit for the Supreme Court. I believe that’s how my correspondence started. One thing led to another, and I ended up sending a few pictures of myself at the Supreme Court, and I got an e-mail from Gabby Royal asking me if I wanted to do a Style Dossier. To be honest, doing something like this was never originally on my radar. Of course, I think it’s the coolest thing ever and I thank dapperQ for letting me be a part of it.
dapperQ: How can our readers can stay connected with you?
Erica: You can find me on Facebook here, where I’m a fan of posting queer political rants and pictures of my cat. I’m also on Instagram @legal_revolution and Twitter @legalrevolution. You can also e-mail me at [email protected]
Photo by The Erin and Christa Show. The Erin and Christa show is a new beauty blog with a significant LGBTQ and ally following. Erin and Christa are two femme queer YouTube beauty bloggers specializing in hair, makeup, fashion and most importantly, wine and hilarity.