Color me red

Sex on Tuesday

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I was sitting on the couch waiting to leave for dinner with my friends as one of them brushed my nails with red nail polish. She decided that a bright red would match my clothes, which I nicknamed my “cherry outfit.” I was donning a red bomber jacket, red tracksuit pants, red and white shoes, a red and white half-shirt and dangly cherry earrings. I had the color scheme of the Red Power Ranger.

We weren’t going to dine anywhere special — just to an In-N-Out down the street from my friend’s house. However, this night was still the first time I had worn a half-shirt or anything overtly feminine in public. So, entering the In-N-Out, I felt the eyes look toward me, and a tinge of nervousness immediately rushed over me. Luckily, the cashier complimented my earrings, which lifted my spirits and allowed me to calm my nerves. After finishing dinner, my friends and I headed to a park to hang out and relax.

As the hours swept by, I gradually felt more and more powerful with my outfit, and I was happy that I could finally express my feminine personality through my appearance. The bright red nail polish is what truly tied everything together; it seemed like the first big step to accepting myself because it was something that I could not easily remove without nail polish remover. The actual color and paint by themselves were not inherently gay or feminine, but on me, they acted as an extension of the femininity that had always been a part of my personality.

In the past, I was afraid that people would immediately recognize that I was queer if I wore anything remotely feminine, but of course, people would always assume anyway. While femininity means something different for each person, it was something pinned to me from the very beginning. Before I came out and before I even knew myself, people had always thought I was gay because of my feminine speech and mannerisms that I was largely unaware of. 

So, it didn’t entirely matter what clothes I wore, but regardless, I avoided femininity in order to divert the attention away from me, which is why I have issues with the surge in popularity of men in feminine clothing.

When I was living in the dorms, I met another queer person. While his clothing was not stereotypically “gay,” his hair was dyed unnaturally and his nails were long and painted in different colors. Unlike me, he demonstrated his sexuality through physical signs — he quite literally had a Pride flag in his room and his Instagram bio. I liked spending time with him the few times I saw him, but I noticed a gap in experience between the two of us.

He had straight male friends, and I did not. The major difference was in our personalities; despite wearing nail polish and dyeing his hair bright colors, he was more masculine than me. Whereas he had straight male friends, very few straight men in my life have treated me like a human being. To them, my femininity makes me strange, and there is a constant barrier between me and other men. Talking to this other queer man, I realized that he did not share the same experiences and that his exterior did not matter to his friends.

Even if we wore the same color, the nail polish would always look different on me. I would always be the “unacceptable” gay, and he would be the “acceptable” gay. It was nothing against him; after all, he was very nice to me, and we bonded over a few things, but I realized that we were bound to be perceived differently.

In some ways, this extends to straight men who wear feminine clothing online. While some of them actually have feminine traits, others simply don skirts, dresses and eyeliner. Even though those things are considered traditionally feminine, they do not fully encompass femininity in my eyes. And these men are generally well-received in online spaces. I am not arguing that straight people should not wear feminine clothing, but rather, I am highlighting the differences in treatment they experience in comparison to someone feminine.

Many people interpret femininity differently, but for me, it was an experience inseparable from myself. It was not something that I could remove, but it was something that others would always see and that I would always feel. The outfits I wear that are more feminine just project my femininity and queerness even more than normal, but this is not something that I want to shy away from any longer.

Straight men and more masculine queer men are more acceptable in comparison to someone like myself, and while the clothing that they wear may change, it does not necessarily alter their personalities. Instead, the traditionally “feminine” clothes worn by men add a layer of complexity to the idea of masculinity. And while I encourage men to express themselves, I don’t know whether or not feminine men — not just feminine clothing — will become acceptable.

At least in the present, the “masculine” clothes I wear do nothing to hide my femininity and my queerness. So, I have decided that I will wear my red nail polish, my cherry earrings and my crop top for the world to see.

Joaquin Najera writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact him at [email protected].