11.16.2018

Hygge: A Meaningless Word to Some, a Fashion Statement to Others

Definitely easier to pull off than to pronounce correctly.




Just to clarify: hygge is a Danish concept, not a Swedish one. We have fika and even the term mysig (which is basically impossible to translate in English, but mostly means "cozy" that can only be visually described by being next to a blazing fire inside a Swedish cottage in the winter), but hygge is strictly a Danish thing. It feels that it can only be reserved for Denmark because it also, like mysig, has no direct English translation. Google Translate refers to it as "fun," which feels very, very wrong, especially as I visited Denmark earlier this month and "fun" is not the way to describe my experience.

Cozy? Exciting, but in a lowkey way? Happy-inducing, but again, in a lowkey way? A combination of all three? Hygge. That's better. Even if I can't put into words what my five-day long hygge adventure was like, I know that hygge is the proper term. Think warm coffee shops with friendly staff that you can spend hours in; cozy bars that specialize in the best Danish beer; even just spending hours of your vacation lying in bed because it's too cold outside, but without feeling severe amounts of fomo. That's hygge for ya, at least my perception of it. If you're Danish and think I'm completely wrong on this interpretation, please call me out on it. But otherwise, I'd like to bring hygge to my attitude every winter. It makes freezing temps and seasonal depression so much more fun!

The past two winters I've experienced have been more than miserable. Having to wear five different layers and dealing with little to no sunlight always put me in some sort of funk that only spring and summer would get me out of. Now, of course being in Sweden, this funk is heightened—it's way colder and the sun sets two hours earlier than back in the states (I'm writing this at 3:30pm and it is pitch black outside, btw). The past week has given me a glimpse of what seasonal depression is truly like, and folks, it's nothing I would wish on even my worst enemies. Getting myself to leave my (warm!) apartment just to see the sun for five or less hours feels futile, and attempting to enjoy my last month in this city is really, really hard. But for some odd reason, getting dressed in this sad, sad weather is one of the few things that I find exciting. Fall in Stockholm got me weirdly excited, which was already unexpected enough, but now winter? Honestly, I'm just confused. I've been a summer gal through and through; colorful vintage dresses and various mules have been my style saviors the past few years. But now that I'm forced to face the dark void that is Sweden, I guess I better embrace the Danish concept and bring hygge to everything I do, style included.

Sweater and jeans are vintage. Turtleneck by J. Crew (I will stand by the tissue turtleneck until my dying day, btw). Shoes are unknown, but I like these a lot.

Of course, my journey with hygge began in Denmark, of all places. The wind that literally blew me over multiple times forced me to wear a turtleneck under my thickest of sweaters and not touch anything but my tried and true vintage Levi's. I followed this outfit recipe for the next four days, half in Aarhus and half in Copenhagen, and I now call this trip my test run for how to dress for Swedish winters. I used to be against the idea of style uniforms, I embraced them for a bit when winter ruined me just one year ago, and now I realize that Scandinavia is a place that not only encourages, but requires a sartorial uniform. It's too cold to experiment! My months spent worrying about my fashion sense going down the drain from living here vanished as I realized that mixing and matching turtlenecks and sweaters is actually really fun. If I'm feeling more adventurous, I can swap a sweater for a button-up and leave it unbuttoned most of the way to show off my trusty turtleneck. I can switch my classic Levi's for a pair of purple corduroys I thrifted earlier this year to fight the stereotype that Swedes only wear black in the winter (which, by the fact, is very true). Hygge paved the way to a winter that can actually be fun in terms of style; outfit repeating is not frowned upon here. It's celebrated! Maybe I have worn this pair of jeans everyday for the past two weeks. But it's sad and cold and dark, we have better things to worry about than if we're wearing a pair of pants five times too many. 

This style epiphany has also translated to other parts of my Swedish experience; I've been more okay with spending time by myself, specifically in the confines of my warm apartment, than having to be busy 24/7. Getting out into the city just to enjoy an hour-long fika might be a minor accomplishment, but it's still an accomplishment! Hygge may directly translate to fun, but it could mean the opposite—taking time to decompress is the best thing for our mental clarity, especially when this lack of sunlight is driving me to week-long depressive episodes. So if all you can put together is a turtleneck under a sweater with the pair of jeans you wear way too often, congratulate yourself—winter is hard.


And then I couldn't help but wonder... can hygge even be translated to the warm summer months?


10.14.2018

Can We Make Big Gay Energy a Thing?

In celebration of National Coming Out Day being three days ago.


Faith and Buffy giving off major BGE, even if they were never canonically queer in the Buffy universe.

About a few months ago, a now friend that I had just met at the time messaged me "you give off major bge (big gay energy)". Throughout my 20 years of existence, I think this had to be the greatest compliment I've ever received; even better than people telling me that I'm their style inspiration or that my writing influenced their own creative work.

And then I thought—is looking outwardly queer, especially for women, something us queer ladies strive to embody? In a world where coming out of the closet is neverending and being assumed straight is more than irritating, giving off major BGE, or as others call it, Big Dyke Energy*, can feel more than comforting. It's not only empowering, but it legitimizes our existence without disclosing our entire coming out narratives. I feel like I've spent the last three years attempting to craft the perfect "gay look," which may have started to rub off on my personal style in the past year. After all this time of experimenting with femininity and masculinity (and a mixture of both), I realized that just dressing true to my personal style which, by the way, is pretty tricky to genuinely find, might just do the trick (maybe along with a short haircut, too). And now I've reached my peak—at least one person thinks I have BGE! Is this it for me? Will my (now extremely minimal) internalized homophobia and cautiousness of coming out in certain situations finally end?

That last sentence is why BGE is not an Internet trend like Big Dick Energy, but more like a source of empowerment that can change the way we think about our own identities in a society that favors BDE over BGE. It's not about having to fit into this certain queer look that excludes many bodies and representations, but about having your own sense of queerness that exudes with every action you make—the way you dress, the way you go about your everyday life, the way you dismantle the heteropatriarchy simply with your existence. Not only is it super radical and political, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. Who doesn't love queering things up?

An even more enjoyable activity than having your own BGE is seeing who else carries this same superpower. Seeing others with it is similar to the infamous lesbian glance where you essentially know if someone is gay if you mutually get "the eyes" from them; it's not always sexual, it's simply a mutual agreement that you both are very, very queer. This one look can be even more powerful than BGE, and combining the two is a rare occurrence that I have only witnessed once or twice in my life. The best part about BGE? It doesn't necessarily matter how they identify, and you never have to truly know, either. They may be a certified gold-star lesbian, they may be bisexual, they may be questioning their sexuality and experimenting with BGE to figure some things out. At the end of the day, there's a lot of autonomy without having to outwardly state how you identify—BGE is both simpler but also a skill that could be fairly difficult to master.

Some examples, you might ask?

Faith Lehane from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Faith Lehane, aka the queerest character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and might I add the first person, at least in my mind, to master BGE. Faith was never actually canonically gay in the show, sadly, but compared to the other two identified lesbian characters, Faith exudes BGE. Many fans, including myself, hoped she was queer the minute we met her, and we especially hoped that her budding friendship with Buffy was a bit more than a friendship. Apart from her super queer style, she did whatever the fuck she wanted, would never listen to authority, and was presumably very anti-man. Although she did have many flings with men, she never excluded women, and her flirting with Buffy was far too obvious for a straight girl. And here's where the magic of BGE comes in—you can still have it without having to identify as anything. Especially when you made every queer viewer swoon during the entirety of season three.


King Princess (aka Mikaela Straus) is, by definition, the queen of BGE. If you scroll through her wonderful, wonderful IG feed, you will immediately understand. While Faith is a bit subtler with her BGE, KP is not only out and proud, but she seems to embody her gayness unlike any other. Shamelessly calling herself Shane from The L Word is the first sign; captioning a photo of her and her girlfriend "gay dyke hoes" is more proof.


And here's her girlfriend, also a queen of BGE! There's scientific evidence that couples who both give off BGE will rule the world one day.

Shane McCutcheon (left) and Carmen de la Pica Morales (right) from The L Word

You could argue that every lesbian on The L Word has BGE in their own, unique way, but most people see Shane from The L Word as the expert. She not only attracted every queer girl out there (characters and viewers alike), but she also broke all of their hearts. However, most of us want our hearts to be broken by Shane McCutcheon. A queer rite of passage, I suppose? Bonus points for when she found someone with equal amounts BGE, aka Carmen de la Pica Morales, and decided to stick with her for a while. Were they soulmates because their relationship was a constant battle for who had the most BGE? Maybe.



A post shared by AMY ORDMAN (@amyordman) on

Another realm of BGE is found in the lesbian and queer community of Youtubers who I, ashamedly, only discovered this past summer and soon became obsessed with. The three above include two of my favorites, Alexis G. Zall and Amy Ordman, who are IRL best friends but constantly joke about how they are twins, dating, or both. Their vids are full of BGE as they overtly make content about their gayness, but even queerer are their lives displayed on social media. They've seemed to create a squad of only queer women (mostly from Youtube) that are chockful of BGE, making it a friend group I would glady be a part of. More evidence that the power of BGE comes in numbers.

Yorkie from San Junipero

BGE might seem excluding of the quiet gays, but fear not! Yorkie from San Junipero is the perfect example of carrying equal amounts of introversion and BGE—the two are not mutually exclusive, if you were curious. I've already discussed her BGE style, but her essence is extremely refreshing for what a lot of BGE entails. She's obviously very in love with women (one woman, in particular) and is, at least later in the episode, entirely shameless about it. She proves that you don't have to be a "social gay" to still have BGE—all that's required is an unconditional love for other ladies and knowing how to pull off a pair of Bermuda shorts.


My list can keep going; Kristen Stewart, Ellen Page, Syd of The Internet, Janelle Monáe, and Hayley Kiyoko are just a few others of the thousands that have this energy. While everyone I've mentioned is a fictional depiction or a celebrity that we will probably never be able to connect with on a personal level, they represent the endless possibilities we could have in this lifetime—to find a community stronger than any other just with the magic of BGE. In an age where being proud of your queerness is either "too much" or only allowed for certain individuals and identities, it feels necessary to reclaim the notion of being too "out and proud." Whether you're your own BGE icon, you found your future wife through the powers of BGE, or you and your queer pals all mutually share it, BGE can be greater than we ever once imagined. More than a fad, perhaps?

Next time you're asked what your first choice in superpowers would be, try saying to have massive amounts of Big Dyke Energy—maybe your dreams will come true.


*I like to use BGE here instead of BDE because Big Dyke Energy has the same acronym as Big Dick Energy. Also, BGE is more inclusive! But, if you do identify as queer, saying Big Dyke Energy does the trick, too. I say both, depending on my mood.

9.23.2018

I'm Excited for Fall for the First Time in Years

My first favorite season is making a comeback into my heart.



Today is the FIRST day of fall! And it's so, well, romantic. The drop in temperature forces us to think about the people in our lives—the ones who literally keep us warm (cuffing season is upon us!) or, to be more figurative, the ones we go to when we're feeling down from the change in seasons. It's all about safety blankets! Sweaters and turtlenecks are even appropriate for this season, especially in Stockholm where their summer feels like my fall and their fall feels like my winter, and so on. Iced coffee shifts to warm cappuccinos (with oat milk, please), and if I'm going to be honest, iced coffee has got to be the least charming beverage that exists. Nine times out of ten it's taken on the go, grasping onto the cold condensation is a very unenjoyable sensation, even in the summer, and plastic straws are the last thing our planet needs right now. My summer-loving self would never find these flaws, but now that I've accepted autumn back into my life, that oat milk cappuccino seems to be calling my name, especially since I have fika at least twice a day. I'm also a big fan of ankle boots again, my leather jacket has been glued to my body for the last week, and I weirdly enjoy having to wear enough clothing to keep warm in 50 degrees. 

This is strange.

I haven't full-heartedly enjoyed this season ever since I became obsessed with sunlight and wearing as little clothing as possible. But something about fall in Stockholm strips all its negativities and makes it feel like, as I said earlier, the most romantic season to exist. And not just in the couple-y way; I can enjoy this season to its fullest extent without an S.O. It's romantic in the sense that every single detail of a moment, no matter how minuscule, feels poetic, and that simply existing outdoors even when it's below 50 makes my soul feel good. It's inexplicable, but oftentimes, there's no explanation for love.

So! Now that I've fallen in love with this season again, it feels fitting to also fall in love with its style once more. Now that my personal style has done a 180 approximately 17 times since I claimed this season to be the best, I'm forced to seek out which autumn 'fits are worthy. Three years ago, I used to constantly layer sweaters over dresses with over-the-knee socks and ankle boots and title this my go-to (I'm pretty sure I owned at least six pairs of those types of socks, which is strange for someone who did not attend private school). Was I trying to be Suzy from Moonrise Kingdom? Without a doubt. But now that I have added a layer of queer style and vintage pieces to my style identity, this high school look just feels wrong. To find the fall pieces that would match my newfound love for this season, I decided to do what any student abroad obsessed with vintage would do—go on a thrifting adventure to seek out the best of the best in Stockholm.

If you were unaware, Stockholm has some of the best thrifting in the world. Maybe this is just my own opinion, but its selections and prices easily beat any Seattle or Brooklyn vintage shop. In the past five weeks I've been here, I've managed to thrift at least once a week and spend far less than I would at home but leave with pieces I love so dearly that I wear them at least twice a week. A few tops, one slip dress, and one pair of snakeskin pants later, I discovered the dress of my dreams. What does it look like, you ask?



Dress is vintage from POP Stockholm. Jacket by Madewell.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this fantastic thrift store that only sells vintage from the '50s to '90s—no later. Not to be dramatic, but the minute I walked in my eyes immediately spotted the dress you see above. Was this love at first sight? Definitely. I knew we would enter a long-term relationship after I tried it on and it fit too perfectly. Combining the beauty in thrifting and my infatuation with autumn made this a magical, or, dare I say, romantic experience. After purchasing it and wearing it three times in one week in three different ways, I decided it would be fun to approach fall style in a very literal sense—to physically look like the season. In this case, the color scheme on the dress exactly mimics the changing colors of fall, and weirdly enough, it also matches the buildings behind me in Södermalm that should be in a brochure to entice tourists to visit in October. I paired it with my black leather jacket and black boots and at first felt strange to not wear any light or bright colors, but then realized how well I fit in—apparently every Swede only wears dark colors when the temps start to drop. Although I only find it fun to wear bright colors in the midst of a dark and depressing winter, I also think I can get used to this autumn thing. I've been told time and time again that study abroad is all about change. I said in a previous post that Stockholm almost feels too fitting for my style and personality, but maybe, just maybe, my identity will shift a smidge, possibly to its best form, as a result of my time here. Change is good, no?


Photos taken by Josie.


8.29.2018

Stockholm's Style Feels Far Too Personal

Not like an invasion of privacy, but more like we're already best friends.



Approximately 18 months ago, I decided that I would move to anywhere in Scandinavia for at least a semester. My deep, insightful reason was that it just felt right, but in actuality, it was because I just finished watching the first three seasons of SKAM in only four days during my winter break freshman year. Norway seemed so cool! So me! I had never gotten a glimpse of what Scandinavian culture was like until the show—all I assumed was that everyone was blonde and that it was freezing year-round (both myths, I later discovered). After watching the Norwegian show three more times in the same year, I was not only infatuated with the idea of living there, but married to it. I began following far too many Scandinavian style icons on Instagram, becoming familiar with Scandinavian culture and lingo, and then eventually deciding to study gender and sexuality studies in Stockholm for a semester.

And guess what?

That semester is now!

Yes, I'm currently in Stockholm for the next four months if you were unaware and/or not paying attention to my recent IG posts. I stepped into this fascinating city about two weeks ago, and although I only know how to say about five words in Swedish, I feel like I've finally come home. My summer move to NYC last year doesn't even come close. The independent, reserved, and non-hierarchal nature of Swedes feels too familiar to my own personality, and the idea that fika, aka taking a break from your busy day with coffee, a bun (cardamom is my favorite, btw), and friends is a highly practiced event here makes me never want to return to the states where long work days and minimal breaks are very much a thing. And then I think of the evergrowing queer scene here, as well as its feminist policies and laws, and I feel like I should extend my stay to far longer than a few months. All I know is that returning home come December will be a hell of a lot harder than the depressing few days after a week-long vacation in Spain or France, as I probably will become that person who comes out of her abroad experience as a "changed person." 

But if I feel like my best and truest self here, am I actually changing or just shifting to who I'm meant to be?

Existential soul-searching aside, I also mean this in terms of style. As I say time and time again, style and identity are deeply enmeshed, so it would make all the sense that both my style and identity fit perfectly into the complex puzzle of islands that is Stockholm. After living here for a short two weeks, I've observed that Swedes agree with the notion that style and identity are inseparable. Answering the question of which came first, style or identity, is near impossible, as each consequently influences each other on a day-to-day basis. It feels that no one attempts to mask their true selves with what they put on their body; instead, it simply highlights who they are, or at least think of themselves to be. This theory of mine brings in a whole lot of style diversity, a lack of overplayed trends, and, most importantly, some really cool outfits. Even just during my commute from my apartment to class, I can easily make a long list of all the looks that both emphasize this style-identity dynamic but also that I could bring to my own style (personal style is destined to be influenced by others, if you forgot). Then I realized what exactly makes Stockholm's style so good, so personal, and so, so familiar—people simply dress to embody what they believe their best selves to be. That's the exact mindset I bring to my sartorial decisions, so maybe I really am Swedish at heart. Should I just call my family now and say I'm never coming home?

Dress and shorts are vintage. Shoes by Madewell.

While I already see myself dressing like a true Stockholmer when in the states, being here has brought this tendency out even more, where there are only two criteria I need to follow: a) comfort and b) unconventionality. It may seem strange to put these two antonyms together, but let me explain—comfort simply means to wear what I feel best in, while to be unconventional means to wear something unexpected from the norm. As I already stray towards weirder styles, these two requirements don't feel too difficult to follow. Another non-requirement, but something that Swedes definitely lean towards, is to wear mostly thrifted pieces, which is something I already do on the daily. Although I am in the home of H&M, both large-scale and boutique-style vintage stores greatly outnumber fast fashion. A wonderful, wonderful discovery, yet a curse to my bank account (which, by the way, is already dwindling, as Stockholm is one of the most expensive cities in Europe). 

So! To make my Stockholm style dreams come true, I did the unexpected, but also the expected for what I would typically wear—a vintage red '90s babydoll dress partially tucked into some denim Bermudas with a pair of white loafers. Summer is the peak time for Swedes to dress, as the long, warm days bring out the best in its residents. Color! Really cool shoes! Shorts cut at unexpected lengths! As temps are already dropping and short days will become a reality very soon, the time to dress is now. They'll spend all of their waking hours outdoors, even if it's raining, just to get the last bits of sun. So why not show off? It's never to show that they think they're better than others (they're non-hierarchical, remember?); rather, it's to show that they put effort into the sartorial side of their lives. Creatures of style, I suppose? And, once again, I already feel like everything I've been doing my entire life works too well with how the Swedes do it. This sense of familiarity makes this big move less frightening than it should be. Hopefully I'll be able to survive the cold and 3pm sunsets come December.



8.14.2018

My Gay Italian Summer Dream Is Still Calling Me by My Name

More than six months later.



I feel like I've run into something painfully sharp. A knife? Have I been stabbed?

Oh? It's just the end of summer, you say? I'd call that just a bit more painful than being stabbed. Dramatic, yes, but also entirely honest. The end of summer feels like all of my joy and success is instantly stripped from my life and I only have the month of August to blame. I dream of this season for nine months a year; how is it already over?!

But then I remember—with summer ending also comes my ~*~big move~*~ to Stockholm. Yeah, that's happening today, and I'll be residing in a beautiful European city for the next FOUR MONTHS! The sharp knife turns into a dull one, maybe even just the corner of my notebook that leaves a tiny papercut. Papercuts suck for about five minutes, but they heal so quickly that I'll forget I even had one in two hours. Kind of like the end of this summer—I'll dearly miss the blistering sun and lazy, sweaty days for only some time, but then my transition to greater things acts like a band-aid to that temporary pain. I guess we should all move to trendy European cities post-summer break to relieve our sadness. 

But still, my bittersweetness lingers on the bitter part, as I have to say goodbye to breezy outfits and sunburns and getting freckles in spots that wouldn't normally get them unless they're exposed to sunlight for at least five hours. Also barely-there dresses, ice cream, and dancing to '80s pop (outdoors, obviously). Basically this entire list, or alternatively the narrative of Call Me By Your Name, the book and movie you thought I would stop talking about five months ago. Surprise! I actually still think about it at least three times a week since I saw it last December. My strange Timothée Chalamet phase is somewhat over (I, being a lesbian, was very confused with this infatuation), but my infatuation with this narrative isn't, and now that I was able to bring this into an actual, real-life summer, it feels all the more significant.

No, I didn't spend my summer in Italy and I definitely didn't fall in love. BUT! I did become more confident in my queer identity (thanks to Pride and my newfound interest in writing on queer topics), spent hours by a pool reading (and eating peaches, how on brand!), took a bus for quick weekend trips not once but three times, and had this strange sense of adventure that Elio and Oliver definitely had but I used to lack. Sounds like a gay Italian summer dream, if you ask me, minus the Italy part. 

But my style! That's what I've been looking forward to all these months—to bring that sense of effortless summer that each character perfects in the film to my clothing. I want to wear button-ups with only one button buttoned, damnit! Maybe a floral dress and easy shoes, maybe some Bermuda shorts. I want to show as much skin as possible! Go topless on a beach! Wear as much stripes as possible, and master the art of summer layering. I want shoes to be optional, and I definitely want shirts to be unnecessary. I sometimes even scroll through screencaps from the film while shopping, which can go so far (too far?) to imitation.


The shirt I'm wearing above was not only on my body at least once a week since I bought it in June, but it also directly imitates my favorite shirt that Elio wears (again and again) in the film:


The best part? It's vintage, so it probably is from the '80s. How authentic! But the worst part is that imitation is not personal style. How can I dig deeper?

Shorts are vintage and cut by me (find similar ones here). Top is from Urban Outfitters. Mules are by & Other Stories

Shorts are probably the staple of this film, do I just wear shorts more often? Trade in my mini dresses for shorts and billowy tops? Feels too easy, and too overdone—I own a single pair of denim cutoffs that I cut way too short and a single breezy top that I throw on whenever I'm too lazy to think about my outfit. I guess that means I have to raid some thrift shops until I find a pair that can actually act as acceptable pants, maybe swap the loose top for some loose shorts, even? 

I stumbled upon these hot pink and linen AND knee-length shorts while thrifting in Brooklyn when I was there for NYC Pride. I instantly purchased them after successfully trying them on as they were a) only $3 b) would be perfected with a quick DIY hemming and c) the perfect finish to my Pride outfit that I would wear two days later. A month after Pride, I saw these hidden in my closet and decided that they would transcend their single purpose for Pride and become the way to make all my gay Italian summer dreams come true. Paired with a tan tube top and my go-to mules (that I desperately need to replace), I felt inspired by the film but not imitating. I felt my personal style shine through the mix of feminine pink and masculine, well, Bermuda shorts, of all things. But most importantly, the essence from Call Me by Your Name that I loved so dearly is very much present. 


After taking this fashion risk I would have never attempted until now, even after reading countless Man Repeller articles on how groundbreaking the Bermuda short is, I felt that I could only wear shorts of this length for the rest of my life. CMBYN really knew what they were doing! I promptly bought some denim ones and cut just a few inches off:

Photo from my Instagram

and have officially decided that I would like to wear these throughout the fall and even winter, even though that will be fully impossible in the freezing winds of Sweden.

So, I guess my breakup with a dreamy, breezy summer is bound to happen soon. But, as always, one can always dream.

7.26.2018

Janelle Monáe Showed Me What a Queer Space Should Truly Look Like

Her music extends far past hard-hitting vocals and catchy singles.


Photo from her Instagram, @janellemonae.

The first time I was introduced to Janelle Monáe was at a different time than most—no, it wasn't with "Tightrope" that practically soundtracked every commercial in 2011 or even with the release of Dirty Computer this year that changed everything I once knew about pop music. It was in 2009, the year that my dance teacher decided to only use songs from Monáe's first album for the competition jazz group dances for each company at the studio. I vividly remember dancing to "Violet Stars Happy Hunting!" and the older company dancing to "Many Moons"—two songs that portray Monáe's motif of space and Afrofuturism that we continue to see throughout the rest of her work. As a mere ten-year-old, I only thought this tune was catchy, a bit strange, but also fun to dance to. Now, ten years later, I view Janelle as the artist that not only made me hesitantly crawl out of my indie shell and actually enjoy pop music, but also as someone I look up to as a musical genius and a queer icon. Thanks, Ms. Audrey, for sprouting my obsession!

Although I didn't consciously decide to make note of her again until I first heard her single "PYNK" earlier this year, she has continued to stay at the back of my mind throughout my life. I saw her perform at the first Women's March on Washington with the mothers of Black men who lost their lives due to police brutality which brought me to tears. She was also referenced in my American music and culture class last fall in a piece on Afrofuturism in Black musicians, where I finally understood her political significance after all these years. My younger self knew she was onto something, but when I watched the entirety of her emotion picture Dirty Computer and sobbed for 48 minutes and 37 seconds, I finally realized that maybe, just maybe, pop music could mean a lot more than making music that's easily-digestible (a reason I always avoided it). The minute I finished the film, I instantly bought tickets to see her perform this summer, knowing that if those 48 minutes affected me that deeply, seeing a live, two-hour set would change me for the better. Spoiler alert! It did. No surprise there.



If you're unaware of Dirty Computer (both the album and the film), a) do you live under a rock? and b) if you have 48 free minutes to spare, click play right now.

Did you watch it? Good. If you didn't, at least watch the below first, which is only a little over four minutes.



"PYNK" is just a glimpse into the wonderful beauty that is Dirty Computer, but it is a fantastic depiction of her first time openly discussing her sexuality through her music, where she used to only stick to themes of race and class. Now, there's all three! 

Do you now understand why I, as a certified Indie Girl who has never stepped foot into a concert of a pop musician, although I've seen well over 150 shows in my lifetime, had to go to her concert in D.C. last week?

Photo from Time Out, by Colette Aboussouan.

As Monáe drastically helped me be true to my gay self with her latest album,  I was expecting to see a large queer audience, especially filled with queer minorities who are not always visible in mainstream queer spaces (like queer Black women). My expectations were not only met, but heightened—the crowd was filled with rainbow flags and all genders and queer couples galore. It resembled the two Prides I attended this year, but better. Yes, better. Whereas Pride mostly feels like a party for able-bodied and white queer people, her show was composed of a majority people of color, of all gender presentations, of all identities. It felt transcendent to be a part of that, as every other show I attend is typically filled with straight white men, or, to make things a bit better with my new fascination with indie music performed by queer women, queer white women. Obviously, diversity is definitely not a key feature of the shows I'm used to seeing.

Monáe didn't only make diversity a key feature, but she made inclusivity and the concept of queer spaces a requirement for her show without having to say a single word. Her recent pride about being a pansexual Black women, or, as she calls it, a "free-ass motherfucker," not only shined through her performance of both her new songs off of Dirty Computer and her older classics, but also through what she spoke to her open audience who all felt a sense of communal love for those two hours. She would take time between her songs to show us her membership in the queer community as well as her openness to all identities by telling us "because no matter who you love, or how you love, you are welcome here tonight." I've heard mantras like this at other shows, where Thom Yorke of Radiohead would take ten seconds to briefly mention political issues in the United States, but usually, these shows are dedicated to the music, nothing more. Monáe brought this mantra to every song, to every move she made, to every time she made a heart symbol with her hands, showing us the radical love she has for herself and for her fans. It transcended past the performativity that some musicians with large fanbases feel obliged to show, as every song she performed held themes of not only this radical self-love, but also of anger and political injustice.

Her performance of "PYNK" showcased the beauty of womanhood but also of women loving other women; "I Like That" told us that yes, we can like that, no matter what gender, race, or class; "Don't Judge Me" transitioned Monáe's dancey bops to a personal and emotional one, where she fears her identity as a Black queer woman won't be accepted by people close and distant to her. She doesn't only want to create a queer space for herself that also allows visibility for all, but she yearns to make note of the injustices that continue to happen to a minority like herself, both personal and systematic. "We are all dirty computers," she repeats over and over again before she closes with "So Afraid" and "Americans," stating that although the gay people, the Black people, the trans people, the disabled people, or the people that are all of the above have a free space to exist in that music venue that night, they are still seen as a flaw to society. Perhaps a miscoding that can't function properly according to the hate crimes and trans women of color that are murdered daily and the Black lives that end due to police brutality. While some queer spaces only focus on loving one another unconditionally, she made sure to intersect these issues. Pride shouldn't be pretty and easily-digestible; it should openly discuss issues that continue to disproportionately affect all of us—the "dirty computers."

Photo from her Instagram, @janellemonae

In the moment that Monáe was belting the lyrics to "So Afraid" while various clips from the Black Lives Matter movement were displayed on the screens behind her, my previous joy from the show turned to tears. Not tears for myself, but tears for the thousands of Black and queer bodies next to me who face the oppression of being Black, of being queer, and of being Black and queer. I cried because she knew exactly how to navigate this struggle through her own experiences and through her art; I cried because I had the privilege of sharing these intense emotions with so many other queer individuals in which Janelle gave us the platform to do exactly that. And the realization hit me—music is so much more than music; pop music can be and should be more than a top 40s hit. But most of all, live music can work magic and form spaces that exude inclusivity and truly allow anyone to be their most authentic selves with only a few lyrics. And Janelle Monáe did exactly that (and more!). Dirty Computer was able to speak for the lives of queer individuals on our complex experiences in a singular album and, as she calls it, her "emotion picture," and her performance just put this work into a live experience we could share with others who also hold the same identities and feelings. And the best part? She did it so effortlessly, like this is what her entire career as a musician has been leading up to—a dive into her personal life. The personal is political, yes, but sometimes the personal is emotional, the personal is queer, the personal is Black, the personal is about being a woman in the age of Trump. The personal is complicated and messy. And because of this, queer spaces should be complicated. Monáe somehow made hers both seamless but, at the same time, extremely complex. And apart from all of this theory talk, her performance did make for a damn good time.

Listen to Dirty Computer and the rest of Monáe's work here.


7.19.2018

My Entire Summer Wardrobe is Filled with Pink

The most shocking sartorial decision I've made, well, ever.




My entire life, I've played with the idea of femininity—through my actions, through my identity, and, most prominently, through my style choices. Probably every 20-something woman would say the same thing; in a world where femininity is both praised and demonized, questioning how much is too much, or if none at all is acceptable, feels like a staple of every woman's coming of age story. But when that woman (like myself!) is also questioning her sexuality, or if she even fits into the ideals of womanhood at all and wishes to experiment with different types of gender expressions, the concept of "what it means to be a woman" is very, very confusing. As carrying a deviant sexuality or gender already goes against all notions of what that truly means, at least based on the patriarchy's definition, my adolescent self who had no clue she would be labelling herself as queer ten years later used her femininity to overcompensate with what she was subconsciously yet also deathly afraid of.

We're talking long, blonde hair, dresses practically every day, and the liking of only so-called "girly" things—Cinderella was my favorite Disney princess, and I spent the entirety of my young, adolescent, and teenage life dancing ballet. I also only pretended to like camping and outdoorsy things when my family would force me on those trips, and sports still, to this day, only disgust me, unless you want to call competitive dance a sport or if you invite me to watch Olympic figure skating (which I will transform into a full-on fangirl for the latter, btw). I took these feminine tendencies into high school, too, where I became so feminine that I wore a bright pink tutu when I was Sugar Plum my senior year and decided to entirely swear off of pants when I turned 15 because they didn't fit with my girly style.

(We could also go into my darker past, where I forced myself to like unattainable boys from age 12 to 18 and called an attraction to a girl as simply a "friend crush," but I digress.)

Then, upon understanding my queerness, I suddenly hated everything feminine. I decided to stop dancing, I didn't wear a dress for six months straight, and I changed my 20-minute makeup routine into an under-five-minute one. I omitted every piece of color from my wardrobe, because apparently color is a so-called "feminine" attribute of clothing, and instead stuck to neutrals and muted undertones, especially come the winter months—how depressing is that? My old self had been obsessed with throwing bright hues into an outfit, maybe to overcompensate for not knowing who the fuck I was at the moment, but looking back, at least I was having a blast getting dressed in the morning

And then, it hit me—I've liked the art of style for over a decade mostly because, as I said above, getting dressed should be fun. Avoiding certain styles solely because they seem to clash with my identity is not only complete bullshit but also just downright boring. I attempted to rid all the femininity in my life for many complicated reasons, but mostly because it felt like a betrayal to my personal identity and style. However, it is possible to wear a shit ton of color and still carry a sense of masculine energy in one's style.

Apart from carrying a wonderful mess of androgyny, playing with color is simply an enjoyable sartorial choice to play with whether you want to experiment with the idea of femininity or not. I did a test run on this a few months ago, and I continue to throw in a splash of color with (almost) every 'fit this summer because a) #lovesummerhateeverythingelse and b) resembling different colors of the Pride flag during the queerest summer (aka June through August of 20gayteen) seems like the best way to showcase my membership.

But why pink?

Why?


Shirt is vintage, from The Break. Dickies pants are from Urban Outfitters (find vintage ones here). Sneakers are Vans.

The last time I remember myself consciously choosing to wear pink was in 3rd grade, when I had declared pink to be my favorite color. I soon abandoned the idea simply because my girly side began to fade at age 10 into middle school, where pink was replaced by greens, blues, and even purples, which I decided would be my new favorite color as it still carried femininity but was cooler, a little subtler. And then I ditched color altogether, and soon reclaimed it as a staple in my wardrobe only two years later. I went through a lot of style evolutions, as you can tell. 

But again.

Why pink?

You could pinpoint it to the moment when I impulsively bought these pastel pink Dickies last summer days before NYC Pride because I was in desperate need of finding colorful pants to go with my 100% Human shirt for the parade on Sunday. I thought they would exist in my closet as "those pants that I wore to Pride in 2017 but have not touched since," but they soon become a staple in my closet that I constantly slipped on. However, always with neutrals—never would I pair the pants with a bright red top, of all things.

But obviously, I've changed since.



Only recently did I stop associating color with gender and the divide between masculinity and feminity. Seeing men wear hot pink and women wear army green and everyone in between wear whatever they wanted gave me the realization that of all things, why the hell was color a gendered phenomenon? The concept of gendering most anything is strange—why are we labelling boats as women and why do some people simply refuse to respect people's they/them pronouns? Can't color simply exist as a way to express oneself without being sorted into the rigid binary of gender?

Yes, all of this is true—but I realized I've been shifting towards pinks and reds and other pieces like floral mini dresses because maybe I miss that feminine side that I used to be so heavily attached to when I was younger. I abandoned her because I was in a strange battle with my sexuality and felt that my previous connection to all things feminine was simply me being too afraid to admit to myself my true queerness, but now I realize that I loved that feminine side. Looking back, it felt like overcompensation, but now that I'm the surest of myself that I've ever been, all I want to do is reclaim that femininity as my own, as I now am redefining womanhood by being a lesbian but also deciding that I will always hold a strong tether to femininity. I still love dance, but I ditched ballet for a postmodern style that ignores antiquated gender roles seen in the more classical style. I could care less about sports and still find the outdoors to be a dark and scary place that I'd rather not partake in, and makeup, although I wear far less of it, excites me beyond belief. The above 'fit shows that I'm obsessed with so-called "feminine" colors and details like ruffles, but still throw in my personal style to the mix with my Vans, style of pants, and short hair.

And then came my final epiphany: it is possible to simply dip into the pool of femininity instead of diving head-first.

Should I make that my Instagram bio?


All photos shot by the WONDERFUL Geordon when I visited NYC last month.



6.29.2018

Pride: A Reflection

It shouldn't simply cease to exist with the end of June.


Photo by Simon Chetrit, featured on Man Repeller

Happy Pride month! This June, I've decided to only write on queer topics to both celebrate my own lesbian identity and to add to the (small) pool of existing queer content. Earlier this month, I contemplated the inherent queerness of my favorite bisexual musician, Michelle Zauner. Next, I took you all on my journey of discovering my queer style. Finally, for the end of Pride month, I reflect on Pride, what it means to be queer, and why it can't simply end here.

I'm happy with my gayness.

No, not happy. Ecstatic. Out-of-this-world delighted, filled with joy and pride with my gayness, of my gayness, for my gayness. For those who are also gay, lesbian, queer, trans, gender nonconforming, agender, asexual, bi, pan, etcetera, I am also ecstatic for your queerness.

I see you. I hear you.

I might not live the same experiences as you. I don't know what it's like to have severe cases of gender dysphoria that lead to dramatic bouts of anxiety and depression, and I will never understand the contradicting subjectivity of being a queer woman of color. Nonetheless, I see you. I hear you. That's the beauty in finding pride with our queer community—no experience is identical, yet we are still able to be visible and form our own queer space in a world that tries to tear us down. In a political environment that strips our rights and identities through toxic policy change. In a society that views us as unnormal, as deviant, as straying from the default of the heteropatriarchy. Most importantly, we create a community that, although holding differing experiences and lives, works together to be radical against the idea of straightness, of conforming to typical gender ideologies, of conforming to gender or sexuality at all. 

And at the end of the day, finally finding pride means that

We exist. We exist. We exist.

This is why pride month this year has been both so groundbreaking for me, but also why I've been so outward about my queerness this June—after 20 years of living, I finally feel like I exist as my most authentic self, like this is where I've been trying to be my entire life. Maybe I realized I needed to be that person when I was nine and was the only one of my friends who didn't have a crush on any 4th-grade boys and didn't develop "feelings" for one until three years later when some of my boy-obsessed friends started ~dating~ and I forced myself to like this tall, mysterious boy only because he had good music taste for a 7th grader. Or I could have found it when my crush on Naya Rivera from Glee emerged in 8th grade, and I felt my world collapse after watching her character come out to her abuela and I cried then because I had an empathetic nature but now I realize I felt such heavy emotions because I was worried the same thing would happen to me. But no, I found it at age 20. At age 18 I was married to the fact that liking girls wasn't a one-time-thing, at age 19 I understood that only liking girls wasn't a one-time-thing. At 20, I feel the sun for the first time as it hits the skin that I finally feel comfortable in, and I feel an equal sense of exuberance and calmness when not only I call myself a lesbian, but I say it to others—not in a way that implies coming out, but in a matter-of-fact way. Yes, I like girls, and no, it shouldn't come as a shock or be a big deal, but still, I will be radical about it until it is like this for everybody, for all races, for all genders, for those who don't wish to conform to gender, for those who don't have the privilege of being out. 

I attended not one, but two prides this summer because I wanted to find pride in every way imaginable. I spent the past 20 years learning and living and understanding that this form of joy can really be found everywhere—in the streets, in the home, on the screen, in our words, in gestures and policies and movements, miniscule to radical, and in the slightest of actions like the happy tears we cry because we are loved, and we are living. I wanted to manifest these into physical events this Pride month—DC Pride and NYC Pride—because one just isn't enough, especially after experiencing my first official Pride last summer in New York and feeling the world shift beneath my feet because for the first time in my life, I felt visible. 


In DC, the place I've called home for the past two years, I got to experience Pride for the first time with all of the people I hold close to my heart. I got to share the masses of joy we have for our identities with my queer friends, and my non-queer friends allowed me to be seen, to have my own space. I found pride in the new friends I made, in the old friends I cherish. Sharing my most authentic self with the people that see me for who I am is crucial to my well-being; experiencing Pride alone feels not only futile but, in the simplest of terms, downright lonely. Even if you do experience it alone, make friends! Share the love! Hug a stranger who needs one, kiss a cutie if you're feeling bold. It is our day.

A post shared by emily ciavatta (@emilyciavattaa) on

In NYC, my experience was drastically different, but I've been thinking about this day nonstop for the past five days. Last summer, I attended my first NYC Pride, but this year, I felt that I truly experienced my first NYC Pride. It's difficult to put into words the happiness and pride I felt, so I'll instead discuss those feelings in moments, in images, in memories.

I saw pride by the thousands of people who took over NYC, who queered NYC, who made the space their own for at least that single day. I witnessed pride when passing two girlfriends kiss freely in public, when passing a group of teens who couldn't be older than 15 and decked out in queer gear, unbashedly showcasing their identies at such a young age, when watching a young, trans person waving their flag with a huge smile on their face, watching the parade alone but feeling the joy of everyone around them.

I felt pride when witnessing the kindness of strangers—at a bar while waiting in line for the bathroom, on the streets when trying to find friends that were packed into tight crowds, on the subway when people would ask me for directions then, before leaving, happily say "Happy Pride!" to me. "Happy Pride" doesn't cover the full range of emotions I experienced. I felt pure joy for myself and others who are out and proud, relief for those who are not out but could still be their authentic selves and partake in Pride this year, sadness for those who are not here today due to hate crimes, police brutality, sexual assault, mental illness, and how all of these disproportionately affects LGBTQ+ people.

I remembered the people who brought us Pride—Black, trans sex workers that did not want marriage equality but simply wanted the radical right to live and exist and to not be affected by these systems of oppression. I saw the corporatisation of Pride, I saw police roaming through the streets, and I only felt disappointment—this is not what Pride is about. It is, as I said earlier, about the radical right to exist, to go against these structures that only harm us and others in the community. It is not about assimilation, it is about simply being, no changes necessary. But in a world where being queer is not necessarily accepted we have to be radical, we have to be loud, we have to be angry. If we have privilege within the community, we must let others who have less speak, and we must listen. We must stand up for the rights and well-beings of all members of the community—the people of color, the poor, the ones kicked out of their homes, the trans members who are not cispassing.

Pride is not a party. Pride is not a corporate celebration. But most importantly, Pride does not simply end here. We not only have to be loud and proud of our identities all year long, but we also have to speak out about these issues all year long. We should be able to take up our own queer space 12 months of the year, for all years of our lives. I find pride in everything, all year long. If you identify as someone in this queer community, you should do the same. Pride is not a month-long celebration where all of our proudness and loudness about our identities are shoved into 30 short days. Pride is year long. Pride is lifelong. I make pride a crucial part of my identity that lives on no matter my circumstances. Are you doing the same?