Words: LM Makgoba | Photography: Munopashe Makombe

“Society always makes the mistake of trying to box people in. Being openly queer rips that box apart.”

Being openly queer requires skin as thick as pea soup. Just walking in the street can trigger a lot of emotion. From what others would say is ‘admiration’ for your bravery, to anger, disgust and pure rage. Some people say I am charismatic. Some people believe I am confident. Society thinks I am brave. However, Superman had kryptonite and Achilles had an ankle. No matter how strong you are, certain thoughts can slip through the cracks of insecurity. I am no different.

Society always makes the mistake of trying to box people in. Being openly queer rips that box apart. You cannot box people; especially queer people. I recently moved to a small conservative town in the Western Cape. The perfect idea if you get a kick out of disturbing Tannie Lizmarie’s moral stand point. It is always an interesting experience when I enter a beauty spa for the first time. Is it a boy? Is it a girl? As soon as I open my mouth things get interesting.

I have a deep voice. The kind of voice where call centre consultants find themselves apologising at the end of each call when I give them my name. The ladies at reception always look confused; almost as if they smelled a fart and have no idea where it came from. Especially when the boygirl dressed in all black, asks for a manicure and always chooses HOT pink without fail. By the third visit they are ‘used’ to me and so begins the sexuality questions. Queer people often find themselves being called to the stand and cross examined by retail workers or beauticians who just cannot mind their own business. If a masculine lesbian wants to get her brows done, she can. If she wants long stiletto nails and a pedicure, she should be allowed to get it without feeling uncomfortable.

“Queer people often find themselves being called to the stand and cross examined by retail workers or beauticians.”

The problem is that society likes to create formulae on how humans should be. “If you are like this, then you should like that.” This has been perpetuated through society and the beauty industry’s ignorance. As a result, beauticians tend to make queer people uncomfortable for simply getting what they like. Being a masculine lesbian woman does not prevent you from your right to consume products that are labelled feminine by society. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that society’s voice is so loud that sometimes it slips through the cracks of doubt. Sometimes queer people listen to it.  My sexual orientation or gender presentation does not determine what I like and what I do not like and that should be respected.

I often feel marginalised and out of place. No matter how confident you are, it will always get to you when a choir of murmur and gossip follows whenever you enter certain spaces. The simplest thing has become my biggest nightmare. What used to be my greatest source of excitement, has become the source of insecurity. Shopping. Apparently, by virtue of my genetic composition (because my sex is female) I should enjoy shopping. And I did until I got older and started understanding what my choice of fashion meant to society. Being androgynous often means that I have to walk into men’s stores to successfully execute whatever look I am going for. I hate how I feel when I walk into a men’s stores. Markham’s is one of my favourite stores in terms of style. However, walking in there feels like walking into the dungeons of fragile masculinity.

“Being a masculine lesbian woman does not prevent you from your right to consume products that are labelled feminine by society.”

If ever you need to go shopping for misogyny, simply walk into a men’s retail outlet. They have all types of misogynists working in there. From the ones who suffer from short men syndrome, to the ones who try to flirt with anything that looks like a woman. All of them have one thing in common; they all feel the need to ask about your sexuality and are convinced that they can ‘convert’ you. This is a common occurrence when androgynous women walk in to men’s outlets. Shopping is an uncomfortable experience because of ignorant store assistants. For that reason, I often don’t even want to fit clothes in store. I do not feel safe. Choosing the right size is vital but I often find myself fitting clothes at home and then returning what does not fit the next day. What the retail industry does not realise is that its continuous marginalisation of the queer community impacts queer folk immensely. The simplest process can become a complex process catalysed by insecurity and causing anxiety.

Thrift stores have become a safe haven for many in the queer community, as more and more people start finding vintage fashion as alternative and cool. Possibly because this style is less concerned about whether or not clothes are men’s or women’s fashion but it appears to be more centred around the style, patterns and fitting of the clothing. Not having clear categories, aisles or sections allows for queer people to navigate their way around the store freely. It allows for queer people to select clothes that speak to them without always having to feel like they have been outed or categorized into a particular silo. The retail industry needs to be more accommodating of non-binary people. We need more gender-neutral fashion lines and gender neutral shopping stores. The fashion industry as a whole needs to do more.

Fashion is the voice of the queer community. However, finding that voice is often an uncomfortable process. I hardly have nowhere to go. The clothes I wear may trigger insults from society, but wearing these clothes is my way of speaking. That is the easy part. Finding my voice is the painful part. I have been openly queer for six years. And six years later I still need to counsel myself before I go shopping. The most exciting experience for most people can be an androgynous person’s nightmare.