We’re told often and from a young age that stereotypes are bad, that we shouldn’t assume something about someone just because prior knowledge has taught us to think that all men with beards and flannel shirts ride fixies. Not all lesbians adore Tegan and Sara, not all librarians wear horn-rimmed glasses, #notallmen, et cetera, et cetera. Sometimes, though, stereotypes can helpfully act as cultural signifiers.
As a queer woman, my outfits are often deliberately chosen, both because I like to wear plaid and double denim, but also as a way to tell others, “Read me as queer, please.” Fashion is a helpful signifier to communicate amongst minority groupings. It becomes harmful when those who are not part of that minority try to impose (or co-opt) that same stereotype.
It’s like a (not so) secret code. When I walk down King Street, I’m already in queer utopia, so I read most people as queer anyway. But when I see a woman with short hair, facial piercings and a flannel shirt, it becomes immediately obvious, because she’s adopted the lesbian uniform. If you’re talking to a woman in a bar and she’s difficult to read because she hasn’t signified with clothing or hairstyles, you might just say, “Oh boy, have you seen season three of Orange Is The New Black yet?” and gauge her response.
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