One of the curious manifestations of being a “hidden” subculture is the creation of identifiers.  You know, the queer “look.”  Those sly, loaded fashion choices which signal to the hetero-normative world that your door swings the other way…or both ways…or perhaps no way at all.

While I don’t think I have the energy to do a comprehensive chronological analysis of LGBT fashion from the 1800’s to present, I would like to talk about a couple of the most common “queer markers” and what their existence means for the visibility of LGBT people – good and bad.

So let’s start with my favorite: the “alternative lifestyle haircut.”  Now this can take a lot of forms and extends acrossgenders and orientations.  Alternative lifestyle haircuts tend to be anything anti-normative.  Example: guys generally trim their hair short and crisp, so a mullet, emo swoop, or long flowing hippy braid can be an anti-normative statement.  The opposite works for girls- since long hair is associated with being feminine (such length being a style that many men literally cannot achieve), pixie cuts, faux-hawks, and even buzz cuts are anti-normative.  Personally, I love the alt. life hairstyle and admire people who pull them off, but they have interesting connotations as far as signaling, visibility of the queer population, and stereotypes/societal expectations.

To unpack that sentence, begin at the top: Signaling.  Obviously alternative lifestyle haircuts, for many people, serve as a convenient way of saying “Hey, I’m not like everyone else,” or perhaps more bluntly, “Hey you heterosexist buggers, I’m queer and I want everyone to know.”  Alt lifestyle haircuts, in the same way as nautical star tattoos for lesbians of the 1940’s and 50’s and a pierced ear for gay men of the 70’s and 80’s, are at once coded and commonly understood.  They have the potential to be read as “just a stylistic preference” but also the potential to be recognized as a statement of self image.  WHICH LEADS ME TO MY NEXT POINT.

Visibility.  We’re not in the Vietnam era anymore.  Wild-eyed protests, picket lines, and the shouting of cleverly rhymed slogans are no longer in vogue.  No one goes around shouting “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”  Which I think is sad.  But NONETHELESS, it means that queers have to be a little more creative in an effort to stay visible (which is important for all the little queers out there who need to see openly gay role models!).  Hence, clever fashion statements- haircuts, flannel, tight jeans, V-neck sweaters, comfortable women’s shoes- become markers for our identity when we are not in a social situation where we can express our queerness in other ways.  But in another sense, this puts queer is a terrible bind…

My 3rd point!  When we relying on signaling to become visible as a minority, we create unspoken expectations and stereotypes about the larger community of LGBT people.  It shouldn’t need said that not all lesbians sport crew cuts, wife beaters, and baggy cargo pants.  And not all gay men wear Chippendale leather pants and aviator sunglasses (ok, maybe now I’m just being ridiculous).  Point being though, by associating these sometimes excessively stereotypical images with our collective minority, we create the illusion that all LGBT people conform to them.  Because visible population = total population, dontcha know.  Is this a bad thing?  Eh, hard to say.  Probably, because there are sheltered kids in West Virginia (now I’m stereotyping) growing up thinking that you can’t be queer unless you do A, B, and C, and that leads to not only identity confusion, but general societal ignorance.  *sigh*  On the other hand, it does lend some small voice to the existence of an LGBT community, however misrepresentative, which can be all some people need.