Growing up, I picked labels that I felt I could fit into, and stuck with them rigidly. Coming out as bisexual wasn't something I even considered at the time, because I was so busy trying to fit myself into categories. Looking back, I can see that journey in my fashion choices: My sexuality and my style paralleled each other. When I wasn't exploring one, I wasn't exploring the other, either — and when I got a boost of confidence from delving deeper into one, it fueled me to analyze the other.
Early on, I didn't want to be perceived as "girly," so I dressed like a tomboy. In high school, that turned to dressing like I lived in Hot Topic, wearing mostly black. I wouldn't wear a dress, wouldn't wear pink, and secretly took some sort of pride in being different than "other girls." I don't think this was intentional, but more the life of an anxious high school kid trying to be accepted. And when this formula (straight + edgy + "not like other girls'") got me a friend group and some acceptance, I clung to it.
This showed very clearly in my fashion. I didn't want to move outside of the unconscious style parameters I had set for myself, and I didn't want to move outside of my sexual parameters, either. In fact, I thought you couldn't. Younger me thought that nothing was a spectrum. I thought if I was interested in girls, I would have realized it clearly sooner. My mind worked like I was carving my identity in concrete, inflexible and with no room for trial and error.
I remember wanting to experiment with my clothes, but feeling like I couldn't move from the image I had created for myself. I was already suffering from an anxiety disorder, so what likely wouldn't have been a big deal to anyone else seemed magnified in my mind. I thought if I showed up to school in a dress, people would hassle me because it was so far from the way I usually presented myself. I mean, look at that edgy bathroom selfie. So, I decided that I had some wiggle room with my hair.
At this time, I didn't have the confidence to handle exploring my identity, so I stayed in my safe label of calling myself straight —defensively so. I wasn't even thinking about exploring my sexuality or my fashion. Simply put, I didn't want to stick my neck out, in more ways than one.
One year later in 2012, I went bright red with my hair, but my fashion stayed the same. (Also, I was doing the milk challenge in this photo. High school is a regrettable time for us all.) I dyed it and I loved it. I felt more authentic to myself, but I was still in my safe fashion bubble that I had made.
I started hearing the term "girl crush" thrown around, and I embraced it. For me, this was the acceptable way to look at girls without stepping out of my comfort zone — but really, it was a cop out. When people asked if I was a lesbian, I panicked and would defend that I was straight. I didn't even know bisexuality was a thing.
Eventually, I began to analyze my sexuality. I made a lot of great friends that were girls and wanted to never again compare myself or try to be "not like other girls." I realized other girls are amazing, strong, complicated people that can both support me and that I can support. I realized that if I was saying "girl crush," why couldn't I just say I had a crush on a girl? This change in thinking carried me through my college years, but the developments to my style were yet to come.
In 2016, I started working at a fashion retail store in a mall. While it was a pretty cookie cutter teen fashion store, I found that I could wear whatever I wanted. When I wore something really wild, it was well-received. And even if people didn't like it, it was so great to be expressing myself creatively. Eventually, I brought myself to the point where my personal style could change drastically day to day and no one would bat an eye. I could wear anything I wanted simply because I liked it, and this was very liberating. Simply put, I started being as open as I wanted with my fashion choices.
Then, something funny happened: I wanted to be this open, honest, and empowered about the other facets of my life, too. I decided to start being open about my sexuality to see if I gained the same sense of self-worth and empowerment that had come from experimenting with style.
I told a few people close to me about my newfound sexuality, and the reactions were accepting, for the most part. Yes, there were some people who said my bisexuality was "hot," and asked which of my friends I wanted to sleep with. Frankly, those kinds of comments were part of the reason I had been so hesitant to tell anyone: I didn't want every friendship I had to be analyzed, and I didn't want to be hyper-sexualized. But I pushed through it — and while I did, I kept elevating my fashion choices to new heights.
A great example of this was my choice to start wearing leopard print, something I always hated growing up. But now that my sexuality fit better, so did my style. I took the risk, and ended up loving it. It's clear to me that as my expression of myself through fashion made me more confident, I found the strength to express my internal self, too.
Finally, I decided to tell my best friends I was bisexual. They welcomed me with open arms like it was the easiest thing in the world, and I cried and felt like I was finally able to be myself. It was the equivalent of knowing I can get up in the morning and wear whatever I want and know that I can handle any comments that come my way.
When all was said and done, I learned not to get stuck under a label. Try on what works for you, whether that means embracing fashion, work, or your identity. It's about finding what makes you happy — after all, unapologetic happiness never goes out of style.