THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985
|WINDY CITY TIMES|
LESBIAN FASHION STRUGGLES BY CAROLINE EARLYWINE
Lesbian Fashion Struggles is a humorous, heartbreaking, deeply personal collection of poems about growing up and living in the rural South as a conventionally-attractive blonde lesbian. Earleywine uses fashion as a lense through which to view her struggles with self-expression. The first poem of the book, “Where I Come From,” investigates Earleywine’s ancestral queer history of “women / from the Old South who never married / who lived in their aprons and their closets.” In a way, this poem reads as a dedication: “I talk and I talk and I open / my mouth because they couldn’t, / because they can’t / anymore.”
She goes on to write about a subject well-traversed yet still important, the (non)acceptance of LGBTQ+ folks among their own families. The speaker’s experience, like many others, is mixed: her 93-year-old grandfather “assured me he thought no differently / of me, he asked if I wanted any of his old clothes” yet her father “at the family reunion… / introduces [her and her lover] as roommates, friends.”
Some of her strongest poems use fashion to question the impossible tradeoff between being oneself and being safe. In “Lipstick,” the speaker confronts her internalized misogyny that makes her reject markers of femininity in order to feel strong. However, instead of feeling strong with short hair and lipstick the shade of “camouflage,” she feels “washed out and smudged, / worn down to a nub.” She dreams of a shade “bright as a dare, not a blushing / apology, a shade so loud it / breaks teeth.” In the end, it’s not fashion that lends the speaker strength; it’s the freedom to choose how to live and look without the burden of others’ judgement. I never thought a book with the word “fashion” in the title could bring me to tears, but that is because of my own miscalculated rebellion from society’s expectations about what a woman should be. I wish I had this book when I was fourteen and trying to come to terms with my own queerness, but I’m sure glad I have it now.
Sibling Rivalry Press.
—Review by Ali Hintz
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By Maya Singer
Photographed by Cass Bird
Consider, for a moment, the word model. Oxford Dictionaries offers several definitions of the term, including “a representation of a person, or a thing, or of a proposed structure,” “an example to follow or imitate,” and “a person employed to display clothes by wearing them.” All of these definitions coalesce around a central idea: That people often need to see a prototype in order to comprehend a possibility.
So, what does it mean to be a “lesbian model?”
Several of the hip, gorgeous lesbians shot by Cass Bird for this portfolio are career models, employed to display clothes by wearing them. Dilone and Heather Kemesky, for instance, are certified runway stars. Others display clothes by wearing them as a side effect of their glamorous day jobs—to wit, fashion designer Phoebe Dahl and Soko, a musician and actress. Some of them are just badass babes: Check out Lauren Wasser, for instance, raising her prosthetic leg as she hoists herself into a pull-up. What links them, aside from their looks, is that they’re all members of the tribe of lesbian cool girls—“celesbians,” as Bird jokingly refers to them. A confident lesbian identity is intrinsic to the coolness.
Which makes these women models in the other senses, too. Bird describes herself as a “dinosaur lesbian,” and says, “I’m old enough that I still get excited when I encounter other lesbian couples. I didn’t have any exposure to out-and-proud lesbians as a kid, and when Ali and I were starting our family, we only knew a few other lesbian couples with children. I can only imagine,” she continues, “how great it must be for young women now, to be able to look around and see—yeah, this is how I could be.”
Which is to say, the lesbian cool girls—with their beauty, and their jet-set lifestyles, and their insouciant miens—are performing a vital role in bringing lesbians into the American mainstream. A teenager exploring her sexuality in the 1970s wouldn’t have known, just from photos, that model Gia Carangi was a lesbian. Today, a teenager can track the romantic ups and downs of Kristen Stewart and Cara Delevingne in the tabloids, just as straight kids have been able to do for eons with other super-celebs. They can see those women, and others of their ilk, starring in blockbuster movies and gracing the covers of magazines and landing multimillion-dollar beauty campaigns, and feel affirmed that a lesbian identity isn’t merely okay, it’s actually awesome, if you inhabit it with a certain self-assured éclat. And that has a political valence too.
“I knew, going into this shoot, that I didn’t want to include anyone who just, sometimes, or even mostly, dates women,” Bird notes. “I wanted lesbians. I wanted women who embrace that identity. Because as much as I understand the desire to get away from labels and signifiers, I also believe there can be power in a label—in people coming together as a group. That’s how you gain rights. It’s how you create a movement. For me,” she adds, “‘lesbian’ is equally a sexual identity as it is a political identity. And a cultural one.”
Bird exults in her lesbian identity. She loves bringing women into its fold, and she even takes pleasure in the stereotypes that have attached to the lesbian lifestyle, some of which, she affirms, have a basis in truth. “JD Samson and I did a project a while ago, where we visited a bunch of gay or lesbian RV parks,” she recalls. “And—seriously—lesbian-land was always a campfire, an acoustic guitar, and female bonding.” For this portfolio, Bird decided to have fun with some of those stereotypes, posing runway star Ruth Bell with the cats that, due to Bird’s home renovation, happened to be hanging out in her studio, and riffing on butch-dyke clichés by posing Dilone in front of a U-Haul. “I was hoping to get someone out to a baseball diamond,” Bird says with a laugh. “Softball—that’s the ultimate lesbian cliché. All those dumb signifiers . . . I mean, honestly, I think they’re great. Own ’em. It’s just another way of telling people: This is me, here I am. Here we all are. And you know what? We’re having a great fucking time.”
Senior Visual Editor: Emily Rosser
Visual Editor: Samantha Adler
Photo Producer: Ashley Solomon
Editor: Alessandra Codinha
Senior Designer: Sara Jendusa
Producer: Maleana Davis
Engineer: Gregory Kilian
©2020 Condé Nast. All rights reserved.
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