At the Creating Change conference in Baltimore, I went to a workshop where the question was posed, "What is something you do to queer your life?" I quickly raised my hand and said, "I wear a handlebar mustache." The audience laughed. I wasn't just trying to be funny; I was serious. The mustache is no coincidence. My facial hair is based on anti-assimilation theory.
I know. I'm a geek.
Five years ago, when I started testosterone, I was 96-percent percent sure I was making the right decision. My hesitation? I never wanted to assimilate. I never wanted to pass as not queer.
Taking testosterone was the best decision I ever made, one I have never doubted or regretted. However, my fear was realized rather quickly. As my facial hair grew in and I was finally able to wear suits and button-downs and present as male, I became invisible. One might think that I wanted to be "just one of the guys." They would be wrong.
See, my love of mid-century salvage furniture, suits, cigars, beer, scotch, and shaving tools is very queer. These items are things that I, as someone socialized as female, was never "allowed" to embrace. As I shave with my straight razor, I am not reenacting some male tradition; I am sculpting my queer face, the hair that I have paid dearly for. I sit in my leather-and-chrome man-chair and sip my single-malt scotch while watching Smash, laughing at how I have taken the masculine accoutrements and turned them on their head. My grandfather would roll in his grave with Frank Sinatra if he saw me queering the lifestyle he believed was set aside for cisgender men.
As queer as I am in my head, I cringe as I realize that most people see my love of suits and pocket squares as giving in to "the man." At Zuccotti Park I was questioned at every turn as I occupied and marched. I was seen as suspect; people thought I was aspiring to be the 1-percent. What happened to the world of self-identification? Clearly, wearing distinctly male clothing is no longer so queer, as I pass as male everywhere I go.
I am not "the man." I never want to be "the man." I am a proud-and-out trans guy! I wear my identity on my sleeve. Many guys who were assigned female at birth identify as male -- they always have and always will. I, on the other hand, identify as a ridiculously queer trans guy. I am politically queer, I am sexually queer, and I love being trans-identified.
What is a queer, trans, masculine dandy who loves his fine suit that he bought at a steal, supposed to do? In the long tradition of queer, masculine dandies, I pulled out my razor and went to work.
The sideburns are here to stay, and a wee soul patch is a nice, modern twist. I shaved off the chin hair and the patches of soft whiskers that had been populating my cheeks. Without any handlebar-mustached, male role models to discuss my options, I sought out the community of mustached men online. I shaved up to the crease of my lips and took a comb to what remained. I had quietly been growing my mustache the past few months. It blended into my goatee. No one knew that I was plotting a mustache revolution on my face. I looked in the mirror, and it was awesome. I had a handlebar mustache.
The molding wax was a trick, something to play with. It is not as much about twisting as shaping, I soon discovered. I played with different waxes (the shit at Rite Aid doesn't really do the trick; there is a whole world of wax out there). I shaped the sides up with a little curl.
The questions come quickly to my mind. Why care about queering my life? Why should it matter at all? What is so wrong with straight culture? Isn't assimilation what we are all fighting for?
I never want to assimilate. I understand that I say this from a place of privilege: passing privilege, racial privilege, and male privilege. However, as a queer person, I come from a lineage of sex-positive, gender-bending political radicals. Part of my fight is for all people to be accepted, not assimilated into straight culture, but treated with respect. I fight for a place where cross-dressers and furries can walk down the street in safety. I fight for a place where people in poly relationships can proudly place a photo of their family on their desk. I am not fighting for a world where acceptance is limited to married, middle-class, khaki-wearing, monogamous gays. There is nothing wrong with being a khaki gay, but there is something wrong when our whole movement pushes for just one flavor of gay, and there is something wrong when the queers are left on the side, where trans rights, poly rights, and sexual freedom are not part of our mainstream fight.
Every day, when I get dressed, I think of the question posed in the workshop I attended: "What is something you do to queer your life?" I wonder: what makes me so different from heterosexuals? The look is still filling in, and the style is still being perfected, but every day that I shape the curls of my mustache, I remember that I am a queer, transsexual man, that I do not fit your norms and that if you think I do, then just wait, that will change.