'Tis the season to buy stuff. I don't mind buying cool gifts for my nearest and dearest; in fact, I prefer shopping for others (better to give than to receive, someone smart a long time ago said). When it comes to buying necessities for me, though, I am perpetually lost in the abyss that is lesbian.
Caveat: I know that there are plenty of femme lesbians out there who enjoy purchasing the girliest of girly clothes with ruffles and sparkles and fairy dust and such, and I applaud their individual identities and preferences. I also know that the less refined among us will take this confession as an offensive and narrow stereotype that lesbians wear men's clothing. Au contraire, I argue that the topic is much more nuanced and transcends sweeping generalizations and Ellen donning JCPenney sweaters.
The current gender binary and precipitous fashion and retail industries do not allow for the diversity of gender expressions in the universe. Translation: I can never find the clothes or shoes I like in my size.
I'm not a big ole bull dagger dyke (not that there's anything wrong with that) who wears men's overalls and work boots. I'm not terribly feminine or masculine in my gender identity or my style. Some might call me a "futch"; I prefer "tomboy with panache." Regardless of nomenclature, it's the clothing and footwear labels that trouble me most.
I am on a wild goose chase for shoes. "I've been looking for months!" I cried, exasperated, to my partner.
"It's been longer than that," she replied, clearly annoyed that a simple task has become an expedition.
It's not that I'm picky. I don't even like shopping. And I don't pay much attention to what's "in" or fashionable. I'm the kind of gal who finds one pair of nondescript shoes that fit, buys one pair in black and one in brown (you know, so they'll match with everything I own), and wears them until they're so holey that I become one with the Earth. Literally. When my partner catches me washing my toes when I come home because my shoes no longer provide a safe distance between my feet and the cement jungle, that's generally when I know it's time to buy new shoes. It's a process I loathe.
I visit a store or two, hopeful that I'll find something easily. No such luck. I start with the women's shoes, because I'm a woman, and that's where I was taught to look. Mostly, though, I look in the women's sections because that's where I can find my size. I rule out the giant heels, the rhinestones, the pinks and purples and floral patterns. The zebra-striped neon pumps threaten to induce seizures. I back away slowly. Though I'm not prone to epilepsy, I fear for the safety of others.
I admire with awe the stilettos and contemplate how one can possibly walk on those stilts. I consider learning how to wear them and realize its potential to lead to an alternative career in the circus. Then I remember how much clowns scare me and return to the task at hand.
When I rule out all impractical and glitzy shoes in the women's section, I'm left with two or so options: a sensible pair of white, Velcro shoes and the same pair in black. I want to cry.
I then make my way over to the men's section. I turn my nose up at the hypermasculine options that I diagnose as too clunky and spot some hopefuls: cute, sleek designs with reasonably small heels that say "stylin' without breaking my ankle." I am filled with possibility as I search for my size.
I try on the smallest options only to realize that they're still too big. There's room for a nuclear family in these shoes, and my toes don't feel like cohabiting. I am forced to say goodbye to the footwear that I'm fond of and retreat back home empty-footed.
This process has carried on so long that I've celebrated several seasons of no success. I've looked at the Cole Haans and the Fryes of the world, and the Paylesses and the Targets alike. I've thumbed through dozens of pages on Amazon and the like with my very patient partner (have I told you how much I love her?). Still, I face the same problem. Women's shoes fit, but they're ugly, and men's shoes, while cute, don't fit. I've even resorted to trying on large boys' shoes (too small, though some are awfully cute and cost less!). You haven't lived until you've caught soccer moms staring at you wide-eyed while you try to jam your foot into a shoe in the children's section at the shoe store.
I've contemplated those barefoot shoes, but I don't think they would fly at cocktail parties and press conferences (and they kind of creep me out). I've never been jealous of Fred Flintstone until now.
I wish I had the answers. There is a handful, if that, of businesses that cater to my kind (one such source, Dapper Q, offers some valuable fashion advice and resources and serves as "a vehicle to explore fashion as a social construct"), but they offer limited merchandise and are far and few between (and not necessarily affordable for all).
While the clothes we wear serve as our outward representation of our senses of self, and while I acknowledge the attached sociopolitical implications, I aim to make no statement with what I choose to wear. I really just need a new pair of shoes.