To Flannel or Not to Flannel?

Conforming to stereotypes can minimize queer experiences

The Feminist Closet

I remember my first flannel. I stood in front of the dressing room mirror at Charlotte Russe, sizing up the pink and grey fabric swishing around my torso. This is it, I thought. Liberation. Pride. Acceptance. Finally, I could put my queerness on display for the world to see. This was the beginning of a new era in which everyone could take one look at me and know that I’m interested in girls. I could meet other queer women and talk about queer things and shop at queer places. Right?

Well no, not really. My life hasn’t changed drastically since that fateful day two years ago. I haven’t cut my hair short. There are no edgy piercings anywhere on my body, not even on my ears. My footwear of choice is flats, not black combat boots. I guess I’m not very good at being a lesbian. And therein lies the problem.

Even though I know it’s just a stereotype, I can’t shake the association between wearing flannel and gayness. It’s definitely a social construct (there’s nothing inherently gay about flannel), but I feel just a tad bit gayer in it. To me, wearing flannel is not just another article of clothing. It’s about breaking societal norms about sexuality and appearance, but breaking them in a very specific, very lesbian way. By wearing flannel, I embrace a one-dimensional sexuality to defy an equally one-dimensional heteronormative world.

When I internalized the idea that wearing flannel equals lesbian and not wearing flannel equals straight, I subconsciously decided that those were my only two options: lesbian or straight. But my identity is more complicated than that, and I’m questioning whether I fit either of those categories.

So, what’s led me to re-evaluate my relationship with flannel? Well, I like this boy. But, I’m worried he thinks I’m gay. Obviously, the reasonable solution to this is to explain to him that I’m not. And to maybe flirt a little.

But, I’ll admit it. I stopped wearing flannel as soon as I realized I liked him. It’s been weeks, and they’re all hanging up in my closet, untouched. I can’t reconcile my feelings toward him with my perception of flannel. The symbol I once embraced now feels awkward and ill-fitting. Am I actually a lesbian? And if I am, is this the kind of lesbian I want to be? Is this how I want to present myself to the world? Is this me?

Elevating the importance of lesbian stereotypes can minimize the experiences of queer women by placing them in a box. We should celebrate all the ways to be queer. And, we can start by reconstructing the narrative surrounding lesbian stereotypes to create more room for queer people who don’t want to or can’t conform to them. After all, isn’t much of BGLTQ pride centered around being true to yourself even if it falls outside of the norm? Even if you don’t have nose piercings or don’t own any flannel, isn’t your identity just as valid?

It’s also worth noting that flannel is often seen as a lesbian stereotype, which doesn’t leave room for other sexualities. What about people who are bisexual, pansexual, asexual, or polysexual? Why aren't they included in this narrative? Along the same lines, when non-lesbian queer women embrace these stereotypes, they’re often assumed to be lesbians.

On a more personal level, attempting to follow these stereotypes simplifies how I perceive my own identity. I remember thinking that I needed to alter my wardrobe if I wanted to be a “real” queer woman. Essentially, I came out of a closet and was immediately shoved into a box.

Do I wear flannel because I’m queer or because I like it?

Closets are meant to conceal your true identity, and perhaps flannel has become a kind of closet for me.

There was a time when it was good for me to hang so much of my identity on a piece of clothing. Wearing flannel was instrumental in my learning to accept my sexuality in high school, and I’m grateful for that experience. But, I’m at a different stage in my life now. Flannel has served its purpose.

Everyone should have the power to create and express their identities in whatever way they choose. Some wear flannel and are empowered by it, and that's wonderful. But, it's just not for me. I express my identity by reflecting on my values, speaking up on issues I care about, and finding communities for mutual support. The amount of flannel in my closet will play no part in this. And, if I do wear flannel, it’ll be because it matches my outfit, not because I want to make a statement.

I’ve spent too much time chasing the lesbian ideal. Now, it’s time for me to chase my own ideals of love, acceptance, and being true to myself.

(Hint: Reread and replace “flannel” with “sexuality.”)

Becina J. Ganther ’20 is a Crimson Editorial writer living in Wigglesworth Hall. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.

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