Chameleon

Written and modeled by Aidan Baglivo
Photography by Catherine Barna

This article has been adapted for the web from our Flux Issue.

Early each morning I, like most, choose what clothes to wear for the day. I stand in front of the mirror, weigh my options and check if the colors match. For me, though, my decision extends beyond the usual criteria for an acceptable outfit.

I came out the summer before my first year at Northeastern, and although I’m almost a year out from then, I still find myself tethered to questions like, “How ‘gay’ am I going to dress today? Am I expressing myself honestly through the clothes I’m wearing?”

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18 years of my life were spent as a chameleon. I tailored myself to accommodate the restrictive expectations of others. After high school, I was exhausted and lacked a tangible sense of self. But as I entered college, I felt a stronger responsibility toward my own happiness—so I took the first steps in what would be a lengthy, confusing process.

Stepping into the LGBTQ+ community was both refreshing and intimidating. Having just come out, I perceived older queer folks as veterans. Everyone seemed innately true to themselves and well-versed in queer culture. However, after meeting other gay students, I came to realize my identity didn’t rest upon my sexuality. All my life I had presented myself differently depending on my audience, so it was an adjustment to step out of the traditional, straight role I had assumed for years. By prioritizing my own opinion, I felt more comfortable experimenting with my perceived identity. The clothes I wore began to hold more meaning without the weight of archaic judgments. Fashion had actually become part of my queer identity.

There truly is no singular mode of dress for gay men. Through conversations with friends who have also recently come out, I’ve found that finding your style is complicated. The eyes of the LGBTQ+ community, along with the restrictive expectations of a conservative society, provide mixed signals when standing in front of the mirror in the morning. Valid concerns for personal safety and the ability to receive equal treatment linger when taking the “risk” of wearing something perceived to be more flamboyant or effeminate. At the same time, newly identified members of the community feel pushed by both their peers and themselves to venture outside of their comfort zone. The constant tug of war between queer and traditional mindsets manifests itself in the simple process of getting dressed.

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From testing various combinations and outfits each morning, I feel a sense of ownership of my style. Be it through adding a funky pair of socks, tucking in my shirt or vibrantly tie-dying a white Northeastern Huskies T-shirt, I take pride in how I present myself because I have full control over the clothes I wear. Taking the time to build a distinct outfit provides the foundation for a positive outlook that day. My opinion alone predicates my sense of self.

While I’ve made enormous strides in expressing myself, feeling confident in my sexuality and establishing my own identity since I came out, I’m definitely still finding my way. The coming out process never truly ends for members of the LGBTQ+ community. I often catch myself reverting to the traditional, “straight” role I assumed for so many years to appease the needs of others. But ultimately, when I look at the mirror in the morning, I see myself, not the chameleon who craved to blend in.