Content warning: The following story contains references to gender and sexual fluidity, expressions, and performance, which may be triggering for some readers.
"On Wearing Black," Angie Tissi-Gassoway
I wear mostly black—I always have. Black is the only color I find comfort in. My choice to wear black is not about fashion or style. I mean, at this point it rarely feels like I have a choice anymore. Wearing black is about my existence and survival. At night, once my head hits the pillow I am typically so exhausted that I literally pass out. Despite the exhaustion, throughout the night I have trouble sleeping—I wake up, toss and turn, and go through the rolodex that is my brain full of all the things I constantly worry about. In the morning it all starts over again—my own version of gender dysphoria that disrupts my every move.
I have tried to love this body I live in. I have tried to change this body I live in. I have tried to embody and embrace both the feminine and masculine parts of my body and soul. I have tried many things, but it never seems to be enough. I stand at my closet door every morning with the hopes that the anxiety attack will not begin. I stare into the black hole—making the choice about what black piece of clothing I will wear today.
Is it too feminine? Is it too masculine?
Will I confuse people?
Will people make statements or pass judgment?
Will I blend in because I always wear black?
I ask myself these questions every morning.
The internalized oppression I experience around gender, gender expression, and performance is debilitating and for the most part, unwavering. As a queer, white, androgynous, genderfluid person I often feel invisible and painfully visible all at the same time. My gender identity and understanding of my gender expression have shifted over time Even now—naming my gender in such a definitive way—I have never done.
I have only lived in a world in which my gender has been policed. Often it is policed by those that I least expect, serving as a reminder that I must uphold the expectations placed upon my assumed gender. This complicates everything. I never know what feels right anymore, because I am so jaded by the messaging of what it means to live in this body—what it means to express gender in this body. Is it possible to break free? Will I ever truly understand my relationship with gender, especially if it is always informed by others? The process by which I have explored my gender identity has been intensely private and personal. I have been validated and invalidated. I have found comfort in my neutrality around gender. I have found comfort in hiding—hiding behind and within the black clothes that I wear everyday.
As a professional who has spent years studying, unlearning, unpacking, and redefining gender and sexuality I often find it hard to believe my own words. I work with college students everyday, reminding them of their beauty, strength, and resilience. I work to celebrate, embrace and affirm the fluidity of gender and sexuality. I work and I work, yet, I find it so difficult to apply my teachings to my own life. These are teachings that I deeply believe in—I am rooted in their ability to transform one’s life. However, the fear of naming my gender and peeling back the layers to expose my truth feels unhinged and too vulnerable.
For now, I will continue to be resilient. I will continue to explore my gender and learn to live unapologetically as my true and authentic self. I will take one day at a time and trust that I know this body more than anyone else. I will wear mostly black—I always have. Black is the only color I find comfort in. My choice to wear black is not about fashion or style. I mean, at this point it rarely feels like I have a choice anymore. Wearing black is about my existence and survival.
About the art:
Angie expressed a love for the macabre, especially bones and all things skeletal. Relating to their story, we thought a full skeleton would be wonderfully representative of the body.
Flowers for me have always symbolized growth, so I wanted some of Angie's favorites to come blooming out from between the ribs. Despite the florals, black and white seemed important in keeping the theme.