Monday, June 13, 2016

Moving Targets: Homophobia and the Orlando Massacre

On Sunday morning, I woke up to terrible news: a homophobic man had opened fire in a gay club and killed 49 people. He happened to be Muslim. 

I knew immediately what would happen. Despite the fact that homophobia is rampant in every culture and every religion, this hateful man's massacre of LGBT people would be used to fan the flames of anti-Muslim hatred. Sadly, I was right.

What I did not anticipate is that this flame would distract people from what is obviously the main issue in this horror -- homophobia -- and our own culture's role in perpetuating it.

I was stunned and numb, but, me being me, I acted on  my confused emotions by creating an outfit, an outfit dripping with rainbows that screamed: QUEER. I wanted to show solidarity with my community, with those injured and killed because they were queer, and with all their loved ones who will now suffer the after effects of this homophobic act. 

Suddenly, I was afraid of being visibly queer. I joked that my outfit made me a moving target for homophobes. It wasn't a funny joke. I felt vaguely guilty for dressing as I did, as if, were I to be gay-bashed, it would somehow be my fault for not slipping under the radar. I haven't felt that way about being visibly out for over 20 years. In the wake of Sunday's events, I've been remembering how terrifying it was to be out, and realizing that it still is.

Yesterday, I wanted to talk about homophobia. I wanted to shout about it to the skies. But very few people were doing so. 

I did not want to engage in ongoing discussions about whether or not Islam is inherently hateful and violent. I did not want to watch white, western newscasters repeatedly call on Muslims to defend their religion and assert that, no, it does not condone massacres of homosexuals. But many people were doing so. 

The real issues were rapidly being obscured. In focusing on Islam, people's attention was deflected from our own culture's homophobia. Straight, non-Muslim Americans got to feel sanctimonious and smug about their supposed enlightenment about queer issues, while their very act of deflection and silencing proved that their sanctimoniousness was unfounded.

Me in the early 90s
I've been out of the closet since 1989. Because I've been out for so long, I know for a fact that no single religion and no one culture can be blamed for homophobia. It is and has always been everywhere. I remember when it took almost impossible courage to wear this shirt. Right here, in my mostly Christian, mostly white, liberal neighbourhood, I would shake with fear when I wore it. 

Things have gotten better, but only in pockets of North American culture, not all of it. It is, after all, founded on homophobia as much as any other culture. 

I came out before the rainbow was the LGBT image (and before we used the term LGBT, for that matter). I came out when we wore pink triangles to signal to each other, "I'm one too." Why? Because the Nazis made homosexual men wear pink triangles when they threw them into the concentration camps. Don't gasp in horror at that evil regime's treatment of homosexuals till you hear the end of the story. Do you know what "our side" did when we won the war? We transferred the homosexual men to our own jails! They were not seen as worthy of liberation. 

Gay men were, among other things, widely assumed to prey on male children. In other words, most people had a very difficult time differentiating between homosexuality and paedophilia. There are many who still do, right here, in North America. As late as 1978, a successful campaign against homosexual rights was named Save Our Children, and, in the same year, a group in California fought to ban all homosexuals from working in public schools. Who do you think was behind these campaigns? I'll give you a hint: They were religious, but they were not Muslims.

This was American culture. In many ways, this still is American culture. 

I remember the time I first held a girlfriend's hand in public. We were really just girls, both 19, in a freezing cold winter in Montreal. We were both wearing mittens. I remember the mittens especially because it made me feel even younger, and not nearly as sophisticated as I wanted to be. 

There we were, late at night, shyly holding hands as we walked along a side street. A car swung around a corner and, as its lights hit us, we instinctively dropped each other's hands. We knew, without speaking, without planning, that we must do this. We knew that, if we did not, we were moving targets. The danger of violence, rape, and murder was real and intense. A few years later I dated a woman who had been gang raped at 18 by three men who just didn't like lesbians, especially butch lesbians -- and knew they could get away with it. 

It's not like we could go to the police if something did happen to us. Everyone had heard the stories about male cops taking lesbians into back allies and raping them. The cops called it "showing them what they were missing." "I'll turn you straight" rapes are still common in many places in the world. I've heard it's particularly bad in South Africa. But it still happens here too. Ever heard of "corrective intercourse"? Look it up.

When it came to brutal violence, it may have been even worse for gay men. One night, I was in the gay area of town on fireworks night. All gay men feared fireworks night because it was when their neighbourhood was flooded with heterosexuals, many young and male, many drunk. 

Three menacing white men approached me and my friend. One had a glow stick protruding from his pants. He waved it around at my friend and, mere inches from his face, said, "You like that? Does that turn you on?" It was clear that his intent was violent. Idiot that I am, I threw myself between my friend and this homophobe and yelled, "Leave him alone!" He look down (waaay down, I'm short) at me and seemed confused. This gave his nicer friend a chance to pull him away and offer us an embarrassed apology. (I've always wondered what became of that nicer man.) 

Instinctively, without any words, my friend and I threw our arms around each other like a straight couple, and walked away, disguised as heterosexual, and trembling all over.

I come from a time when being openly, visibly gay was an act of defiance, and an act of courage. It was dangerous. Don't kid yourselves: it still is. If the massacre in Orlando teaches us anything, it teaches us that.  Gay-bashing is not a thing of the past.

In 1990, I briefly worked at the LGBT bookstore, Little Sisters, where we frequently received abusive and sexually graphic phone calls from homophobic straight men. Packages of books crossing the border addressed to us were regularly opened and stopped by censors, even when the same books were waved by if they were addressed to "normal" bookstores. The assumption was that anything being sent to LGBT people must be perverted, filthy, and illegal -- just like us.

Little Sisters was bombed in 1993 -- again. It had been bombed twice before, in 1987 and 1988. Sunday's shooter was not the first to attempt to murder masses of LGBT people; he was just one of the most successful. 

This is not ancient history. I'm only 45 and I remember it all.

Remember when all those people fought hard to prevent gay marriage from becoming legal in America? Ancient history? That was last year! Remember who was fighting the hardest to prevent it? I'll give you a hint: It wasn't Muslims.

My point in telling you all this is to tell you that homophobia is American. It is Canadian. It is global. It is not a problem restricted to Muslims. Regardless of who ends up pulling the trigger, homophobic acts would not occur if a culture of homophobia did not already exist.

Christianity cannot be let off the hook here. No religion can. No culture can. America cannot be let off the hook.

Anyone in the LGBT community can tell you stories about people whose conservative Christian parents kicked them out of the home when they came out as queer. The streets are filled with homeless kids who are homeless for one reason only: they are queer and their families think this is an abomination against God. This is not just history. This is now. This is not just Islam. This is conservatives in all religions.

Just this year, Reverend Franklin Graham said that homosexuals cannot be Christian and cannot remain in the church

Reverend Graham's father, by the way, was one of the many Christians who said that AIDS was God's punishment on gay men for the sin of being gay. In other words, he said that God wanted all gay men dead.

This sentiment is also alive and well today. We saw its hideous outcome on Sunday.

Most of us know about the hateful, homophobic rants of the Westboro Baptist church. Predictably, they have already come out in praise of the shooter in this week's attack on gays in Orlando.

But they're not the only Christians to do so.  

As soon as the news of the shooting hit, the internet swarmed with those who condoned the attack. Many of them were Christian. Some of them were Muslim. Most were not.

This shooting was about homophobia, here, now, everywhere, always.

In a world so full of homophobia...

Me, on the right, with friends at a Gay Pride march, in the early 90s.
... is it any wonder LGBT people seek each other to form our own community? Is it any wonder we speak of each other as family? 

When I came out, it was all about the gay bars. We didn't have the internet then. If we wanted to find our community, our family, we had to go out, and most of the time, we went to the bars, bars just like Pulse.

Finally, we felt at home, loved, accepted. And we had fun! We were young. We danced (back when I could still dance) and flirted and lusted and fell in love. We told each other our coming out stories and found a way to laugh at homophobia. The clubs were our refuge, our playground, our safety.

Despite the internet, I don't think much has really changed. Gay bars are still much more than mere bars. And this is why the attack at Pulse is an ultimate act of homophobia. It's an attack on our home. It's an attack on all of us. 

Just when we were all feeling like things were changing and we could safely be ourselves even outside of LGBT bars and the LGBT community, we find that we are wrong. This is something many around the world already knew all too well.

We suddenly again know what it feels like to be a moving target.

We know what it is to be afraid, just for being who we are, not just then, but here, now, everywhere. 

And it is not just a Muslim issue, or just an American one. It is a global issue. It is homophobia.

(I'm sharing this with Not Dressed as Lamb, Elegantly Dressed and Stylish, Honest Mum, High Latitude Style, Fashion Should Be Fun, Rachel the Hat, Adri Lately, Tina's Pink Friday, and Sydney Fashion Hunter.)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Dropped Waists and Miss Fisher's Earrings: the Highs and Lows of 1920s Fashion

I don't often go for a 1920s look, not a very authentic one, anyway. It wasn't a good decade for stout women, or mature women, or breasts, or waists. It wasn't even the best of decades for skinny, flat-chested women. Trying for this look reminds me that we should always wear what works for us, not what's trendy. 

But sometimes a 1920s style can work, at least from certain angles, so I went ahead and had fun with it for once. Ironically, my wedding dress was also of a very 1920s style, so I'll tell you a bit about that in this post too.

It all started with the earrings ...

Essie Davis as Phryne Fisher
... which will always be my Miss Fisher Earrings. 

Every time I watch Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, I crave everything I see in the show, from the clocks, to the cars, to the coats ... but mostly I crave Miss Fisher's green, teardrop earrings. I've searched and searched for some like them, to no avail.

Finally, out of desperation, I entered "miss fisher earrings" in an Etsy search and lo! I found a woman who was making them! I think she did a wonderful job, don't you? She makes replicas of jewelry from other shows too. 

Long, teardrop earrings were a staple of 1920s, Art Deco fashion, and, since my wedding dress was strongly influenced by Art Deco, I wore a similar pair in rose quartz at our wedding. 

Once I'd finally found the earrings, my next step was finding a dress to wear with them. This one from Value Village was already in my closet and, at least in my mind ...

Sunglasses: Aldo; Dress, headband, shoes, and bracelet: vintage; Earrings: D Baker Jewelry 
... was transformed by the addition of the earrings. 

Its most notable, 1920s features were its dropped waist (a mere accident of old elastic in the dress) and its colours.

There's a lot of my least favourite blue in the dress but it's redeemed for me by the pale green background colour, which was obviously a good match with the earrings.

Since I highlighted the green of my dress with the earrings, I did the same with these shoes. 

T-strap and mary-jane shoes were en vogue in the 1920s and I swoon for them on a regular basis. Before I became disabled, I had a few such shoes, but their heels now prevent me from wearing them. 

I searched forever before I found these, flat soled shoes for the wedding but I think they really fit the bill, as did Beau's. He adores his wedding shoes. I think he was more excited about them than about his bespoke suit. I love them too and would happily wear a pair just like them in my size.

These green shoes have an extremely low heel, so they did not hurt my back, but they have just enough heel that my feet made a wonderful "clack clack clack" sound as I walked. It was a nice change. I seldom get to sound like that anymore.

It made me feel all stylish and grown up. 

Beau said it was the sound of "uh oh, a grownup's coming!" 

Meanwhile, I brought out the burgundy in my dress with these burgundy sunglasses. Sunglasses didn't come into fashion until the 1930s but, if one were to wear them, they were round, always round. This didn't change much for about two decades.

At the last minute, I added this bracelet because its colour match the dress so well. It was not, however, a good match for the 1920s; I'm pretty sure this type of enamel was invented in the 1980s!

The 20s were actually a kind of odd time for women's fashion. As I mentioned above, one defining feature of 1920s dresses is their absurdly dropped waists.

It's a very difficult look to pull off and, with its obscuration of woman's curves, not very sexy at all. Many women today claim to be going for a "Gatsby" look at themed parties and weddings, but they're not. Their dresses are almost inevitably too form fitting; in other words, they're too flattering and/or too sexy. 

I read somewhere that, if the fashion illustrations from the period were to come to life, they would be 7 feet tall, with crazy broad shoulders, no hips, no waist, and no bosoms whatsoever. This is particularly evident in illustrations of the fashions tailored for "stout" and "mature" women. (Bless designers of the past for realizing that a mature woman isn't so much stout as she is just, you know, grown up.) In these illustrations, it seems that all a woman's heft is in her shoulders. Where are her breasts!? Where are her waist and hips? (I'm quite sure many men of the period were asking the same question.)

The look really didn't work all that well on real women.

Sometimes the results were a bit disastrous. My heart goes out to this young woman. She is wearing the latest fashions from head to toe -- and they simply don't suit her.

My outfit wasn't quite so disastrous but it wasn't my best look ever either. 

This was by no means the only time women wore the uniform of the day and felt ugly, without stopping to ask if the problem was with their own bodies or, in fact, the fashions themselves. Remember muffin tops? Such disasters come and go. We haven't seen the last of them, I'm sure.

Such things worked better in illustrations ... 

... than in real life.

In an effort to force their bodies to match the fashions, rather than the fashion to match their bodies, women of all sizes frequently bound their breasts in the 1920s. I love/hate how the centre brassiere here is touted as as being able to "restrain any fleshiness." Fleshiness like breasts? So sad.

Breasts, bellies, waists, and hips, were concealed to a greater ... 

... or lesser extent, depending on the "fleshiness" of the woman.

That is just not my thing!

It took me years of painful disability to go from a 36B to a 38DD, and I'm not about to conceal the one thing I'm enjoying about my weight gain. I've been known to show them off with pride ...

... including at our wedding!

But they just don't go well with a drop-waisted, shapeless dress. The whole thing pretty much hangs straight from the breasts and, at least from certain angles, that's not terribly flattering!

I think this woman looks pretty good but I also think she would look even better if the dress were nipped in at the waist, so the lovely delineation between bosom and hips were easier to make out.

I feel the same way about these two.

Originally, my 1920s inspired, Jenny Packham wedding dress also had a dropped waist. As much as I like accurate period details in my outfits, there was no way I was forsaking beauty in order to adhere to the dictates of a fashion trend nearly 100 years old. So I had the waist taken in and raised, and put darts in the loose underslip so it nipped in at the waist. The overall effect made it a moreflattering hybrid of Edwardian cut and Art Deco fashion. 

All that said, there were times that dropped-waisted dresses worked beautifully ...  

... and not just on the very thin and the very young. 

The dresses could indeed be very pretty, especially if they had this lovely, gauzy quality to them.

Louise Brooks
It was very feminine.

It was pretty ...

... almost ethereal.

It was a strange transitionary time for women's fashion. Even as the styles look very feminine to us today, they were often understood as quite masculine at the time. First, of course, there was the fact that they obscured women's curves. Thus, the fashions and the women who wore them were frequently referred to as "boyish." But, in fact the outfits also had features which mimicked men's fashion much more than any women's fashion in the last several decades and even centuries. 

Remember, this is the sort of thing women had been wearing a mere 20 years earlier

Next to that, you can indeed see the angularity and masculinity that others saw in 1920s clothes.

There were all those ties! 

I got Beau to tie mine. 

They were pretty ubiquitous and probably gave women a sense of power that they hadn't been allowed to feel in the Victorian and Edwardian periods.  

Even I felt it, all these years later, with my little fake tie flapping and becoming disarrayed in the wind. 

The more masculine fashions of the 20s were definitely seen by some as part of an early wave of feminism and women's freedom.

Then there were the bobs, the shortest women had worn their hair in ... I honestly don't know another period in western culture before this one when women wore their hair so short. Do you?

Louise Brooks' sleek black bob is the most iconic ...

Some of the cast of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
And was unmistakably the model for Miss Fisher's bob.

They looked wonderful, peeping out from beneath the close-fitting, cloche hats of the day.

But a sleek bob is never going to happen for a curly haired, Jewish woman for me.

That's really not a problem. I've shown you Clara Bow's wonderful, curly bob before. God knows how she managed bangs with naturally curly hair. I would never attempt it! (And while we're looking at this photo of Clara Bow, I realize that I haven't even addressed the ridiculous eyebrows of the 20s! I think I may save that for another post.)

Curly or sleek, bobs weren't for everyone. They were, for some, still seen as a bit rakish, the territory of morally questionable flappers and "loose women," (a term I loathe).

Short hair, combined with the more masculine aspects of 1920s styles, were sometimes quite overtly combined by some lesbians to create what might today be called a "butch" style. Racy indeed!

More conservative women often opted for faux bobs, which were very common and really aren't that difficult to achieve.

It looks like all the ladies here are sporting them. I think the only hard part for me would be getting that bit of hair on the forehead to stay in place.

They're just a very low bun, rolled up at the nape of the neck.

Ashleigh Cummings as Dot
The sweetly conservative Dot wears them in Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.

It's a curiosity that virtually everyone today who decides to go "Gatsby," wears some dreadful headband of this sort (and do note the awful wig too). Yet, when I try to find images of real women wearing such things in the real 1920s, I'm at a loss.

What you will find, though, is women wearing headbands pushed much further up on their heads. 

It is this look, therefore, that I went for with the freakishly short belt that came with my dress. There was no way that thing was going around my waist (or the waist of any woman wearing that dress), so I decided to go a little matchy-matchy and add it to my faux bob.

I thought the effect was quite nice, though that and the shoes bumped me up from vintage "influenced" to vintage costumed and I did get some perplexed stares while I was out. 

As if such a thing would bother me! Hardly.

Now a word about the settings for these photos. As usual, I tried to pose in and in front of settings that actually existed, or could have existed in the 1920s. This house, probably built around 1905-1910 was a no-brainer. For the most part, the owners have given it a nice, authentic look. Naturally, I also liked that it matched my dress.

I also really wanted to get some photos of me with my credenza in our living room. I'm pretty sure it was made in the 1920s and I think it's a work of art. I adore it. I spent quite a bit of money on it but I don't regret that at all. The lamp is of a Tiffany style (I could never afford the real thing!), which would date to about 1905. The radio, which works perfectly, is a replica of a style that would have been around at least by the 1930s or even earlier. (Radios up through the 1940s are themselves works of art.)

You'll notice that I've chosen to place our Shabbat candles and Kiddush cup on the credenza. They were both gifts from a good friend who lives in New York, where things are much more easily had.

I asked for a "classic" style cup so I'll bet such cups were around in the 20s, though I'm sure they were only owned by the wealthy.

You've seen our living room, including this chair and its matching sofa, in a few other posts, my favourite being this one. The chair and sofa are reupholstered but authentic, probably from the 1930s. The chair's rounded curves hug my always aching back. I got that sweet little footstool at second hand store and it really helps my back when I sit in the chair.

In my last post, I wrote a lot about my sorrow over the increasing loss of our city's houses and gardens ...

... which may be why I posed so much in our own thriving garden ...

... and in front of that glorious yellow house ...

... and a few once similar but now rundown or altered houses.

Even as I can recognize its aesthetic faults, I can glory in the beauties of the past.

Even those of the 1920s.