Here’s the funny thing. I really strapped on my first pair of heels in NYC with a GUCCI suit for a nightclub, just because I wanted to be taller than everyone else. No one even saw my feet in a dark crowded club, but they did notice I was standing over 6’4″. My “dressing up,” has never been an attempt to be someone else, or to impersonate another person or gender, but rather, a celebration of beauty. I have always loved beautiful things. I was drawn to the aesthetic as a child. Earlier on it manifested in my artwork with a brush and canvas. Later in the ballet, using my body as an instrument. I wanted to create beautiful things. I love beautiful things. High heels, are beautiful….and just so happen to make my legs look better too….so who’s to say I shouldn’t wear them?
I started playing with make-up much earlier on, although it initially was just a way to cover a blemish, or darken my blond eyelashes. I colored my hair and glossed my lips all through high school, and never felt I shouldn’t have. I really always just thought, “Why do girls get to have all the fun? Who made up that rule?” As a society, we only think lip color is feminine, because someone before us decided it was and told us so. We also call a tree a tree, because that’s what some one else taught us. The majority of our behavior is learned, and we often refuse to challenge those norms. Does strapping on a YSL pump make me less of a man? Absolutely not. In my opinion, it takes some serious courage and confidence to step out the house as a 33 year old man in booty shorts and a open-toe sandal with a 5 inch heel. I know that same day I was lifting weights with my callused hands and dripping sweat in the gym, and I can be both people, and everything in between if I want to.
As a teenager, I always had immense support from my family in all I did, even if I was covered in glitter while doing it. I have no doubt it was their love that helped me be so confident in who I wanted to be. I was never worried they would judge me, and while I know there will always be plenty who are happy to judge, knowing the ones closest to me did not, gave me the confidence to be myself.
It’s a hard thing not fitting into a box though. I do remember my Mom asking once or twice if I wanted to “Be a drag queen?” The answer was always “No,” but that was the only thing she knew of when it came to men putting on make-up.
It all goes back to the “Exposure Theory.” We accept more of what we are exposed to. A dog and cat are seen as a traditionally conflicting pair, but if a puppy is raised with a kitten, the conflict no longer exists. The same applies to us as people. When my sister had her first child, I insisted we were open about me being gay from the beginning. Once she was old enough to realize her parents were a couple, there would be no reason for her to not know Uncle JJ (that’s me) could have a boyfriend. If we hid the fact, it would only mean it was something we were not proud of, or ashamed of. Now with two more nephews as well, while they may giggle when I whip out my compact to touch up in the car after a soccer game, they don’t pass judgement. It’s just what they’re used to.
Even with all the support from friends and family, it doesn’t mean it was always easy. I work in fitness as a trainer and group instructor. I have spent countless dollars and efforts trying to “fit in,” more with my colleagues. To have bigger muscles, to maybe dress differently, to be the hyper masculine ideal that is portrayed in fitness. It wasn’t until I accepted that would never be me, nor did I want it to be, that I finally found success in my career.
I was the trainer who would probably show up in booty shorts, leg warmers, and definitely some mascara, and still sweat my butt off and kick yours along the way. It became my brand. Sort of a glamorous showgirl of fitness. Although it wasn’t a show, it was simply who I was.
Dating often presented a whole new slough of conflicts. I remember hiding the heels if a date was coming over. I used to try and even butch up my apartment for fear of someone else not understanding that for me, high heels were just a small part of me. I wouldn’t give my whole name, for fear of them googling and finding photos I would then have to explain. Now, in my 30’s, I keep a pair of heels on display in the living room. There is a 5 foot tall portrait of me in knee high stilettos boots next to the television. While that glamazon may not be out all the time, if you’re not strong enough to handle it, then we’re probably not a match. So for that reason, I now keep everything front and center. If you have questions, I will gladly answer them, but the one thing I refuse to do is be ashamed for liking a little something sparkly just because you think it’s too feminine.
I will never forget being told “Men are gay, because they like men, so stop “dressing up.” Silly me, I always thought men were men because of their character. Men were made by their actions. Men protected and took care of their loved ones. Real men fight for causes they believe in, and work to make the world a better place. Masculinity was not something simply translated by a beard and beer drinking. I may have on two sets of false eyelashes from time to time, but I will still open the door and offer to carry your bag along the way.