Learning To Wear My Own Clothes

by Carol Shepherd

My name is Carol and I live in the south of England. I am married to a straight man and am the usually proud owner of three children, two boys and a girl.

Because we live in the UK, our kids have to wear school uniform. 

For my younger son in primary school, this consists of a sweatshirt and polo-shirt bearing the school logo and smart black trousers. For my two teenagers, it’s a little more formal on top—a tie and shirt must be worn under a v-neck sweater, with skirt or trousers in a sober colour. No jewellery, cosmetics or further bodily adornments are allowed—in theory, if not always in practice!

Every so often, perhaps once a month, the kids have a non-uniform day at school. Usually they have to donate £1 to a charitable cause for the privilege of wearing their ‘own’ clothes to class instead of uniform. This is considered a big treat. My ten year old in particular gets inordinately excited about the chance to wear his soccer shirt and favourite hoodie instead of his everyday school-wear.

It’s kind of strange. I mean, my son doesn’t dance around the house at the weekend hooting in delight because he has his ‘own clothes’ on. It’s just what you do at home. But for some reason, wearing home gear to school is one big massive deal.

I suppose it’s because our own clothes are comfortable. 

They reflect who we are, what team we support or what brand or colour we like. Our own clothes mark us out as an individual, set us apart from the rest of the crowd. Put that way, being forced to wear clothes that we don’t feel good in, that irritate our skin, that are the wrong shade for us—clothes that we didn’t choose to wear in short—is a punishment of sorts. It can feel like an imposition by the authority in question, under the thin guise of fostering a sense of community.

It struck me, as I scratched around in my purse to find some loose change for my younger son’s latest non-uniform day, just how analogous this is to the experience of many LGBT individuals, and particularly LGBT people of faith.

We are shoehorned into church traditions, liturgical expressions and behavioural standards imposed on us by heterosexist and monosexist patriarchal systems that would have us all behave uniformly, however much psychological discomfort that brings us at an individual level.

Because I am not only a mother of three—I am also a bisexual Christian woman in a mixed orientation marriage. 

I’m a Mom within a M.O.M. trying to squeeze out some semblance of authentic existence between the interstices of my intersectional identity.

It’s tough being bisexual. It’s the silent ‘b’ in LGBT. We are nominally included in the titles and straplines of books, conferences, support groups and social policy, yet no one really talks about us at any meaningful level. And this silence, or ‘erasure’ as social scientists call it, is even more deafening within faith communities, where the focus is very much on lesbian and gay civil liberties—which weirdly seem to involve mimicking centuries old sexual and familial arrangements rooted in patriarchy.

It seems to me that the mainstream church cannot handle any issue that is not easy to categorize or dogmatize. Hence people are monosexual, their affectional orientations directed towards one sex only, whether that be the same or the opposite sex. Perhaps it’s the human desire for closure expressed at macro level—I’m not sure.

We like to have our categories neatly sewn up, the doors to our cranial compartments firmly shut.

What I do know, is that as a bisexual Christian, I have the sensation of travelling in a permanently hanging glass elevator, never reaching its destination. Lesbians have spoken of the double-glazed glass ceiling they experience in the workplace, where opportunities are denied them on account of their sexuality as well as their gender.

As a bisexual woman of faith, it feels like a 360 degree glass casing around me. I don’t belong on the ‘Straight’ Floor, we don’t belong on the ‘Lesbian Floor.’ I don’t belong on the ‘Church’ Floor, however welcoming our Christian brothers and sisters purport to be. Most of the time I don’t even belong on the LGBT Affirming Church Floor, at least not really. I belong nowhere, forever suspended, never grounded in a sense of belonging.

Which is why I’m commissioning the construction of a new floor in this building, especially for people like me. So that the elevator can finally come to a resting place, where the doors open and I can step out of this glass box. If you want to join me in the project, get speaking, get writing, get challenging those lazy, simplistic binary assumptions, within both affirming and non-affirming church communities.

I’m gradually shedding the uniform this monosexist, heterosexist church and society has put on me. 

I’m learning to wear my own clothes in public. It’s a slow process. I feel kind of conspicuous, but better that than invisible.

Photo via flickr user Nugraha Kusuma