Why I Founded Qwear: The clothes that made me
Today I'm doing a Big Thing and sharing the story of how I came to found Qwear. The story is a difficult one to tell, but I feel strong enough now to tell it.
I grew up with a lot of privilege (white, middle class, near a major city) so I can't iterate enough how much worse most trans and nonbinary folks have it. If you think my story is bad, it only scratches the surface.
CW: Depression, Assault, Transphobia
My story begins at age 4, when I told my preschool teacher I wanted to be a boy when I grew up. Their response? "You can't do that."
At 9 I developed really bad OCD. I got reprimanded for adjusting my chair too many times in class.
I began puberty around age 10, and I hated it. I hated myself, I hated my chest. I wore only baseball caps and baggy tees that entire year. I had my first panic attack that I can remember that year.
At age 13 I started becoming more aware of my identity. My journal from that time reads "I'm not gay I'm not gay" over and over. At 14, I was fortunate to attend the Cambridge School of Weston, a private high school that focused on creativity and the arts, where being gay was widely accepted. I considered coming out, but I found that while my friends at school would be supportive, the outside world would not. I remained closeted for another 2 years.
That same year, I was assaulted by my pediatrician who forced me to undergo an internal exam. This experience was not only traumatizing because I was only 14, but because I didn't identify with the part of my body that was violated. The event taught me that I didn’t have autonomy over my body and that my needs didn't matter.
Many trans people avoid the doctor altogether from fear of harassment or assault. Of those who go, 7% reported experiencing unwanted physical contact from a doctor or other health care provider such as fondling, sexual assault, or rape. (source)
That was when I started feeling as though I could not breath. I had a nightmare that I was being suffocated on a table in a doctor's office. I would black out frequently and was so dizzy I could hardly function. Doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with me and offered no help.
I finally came out as gay at age 16 and it went worse than anticipated. My school was fine but I was still bullied frequently outside of school. This was the year I developed insomnia, and my sleep hasn't been the same since.
Clothing was the one thing that offered me some relief, and I dressed in drag any chance I got.
My depression got to the point where I didn't care if I lived or died. I would walk around late at night in the woods behind my house, blasting music on my headphones, simply not caring if anyone snuck up on me.
Later that year I learned of the term "gender fluid" and began identifying as such. When I tried telling people, I faced even worse bullying I had before. Telling people I was gay made them uncomfortable. Telling people I didn’t exist on the gender binary made them angry.
When I got to college I went back in the closet, just referring to myself as "gay" for the next 6 years. I started wearing more feminine clothing as a form of self-imprisonment: I knew that if I got the taste of freedom, I wouldn't be able to go back. My depression and anxiety often prevented me from attending classes. Sometimes I would attempt to go to class but I'd start sobbing uncontrollably on the way there and I'd wind up hiding in a bathroom.
Panic attacks became a daily occurrence, and they all revolved around the feeling of not being able to breath. I thought I was dying and went to the emergency room once — of course they did absolutely nothing for me.
After another breakdown Junior year I began taking medication that alleviated some of my distress. It curbed my crying issues and made going to class a little more bearable.
With the help of very forgiving teachers, I graduated.
I moved back home and fell into another deep depression. I thought I’d never be able to succeed in life because it was so hard for me to function.
One day I was in the Downtown Crossing T station (Boston) and spotted what appeared to be a secret door that lead into the Macy’s guy’s department. I opened the door and walked right in. The store was definitely open, but no one was there watching me as I thumbed through racks of beautiful garments. I tried things on in their tiny changing rooms. I looked in the mirror wearing a boxy tee shirt and just felt… amazing. I loved how flat my chest looked in it. I could stand 2 inches taller. If I angled myself the right way it almost looked like my chest was completely flat. I tried on everything in site. I left with a considerable dent in my graduation gift money… but it was the best money I’d ever spent.
Wearing the right clothing was the best anti-anxiety medication out there. Though I faced increased bullying, I was thrilled with how I looked and wouldn’t trade that for anything.
It was the clothing I wore that lead me to recognize my trans and nonbinary identity. I wasn't aware that there were other clothing choices for me aside from baggy tees. Had I seen people like me in the media, I might have come out years earlier.
There was such little information about queer fashion at that time, so I took it upon myself to create more. I started a Tumblr blog called “Dyke Duds” (renamed Qwear a few years later) and posted photos of my outfits, along with invitations for others to submit.
7 years later, we have an 8-person team and readers from over 135 countries. I often receive private messages from people telling me how pivotal Qwear was for them in discovering themselves. This is why we keep doing the work we do. At the end of the day, Qwear is not about fashion — it's about saving lives.
My story has a happy ending, but not all do. Now I’m going to share the most harrowing statistic out there:
Let that sink in. You may be thinking… that’s not possible. But look at my life: Imagine if I’d faced racism in addition to queerphobia. Imagine if I hadn’t gone to a school where being gay was accepted, and if my family had been poor. Imagine if I didn’t have health care… or I lived on a reservation. Would I be alive right now?
Trans women of color started the gay rights movement and remain the backbone of the LGBTQIA+ civil rights movement and culture.
Help us save more lives today with a donation for Giving Tuesday. Your support is going towards not just helping the LGBTQIA+ community survive, but thrive.
Will you help us reach our $1,000 goal?
Cover photo by Sam Murray