I always thought that if home is where the heart is, then it is on my sleeve.
Home represents a happy place where you can live, laugh, learn, and feel safe. It’s somewhere real or sometimes imagined where you are inspired, loved, respected, and cared for. Home is also where memories lie and dreams begin.
When Megan and I decided to reclaim our ‘basement penthouse’ as a space for chosen family to stay when passing through town, our commitment was to make it an inspiring home to them. We commissioned an art piece from a member of our chosen family, our niece Masie, to create something that came from her heart.
I first met Masie through her mom, a dear friend and former co-worker. While we couldn’t put our finger on it at the time, we instantly knew that we were family. Years after we first met, Masie started feeling a new sense of home and self. She came out as transgender and wasn’t asking permission for her journey. That’s not easy for anyone, let alone a teenager still living with a parent. She felt safe and supported in the loving glow of her aunties.
Enter Shane Avenue. A few months prior to the DapperQ NYFW show at the Brooklyn Museum, Deb Saywell reached out to offer me the honor of walking for her brand. Shane Ave. creates custom suiting masterpieces out of Sydney, Australia. There was a part of me that thought, “How can I successfully design a custom suit from half a world away?”
Deb made it so easy to collaborate on my unique vision. Every time I asked her if something was possible she never told me ‘no.’ She took pains to make sure I understood how to take my measurements and captured all of the detailed requests I wanted. There is no question that this suit was made for me. The feeling of stepping out in a suit that not just fits you — but really SUITS you — well, there is nothing quite like it.
I noticed when looking at the Shane Ave. Instagram account that one of her customers had a vest with a custom print on the back of it. When I asked about this she said that all she needed was a high resolution photo and I, too, could make the vest into something much more personal. But, what would it be? What is a message that sings from my heart that I want to share with the world?
The answer was right in front of my nose – literally. The piece that Masie made for our basement is a street art style painting with the word “HOME” emblazoned across it. Wanting to uplift and celebrate my niece while displaying a message that resonates from the heart was the only option. Deb not only printed on the back of my vest but also tiled it as the lining of my blazer and pants.
Thanks to the amazing work and dedication of Anita Dolce Vita and a brilliant team of volunteers, the DapperQ NYFW event at the Brooklyn Museum has been growing in esteem over the last 6 years. While this year’s show was covered by NBC News, ABC News, Vanity Fair, and so many other mainstream outlets and many LGBTQ focused blogs, presses, and magazines, it was Colette who nailed the emotional truth of the day. “Today isn’t about the style, the fashion, the designers, you — it is about the freedom to be ourselves and to share it with the world.”
Diversity is critical to an event like this because everyone wants to see themselves represented on the runway regardless of size, age, able-bodiedness, race, color, gender identity, nationality, sexual orientation, etc. I may not be everybody’s cup of tea. But I always hope for that connection with that person in the crowd who sees his/her/themself in me for a chance to uplift and celebrate.
When I was on the cusp of 50 in late July, faced with a milestone that so many women fear, I started to worry that people would start saying marginalizing things like “You look great for fifty.” Then I thought – if anyone celebrates me for who I really am – isn’t that all I’ve ever really wanted?
Crows have gently left imprints of their feet in the corner of my eyes. My life’s struggles and celebrations have carved a few lines upon my forehead and between my brows. I embrace them like tattoos upon my skin that hint at my journey without fear. I am at home in my own skin.
Every day I wear clothing that transgresses the rules of fashion and gender. As a visual activist, I seek to engage in an authentic conversation within and outside of the LGBTQ community. Visual activism focuses on social, political, economic, and environmental change, progress, or transformation.
When I step outside of the house in my gender non-conforming style I am aware of the tensions it may provoke. For this reason I am always armed with my sharpest weapons – a smile, love in my heart, and a desire to educate when the situation calls for it. My unique style makes me feel at home with myself.
I am aware of my privilege and am not ashamed – because I choose to use that privilege to elbow more space at the table for those still struggling. I haven’t always possessed this place of privilege. Coming out in the 80’s there weren’t a lot of out role models. Ellen DeGeneres’s famous “Puppy Episode” in her show “Ellen” where she announced to the airport and the world that she was a lesbian didn’t even air until the late 90’s. The conversations around gender and sexual orientation seemed like whispers.
Maybe I helped wear a path to make things easier for some of those who came after me. What I do know is that in the past decade or so Megan and I have become chosen aunties to many young and struggling LGBTQ youth. We regularly volunteer and donate to Lost-n-Found Youth — which exists to end homelessness for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ+) and all sexual minority youth — to keep kids safe to dream of something more. We’ve proudly become home to our nieces, nephews, and niblings.
Home is a feeling. Without that feeling Dorothy would have been forever trapped in Oz. We each have it within us. Yet many do not feel safe enough to embrace it outloud. It is for them that I choose to blaze a streak across the sky – a sort of bat signal that there is someone out there who will do everything with all of her wonderful toys to restore sanity and safety to Gotham. I am surrounded by a beautiful and diverse community of super heroes who do the same. They aren’t just the models and designers behind the scenes or on the runway. They take many forms – teachers, lawyers, soccer players, poets, artists, and to those lucky enough like me — parents.
Find your home and when you do – be a home for others.