Yes. That is a banana in my ear AND I am happy to see you.

I am Mindy Dawn Friedman. I live in Decatur, Ga (a suburb of Atlanta) with my wife, Megan Volpert, a talented author, critic, and inspiration. I believe in living my life out loud with passion, compassion, and an open heart and mind. I identify as female, and my preferred pronouns are she and her. While I present as masculine of center/gender non-conforming in my fashion and style, it is both authentic and purposeful.

My passion for fashion has been a part of my life since my early years. I used to buy my dad the most outrageous ties as a kid. Noticing that he never seemed to wear these gifts, I mentioned it one day. The next day, he put on one of the ties, wore it to school (he was a math teacher for over 30 years), and couldn’t get through a class period or a hallway stroll without receiving compliments. In fact, someone offered him cash on the spot for one of the ties. Just like that I was a taste-maker… for my dad… at 9 years-old. Later in life I realized that the ties I was buying for my dad I sub-consciously really wanted for myself.

Even as a kid I felt like a square peg trying to make it in a round peg world. There was an ‘otherness’ that I couldn’t quite place my finger on, but it still loomed large, especially in my fashion sense. I remember my favorite outfit in junior high school that I found with mom at Burlington Coat Factory: bright yellow pants (with a snap vest to match), black polo with fine bright rainbow ­colored stripes, and a black newsie cap.

When I started shopping for myself, I discovered I was more attracted to the men’s side of the store. I would always walk in the door, pretend to peruse through the women’s section, then find myself browsing through the men’s sale rack. In my mind, I had at the ready some story that I was buying this shirt or those pants for my brother or my dad. Was I afraid that the security guard was going to bust me for buying boxers in a bra?

This coincided with a life-­defining incident for me. I was living in San Francisco and went out to some restaurant in the Marina district with a few friends. As I exited the women’s restroom in my Gap men’s section best, a woman who was walking into the restroom looked at me, then looked at the sign on the door, then back at me. She then said aloud, “Just checking.” Really? In my mind, I honked her breasts and said back to her, “Just checking.” She took the wind out of my sails in San Francisco? Reflecting now upon this incident, I realize I gave too much power both to perception and gender.

Since then, my sense of fashion and style have grown immensely, right alongside my emotional ties with gender identification. Sure, I identify as a woman/female/she. But, when someone mistakes me for anything else, or asks a question around gender, I take these as teachable moments and treat them with extreme grace.

Within the last 5 years, I have elevated my sense of style — ­­inspired by Ugly Betty, Shail Upadhya, several Batman villains, and the challenge of a good power clash. I was honored to be listed amongst the “100 MOST STYLISH DAPPERQS 2016” in dapperQ . For those not familiar, dapperQ is the premier style and empowerment website for masculine presenting women, gender queers, and trans-identified individuals.

At work, I am the founder of Bow Tie Wednesday and lead our Education and Development team for IHG Out & Open, our LGBT employee resource group. IHG believes in Room to be yourself. In how I’ve been embraced and celebrated in the company, I know that this is a big part of my evolution both professionally and personally.

Along my journey, I’ve encountered true trail-blazers like NiK Kacy, Anita Dolce Vita, Jack Jackson, Gabrielle Claiborne, Sonny Oram and so many more. These folks have transformed, transcended and transitioned the conversation around gender. Whether it is offering a unisex shoe that empowers  to #WalkYourWay, or driving awareness through visual and professional activism, my voice would not be as clear or focused without them.