PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

It's Not Just Fashion, It's Visual Activism

Fashion is a verb for the LGBTQ+ community, and Closet Cases shows how people use style and artifacts to build a self-image that is both a statement and a truth.

Closet Cases: Queers on What We Wear
Megan Volpert, editor

Et Alia Press

March 2020


Central to Closet Cases: Queers on What We Wear is that we are what we wear. The identities we project and the identities we aspire to are communicated to others through our choices in self-presentation. Each of the 75 people featured in Closet Cases conscientiously decides what to wear because their clothes, jewelry, scarves, and shoes -- oh, especially shoes -- make a statement.

With its perfect 8.5" x 8.5" square design and dynamic, art quality photographs, it would be easy to consider Closet Cases as a coffee table book. But coffee table books are delightful to thumb through solely for their visual appeal, and typically don't include engaging personal essays like those that complement each photograph in Closet Cases.

In "A Brief History of My Underwear", Gerard Wozek reflects on his mother's belief that he should always wear impeccably clean white underwear, rendered in the washing machine to be as chemically perfect white as possible. Her devotion to those traditional boy briefs was so serious that a six-pack of Fruit of the Loom underwear was the standard gift, from birthdays to Christmas.

Coming out for Wozek meant acknowledging his desire for something more adventurous than plain boy briefs. Wozek describes his many phases of trying out colors and styles of underwear as he becomes more comfortable with his sexuality. Eventually, and gleefully, he recognizes his own "queer-identified obsession" with men's underwear. "No one will ever find bleach in my laundry basket," Wozek concludes. "I prefer to wear the rainbow."

Max Voltage (courtesy of Et Alia Press)

Max Voltage, a genderqueer musician, writes "My Gender Is", a rich and rambling list of clothes, accessories, and identities. Like Wozek, Voltage savors the expressive and the extreme, "plaid on plaid on plaid" and "infinity scarf made of recycled sweaters". Gender binaries are crushed with Max's "matching nail polish and bow tie" as well as "eyeliner and glitter beards".

Voltage's biographical statement says that they are a member of "Turnback Boyz, a time-traveling queer boyband, where they play 'Peter Pansy', a glam-dandy fiddler from the future." Max is a classically trained violinist, blending their "artistic sensibilities and radical politics" in a musical and fashion fusion. The photo accompanying Max's writing shows them wearing a bright flowered shirt and traditional pinstripe pants with suspenders, bow braced against the violin.

Similarly, Ben Pechey describes how dressing as a non-binary person "makes you feel light and joyous", as is clear in the accompanying photo. Pechey wears a swaying black dress with pink flowers and matching pink heels with pointed tips. Their face shows the joy they describe, captured in a full, open-mouthed laugh. Of note is Pechy's assertion that their intent is not to make a political statement or to cause a reaction but rather to simply have fun. Their biography notes that "growing up, they never saw or knew anybody like themself. Now they are incredibly comfortable with who they are and are visibly present in society."

Indeed, strong thread that runs through Closet Cases is the level of comfort and celebration of self that Pechey describes. Being able to inspire other gender nonconforming folx to wear what they want and enjoy their self-presentation is another theme that resonates throughout.

The youngest among the individuals featured is 12-year-old Desmond Napoles, also known by the stage name Desmond is Amazing. He was inspired by RuPaul's Drag Race before he began kindergarten, and according to his website, appeared on the show when he was seven. "I believe there is no wrong way to do drag," he says, noting that "anything has the potential to be a really fab outfit." In his photograph, Desmond's exaggerated eyelashes and over-the-top face paint recall Twiggy's 1960s sensibilities.

Desmond is Amazing (photo: Wendy Napoles) (courtesy of Et Alia Press)

Tig Kashala writes that "as a costume designer, I've always been drawn to fabrics as a way to create characters and portraits--playing with contrast and unity." This sensibility informs their own fashion as well, saying that although their style is not intended to be a statement, it seems to make a statement nonetheless. "I carry my queer on the soles of my feet and I walk with purpose."

Mindy Dawn Friedman writes about her love of bowties, which she sees as subverting the gender paradigm of fashion. She recalls her awe of seeing a photograph of Marlene Dietrich in a bow tie and top hat, an image that clearly serves as an inspiration.

Although Closet Cases is not necessarily a fashion book, many of the people featured, like the aforementioned Tig Kashala, have some relationship to the fashion industry. Friedman's "bold fashion transgressions have graced the runway at New York Fashion week." She considers herself to be a "visual activist", a term likely to be embraced by many of those included in Closet Cases.

Uzo Ejikeme writes that "the queer community thrives on authenticity; therefore, it is equally important for us to use fashion to express our identity, which we hold so dear."

Like all of the individuals in Closet Cases, Ejkeme shows that fashion is a verb for the LGBTQ+ community, using style and artifacts to build a self-image that is both a statement and a truth. This book celebrates that sensibility, creating a sense of joy in self-expression.

Mindy Dawn Friedman (courtesy of Et Alia Press)


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.