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Gender Diaries: Austin Moore

As the world continues to push against gender constructs, the conversation around how people are identifying themselves is constantly evolving. Each week, MILK.XYZ will feature a guest editor writing about their specific relationship with gender and, often, where it intersects with fashion. This week, we feature designer and artist Austin Moore.

There’s an image of myself that never leaves my mind.

I’m no older than five years old, my arms are overlapping, I’m smiling—and I’m wearing a play wedding dress. The photo is so pure and innocent, an innocence that inevitably leaves us all, but in that frame lives a child who wasn’t aware of social stigmas attached to gender, the pain and confusion that comes with growing up, and the constant, sometimes underlying other times excruciating, anxiety that latches itself onto any person who doesn’t fit the mold of gym shorts and sneakers or heels and dresses. The photo is a constant reminder that we as humans are not born with the idea of boy and girl but rather raised by a society that tells us there’s only Type A and Type B, and everything else is made up nonsense or an abomination.

I grew up in a small town, or rather village, outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. The village had a population of 2,779 people, a poverty level of 16.6 percent (the national average is 14.7 percent) and an overwhelming majority were the same: white, Christian, and raised on white entitlement. Within the small village lies eleven churches—10 of which are Christian and one of which is dedicated to the vastly different Catholic denomination. Needless to say, I was never raised around diversity. I lived in a tiny bubble surrounded by people I didn’t agree with socially or politically, and there was a void that existed within me from adolescence to young adulthood.

I found solace and comfort from the internet. I had friends, yes, but looking back, most of the friendships were built on the faulty foundation of me being the only openly queer male in my school—I was the token gay, the one to take shopping, the one to offer a sassy response, the go to for fashion and boy advice. I never felt connected to anyone because I never felt understood by anyone, myself included. At that age, I only felt connected with pop culture, specifically music and fashion. Embarrassingly enough, most of my pre-teens and teen years were spent blasting Tegan and Sara and wallowing in teenage angst, the constant “Who am I? What am I?” looping in my head. I would watch fashion shows, makeup tutorials on YouTube (anyone remember the OG beauty guru Juicystar007?), and reality TV, living vicariously through them—waiting for graduation so I could finally escape the constant anxiety of living somewhat of a double life—the boy I portrayed myself in public (the Sperry wearing, khaki shorts and polo boy) and the person I was behind closed doors (a queer person with no true gender identity playing with their mom’s makeup and clothing).

I graduated high school in May 2013 and moved to New York City in August 2013. My transition to who I am today was slow but important. I always wished it was an immediate thing, that I moved to New York, realized my identity, and started living freely but every single step I took was needed and specific to my identity. I was dipping my toes into the water, testing the temperature, before jumping in.

My freshmen year was spent acquainting myself with the city and the sea of diversity, a culture shock that I so warmly welcomed. My freshmen year was beautiful, I look back on who I was then—a starry-eyed boy glowing with relief of a dream actualized, surrounded by people who I felt connected with on levels that surpassed superficial notions, and I feel a wave of nostalgia that’s so beautiful it’s almost heartbreaking. Internally, I changed immensely. Externally, nothing much changed.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I started dabbling in “feminine” attire. I started off by painting a single nail, a bold move for me back then, and wearing more flamboyant jackets and pants. This slow transition lead itself up to the tipping point in October 2016.

I had just begun my senior year and I started to feel the same anxiety I felt as a child. I was reaching the end of my safety net, and about to enter the “real world” and I still had ways to go before I felt comfortable with myself.

Throughout my entire life my hair has served as a distraction. I would fixate on it if it wasn’t perfect, and subconsciously, I think I was doing it to distract myself from multiple other things. One day I woke up, and with a face trimmer, I began shaving my head. My hands were shaking and I felt knots in my stomach, but the thing with this was once I began, I couldn’t turn back. Instead of dipping my toes in the water, I jumped in.

This caused a ripple of changes. I began to buy dresses and skirts, I began wearing eyeshadow, and painting my nails (plural) and I stopped worrying as much about others opinions. Funnily enough, once I felt comfortable with myself externally, I began to come to terms with a lot of issues internally, and my art soon changed to represent who I am. I became happier and more comfortable in every facet of my life.

I believe identity is a journey. I know that sounds cliche, but it is. The worst thing you can do is compare yourself to others around you, to question and belittle yourself for being afraid. Sometimes facing and embracing your true self can be quite scary. But a true evolution can’t be forced, there’s no time frame on learning your identity. I have full confidence that I’m still evolving, and I’m okay with that. I’m sure in five years time, I’ll look back at my 22-year-old self and think, “Wow. If only I knew then what I know now.”

Sometimes it takes unlearning a lifetime of lessons to evolve, and that doesn’t happen immediately.

Images courtesy of Austin Moore

Stay tuned to Milk for more Gender Diaries and see our previous installments here.

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