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The Genderqueer Delia’s Catalog the World Needs Right Now

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When I couldn’t find the clothes that made me feel like myself, I decided to open a shop of my own.

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Photo: Sean Santiago

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“I like your style,” he says, sidling up beside me on the dance floor, as if I were my DMs personified. “You look like a lady.”

To the first part I say thank you; by the time he’s finished his train of thought I’ve shifted my tune — and a few steps over.

“Was that not the right thing to say?” he wonders aloud.

I do not wear men’s clothes. For the most part, people do not notice this right away, if at all. It helps that they have been making pants for women for some time now; the technology is incredibly advanced. My preferred silhouette is high-waisted and pleated: Bea Arthur by way of Katharine Hepburn (or so I tell myself).

That night, I was wearing a moiré velvet halter top I’d fashioned from an old dress found while thrifting. I folded the rough edges of the hem up and under so that the look was mostly midriff, worn with a pair of baggy leather pants and silver platform boots. Carrie Bradshaw by way of Jem and the Holograms (or so I told myself).

I am pushing up against 30 without time to waste on conventional masculinity, however you define that. (I believe it has something to do with gingham.) I spent time in my mid-20s road-testing skirts, hunting for dresses I could wear as robes, aprons I could fold to look like Comme des Garçons; but in light of the current political climate there is a sense that whatever I’ve dreamt for myself, or however I’ve dreamt up myself, I need to make that my reality, stat. That Balenciaga ensemble I tell myself I’ll wear to the Met Gala? I’m never going to be invited to the Met Gala. If I want to wear it, I need to... well, one, marry rich, and two, just do it.

Shopping for me is a continual process of discovery; not a verb, but a process like alchemy, rifling through rack after rack, hunting down not specific garments but fragments of a whole, bits and pieces of something lost that I hope will be found. Every mirror is a litmus test — are you more or less yourself today?

Photo: Sean Santiago

But retail spaces can be harsh. You have to deal with other people’s bullshit, not to mention the internalized shame that can accompany shopping for (arbitrarily) gendered garments. According to this handy-dandy timeline from PBS, “a person perceived as male who dressed in clothing customarily designed for women could technically be arrested in New York for ‘impersonating a female’” as recently as 2011. That is terrifying. These kinds of laws were quite common, even in (and maybe especially in) major cultural centers like New York and LA. Nowadays, things are a bit different — at least on paper, at least for now.

So I decided to launch Rock Shop, an e-commerce platform that aims to create space for genderfluid shoppers. Inspired by the Instagram success of Lisa Says Gah, Na Nin Vintage, and Courtyard LA — to name just a few — I launched the shop on social media and waited for the orders to roll in. That was two months ago.

Not much has happened in the interim, but that’s okay. A self-proclaimed “queer Delia’s catalog” aesthetically oriented around the vague concept of androgynous Wiccan moms is decidedly niche, maybe more so than I even realized when starting. Could I be too #Brooklyn for my own good? (Only by Hannah Horvath standards.)

Launched with just a small run of curated finds from the city’s finest thrift stores, my stomping grounds, the hope is that Rock Shop can blossom into something more — a friend’s hand-crocheted penis textile art is currently begging for a distributor. And I’ve learned quickly that a homely floral dress is a homely floral dress on any body, and that it is not a great idea to wear your inventory out dancing. Who knew?

The wonderful thing about starting a business online is that you have nothing if not flexibility. Part of the goal is to simply create a new visual dialogue outside the binary, images and affirmations of a sort that simply make it clear that it is okay to take up space in this way. Desire for yourself is an incredibly powerful tool — honestly, I just want to look super hot right now, and sometimes pants won’t get me there.

This shop is simply a way of expanding the horizon, of forcing maybe one tiny kernel of new thought into someone’s head. So that they don't walk up to you on a crowded dance floor and say “you look like a lady,” and then expect you to fuck them. A hope that maybe someone will find us and feel an unexpected longing, or hear a little voice in the back of their head that says “a little ambiguity never hurt anyone — and also, you’re not entitled to an opinion on this person, for the record.” What the world really needs now is a million queer Delia’s catalogs. Maybe only queer Delia’s catalogs. Who’s with me?