Above: Duncan Roy is a Los Angeles-based photographer who runs a blog that captures the best and worst of LA. Sadly, I think he has chosen to stop posting.
After six months in Los Angeles, I was single, broke, and badly depressed. I have struggled with depression all my life, but this was different. This was breakup-depressed. This was drug-depressed.
On free days, I went out to buy clothes. In L.A., looking good is the most basic requirement for social standing. You have to do so much more than look good. Everyone looks good. On top of looks, you have to have money or at least signs of money. These include a nice car and good clothes. I had no money for a good car, but I could splurge on fashion.
L.A. style is incredibly casual. No one dresses up for anything. On the first day of my job, I wore a blazer and button-up and looked embarrassingly like a youth pastor. I never wore the blazer again. I was the Southern boy in a big, shiny city. That wasn’t going to be me, so I scrapped my nice suit for scoop-neck shirts and the skinniest jeans possible. I became an L.A. guy.
All my life, I have clung to a masculine ideal. In the South, you can be gay as long as you’re not feminine. I’ve always felt like it was a requirement for me to wear masculine clothes and speak with a masculine voice. That followed me through college and into my life after, and here I was, on the streets of L.A., suddenly exploring the possibility of doing something else. Of wearing clothes I wanted to wear, even if they were drapey. At some point, I bought a cardigan thing that was outright fem — a black, flowy thing that went down to my knees.
I started wearing jewelry — gold drop earrings, a gold cuff. When I got a facial piercing, I knew I had really done it. And it felt OK. Better than OK — it felt good. I was wearing things I wanted to wear because I thought they were pretty and was pleasantly surprised to find they looked pretty on me. I stopped worrying about what was the women’s section and the men’s section and started looking for pieces I wanted to wear. And suddenly it clicked, all the talk about gender and binarism, all the internet ranting and personal confessions from my friends in college — friends who had stumbled onto the word “queer” and found in it something that felt right. The word had given them space and an identity that fell somewhere between gender, somewhere between sexuality, and made them feel liberated within it.
I was beginning to taste that liberation, to understand that social constructs didn’t need to apply to me. As a gay man, I could break out of them. I didn’t have to play by anyone’s rules. I could do things differently. Because I wasn’t straight — I was part of the people who lived outside of that oppressive mold and were barred from it. I was queer.
L.A. culture did some numbers on me. I started a bad drug habit there. I ran out of money. When things got bad, I eventually had to go back home, back to the Southeast, to figure things out. The depression got too bad. But somewhere in all that, something good came back with me. If L.A. culture is anything, it’s fem-friendly and queer-positive. Straight men there wore gender-bending clothes with the best of us. Fem gay men did not walk around feeling like they were a lesser class of homo than the guys with enormous muscles and beards — a reality that I discovered in Atlanta a short while later. Fem guys were the gods of L.A. For all its problems, the queers I met there loved there and had carved a queer-positive space in the city that seemed authentic and powerful, and for that, Los Angeles, I thank you.