“A photo shoot with queer models, queer people -- just, a totally queer photo shoot.”
This has been on my long-term to-do list for Bluestockings since long before we actually launched the store six months ago.
Finally, in August, it looked like the store was in a position to possibly, maybe afford one. I could have waited for more financial security, a little more site traffic, a little more media attention.
from my Vintage LGBTQ pinterest board - we have a history
You can’t be what you can’t see. I firmly believe this. Growing up, I didn’t know that women could be gay… which doesn’t make sense, logically, since I knew that men could. Men were always the target of my pastors’ homophobia. Also: I had two guy friends in high school who were gay and out. (One was elected Prom King -- in 2005.) But women? Nah. That was just for attention.
Agent Provocateur "Classics" Collection photographed by Ellen Von Unwerth
When you don’t see yourself represented, when you aren’t exposed to the possibility, it’s harder to “read” yourself into the picture. Harder to see yourself there. For as many queer people I’ve met who are ecstatic about Bluestockings, I’ve met just as many saying “Well, lingerie isn’t for me.”
Looking on the wide swaths of lingerie imagery produced to date, this response is completely unsurprising. It almost exclusively features straight, cisgendered women. Though lingerie imagery has a long history of playing on homoeroticism between women, this is not necessarily the most realistic interpretation of queer sexuality (to be generous).
Lots of queer people look at lingerie and say, not for me or, alternately, assume they are not welcome or wanted -- in the bodies they inhabit, with the pronouns they use, the partners they make a life with, the friends who are their family. I tell them about my store. They say, “That’s nice.”
I get it.
A photo shoot -- a positive, visual representation of LGBTQIA+ people in all kinds of underwear -- has been one of my top priorities. It’s about offering a different narrative to the imagery we are used to seeing.
Representing people who are not used to feeling seen.
Representing people who the mainstream bluntly refuses to represent.
And isn’t this the story? Brands like Nubian Skin, Chrysalis, and Bluestockings bear the burden of representation because they are singularly serving entire communities of marginalized people. Founded by people who did not see themselves in the mainstream, but who had a real need, these businesses were all started by people who are their own target customer.
Cy Lauz of Chrysalis is a trans woman who wanted a specific kind of undergarment for her body. Ade Hassan of Nubian Skin is a black woman who needed nude lingerie. I’m a queer woman who wanted a safe place to shop with options that were appealing to a non-traditional feminine aesthetic.
We are our own target customers.
Often, I think our communities forget that those who address the need are those who saw the need for it in the first place. I can’t speak for entrepreneurs like Lauz or Hassan, but personally, launching Bluestockings was an entirely uphill battle. I had no business background, no industry connections. Most powerfully: I had no money. I was a grad student from a working class background.
And this is a limitation. It means I can’t be all things to all people. It means that anything I do -- including a photo shoot -- is going to have limited resources.
The most salient example of how financial limitations as a new business owner affects the photo shoot? I can afford one day of shooting. That’s it. This means that I can’t afford to reshoot every product with multiple models from multiple angles, as numerous customers have requested. (As it stands, all of the models are volunteer -- more on those amazing humans later.) There are 140+ products here. Shooting all of them on multiple people? We are talking days and days of shooting, which, bluntly, would wipe the business out financially.
This photo shoot is not going to be representative of all queer people for all time. It’s one photo shoot. But because there is a paucity of representation with LGBTQIA+ people and lingerie, these small photo shoots -- I think of Nubian Skin’s original photo shoot they launched with -- get blown out of context.
Neglected communities are starved for representation. Unfortunately, it’s easier to direct our frustration at small businesses trying to make a difference than it is at the overpowering institutional structures that set us up for failure. After all, why is there only one lingerie boutique geared to the needs of LGBTQIA+ people (Bluestockings)? Why is there only one Nubian Skin? Why is there only one Chrysalis? Why aren’t brands like Play Out, Danae, and Chrysalis getting picked up by mainstream boutiques?
These are the questions I’m more interested in.
Over the last six months, my most devastating critiques have come directly from the LGBTQIA+ communities. Facebook trolls, comment threads on major articles, shit like that doesn’t bug me. People who email me personally to tell me how Bluestockings is failing the queer community? That’s a different story. Just this last week, a trans customer emailed me personally to let me know that they felt misled into buying at Bluestockings.
These emails break my heart. However, at this point, I’ve received enough of them to know that I can’t please everyone. The chips are going to fall where they may.
from one of my favorite poems by the beautiful mary oliver
Though I’m working on developing a thicker skin, the sting of those early critiques is still present. In many ways, I’ve been constantly aware of the imaginary critics as I organized this photo shoot. You could say that this article is an attempt at early damage control, even though it is simultaneously the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” (it’s not poetry, but Wordsworth’s definition of poetry always bubbles up when I cry happy tears).
Fear has kept me from being completely, 100% excited about this shoot. I’ve been a nervous wreck this week, forgetting that everyone involved in the shoot has expressed how thrilled they are to be a part of it.
The shoot is entirely LGBTQIA+. All models identify as LGBTQIA+. The photographer is a queer woman. The makeup artist is a gay man. The location has been graciously volunteered by a queer lady I met through Abby and Sylvie, the owners of Play Out. Everyone is stoked about this shoot.
It’s about time I was, too.
There are six models, all volunteer, across a range of presentations: feminine, masculine, androgynous. Three are trans or genderqueer identified. One is a plus size woman. One is black; one is Asian-American. Two of them are a couple (!!) and will be shooting as a couple, and I am so excited for that.
When is the last time a lingerie photo shoot was entirely LGBTQIA+?
It’s about time I let go of the fear and embraced the awesomeness that is this shoot.
Last December, I told Kim of HurrayKimmay that I wanted Bluestockings to be a drop in the bucket. That I wanted a ripple effect to happen in this industry.
This shoot will add a fundamentally needed shot of diversity to lingerie pictures online. Images from Play Out, Chrysalis, TomboyX, RodeoH, and GC2B have laid an incredible foundation, and there is such a long way to go. Queer people in lingerie? An actual queer couple? Trans people? These images are rare.
It is completely unsurprising to me that queer-owned and/or queer-focused brands are the ones interested in representing LGBTQIA+ people. I believe that more people should represent us, reach out to us, but until the rest of the world catches up, I’m happy to be a drop in the bucket, helping raise awareness and validate the reality of our everyday, lived lives. (We wear underwear, too. It’s not a big deal… unless an entire industry wants to act like we don’t exist.)
At the end of the day, I want to help people feel seen. Heard. Cared for. Thought of. Valued.
That’s the most important thing. If I stay true to that value, nothing else matters.
P.S. If you want to read more articles like this one, sign up for our weekly newsletter!