Wearing Gay History

A lot of being gay is sharing your queerness instead of stowing it away, under a pile of stuff (in, you know, a closet). You have to be out and you have to be you in order to help the world shift their view of queerness – and a lot of this can be done with clothes.

Sure, you got your LA Queer shirt and your Gay Power hat, both of which are fine and lovely and the sorts of things that are not only fashionable but political. Yes, they’re great but what you might not realize is that they are the newborns in a long line of activism worn on our chests: queer fashion is part of our culture.

Enter Wearing Gay History, a project from George Mason University doctoral student Eric Gonzaba as an effort to “digitize the entire t-shirt collection of the Chris Gonzalez Library” to “bring attention to LGBT history” across the country. The effort is less about logging the aesthetics worn by generations of queers but to instead log how we’ve expressed queerness across the country, to highlight queer archives in America, and to use technology to offer more access to this history in the hopes of preserving an overlooked past.

It’s a fun tool to explore too. In addition to an interactive map of where these wears are coming from and various exhibits and activities to highlight these fashion archives, Wearing Gay History was made for you to explore their extremely extensive archive of over four thousand clothing items. They cover a lot of grounds from intersecting political identities (“Gay, Sober, Proud“) to lesbian sexual appetites (“Mary Asked Sue to Come to Dinner“) to mainstream crossover appeal (“Ms.“) to recent international celebrations (“Out in Africa 2011“) to nineties political parody (“Hillary & Tipper. Get it Girls!“). They are so great and so easy to get lost in, to get inspired by, and to see how grassroots, isolated, creative queer expression once happened (versus, you know, being vomited up by a brand who only cares about your dollars instead of your wellbeing).

Wearing Gay History is a fantastic project and, as is the case with all communities, an example of the depth and artistry from the generations who came before us, the people whose work made it possible for us to be ourselves today. Here’s to them: wear them gay wears with pride.

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