Queerness & Style

A look at the difference in expression for LGBTQ+ people in New England and Tel Aviv 

By Josie Usow

I want to take this opportunity to reflect on what I have learned from the LGBTQ+ community in Tel Aviv and compare it to the way queer people operate in my environment in the states. These ideas come only from my experience as a white, straight-passing, cisgender, bisexual woman. Of course, other identities bring alternate perspectives which are different from my own. At my university in New England, many people understand their queerness as a defining aspect of their identity. Some get mullets, shave their head, and an array of other styles. Wearing mushroom earrings, chunky Doc Marten shoes, a septum piercing, or frog stickers signify belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. Many students want their clothing to look second-hand, baggy, and from a different era. Here, I describe a certain expression of Queerness that excludes those who have not yet come out or ones who embody different ways of being a part of the community. These styles also signify a shift towards more people coming out as non-binary and using gender-neutral pronouns. For many young Americans, being Queer no longer just has to do with whom you are attracted to but also asking larger questions like, what does it mean to be a woman/man/person? Or what does my presentation say about who I am?

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I get the impression that Queer Israelis ask different questions. On my first day at Rainbow Tour I asked one of our guides, Bekky about appearing Queer in Israel. At that point, I had not spotted many gay style indicators and therefore I was interested in what it meant to “look Queer” in Tel Aviv. Some people wear elements of Queer style but they are rare, especially considering Tel Aviv is 25 percent LGBTQ+. Bekky explained that, because Israel is a small country, people easily move between vastly different environments. One could go to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in the same day. Therefore they encounter both the ultra-orthodox community and more progressive Tel Avivians within a few hours. Unlike the spread-out United States, the small size of Israel means that cities with different levels of acceptance are only a 30-minute train ride away. Queer people might decide to represent their identities differently because of lack of safety in religious spaces. Thus, geography affects the way people present themselves in Israel.

Young Israelis also experience a life event absent from growing up in America— going to the army. On many Rainbow tours, participants ask guides about their experiences in the army as Queer people. Stories vary depending on the guides’ role in the army. For many men, the hyper-masculine environment prevents them from coming out as their true selves (of course there are exceptions). But for others, like Bekky, the forced homogeneity of clothing and appearance felt like freedom. She felt relieved of the pressure to “look Queer” because the army forced her to wear a uniform, standard haircut, and no makeup. In this environment, many other women came out as lesbians. For Bekky, the army brought an opportunity to accept her own gayness without worrying about how she demonstrated it to the world. Although I am not sure exactly how years in the army during the time young people explore their identities must be tied to their expression of Queerness after they leave. Perhaps they feel less pressure to “look Queer”.

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In comparing the style of Queer Americans and Queer Israelis, I inevitably analyze two different generations. Because most Generation Z Israelis stay on army bases as I write this article, I cannot examine their expressions of being LGBTQ+. Maybe when they are no longer soldiers, social media will inspire their Queer style as it did for my Generation Z peers at home. Or, perhaps they will not worry about “looking Queer.” Either way, I think that we have a lot to learn from one another. I am interested to see if Tel Aviv will follow (some of) America in accepting non-binary and trans individuals. I hope that in time all Queer people feel that they can thrive as their truest selves here. As an American who felt pressure to “look Queer”, I feel a renewed sense that one’s sexual identity is valid no matter how they choose to show it to the world. Because of the lack of outwardly Queer style in Tel Aviv, I feel more secure in my own expression of bisexuality. Of course, these cultures differ in a multitude of ways for many reasons that I have not covered. As a sociology student, analyzing these two Queer cultures serves as a reminder that the way we understand ourselves is always contingent on our environment. Through understanding the effect of where we live and our culture, we can come closer to our true beliefs and desires.