Long ago in Wrigleyville, as my colleagues and I group hopped from bar to bar, searching for the best cocktail and coldest beer in the area, a guy wearing an old t-shirt and jeans shouted at me, “Nice pink shirt, queer!”
Immediately, my shoulders squared as I turned to confront this boy, who had the audacity to shout such a slanderous phrase. With good sense, a friend who is gay, and another friend, who has served in an elite division of the United States military, grabbed me and helped expedite our group’s departure from the bar.
Before I entered the workforce, I attended a Catholic High School, where my choice of clothes whittled down to the color of the button-down Oxford shirt I would wear with my khaki pants—white, blue, yellow or pink. As a teen, my insecurity level was off the charts and I ensured my wardrobe was full of white and blue shirts for the four years in that system, because I believed only girls wore pink and I’ve never been a fan of yellow.
While in college, I opened my eyes to a variety of options for day-to-day wear in class. I quickly burned my Oxford shirts and vowed to avoid khaki pants at all costs while signing up for giveaways with fake names just to get as many free t-shirts as I could.
Entering the workforce, I gained an appreciation for color choices in my closet and though I was again required to wear button-down shirts, I began to venture out and (gasp!) bought a pink shirt. I bought it for a couple of reasons. One, I was much more comfortable in my skin and knew I would stand out in the office, as not many men wore pink. And two, it was on sale. A newbie in the professional world, I felt the pressure of repaying student loans; so the sale price was very appealing.
The first day I wore the shirt, many of the women and some of the men in my office commented that the shirt looked really good on me. Immediately, I felt better in the shirt, which I second-guessed wearing that morning, as I looked at it on me in my bedroom mirror. I’m certain there were men who were as uncomfortable as my high school self, who took the opportunity to chuckle behind my back because I wore pink, but the number of compliments I received far outweighed their inaudible murmur.
A few months later, I took a trip with friends to Chicago. I packed the pink shirt because I was certain folks who strolled Michigan Avenue were open to colors in the wardrobe. I was confident too that I looked good in the shirt, and I felt that confidence could get me a conversation and a phone number from a beautiful woman. And that’s how I reached the bar where I heard that comment.
I don’t know what set me off with this guy’s backhanded compliment. I don’t know if it was my insecurity being in a big city, if it was the offense I took to being called a queer, if it was the offense I took on behalf of my friend hearing a slur, or if it was something else. I’m not a fighter and have always believed the power of ink is mightier than flexing my muscles. Nevertheless, my friends calmed me down and talked to me about the small-mindedness of the guy who shouted out. Their talk flashed at me the insecurity of my days in high school.
At that point, I made a decision that I would buy shirts that I liked and that I looked good in, and not worry about comments I received. I haven’t received another snide comment in the years since my barhopping in Chicago, and pink definitely makes the regular rotation in my wardrobe. I have even had many amazing conversations with women who have appreciated my confidence while wearing a pink shirt.
I’ve long since retired the shirt I wore when I decided that I would not let anyone dictate the color I choose. I would not let one negative comment detract from the many positive compliments I have received about pink shirts. I would, however, use my choice to wear pink to help inspire my path for life.
I don’t fear those who try to cut me down. I, instead, walk my own path in life and embrace the differences in those around me. I continue to set myself apart from my colleagues. I graciously accept the compliments and dismiss the naysayers. Most importantly, I try to set an example, and stop those who are tempted to react to the small-mindedness of others with a conversation about confidently rising above.
Photo: Cameron Stark