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Handmade earrings are my emotionally-charged purchase of 2021

They frame the face. They come from a small online business. They also inform the girls and the gays that I am one of them.

I’ve spent $60 on clay polymer earrings from Pink Athena Co. in the last two months. Not only are creator Jamie Clarkson’s earrings adorable, but they also loosen a knot I stupidly believe I can undo by buying artful clay and dangling it from my ears: I am bisexual, and I hate that I pass as straight in most spaces.

Jamie is a recent Ohio University grad and a former coworker of mine who started Pink Athena. She told me I was her first customer after I bought a dangling pair of peaches. I was also her first returning customer within hours after I bought a set of cloud-covered rainbows set onto a blue sky. I own four pairs total and gave two more as Galentine’s gifts to my straight roommates.

The Venn diagram of gays and handmade earrings is a circle. Queer kids took Ms. Frizzle’s earrings and ran with them. This also means earrings in funky shapes don’t tip off the homophobic straights, because who could hate Ms. Frizzle?

Sometimes, like when my cousin used “lesbian” as a slur at a family event and no one corrected her, it feels good and safe to hide. I have become very good at making my face go blank to pretend I simply do not see or hear anything until the subject changes.

Sometimes I do this for my safety. More often, it’s to keep the peace. “I can’t embarrass my parents in front of extended family,” or “I can’t out myself to coworkers I barely know,” or “These are my future in-laws as long as I keep playing my cards right.”

But playing, talking and dressing straight is a set of lies. It’s a barely noticeable shift in language around certain topics. “Her” turns into “them,” and no one notices the change. I call my close-cut bob — which elicited compliments from strangers in person but looked horrible in my grandparents’ wedding photos — from a few years ago an impulse, not a calculated bisexual haircut.

I never had an emo phase. I was a cheerleader with a gifted older sister complex. I was a captain on a cross country team that prayed before every practice. I was the first Murdock granddaughter in 50 years and my parents’ eldest child. Teachers would stop at my younger brother’s name while taking attendance on the first day and bring up what a pleasure it was to have me in class two years before.

I was driven by my fear of disappointing someone.

But one of my earliest memories is looking at a Cinderella coloring book for a long time and realizing that I liked Cinderella much, much more than her nameless Prince Charming. Who would want to be a boy? I like girls better. Girls are way prettier than boys. I dressed up as Cinderella, and I forgot about it. Except for every time I fixated on female villains.

When a friend told me she was bisexual in high school, the damage was already done. I supported her, but I had convinced myself that it didn’t matter if I myself came out to anyone.

College was a chance to remake myself.

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I didn’t yet understand how much I had to undo until fall 2017. I never planned to join a sorority, but I was still an under-the-radar chameleon. I had a pale lavender Lululemon jacket because of what I had heard about Miami’s sorority style. I wore it on the same day of Miami’s Rainbow Reception. It’s an event from the before time, when gays and allies showed up for free catered food at the start of every fall semester.

A cis gay man, the kind that oozed queer in a confident way, eyed me in the elevator on the way out.

“So … are you an ally?”

That’s what I hear in my head when I impulse-buy earrings, or rainbow merch, or thrifted Hawaiian shirts. Or the time I cut my own hair into a bob. And debated shaving it for years.

It’s buying my way into my sexuality when it feels like some people in the community want to keep me out.

I fell exclusively for people who were into me but not enough to date me. I had been racing to perfect my look as a soft butch or soft femme or whatever I guessed would be the final form that would disappoint my mother, attract a woman or nonbinary person and be easily identifiable to potential new LGBTQ+ friends.

Then I started dating a straight man who has more gay friends than me.

I was frustrated that suddenly I didn’t want to shave my head. That I fell for a man, and my parents approve of him.

This is not a heterosexual relationship, because I am in it, though it does have straight-passing privilege. My partner’s gender is a coincidence, and he’s coming with me to Pride on that moving goalpost of someday — whenever it becomes safe again. And the fact that I don’t care about gender roles (Fellas, is it gay to have good hygiene?) lets him relax on the whole toxic masculinity act.

He has better fashion sense than me, but he also doesn’t care what I wear. He just wants me to feel comfortable, because my brain tries very hard to not let me do that.

I’ve settled into a subtle bi look, but some gays outside of my closest friends seem to conveniently forget that because I’m dating a man. It feels weird and embarrassing to correct someone in a conversation. I still need some visual identifiers as a sort of talisman. The cuffed jeans. Flannels outside of fall. T-shirts that make my mom worry about my mental health at the sight of cartoon skeletons.

And of course, the earrings.