I have blood family -- in-laws, actually -- and my wife and I almost always spend holidays with them. I love my in-laws and I like them, and most of the time when we visit them, I dress how I usually dress. I put together outfits that are quirky, comfortable, and stylish in a relaxed and fun way: strong prints, jewel tones, boots unless it's boiling hot.
But on big holiday dinners with them, I dress like I'm going to a work conference. Dressy, cheerful-but-tasteful, almost entirely non-sexual. I'm festive, don't get me wrong: it's just a very respectful version of festive.
A respectful version of festive.
I also have chosen family. I do holiday things with them every year, too. I go to singing parties, gift exchanges, and big festive dinners. I go to the Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time party (I co-host it, actually), where we sing blasphemous versions of holiday songs and give away dirty books as door prizes, all to raise funds for St. James Infirmary, the health clinic for sex workers.
And when I dress for the holidays with my chosen family, I dress, not to put too fine a point on it, like a hussy. My outfits are flashy. I show a lot of skin, cleavage, leg. I wear big, sparkly costume jewelry; I spend fifteen minutes picking out the right pair of patterned fishnet stockings; I wear colors that look like neon signs in Vegas. I often wear bright red, since I think of red as a holiday color and it's a fun challenge to find sexy, exuberant, wildly outrageous outfits that are technically appropriate for the holidays. I take everything I ever learned about good taste and pitch it out the window.
Dressed up for an Edwardian Ball.
When I dress for my chosen family, I basically dress to say, "Look over here! Look at me! I'm awesome, I love my body and I want you to look at it! I might even fuck you if you play your cards right, and if I do, we would tear up the sheets. And if I don't fuck you -- which, let's be honest, I probably won't -- I still love myself, and want to share."
I often think of fashion as a type of symbolic language. We use this language to express, not only who we are, but how we feel about the context we're in. We dress for work like we're ambitious and respectful and climbing the ladder, or like we have "Take This Job and Shove It" on autoplay. We dress for parties like we want to put plastic cocktail monkeys in our hair and lead a conga line, or like we want to find one amazing person and sit in a quiet corner with them for two hours of intense conversation.
And in the symbolic language of fashion, there are lots of different ways to say "family holiday celebration" -- because there are different holidays, different families, different ways to celebrate, and different ways to feel about all of it.
"The whole idea of a single true self at the core of our being is a misconception: neurologists and neuropsychologists now think the "self" is an amorphous mess (that's the scientific terminology)."
I have more than one family. I love them all and like them all. It's not that my style with my in-laws is a fraud, while my style with my chosen family is an expression of my true self. It's all my true self. The whole idea of a single true self at the core of our being is a misconception: neurologists and neuropsychologists now think the "self" is an amorphous mess (that's the scientific terminology) of feelings and desires and ideas and instincts and goals, with many we're not aware of and many that come into conflict. And our selves are social, shaped by who we're with. Sometimes our different social selves are inauthentic, concealing important truths about ourselves or even lying about them. But sometimes, our different social selves are just -- well, different. We shine the spotlight on different parts of ourselves, depending on who we're with; on our brains, our creativity, our sexuality, our ambition, our humor.
It's not that I'm more authentic with my chosen family than I am with my relatives (although I know some people are). It's not even that I'm more comfortable with my chosen family. I'm comfortable in different ways, and that shows up in my style. (In fact, my exuberant hussy style is often physically uncomfortable.) I celebrate with them differently, we celebrate different things, and I dress to express that.
Expressing myself in a red corset and top hat.
With blood family, I put my sexuality on the back burner: with chosen family, I put my sexuality on the front burner and turn the heat up to High. With blood family, I focus on the things we have in common; with chosen family, I revel in a goofy kaleidoscope of variety. With blood family, I celebrate in a way that takes note of tradition and participates in it. With chosen family, I celebrate in a way that says "Fuck tradition," honoring tradition only in the breach.
It's all good. And it's all worth celebrating.
by Greta Christina
Bio: Greta Christina is author of several books, including The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life; Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God; Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why; Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless; and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More. She blogs at Greta Christina's Blog, at The Orbit. She lives in San Francisco with her wife, Ingrid.