I always thought I was masculine until people told me I wasn’t. People were never shy to point out that I was more feminine than they thought I should be, or were comfortable with, or something.
I’m not going to pretend like I’ve always been above their opinions, because that’s not true. I spent a lot of time hating myself for myriad reasons, or trying to cram myself into boxes that I never fit inside. Even telling you guys about this is so boring because I’m certainly not the only person who has felt this way. I think every person on the queer spectrum has dealt with feelings like these at some point, and I’d even venture to say that even straight guys feel the pressure of masculinity weighing on them every once in a while. (I don’t know, though, I’ve never met a straight guy.)
I think, in some ways, that how I look these days has a lot to do with this. Don’t get me wrong, I do the hair and the nails and whatever else, first and foremost because I like it, and I feel more myself with lavender hair and painted nails, at least for right now.
But I think somewhere in the back of my mind that the way that I “present,” is me saying, yes, I am aware that I don’t fit into your mold of whatever you think a man should be, so let me stop you before you start. Let me help your small mind get to wherever it's going before I even open my mouth. I’ll do the legwork for you to save me the energy of talking to you and watching the wheels turn.
Yes, I am aware that I read feminine, and I've already heard whatever joke you're going to crack to show that you're cool with it. I didn't ask. I say this fully aware that the circles that I run in are very small and very queer. Madison, where I live, is cool because for the most part people seem to be at least cognizant of the fact that gender exists on a spectrum. I say that as a cisgender white dude, so I can’t and won’t speak for everyone. All in all, being a queer person who doesn’t present masculine and doesn’t care, I still get as much applause as I do shit for it, probably more. I know that wouldn’t be the case other places. I know I'm lucky.
As progressive as we like to say we are, when you’re a gay man dating, in the Midwest especially, you’re thrown into a pool so normative that it’s almost jarring — all of these guys whose only criteria for a mate is other “masculine guys," all apparently unaware that looking for a masculine mate is an inherently feminine quality. It was my understanding that the queer community has always been “othered,” so it’s hard for me to understand why we’d be trying to blend in with whatever it is that people consider normal and surrounding ourselves with people who do the same. I don't know.
What I do know is that the fragrances I love have a way of mirroring everything else about me: Some days they’re overtly feminine, other days they’re almost surprisingly masculine, but on most days, they’re right in the middle.
My favorite fragrance that plays up both genders perfectly, makes them work harmoniously, and shows them off, god forbid, equally, is Morning Chess, by Vilhelm Parfumerie, $245.
I started wearing this scent as winter finally turned to spring, and it totally hooked me. I’ve been wearing it a lot since, which is saying something since my scents change daily, like my personalities.
At first spritz, it hits you like a classic men’s cologne. Crisp and clean, almost sterile and metallic, like Barbasol. Clouds of musk, fresh aftershave on the neck. It smells classic, like your grandfather, maybe. My grandpa always had glass bottles shaped like race cars full of aftershave on his sink, and that’s what this reminds me of at first. It smells like a man getting ready, his methodical "grooming" (not beauty) routine almost an afterthought in the way that it’s so mechanical.
BUT THEN, as it wears, it transforms into almost a different fragrance entirely. It's still anchored by the masculine base that it began with, but it blossoms into something completely new, something I'd dare say is...feminine.
After about an hour, after it warms up to your body, a sweet, bouncy side of the scent emerges and makes it much more approachable and feminine. The added sweetness is tangy and juicy enough to give it longevity without it smelling like sugar. It complements the chilly opening very nicely but grows from it so much that it almost completely shoulders its way into the spotlight.
The top note is bergamot, which is what gives it this youthful sweetness, but it really doesn’t make itself known until midway through the wear, so I'd almost call it a middle note, personally. At its heart, there is leather, which is what makes the scent so familiar, nostalgic, and masculine from the jump, which is paired with galbanum for a bit of bitterness. At the base, it’s held down by patchouli and amber, giving it an herbaceousness that complements everything throughout wear and a round sweetness that tempers the bergamot.
After the scent has pulled this complete 180 on you, the youthful, flirty sweetness also mellows down, leaving the yin and yang of the fragrance to work together perfectly, side by side, for a scent that is both masculine and feminine.
I know a lot of you like to wear men’s cologne over women’s perfume. I might be the exact opposite. I think that Morning Chess is the perfect middle ground that will please many sensibilities when it comes to scents, no matter where you or your taste in fragrances fall on the gender spectrum.
Tynan smells like both genders on Twitter @TynanBuck.