I suspect Paul Coccia would be the ultimate shopping companion. He’d have something funny and deadly accurate to say about any item you tried on. When the garment was not right, he’d place all the blame squarely where it belongs: on the garment and all who conceived it. I had the privilege of working online with Paul as he completed his master’s degree in creative writing at UBC. During that time he wrote a YA novel that completely blew me away. It’s the story of a young drag queen and it’s incredibly smart and thoughtful and it made me laugh and cry. I think about the main character all the time.
Paul and I have kept in touch and he’s astonishingly well-read and kind and encouraging to other writers as well as supremely gifted. I think he’s headed for a fabulous career in writing for young people. He’s also someone who knows a lot about clothes and about the interplay of fashion and identity. Here he is writing beautifully about his Versace scarf and about what Medusa means to him. This post, like his book, is unforgettable.
I keep a gorgon in my closet. Not just any gorgon either, but the Medusa (because she’s the only one people talk about anyway). While some people have skeletons and run-of-the-mill monsters, she hangs there, waiting for me to put her on.
I grew up the literal black sheep in my family of athletic, blonde, fair-skinned, blue-eyed siblings. I was olive-skinned, brown-eyed, dark-haired, chubby, mistaken for different ethnicities. I stuck out and people had no issuing telling me, so I became aware of my physicality as something that caused confusion and questions. More than once, it was assumed I belonged to someone else and I was asked who and where my parents were. Overused jokes about milkmen always followed.
I developed what my mother calls an attitude, the unspoken ‘bad’ preceding it like a silent consonant. I couldn’t be bothered if people approved of or understood my appearance. I didn’t have time and couldn’t be bothered to worry about it. Handsome or cute wasn’t something I was. That much was clear. I didn’t take my looks as making me different, unique, special, a stand out. In fact, I didn’t take them at all. Looks weren’t something I possessed and, therefore, not something I could put any stock in. It wasn’t about self-esteem. It merely wasn’t a part of my identity. I could be so many other things instead: quirky, funny, intelligent, curious, ugly even which, in itself, is a type of liberation.
When I received the Versace scarf, it was as if it was returned to me. Understated. Easy to overlook. Navy with a diagonal, textured stripe to the weave. Almost too wide for a scarf yet too slender for a shawl. Unisex. Too thick for autumn, too thin for winter. It straddles lines outside the typical but is undeniable luxury. There, embossed into the knit, gazes the Medusa head, daring stares.
I could go on about Medusa in terms of the mythic and symbolic, but it’s the beauty turned monstrous that fascinates me. Remember, Medusa was once gorgeous before being made grotesque with her serpent-hair and turn-you-to-stone eyes. Being stripped of her beauty, she was free to hijack the story. People forget Andromeda. People forget Perseus. No one forgets Medusa.
Whenever I need to, I snake the scarf around me, not afraid to be outside of beauty, or fashion, or good looks, or style, or whatever. I’ve grown suited to that. The world can look on or shield its eyes. It doesn’t matter because no matter how we’re seen, us Medusas are stunners.