OutPower

Dressed For Success, Defined in Our Own Terms – Dori-Taylor Carter

OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci

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Of all the decisions that I make throughout the day, the first that I check off of my mental to-do list is the choice of what to wear. First impressions are important, second only to last impressions. I want to be comfortable, but presentable. I want to fit in, but still retain a bit of my personal style. I grew up helping out in the women’s clothing store where my mom worked. I know the value of showing up looking your best, that it can help you do your best. I watched my mom style countless customers, making them feel amazing in everything from comfy pajamas to date night outfits. I’ve learned how to put on a smile and to present myself with ease and confidence, as customer service jobs demand. I have brought these skills with me, tools I carry in my purse, from California to Capitol Hill.

I thought about my very first job filing invoices for the boutique as I slipped on my brand new loafers for my current job as an intern for Representative Alan Lowenthal, miles away and years later. I’m still learning to think on my feet, even as my shoes feel a little too uncomfortable for the day’s demands, no matter how much I deliberated which pair to wear. The discomfort of this new experience still grates against my skin, giving me blisters. This is my first internship in a formal office setting. It’s nothing like the legal aid department at the antiracist organization where I worked in Paris, where activists showed up in everything from suits to sweatshirts. There is no dress code for the daily tasks of independent research, transcribing and coding interview data in coffee shops in Massachusetts. I wasn’t sure if I was prepared to work in this new environment, with formalities and hierarchies that I feared flubbing and making a fool of myself. Even the clothes I wore, adorable dresses from the store I grew up in, felt too California beachy and Paris streetwear for the refined, tailored look of true professionals walking the halls of Congress.

For me, the point of this internship wasn’t to get a job on the Hill as a legislative correspondent, aspiring to become a future politician. I wanted to be on the inside, to understand how lawmakers saw their constituencies, who come from diverse backgrounds and aren’t necessarily familiar with policy code words and acronyms. I research the politics and social dimensions of census categories and racial statistics. I wonder who has agency in deciding how they are categorized, and when we decide to come together under a single name to advocate for ourselves, emboldened by our power in numbers. My research comes down to the larger question of representation that the LGBTQ Victory Institute is trying to address. What does it mean to be represented, by a Congressperson who hails from your neighborhood, or by a member of the LGBTQ+ community? What does it mean to belong to a community, and how can we hold each other accountable to taking actions that support members of our communities? When I show up to the Capitol every morning, who am I representing, aside from myself?

Every day when I pin up my hair, steam my blazer, and affix my Victory pin to my lapel, I think about who I’m representing. There’s something heavy about thinking through all of the labels that I carry as I walk these halls. The LGBTQ+ community is evoked in my Victory pin, but alongside that, as I speak about my heritage as a Black Filipina from Los Angeles, I know that my presence in a room means something to the people of color who are advocating for their communities. Advocates of Puerto Rican statehood made a point to bring me in to take a photo of them in front of the Congressman’s door, the only person of color in a room full of white folks where they made their case about liberating their home from American colonialism. I show up to meetings, dinners, and conferences automatically allied with other folks who have been made to feel small in rooms they have the right to take up space in. I know what it’s like to feel alone.

Through this work, I’ve determined that being in community must be an active choice that shows us how even in our day-to-day, moment-to-moment differences, we are more similar than we think. My wonderful roommate Noura and I are not the same, despite sharing a common LGBTQ+ community. They hail from the Midwest and I’m a Valley girl to my core; they play the trombone and I play volleyball; they like men and I… don’t. Yet, somehow, we’ve managed to wear the same outfit without coordinating not once, but on numerous occasions! We find this hilarious and try to take a photo each time. We never would have met without this program, nor found out that we can bounce ideas off each other and make each other laugh, think, and feel supported, despite having different backgrounds and diverging trajectories. I can only hope that these imprints that we have made on this place, these last impressions, can have a true impact, whether it be a thoughtful conversation or a hilarious photograph, to remind us of times when we’ve come together to become stronger, in solidarity.