The new boy in Grade 6, Evie Ruddy remembers for his shoes.
They were Salomon hiking boots — “brown, clunky, and oddly shaped.”
“They are really ugly, but I loved them,” Ruddy said, laughing. “I wanted them so badly.”
Those shoes represented something Ruddy didn’t have.
“I daydreamed of how his boots would look on me,” Ruddy writes in a new project, Un/tied Shoes. “Rugged and tough. Girls weren’t supposed to like ugly things, but I barely felt like a girl, and I needed a way to communicate that.”
Un/tied is an online shoe store — but it’s not really a shoe store. Produced by the National Film Board, it’s a vehicle for Regina writer Ruddy to share their story of genderqueerness and “appeal to people who might not otherwise read about the experiences of someone who is in the queer community or the trans community,” said Ruddy.
They hope it will make people consider the obstacles a non-binary person may face.
Through nine shoe styles and nine stories, Ruddy relates their life to footwear.
It starts with a pair of baby booties dubbed The Johnny: “My parents thought they were having a boy and planned to name me after my grandpa. … Instead I got a girl’s name. It never did fit or feel right,” Ruddy writes.
The Idol — a red leather shoe with black laces— reflects a young Ruddy’s love for Corey Hart, and adopting the pop star’s androgynous style: “When I popped my collar, gelled my hair, and took one of my earrings out, I felt a rush of adrenaline.”
The Combat boot is worn in a Catholic high school, where a chaplain has denied a gay 15-year-old permission to advertise for their queer youth group: “So I found a different way to express myself: with my body. I shaved my head and stopped shaving my legs and armpits … and prayed wearing combat boots and army shorts.”
Featuring reddish-brown men’s dress shoes, too big for Ruddy’s women’s-size-6 feet, The Hard Part tells Ruddy’s story of seeking androgynous style in Regina — including trying to shop for masculine clothes that fit, and facing threats of bodily harm for seeking a traditional-style men’s hair cut at a Regina barber shop.
“The style of clothing (I want to wear) doesn’t come in my size,” Ruddy said in an interview, “and that’s because of these assumptions that the fashion industry has about men and women, and because of that enforced gender binary.”
Shoes are even more of a challenge, “because at least with clothes you can tailor them,” Ruddy added.
At the Un/tied checkout, a genderqueer tax is applied to each order, “reflect(ing) additional costs — such as tailoring or custom orders — borne by people whose bodies violate sizing norms.”
“People will say, ‘Oh it’s just shoes, it’s just clothing,’ but it speaks to the larger issue of identity and gender expression,” said Ruddy. “I mean, imagine if cisgender people went to the mall and they couldn’t find the clothes that they wanted to wear to validate their identities or express their identities.
“And maybe think about that the next time that they’re shopping, about the ease with which they are able to find clothing that fits their body and helps them express who they are …”
Ruddy hopes the website will encourage the fashion industry to re-examine gendered style categories and sizing.
“I’m asking them to think about bodies that don’t fit into those gendered norms — or even those body norms, because they’re also providing these types of clothes for thin people — and to provide more variety,” said Ruddy.
Read Ruddy’s story at www.untied.shoes. The project was designed by Tracey Lebedovich.