Heeling Society – Published Vancouver Photographer & Model
I had the privileged of meeting Chad last year and since then we have worked and collaborated together on a few different photo shoots. I also have the honour of calling him my friend. Every one of our sessions together holds a special place in my heart and this particular shoot definitely ranks in the top.
We were honoured with securing cover on Issue 6 of Beauty Mark Magazine with this set and I couldn’t be more proud. When I first read Chad’s article, that was to accompany the images we took in Vancouver, BC of him showcasing his fabulous heels, it brought me to tears. Don’t take my word for it though,read for yourself …
My name is Chad Walters. And to self-locate, I am a 30 year-old, gender-fluid, gay-identified,
European-Aboriginal Canadian man. I did my undergrad in social work at the University of
British Columbia and am currently making my way through graduate studies in the same field.
I’m just some guy who wants to relax the rigid – and often oppressive – gender norms that run
rampant in our world. I felt inspired to write, and so here I am.
I remember a sociology prof at university encouraging us to push back against and defy norms
and social mores, if only to experience the awkward tension. He highlighted the discomfort that
is often felt when citizens do not follow the social “rules.” He used an example of someone
entering an elevator but not immediately facing the door, as would be expected, and instead
facing the back wall and the other riders. It confuses people by opposing what is known to be
normal. His teachings have stayed with me and I have since paid close attention to our
society’s norms and expected ways of behaving. Holding this attention throughout my social
work degree has provided me with a hyper-awareness of norms that are oppressive, and it is
these norms, particularly, that should be pushed back against… with vigour.
Our society defines what is normal and abnormal when it comes to how we look and what we
wear, and within this definition are strict gender boundaries, and god forbid we step beyond the
border. For example, only men should wear ties, only women should wear makeup, only men
should have short hair, only girls wear pink, only women should paint their nails, and, my least
favourite, only women should wear heels. Unfortunately, there are plenty more of these
unnecessary “shoulds” within our worlds. I am not a fan of this word “should;” it suffocates me.
Perhaps “should” shouldn’t exist.
Fortunately – acknowledging our privilege – in today’s Canada we are beginning to honour and
respect that gender and sexual identity are not the strict binaries we once presumed, and,
instead, that self-expression and self-presentation are more lax and fluid. More and more
people are presenting themselves to the world in more liberal, exciting and creative counter-
culture ways, myself included.
My journey to authenticity has been long, and every day I continue to sink more deeply into
myself. Owning and announcing my attraction to other men was a huge step towards becoming
authentic. Anyone who has struggled with and tackled their gender ad sexual identity has a
clear understanding of how oppressive our society and the people within it can be. It is tough to
explore what feels right and authentic when doing so causes social discomfort and provokes
negative responses. However, social discomfort is often an impetus for change… and change
is good. It is time, again, for me to explore what feels right.
I am writing today to share my experience of giving life to my desire to slap on some stilettos
and head out into the public. I have occasionally seen images of men wearing heels and I
always thought that it looked incredible. As someone who views the body as a canvass, on
which I can be artistic and expressive, the thought of diversifying my wardrobe and appearance
with heels has always been alluring. I often thought, “women are so lucky… look at all of these
amazing shoes they can choose from. I want to be able to wear heels.” Let’s face it, the
selection of shoes ascribed for men is more limited… bland, even. And who the hell says I can’t
wear heels? Society, with its death grip on what is and isn’t masculine.
This past year I was drawn to a fundraiser for Foundation of Hope, a charity whose mandate is
to assist LGBT refugees in their transition into Canada. The premise of the fundraiser was
“walking a mile in heels is easier than a lifetime in the closet” – a way to bring attention to the
torment of growing up LGBT in an LGBT-persecuting country. This fundraiser spoke to two
interests of mine… LGBT refugees and stilettos! The shoe fit, so to speak. It was time to buy
some heels… I suppose I needed that push, that justification.
I felt like a kid in a candy shop, as is often said, during my first trip to the shoe store. I instantly
saw the winning pair, neon with a 7-inch heel; I made the purchase. Naturally, I wanted to wear
the heels out of the store and so I walked out onto the street, feeling tall (for once) and
confident. I was surprisingly stable in those babies and walked with ease, mostly.
Something unique happens to me when I put on a pair of heels. Firstly, I begin to feel sexier. It
is my belief that heels are intrinsically linked to women and her sexuality. It is not news that
many men find heels sexy, and that men’s behaviour can be influenced by a woman in heels.
Perhaps this is why most men cannot bear the thought of another man in heels… if heels are
linked to sexual attraction then a man seeing another man in a hot pair of heels will really
confuse him and challenge his whole idea of masculinity… “Wait, that kinda looks good. Am I
gay?!” …probably not, no. Of course, there are boundless opportunities to dig into the blaring
symbolism of women walking through the world supported by teeny tiny phalluses – but that is
for an entirely different article. Collectively, we connect the word “sexy” to a woman in heels – it
is written into our collective coding. It is for this reason, I believe, that I begin to feel sexier.
That, and because I feel confident, and confidence is super sexy in and of itself.
My confidence and self-esteem go through the roof when I am wearing heels; I feel like I can
take on the world. If you look at any strong, sexy and confident women in film, she is probably
wearing heels… even while running away from dinosaurs as was the case in this year’s Jurassic
World. Part of this confidence may be connected to the height status factor – women who are
taller or the same height as men are often perceived as more assertive and powerful. Height =
Power. Simultaneously, beyond my increase in height power, I feel the confidence that arises
from the basic awareness that I am pushing back against a nonsensical norm. I feel purpose
and that purpose provides me with confidence to strut my stuff like no other – #werk. Stick it to
Also, I feel happy when I am in heels. Why happiness? Because I am exploring new ways to
bend gender, new fashions to spice up my appearance and new interactions with the social
world around me. It is fun! Getting dressed up is always entertaining, whether for some special
occasion or themed event… it is a blast to evoke new characteristics, and sexy stiletto sass just
so happens to be the latest characteristic to wake within me. Furthermore, I am an activist at
heart and stimulating social change is part of what brings me joy. Being counter-norm in our
misogynistic and heteronormative society appeals to me and speaks to my passion, and any
passionate engagement is always fun. As I walk and dance around in 7-inch heels I am
activating something… conversations, a paradigm shift, new norms, etc.
Beyond what it feels like, personally, I think it is appropriate to share some reactions with you,
dear reader. One of the most surprising things about my heel experiences, both while shopping
and strolling, is how frequently I was called, “Girl.” Some of the comments were as follows (I’m
relying on your mental intonation and emphasis to make these comments come to life): “Work it
Giiiiiirl!” – “You’re looking fab, girlfriend!” – “Guuuurl, you look so good!” This started to bother
me. Why? Well, because I am not a girl. I am a man, I just happen to be wearing different
shoes. It fascinates me how a simple article of clothing became reason to re-ascribe my sex.
Of course, “Girl” is just a word… but words make worlds. This, to me, was a blatant
representation of how gendered our world is, and, in turn, how restrictive and oppressive that
can be. A woman is no less a woman for not wearing heels. A man is no less a man for
wearing heels. In simplicity, the person is merely taller or shorter.
On the sidewalk, and in the heart of the city, I walked past what I presumed to be a mother and
her two daughters. As we passed each other I saw the mother smile and say, “girls, check out
his heels!” Little “wows” followed suit. It was positive and upbeat; there was acceptance. It
wasn’t a scoff or a shake of the head. Maybe those girls have never seen a man in heels
before, and maybe, just maybe, they now feel a tinge more confident to be bold themselves. I
want to live in a world where difference is celebrated, and I believe that as we normalize gender
fluidity the following generation is going to be so much more welcoming of the people who do
not fit into tiny gender boxes.
Trying on heels in stores is very interesting. In one store, a clerk ask if I wanted to try a pair in
my size – 10, p.s. It was truly a powerful moment for me. It was powerful because it was so
casual and normal. It made it clear to me how much progress we have made as a society and
how fortunate I am to be living here. I could not leave the store without voicing my gratitude for
her acceptance. Sometimes I can feel the looks and the stares, the chuckles and the respect. I
can see the daggers of the impatient husbands, perhaps daggers of jealousy over how stellar
my calves look in a great pair of stilettos – #ownit. Whatever the reaction, i view it as a good
reaction. It means something is happening, and I believe that it is a positive “something.”
As I bring this to a close, and dream about a pair of heels I want to order from Australia, I feel it
is important to leave you with a question: what have you always wanted to wear, and, what is
stopping you? Go out there and throw your rock in the pond… it’s time to make ripples. Push