Penelope Alizarin Conley of Worcester lives a multifaceted life as a parent, musician known for PennySTEMS, a model, and a master bicycle repair technician.
“My wheels are literally spinning in all directions,” said Conley, who recently has created another vocation, as an influencer with a following of nearly 40,000 on Instagram. “I do a lot of thrift-store shopping,” said Conley, who tags the stores where she finds her outfits.
Recently, Conley’s musical endeavors made Worcester Magazine’s list of love songs.
‘A happy person with nothing to hide’
“It’s more that I enjoy doing it,” Conley said. “I enjoy dressing up nicely. Every time I have a friend come over for a visit, I always take them to one of the thrift stores around Worcester. All my friends are into fashion. Chances are they are able to find something amazing.”
But for Conley, checking out second-hand and consignment shops means more than finding great looks at deep discounts. As a trans woman, it’s also part of a journey of self expression, and self discovery.
Conley said, “Raising my kids, they wouldn’t see a depressed person with something to hide, but a happy person with nothing to hide.”
An uncertain journey
In her 20s, Conley recalled, “I knew something was different, because I would go out somewhere, to a friend’s house or something. I would wear a little bit of makeup. I always felt more myself when I was dressing more feminine. I was the life of the party. If I was wearing my T-shirt and jeans, I’d just hang back, and not talk very much.”
Conley added, “I knew a long time ago what needed to be done, but I didn’t know what steps to take. In 2003, I had no contest. I didn’t know what transgender was. None of that was in my life.”
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It was some time later, after the birth of her first child and before the arrival of her second child, Conley took some time off from work and went to college, studying childhood education. “I had plenty of time to soul search. I looked at a pile of women’s clothes. ‘Why do I get so much joy out of wearing clothes?'”
Conley said, “My partner said, ‘You might be coming out as transgender.”
A big step
With that, Conley began giving away or consigning her men’s clothes to the many thrift stores in Worcester. “I’d use the money to buy women’s clothes. After about two years, my hair had grown out. I spoke to a doctor about getting medications, and the rest is history.”
But going public with her decision was far from easy. “Even though I came out to my former partner in 2017, I didn’t tell another soul until 2019. But by then, I told everybody. I was worried nobody would love me.”
Conley said, “I was worried nobody would accept me, that years down the road, I’d have some regret, or be like, ‘What am I doing? I am putting myself in a marginalized community. I am painting a target on my back. What if I’m hanging out with my friends and someone starts harassing me?”
The reactions from her family have been complex. “My father at least calls me Penelope. My dad said, ‘Prior to you coming out, for 38 years, you were a totally different person.'”
Of thrifting, Conley said, “The best part of going into a thrift store versus a big box store is first of all, it’s affordable, and never, ever know what you are going to find.”
It’s also meant overcoming some hesitancy. Going into a store such as Sweet Jane’s or Maria’s Modern Muse, which cater mainly to women, Conley said, “I was a little scared early on. Not anymore. I have no reason anymore.”
Tell us about your thrift store finds. Send your photos and stories, including the thrift store and prices of the items, to Margaret Smith, content editor, at [email protected].
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