Alumna adapts to job market after graduation, models in NYC
When Mack Dihle graduated from Central Michigan University in 2004, her plan was to get a job as a band director; the now 33-year-old Chicago resident never expected to find employment as an androgynous male model in New York Fashion Week who plays trumpet at jazz clubs when she is off duty from her job as a police officer.
Attending her alma mater on a trumpet scholarship and making the move to Chicago were turning points in Dihle's life, she said. Moving to the Windy City made it possible for her to find a job pursuing what have become her creative passions outside police work — music and modeling.
Dihle took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with Central Michigan Life about her life in Chicago.
Did you enjoy your time at CMU as a music student?
DIHLE: I've made amazing friends (after graduation) and feel supported, but nothing will come close to CMU. I was groomed to go to CMU from going there in high school all four years for band camp. I knew my professors ahead of time and am so grateful for that. When I see them, it's like seeing my family.
At CMU they make you a great musician, then a great teacher. Whenever I go to back, it's like I'm home.
(At CMU, my) whole life basically revolved around the music building: From 8 a.m. until midnight, I was there for classes, practicing and rehearsals. I loved how my entire life was music. I had the honor of playing alongside guest jazz musicians Rufus Reed, Bob Berg, Randy Brecker and Frank Mantooth.
It was about $50 a credit hour when I went to CMU and around $175 when I graduated. I graduated with $14,000 in student loans. I worked in building maintenance and helped build the new towers (residence halls).
What was life like after you graduated from CMU?
When I graduated in 2004, the economy was really bad. I graduated and there were no jobs. There were more than 200 people applying for the same position and we all had the same credentials. I did end up finding a job in October 2005 as a band director in Illinois and was able to work there for a year in a temporary position.
If I would have (found permanent employment as) a music teacher, I wouldn't have come out. None of (my success now) would have happened.
Can you explain how making the move to Chicago after graduation changed your life?
I had long curly hair, and was an awkward looking tomboy. Gender and sexuality are two separate things, but for me personally, they kind of go hand in hand. Moving to Chicago offered lots of opportunities.
After I moved out of state I decided to be the true me. Before, lots of parts of me were suppressed.
Moving here saved my life. Being a gay woman, it's so weird whenever I go back to Michigan. It's such a time warp. I was really depressed when I lived in Michigan. As soon as I came out in Chicago, I've never had suicidal thoughts again.
Before I came here, I wasn't living my truth.
As an androgynous model who wears menswear and masculine of center clothing on the runway. You seem to be pushing the boundaries of gender. Do you think gender is a social construct?
Gender is a social construct. It’s been the biggest most frustrating challenge for nonbinary people like me that fall right in the middle of the feminine — masculine spectrum.
The world isn’t just made of girls who wear dresses, and men who wear suits. What about the beautiful feminine gay men who rock high heels and a perfectly manicured beard, or a masculine woman who looks amazing in a tailored suit? I would have saved myself a lot of confusion and grief about what to wear if the queer clothing designers of today existed when I was in high school and college.
A big reason I’m an androgynous model is because I want people to see a beautiful human (on the runway) and not see a gender. I can model either gender and look great and am accepted for it. I'm excited to see the world of androgynous fashion take over. (It will allow) people to make decisions for themselves based on their truth and not what societal binary gender box they should fit into.
Just like everyone has a favorite food, color or hobby — we should be able to have a favorite style and clothing no matter what our gender is, but instead be based on what looks great and feels great to us.
People really want to put you in a box. I like how androgyny allows for no specific pronoun. "They" and "their" have become more popular and commonly accepted. From a modeling perspective, it allows me to not put myself in a box.
How are androgynous fashion shows different from other fashion shows?
In the modeling world, if you (are an androgynous model but) want to get paid, you end up putting yourself in a box to get a job. I love doing the androgynous shows, but they don't pay because they're usually kick-starters.
Model applications (at non-androgynous shows) have only 2 gender boxes, and I am always torn which one to check, because I identify as a female who models only masculine-of-center fashion that happens to fall into the men's category.
How cool would it be if someday you went to a clothing store and it wasn't separated by gender?
Can you explain your experience when you started presenting as a masculine-of-center woman?
Not until after I graduated from CMU and moved out of state did I decide to be true to my soul and live as an "out and proud" butch woman.
There are many times I wonder what it would have been like to go through college (like I am now) versus a closeted tomboy.
Until recently, I still kept feminine clothes in my closet just in case, but I came to the point where I said "screw this."
It was quite liberating to cut my hair short and wear masculine-of-center clothing starting in 2006. I know that it would have been a lot harder to grow up as an LGBT child if I had come out sooner. My family slowly became accustomed to the real me. They have been great and know that I’m much happier and smile a lot bigger now that I’m living in my truth.
How did you go from looking for employment as a music teacher to becoming a police officer?
In 2006, the economy was really taking a turn for the worse. Band director jobs became scarce and I even started seeing other CMU music alumni at the same out of state interviews.
I decided to get creative and taught myself how to successfully pass written police exams.
In 2008, I landed my first police officer position. My intent was to be a police officer for only as long as it would take me to get another band director teaching position. The stability of law enforcement and a higher salary led me to stick with it.
I was at a crossroads, and didn't plan on being a cop for this long, but it's so financially stable. I have friends who are still teachers and band programs are getting cut.
I really do love policing, but I hate the schedule.
How did you get into modeling?
After seven years of working six days a week on the night shift as a police officer, I felt like I had lost so much of my creative self.
Through the years I kept playing trumpet mostly as a soloist hired for weddings and jazz bands, but couldn’t commit to any bands full time due to being stuck on the night shift with no end in sight.
That’s when I thought about modeling in 2014, (and pursued it) as a creative outlet. The “What is Butch?” Twitter campaign asked women to tweet a picture of themselves. I tweeted a really cool picture of me in a rockabilly dapper outfit and immediately was asked by www.dapperq.com to come to L.A. for a model photoshoot and interview.
Since that time, I’ve been featured in the largest androgynous runway show of its kind in New York City and most recently in Feb 2016, walked in New York Fashion Week and was the only androgynous model in the Walk Fashion Showcase.
Do you have any advice for CMU students about to graduate?
Learn a skill that's transferable and you can do anywhere — like website design.
You can't use the fallback of going to college again.
Most of my friends that got masters degrees barely used them. Unless you really know getting a masters is going to help you, most jobs don't look at that. Instead, consider learning a skill like coding or website design that will end up bringing in much more money.