Outside the gender role
By Ryan Buffa | email@example.com
Eileen Pagan was painting a 5-foot-by-7-foot nude self portrait, revealing her breast, a confident and assertive expression and her unshaven arm pits.
“I don’t need to conform to fit into society’s idea of what is normal or beautiful,” Pagan, a fine art and psychology major at Flagler College, said as she was painting the deep red colors in the background of her portrait.
“Now that I don’t shave, I’ve been called a lot of names and getting a lot of looks. Just really weird looks. And a lot of disagreement for not fitting into a binary gender role,” she said.
In the beginning the stares and awkward glances bothered Pagan. In time, she decided that she did not care if people were casting judgmental looks. The way she dresses and grooms herself represents how she feels beautiful.
Pagan’s painting and her idea behind it reflects what many young adults are grasping to come to terms with — a morphing America, consisting of people for change and acceptance versus those who wish to maintain traditional moral values.
Outside of the strive for equality in the LBGT (lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender) community, is a realm of people trying to find a way to fit into a definition within this group. Society narrows sexual orientation and gender roles down to a simple acronym. However, there are many more letters to tack onto the mainstream LBGT abbreviation- Q for questioning, I for intersex and A for asexual. This extension is for those who do not fit in the mainstream gender identity or sexual orientation definition.
Pagan does not consider herself as strictly gay or straight, but for now she identifies herself as “queer” whenever people ask her to choose a label. In fact queer, is an umbrella term to describe a person that is attracted to all genders and all sexualities.
Queer could be described as a “melting pot” of the mainstream sexuality identifiers in the LBGT community. It’s not identifying with one sexuality or another. It’s not strictly masculine or feminine. Queer is for those who do not fit in the binary gender role.
For now, dating women is what she feels most comfortable with sexually and emotionally.
When Pagan asks the question, “What are the correct terms to determine sexuality?” her eyes come to life and hold that same confident and assertive gaze seen in her self-portrait.
For her, sexuality is not black or white, but rather a broad spectrum, ranging in various tones and shades of grey, or like the neutral colors found in her painting.
“I always say everyone is a little queer because it’s true, not everyone is completely straight,” she said. “Not everyone is completely black or white.”
To Pagan, the labels that are projected on her by society go beyond her sexuality, but on her gender role as well. Pagan is a woman who has short hair, dresses in masculine attire and does not shave- all attributes that society expects of men.
Despite these expectations, she does not feel the need to fit in either category of masculine or feminine, straight or gay.
“I feel like for me, it wasn’t a certain moment where I was like ‘Wow, yeah I’m gay’ it was kind of like I knew … I always knew, I just never thought about that. I never thought about the possibility of me being gay or queer,” Pagan said.
The moment of her self-discovery came after her first romantic encounter with another woman last year. For Pagan, it was the first time she felt a void filled within her that was not satisfied when she was with a man. It felt natural to her.
There was no family meeting or therapist or priest around when she told her family that she is queer. She called her mother the day after her first sexual encounter with a woman and said, “I think I’m gay.” The fear she felt when she told her parents was more from second-guessing her true sexual feelings, rather than being shunned from her family. She was received with love and support.
However, the fact that Pagan has to label herself for society is what upsets her the most. She feels that the labels slapped and pasted onto people to identify whom they want to have sex with, allows for society to place rules and guidelines.
“I think sexuality, in general, has been completely blown up into something that is just either black or white and I think people have taken that and completely transformed that into something society uses against people in a way,” Pagan said.
This realization came to her as she was walking the streets downtown and holding hands with her girlfriend of the time. A man walked between them to break their hands apart, and then confronted them. He said, “You know what you ladies need? A man.”
Pagan’s reaction was filled with questions: “And what is a man anyway? What makes you more man than me? What makes you more man than anyone else?” she said. “I mean why does any gender have to be completely correlated to any sexual parts?”
When society denies her the opportunity to express herself through curious glances and judgmental words, she decides to deny them the satisfaction of her feeling defeated. Pagan continues to live her life in a way that shuns labels, and embraces confidence. If she had to choose, she would describe herself as queer, but really that means she will dress how she wants and fall in love with a person not because of their sex, but because of the natural attraction.
“I think the question necessarily isn’t just about being gay. I think it’s about being human,” she said.