This week I had an experience I’ve never had before. I guess I’ve always taken for granted that folks in political office or in the public eye represented me as a white, feminist, progressive, Italian-American, queer-(ish, before coming out) woman. I’ve certainly never sat down and thought about the fact that there’s no one out there who really represents my identity, as I’m sure many other folks have. I live in a privileged space where I can be fairly assured most aspects of my identity will be visible in culture and politics.
Thus, I would never have predicted how visceral and powerful my reaction would be when I saw this. As reported here on feministing.com, Mary Gonzalez will be the first out pansexual legistlator in the country. After her election to the Texas House of Representatives (Texas! Of all places!), Gonzalez, who had presented herself as a lesbian, explained her choice to wait until after the election to reveal her true identity.
During the campaign if I had identified as pansexual, I would have overwhelmed everyone. Now that I’m out of the campaign, I’m completely much more able to define it. As I started to recognize the gender spectrum and dated along the gender spectrum, I was searching for words that connected to that reality, for words that embraced the spectrum. At the time I didn’t feel as if the term bisexual was encompassing of a gender spectrum that I was dating and attracted to.
Reading Gonzelez’s description of what it means to be pansexual was like reading my own blog. She talks about gender not being a major factor in her attraction to people, having dated folks who are transgender or outside the gender binary, and feeling other identities didn’t quite fit. She talks about her discomfort with the gender binary and making it the basis of attraction to others. The fact that Gonzalez not only had the courage to come out as pansexual, but was able to define it accurately and succinctly enough to fit in a typical brief news story blew my mind. There it was, in black-and-white – in the news. A word that barely garnered a few measly google results a couple years back when I first heard it.
Gonzalez said that she doesn’t believe in any preconceived gender binary because “gender identity isn’t the defining part of my attraction.” She doesn’t believe she is solely a lesbian either because she has dated transgender people and other types of “gender-queer” people.
WHOA! Although I’d never really consciously felt that lack, when I saw this it hit me like a ton of bricks. There really hasn’t ever been someone like me out there, openly, specifically espousing pansexual identity. Not only that, but I was missing that. I was missing it, and I didn’t even know I was.
I’ve always felt a desire to define myself and others outside the gender binary, to question gender norms, to view my attractions to others, both romantic and otherwise, outside the lens of gender. In fact, part of the reason it took me so long to “come out” was not knowing what to come out as. Perhaps if there had been a Mary Gonzalez around when I was in college, I would have recognized my identity as a legitimate place to land, rather than feeling not quite straight and not quite gay and not not totally comfortable with bisexual. I thought I was confused. Turns out I wasn’t confused, I just didn’t know how to be something I’d never seen.
Thank you Mary Gonzalez, and thanks to you, there may be a 20 year-old gender studies major out there somewhere who’s just a little less confused this week, and who will have a whole extra decade to feel anchored to a culturally recognized identity.
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