Well, yesterday this photographer that I follow photographed a bird (a bilateral gynandromorph northern cardinal, to be exact) that is half male and half female—split directly down the middle. The red half is male, the white half is female. In most bird species, it’s actually the males that are the colorful ones (hence, drag queens). I thought it was quite incredible, so I thought to myself, Why not make a look out of it today?
Oh, Patricia Gonia! Well, the lesser-known story is that Ginger Snap was my first drag persona. I was going to a photography conference, where I would teach and speak, and it was the first truly safe, inclusive space that I was a part of. They always had this dance party on the final night of the conference. The invitation was just to come as whatever you want to be. And so, I went as Ginger Snap because of my red hair and at the time I was a full-time photographer. It was the first time that this queer kid from the Midwest ever did a thing that I was told my whole entire life not to do. You know, when I came out of the closet, I felt like I almost went further back into the closet because I really started living by what everyone else told me I had to do in order to be a good gay, rather than having the permission to truly be and evolve into every version of myself.
I often ask myself who I would actually be if I was born now. I think I would truly feel more nonbinary. Since birth, I was served a binary of: You’re either gay or straight, you’re either male or female. And I think a lot of that was just inaccessibility. I think that my parents were trying to love me the best their language would allow. But I think there was some internal homophobia that was built inside myself, too. So, all of that was kind of let loose when Ginger Snap happened. I thought to myself, What is this world like? Oh my gosh, this is such a world that I never let myself live. But because it was a photography conference, people took photos, and they leaked back to Nebraska without my consent. I came home to my house being egged, came home to a lot of people who I thought were friends being completely silent and even lost some clients in the process. For the first time in my life, I was seeing conditional love. I think it’s kind of the secret of the coming out process that it’s also painful and weird because you’re like, Who can I trust?
When I was Ginger Snap, I wore these black high heel boots, and when I came home, I put those boots physically into my closet, and I said to myself, Fuck this, it is too painful. It is too much. I will just go back to my straight-passing gay life. I will play by the rules again. I will just do whatever because I don’t want to lose people in my life. And it wasn’t until six months later, when I was packing to go on a backpacking trip with a few of my good friends, that I was looking in my closet and I saw my high heel boots. And I thought, I’m just going to pack them in my bag. I’ll just get them out on the summit. And I remember on this trip feeling like, Oh my gosh, while I’m out here in nature, no one is judging me. This is a completely safe space. And I’ve always felt myself able to be more feminine when I’m outdoors. Even though it wasn’t really the birth of Pattie on that backpacking trip, that was the first time that I wore those boots in the outdoors. And I will never forget that experience.
So then, I posted this video online, it went viral…but I remember sitting there and being like, This is an opportunity to start living unapologetically and to truly put to death a past me that gave up so much of myself for other people’s safety. And yeah, it was painful. Even more people that I thought were in my corner left my life, but this new, beautiful outdoor queer community was forming. And I’m sitting here now just realizing how important it was for me to choose to live unapologetically, because I think I could have just so easily put my boots back into the closet. But a closet is nowhere to be. And I think a lot of us live a lie to ourselves that we are out of the closet when really we’re still not letting ourselves be unapologetically who we are.