Hi crush monsters, this is Straddler On The Street, a feature where I celebrate all of you incredible Autostraddle readers by hunting you down, demanding you chat with me, and then writing about you on the Internet so we can all crush on you. Get excited, because butterflies in your stomach 24/7 is a fantastic way to live.
Header by Rory Midhani
Straddler On The Street: Jill/Gilles, 23
If you attended Syracuse University a few years ago, attended A-Camp 2.0 or 3.0, or simply live in the Baltimore area, it’s likely that you’ve run into Jill/Gilles, a Professional Queer if I ever met one!
Jill/Gilles is “beginning to work out logistics of a transition from female to male” and currently uses female pronouns, and she spoke to me a bit about her transition, her gender identity and presentation, and how her family has reacted amongst many other topics. Like I said, she is super involved in the queer community, and she is currently on the executive committee of the Board of Directors at Baltimore’s Community Center (GLCCB) and works as Program Coordinator of Student Activities at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art). She got a degree in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies from Syracuse, and was an active member of the LGBT community there. She’s also interned at national and local LGBT non-profits in Washington, DC and has done extensive volunteer work in the community, always “striving to bring trans*, female-bodied, queer representation to a community that needs it.”
Say hello to Dapper Jill/Gilles!
When I asked about which pronouns you use, you said you are beginning to work out the logistics of your transition. Are you comfortable speaking about those logistics?
I’m totes cool with that. I just found out the place I was pursuing to go to in regards to transition services doesn’t take my insurance. And the other place I was thinking about requires them to be your primary physician. I also am unsure about my insurance, or about how the place I work at accommodates transition services. I am highly anxious about starting to pursue being able to pass, as well as starting the social transition – so it’ll be really interesting when I start to pursue that.
How did you come to the place you are now in your gender identity and gender expression?
It was a lifelong process, I suppose. I had extreme gender dysphoria as a wee lad… went through Catholic school and [it] made me forget all about it. Then high school and college reaffirmed it, and then A-Camp (especially) and the current work I do solidified my choice to begin transition. I suppose Catholic school didn’t make me forget, but it suppressed it and manifested itself as lack of self-care and hiding my true-self.
Where did you go to college, and were you involved in queer activities there?
I went to Syracuse University! I was a super queer! I worked at the LGBT Center, I was the art director at the queer mag there for a bit, I have a degree in LGBT studies through there – my BFA is in illustration, though. I also was a common staple at the queer party scene [and] hosted a couple myself.
To be honest I miss the college queer scene.
I miss the abundance and concentration of queer folk, but A-Camp certainly fulfills that function.
Tell me about your experience working on the queer zine. What are some of your favorite memories?
I was the art director for this issue and for the cover and center spread we had a nude photo shoot in the woods. We covered ourselves in paint and tried to really display our interpretation of the radical fairy group. But it was in a state park after sundown, which was illegal. The cops came. Whoops!
What ended up happening?!
The one clothed person checked in with them and told them we were here for a school photo shoot and that we [would] only [be] another 20 minutes, and they drove away. The finished product was fantastic!
Haha oh my god that’s incredible.
Very lucky. I’ll never forget painting my fellow editors, writers, artists, and volunteers in paint and romping around.
I want to ask more questions about your job and your art but I also wanna back up for one second. You mentioned Catholic school – do you still identify with Catholicism at all?
Oh I love the ornamentation, the gaudiness. I’m an aesthetic Catholic.
And what about your family? Are they supportive of your sexuality and your transition?
My parents claim they’ve always known that ‘I like women’ and that ‘I’ve wanted to be a boy/man.’ They’ve been as supportive as possible, and always curious and proactive to ask questions. They’re still trying to understand the transition. My mom just wants to have grandchildren, and is nervous about me growing hair. So I have to navigate that. They trip up sometimes, but I wouldn’t expect them to be perfect, as it’s not a community that they’re in.
That’s really awesome to hear. And that’s a very empathetic way to look at it from your perspective, especially as even the queer community fucks up sometimes when it comes to being supportive of all humans.
Oh yes, there’s so much to learn! The work and the education never ends.
It’s true! It sounds like you do a lot of work to that end. Can you speak about your work with GLCCB and also at MICA?
Yes! I was invited to apply to be on the Board of Directors at the GLCCB last October [by an alum of Syracuse who is a great mentor of mine]. I’ve been in that position for about a year, and man have I learned so much. As an illustrator and a person passionate about social development and mentorship, I started a job as Program Coordinator of Student Activities at MICA where I supervise about 20+ art students in our Student Activities Office. I absolutely love my students. They are so energized and creative, and it really gets me to work every day with a pep in my step.
What does a typical day at MICA look like for you?
On a boring day, I’m doing budget and database work and coordinating logistics for events. On an exciting day, I’m ordering gold underpants for our burlesque club and showing students how to Photoshop cat faces on people’s bodies.
Amazing. How could other Straddlers get involved in that sort of work if they are interested?
I’m very much on an entry level at MICA, but my student leadership at [Syracuse] and my internship experiences at LGBT non-profits really equipped me for the work that I do. For my position at the GLCCB, [I’d say what prepared me was] the LGBT non-profit experience and excessive volunteering, along with proactive networking and reaching out to people who inspired me.
You said you feel like you’ve learned a lot in the year you’ve been on the board. Can you articulate some of the major things you’ve taken away, so far?
[Being on the board is] really navigating how to be a radical queer in spaces that call for compromise with folks who’re homonormative. Because while I dislike Pride Parades – hell give me a Shame Parade or a Dyke March any day! – I was coordinating all of the volunteers at the one this year because I understand that the funding that comes from the event provides vital resources to folks who need it at the community center. You’ll see a lot of cities having for-profit Pride Parades [but] I’m fortunate enough that Baltimore is a non-profit parade.
I didn’t know that there are non-profit Pride Parades… I think I assumed they were all for-profit.
Oh yeah. That’s why Shame Parades are awesome. Why do we have to depend on major companies to build community spaces?
I’ve never even heard of Shame Parades! I feel so out of the queer loop.
[Shame Parades are] queer radicals fightin’ the commercialism of your standard Pride Parade. I think both have merit; you get a very niche audience with shame parades.
Yes, I would expect that. Okay moving away from work and more toward play – tell me all your feelings about A-Camp.
OH GOD. I had such a pain in my throat and chest that I couldn’t go this time around. A-Camp has changed my life. My Snatches and Bombshells [cabinmates] have given me such strength, and are lifelong affirmations and anchors. The counselors, the other campers. History is happening on that mountain. You’ll be reading about A-Camp in LGBT textbooks, I’ll make damn sure of it, so young queers of the future can sigh like I do and be inspired. And I hope for their sake that they get to go. There’s never been a place where I could fully express myself with no questions like that.
I am probably gonna start crying. Do you have any specific A-Camp memories you’d like to mention?
My first camp… The ‘real talks’ and amazing conversations we had in the cabin. The truth or dares, the nude streakings in Klub Deer, the kisses, the cuddles, the hugs, the happy and sad tears. The life-long friends, the mentors. The lessons learned. The haircut from Casino! The Faggity Feud where I wore bike shorts and got soaking wet in way more ways than one. All of the snaps I gave to folks who just poured their feelings out!
My second camp… Really looking inside myself and grappling with the tough issues I didn’t want to confront. A-Camp in its entirety gave me the courage to do that. Getting to see old friends, dancing, not giving a FUCK, but giving ALL OF THE FUCKS at the same time. Katrina‘s ‘this is how we live, no fucks to give‘ essay got me through some rough times. It’s my mantra when I get triggered.
It’s so inspiring to listen to you talk about camp. I see the magic happen every camp but it’s so gratifying to know that you guys feel it, too.
I think we all feel it. Whatever ‘IT’ is is different for everyone, but it changes your life. ‘It’ could be something absolutely amazing, ‘It’ could be something heart-breaking, but you work it out and it makes you a better and stronger person once you process it.
That’s a great description of camp. Sometimes the work it inspires is hard, but it is always so necessary.
Yes. ::snaps:: I need A-Camp, and there so so many other folks in the world I know who need it too.
On a much lighter note – you’re single! What are some of your favorite ways to meet potential dates!
OH GOD YES I’M SINGLE. I have such a difficult time finding folks, so whatever I would tell people, please do the opposite.
Awww. What is difficult about finding people?
I’m really picky and an introvert, and that’s not a good combination. Please send me a stern but sweet soft/sissy to hard butch who loves to slow dance and wants to grow as people together. That’s what I pray to god every night for. Like Audrey Horne prayed for Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks. But there was nothing more fun than being single at A-Camp… wild and reckless abandon.
So I have heard! But have not experienced myself. Anyway! Who are some of your favorite artists?
Oh lord. Francis Bacon, Alison Bechdel, Junji Ito, Kazuma Kodaka, J.C Leyendecker, Marjane Satrapi, Egon Schile (minus the pedophilia), David Lynch and John Waters.
Awesome, thank you. What are you planning to dress up as for Halloween?
Well for work I have to dress as a circus animal with a sparkle vest!
What an amazing job! You mentioned the lovely Laura Wooley introduced you to Autostraddle, yes? Can you tell that story?
Why yes! We have a mutual friend – she went to high school with them, I went to college with them – and together we visited her in Philly and she was talking about this marvelous thing called Autostraddle. I was like, ‘Wow! I should check that out!’ I hadn’t consumed much LGBT media prior to then, and Autostraddle was EXACTLY what I was looking for. It also inspired me to really be passionate about LGBT issues and I would definitely attribute it as a gateway drug into my degree.
That’s so rad! Finally, do you have anything else you’d like to share with the Autostraddle community?
You are all such wonderful people. We’re all in such an interesting moment in history, with the internet and all. When you feel isolated or alone, know that the AS community is here, and we are all over the world just waiting to give you a hug and some tea. If you are ever in Baltimore, give me a ring, and I can give you just that. I can even offer a bed and a fun time!
Awwwww. On behalf of all of us: THANK YOU!
If you would like to be featured as a future Straddler on the Street, please email vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com. Include a few photos, 3-5 sentences about yourself and put “Straddler Submission” in your subject line. Approximately a million people have submitted so far, so please be patient as Vanessa goes through her inbox — you’re all sexy with really smart brains, and don’t you forget it!