Q & A with MU Homecoming king candidate Josie Herrera

Thursday, October 17, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:11 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 18, 2013
Josie Herrera, who identifies as gender queer, is the first transgender candidate for MU Homecoming king.

COLUMBIA — Here are excerpts from an interview with Josie Herrera, a Homecoming king candidate at MU who identifies as gender queer.

Herrera appears to be MU's first transgender candidate.

Were there any problems with your entering as a king candidate?

I had a friend on the Homecoming Committee, who's someone I trust a lot, and I was just like, hey, this is the situation: I identify as gender queer, and while that gives me some level of flexibility, I present myself very masculinely, so I'd feel more comfortable in this category. Could you ask if that's something I could do? And he talked to his adviser ... (who) was like, "Yeah, whatever they feel more comfortable in, they can run for."

So I turned in my paper application and I ... (signed up for first-round interviews) under the men's category. I put Laura "Josie" Herrera, and then I emailed the committee. ... I basically said, I'm not playing a practical joke on you guys or messing with you — it wasn't a mistake that I wrote my name down there. I'm running for king, and that's just where I feel more comfortable.

From there, people just ran with it. It was really surprisingly easy; no opposition. Everyone just kind of went with it. ... Honestly, I was expecting them to be like, "No, you can't do that." So it was kind of awesome.

Is your candidacy part of your coming-out process?

Yeah, (and) it’s very public. That’s not unusual for me to push myself to do that. The first time I ever even really mentioned to people that I was questioning my gender identity was on a panel. Someone invited me to be on a panel at the LGBTQ (Resource) Center on ... a Trans 101 panel. And it included just gender nonconforming, and that was a category that I easily fit into.

But I ended up talking about, hey, I’m going through the process of questioning my gender identity, and not stuff I expected to talk about in an actually really packed room, ... and that was the first time I ever really mentioned to a group that I was questioning who I was. It was good. It was a necessary push to the door, like all right, go deal with it. So that was helpful.

What's your opinion of situations like Kasey Caron's, a high school student in Pennsylvania whose school board did not allow a run as a Homecoming king because he was born female?

That’s always frustrating to hear. I know a lot of it has to do with the fact that a lot of people aren’t educated about trans issues or how gender identity works, and just keeping the door closed on people exploring who they are is really unfortunate. ...

It’s unfortunate, and what I feel — I can’t speak for a lot of people, I can only speak for the conversations I’ve had with friends and what I feel — I think that hurts the community. That hurts the community, the way I see it, on a national level. Talk about instilling fear in people. I hear about stories everywhere, and I’ve never had to face violence, which is really, really fortunate for who I am.

Sometimes people — I can walk down the street and people can think I’m a queer woman or a gay man because I’m pretty masculine sometimes — they can hate me for a variety of reasons. I’ve never had to experience that, but I know that’s very, very real. ...

Hearing stories like that definitely make me nervous to want to try things that I want to do, like run for Homecoming. Because what if I have to face that, what if it becomes a big issue? And then I have all of my personal stuff — this is a public, personal process — but what if this wasn’t going so well? Then it would be just as public, just as personal, but really negative.

If you do win Homecoming king, what kind of effect do you think that could have?

I have no idea. And on this campus, what I really want is to make this easier for some of my friends who are trans or gender nonconforming, or even just queer, to be able to do this. I have so many friends who congratulated me ... and have asked me, "Can I vote?" Some people don't even realize (they can vote) because they're so alienated from the Homecoming process. ...

I hope it makes it easier for other people to go through this process, regardless of their gender identity or regardless of what community they're in, and that they can feel confident that someone did this, it's going to be less scary. It is scary to be the first person who pushes the button or rocks the boat. ...

I hope it does make people start feeling safe in their community — that's a really big issue for people who are gender nonconforming or trans or gender queer, physically not feeling safe. Hopefully that sends a message that people here support you, and also sends a message that no, it's not OK to mess with the trans kids or queer kids or whatever kid that's different than you. I'm hoping it brings both of those messages.

What do you hope is the takeaway of your candidacy?

I want people to see that they can do anything on this campus and not be limited by, "Oh, well, it's usually this type of person who gets it." When you think of who usually gets it, like people who are involved in a lot of the government organizations or Tour Team or Alumni Center stuff — which are all valid — a lot of those people, and this is not to knock anyone or their identities, but a lot of those people are usually white, probably upper-middle class, that kind of stuff.

That's all super awesome and valid, but I want people to know that you can go through this process regardless and come out with a really positive experience like I've had, and people shouldn't be scared to try it because it can be done. And that's not just for the queer kids. That's for anyone on our campus.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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