The hardest project we take on during our life is getting to know our self. For Gaelle, that project seems like both work and play – a curious inspection of personhood and an identity constantly unfolding. Gaelle is a warm, relatable, and enthusiastic person who works at Rock City Coffee in downtown Portland, doing art on the side. A pangender queer person who prefers the pronouns “they, them, their,” Gaelle is also an educator by proxy: Each person who meets Gaelle learns a bit more about life’s endless possibilities and the million ways of being.
TELL ME ABOUT THE HISTORY OF YOUR NAME
When I was 19 I was exploring lots of parts of my identity and it kind of shook the earth for me a little bit when I was exploring all these parts of me because I grew up in rural Maine. We have all these definitions for people before they’re even born: This person is a boy or a girl, and because of that they have to grow up a certain way and they are privy to certain things and they’re supposed to like and do certain thing. I just got to a point and I’d met some of my most important people in my life and they helped me get to a point where I began realizing that I get to choose all of those things. I guess I knew all along throughout my life that it didn’t really fit, that those expectations that society had for me didn’t fit my own goals and aspirations, I just thought, that’s not what I’m looking to do per se.
So I met people that enabled me to grow and learn. And I will say that my identity is definitely a form of activism for me. I feel like I exist in these ways because people aren’t used to it and they ask questions. Sure, some people will ask questions that are ignorant and annoying, but I just will brush it off. And then there are times when I can talk and have real conversations about it. So I changed my name kind of to represent “this is who I am now.” Not that I’m ashamed of who I was; we all grow, we’re the same person but we discover who we are from the things that are important to us. I just wanted to represent that in a way that was very obvious to the world and the people around me, so that it would initiate those conversations. At first I chose the name Gale because I thought of freedom, flying, the wind. Then one time I was hanging out with my friends and they said, “You should go by Gaelle” and I said ,“Oh my god, yeah, that’s way better!” That’s what it’s been ever since.
IS IT LEGALLY CHANGED?
Not yet. But I don’t know what I want to do with that. It’s just one of those things. It’s not hard, I know a lot of people that have done it and it’s cheap in Maine, it’s $80 or something, it might even be less than that, and it’s just a matter of having your information in the newspaper for a couple of weeks before it becomes an actual thing. And then I’d have to get a new birth certificate, a new social security card, ID, credit card, debit card, etc., etc. I’d have to focus my energy and I’m not in a place right now, I have enough going on in my life.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A QUEER PERSON. BUT FIRST, WHAT DOES “QUEER” MEAN?
Queer? Whatever the hell you want it to mean! That’s the cool thing about queer, that’s why I don’t identify as gay or bisexual or straight, although obviously I’m not straight. That was one thing that I took on as well as a new name at that time was the identity of queer. What I like about it is that it’s ambiguous and also it’s synonymous with weird and I’m definitely a weirdo! We’re all weird! It’s again living outside of those norms. Queer means to you something different than it means to me and to other people.
TELL ME ABOUT THE ACTIVISM AND ORGANIZING WORK THAT YOU DO
So I’m part of this group called MESH which stands for Maine Educationalists on Sexual Harmony. So Maine is pretty puritanical – I don’t want to use that word, it just feels derogatory –around sex and identity and gender. I know that from my own experience identifying as pangender. I’m existing on this different realm than a lot of people in my family, a lot of people that I’m even friends with, and so we want to promote these ideas that sex and identity can be whatever you want it to be. Consequently we want to bring some education to the community of Portland and the surrounding areas – to what those different kinds of identities, sexual practices, and sexualities can look like.
A lot of people see sexuality as gay, straight, bisexual, and now queer, but a lot of people don’t even know what queer means. So this fall we’re going to have three events and some workshops this spring. We’re going to do a speed dating event, and it’s not going to be your typical speed dating, you’re going to be introduced to different kinds of dates, whether it be a friend date, walking around your dog, a one-on-one date, a solo date, if you want to sit in the corner at this event and read a book about sex that’s cool too. We want to kind of open the eyes of Portland to what dating can look like. We’re also going to do a cabaret, which is going to encompass all different kinds of identities and sexualities.
With MESH we want to create a network for people to come to. The other day this person came up to me and we were talking about MESH and she said, “This is perfect because I’ve been looking for an organization that I can go to that can bring these ideas about identity and gender and sexuality to public schools.” Because she had just brought her kiddo to kindergarten for the first time. So I thought yeah, whether or not MESH can be a part of doing the actual workshops with the administrators and the educators or even the students, we’d love to create those conversations too, and if it’s not MESH doing it we can at least find the right people to do that. We want to be a network for sexual harmony, that’s what we’re calling it.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ART
My art. So I’m a writer, I’m a poet, and I write some poems about my feelings and I put them into books. I also perform my poetry. I was part of the slam poetry scene for a while there, it’s kind of what got me into writing, and then I realized that I don’t like the competition and that style of really aggressive reading. Sure it’s captivating but it’s not productive in my eyes. So I created my own style and I do readings from time to time. I also organize readings. I’m a photographer, I’m a model, I do posing and styling for Jack Tar 207, which is a fashion blog, visibility project for all identities and sexualities and this and that. We’re looking to expand our horizons as well with Jack Tar.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR BARISTA WORK
I make coffee for people every day. Customer service is hard because a lot of the time the people project their days and their emotions onto you. I had someone come up to me once and say “Hi, I don’t know you but I need to talk to you about this thing that I’m going through.” She was seeking my advice and I just thought, “I do not get paid enough for this!” No, I love it, I actually really do love when I’m jiving with a person, I love the work, I love customer service because I can create these experiences with just random people.
A lot of times it’s created an experience for me. And it feels like a performance! I will be behind the bar and I will have an audience all of a sudden. I’ll be just twirling and prancing and saying really ridiculous things just to get a reaction out of people. That’s when I realized I was a performer, when I started to analyze those moments. I thought, “This is fun, I could totally create my own persona and become something else and give that to other people and have them enjoy it.” Being a barista is really supportive in my art because when it’s slow I can write and then I can practice performing.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR STYLE
My style. So style is cool for me. It’s been the biggest way to support my exploration of identity. The hard thing is that you want to like a certain piece of clothing because it best represents who you are and you put it on and it just doesn’t fit you and actually makes you feel even worse. I think we can all relate to that on some level. The way I dress, people question it and so I have those conversations about who I am. Then I start to think, “Why does my subconscious want me to present in this way? Why?”
For me it’s a conversation starter and it feels good to get complements like, “You look good.” You can’t lie about that, I love feeling good. So if I’m going to put on a nice, cute shirt and some hot boots and that’s what’s going to make me feel good for the day, and sure maybe it costs a little bit of money to do it, but I can spend all my money on food and clothes and I’m happy. Because if I don’t feel good in my body and I don’t feel good about what I’m wearing then I’m not going to feel good. And again, it’s been the biggest for exploring my identity. I’ve gone from super-femme to super-butch and back and forth and all around.
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU AS A PERSON?
Oh no! There’s so many important things! Interaction, honoring who you are, and expression.
WHAT IS A LESSON YOU ARE LEARNING IN YOUR LIFE OR HAVE LEARNED RECENTLY?
This is the work that I do every day. Every day I’m constantly thinking, “What can I do to be different? What can I do to feel better in my own skin?” That interaction made me feel this way, so I realized this thing about my own identity and the way I present myself to the world, and so consequently, that is a learning experience for me. That can stem from day-to-day interactions with customers to lovers. I just learned so much from interactions with people. But right now, and I’ve been learning it all summer so it’s going to be vague, learning how to take care of myself. Gaelle comes first. I’ve lived my whole life taking care of other people while honoring myself. A lot of times I will lose sight of myself in that. What is most important for me right now is taking care of myself and not having any expectations other than how I can care for myself in these situations.
WHAT IS THE GREATEST BLESSING OR GIFT IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?
My community. And that can encompass family, friends, organizing community, and the people that I interact with on the daily.
WHAT IS THE GREATEST STRUGGLE?
I don’t like to think of things as struggles. I never do. I’ve never seen things as anything – or I have, recently I’ve come to the point where it’s not an obstacle, it’s not a struggle, it’s an opportunity to grow…I can’t think of anything in that context really that I’m struggling with right now because it’s always an opportunity to move forward. Sure, there’s some things that I’m struggling with right now but I’m working on it.
IF YOU HAD A MOTTO OR A MANTRA WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Oh man, I think about this a lot. “Don’t let them boys bring you down.”
WHAT’S THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?
Getting back into bed. For real! So much goes through my mind and so much happens in a day, even on days that aren’t even that eventful, resting is the best medicine. That and cuddling with my cat..