would describe myself as genderqueer — to me this is someone who doesn’t identify as a man or a woman, but as a person outside of conventional binary gender roles. For people like me, learning to express my gender in a way that feels comfortable and authentic can sometimes be a struggle.

I spent the earlier years of my adult life battling and struggling to define where I fit in. As I’ve grown, I’ve acquired a certain courage to explore parts of my gender that inspired shame and fear. As a young adult living independently and supporting myself, the unfounded fear of actually living as I wanted had no legs to stand on. I only had to live and be responsible for me, so why was I so afraid of taking that leap? It had never occurred to me that the most visible parts of me such as my nails, hair, and clothing could shape me into anything special. By allowing myself to give into my fancies, my once weakest points would become my greatest strengths.

Armed with anxiety, I toed the line in beginning to change my outward presence. As I chose to grow my hair and nails longer and dress with more complexity, subtle interactions I once feared became more commonplace. People would stop me on the subway to appreciate my luxurious looking handbag, or at parties to gaze at my painted nails, and in bars to take in my appearance. People’s reactions when they see my figure dressed and accessorized in an imprecise, but deliberate way ranges from joy and admiration, to shock and fear. As someone who was once used to hiding, suddenly becoming a center of attention can be panic-inducing. But it is part of an experience that I take as a certain responsibility; I need to be the change I want to see more of.

To me, my body as it is today, challenges the status quo of gender, class, and status. I’m fat, I’m queer, and I’m brown. Similar to my Native ancestors adorning themselves in beads, feathers, and leather crafts, I now don everything I can use to challenge authority as my shield. I wear my hair long to make it harder to surveil me, to disrupt the first-glance conventions of my gender. My nails are ornamental; softly painted pink and sharpened to a point resembling talons or claws while toting the harmony of delicateness and fear that says, “Look, but don’t touch.” I dress in bold patterns and forgiving flowy garments because I absolutely and adamantly refuse to be restricted by ill-fitting suits. My gender's duality is a strength. I love being able to play with my aesthetic, presenting different versions of myself through creative expression.

My brightly colored nails are flashy, sometimes even over-the-top. Their extended length has thoroughly transformed the shape and movement of my hands and all at once they seem to be longer, daintier, and more elegant. My subtly flowing garments in delicate fabrics allow me the sense of feeling gentle, graceful, and sensitive. My designer handbag hints at affluent, elite femininity. Taking a simple sweater and embellishing it with brooches and gems is suddenly a small (or very large in my case) way to give traditional gender norms the finger.  

The more people encounter me, the more I’m compelled to move my hands in a way that emphasizes my grace over strength, my sensitivity over brute force. And through those alterations in movement, I appear to be defter, complex, and more graceful. For the ignorant or scared, these acts are then used as ammunition, to tear me down. Some days my armor feels as if it’s slowly being chipped away by society’s institutionalized reminders of how to dress, how to be seen, how to live.

Some of my inspirations draw from Sylvester in the 70’s to Andre Leon Talley in the early aughts. Drawing from these denizens of glamour, style and authenticity and by emulating their bold opinions and confident nature, it began to sow the seeds of what it means to live. Modern influences such as beauty influencer Patrick Starr, to Billy Porter and countless examples of queer brown and black style icons on television, across social media, and on red carpets allow me to further challenge the status quo. At first glance, textured fabrics, heels, and balloon skirts may seem like they’re seeking attention and self-serving. But it is about so much more than that. This isn’t just about gender, fashion, power or visibility. It’s about removing boundaries and barriers to visibility. It’s about taking up space that wasn’t intended for us. You can’t desire visibility without receiving attention. It’s sort of a package deal, but that’s why demonstrations like these matter.

Providing insight into a lived experience for others can inspire those who haven’t quite made their way yet — it’s how I came into my own courageous light, and why I live in it openly for others to witness. By wearing my hair long, with free-flowing clothing and my polished nails, I assert my right to be my own person outside the expectations of masculinity and the gender binary. I live my life as I please because I am an experience.

David Cortez was born in an US Army hospital in Anniston, AL in 1987. Having grown up a product of this nation’s military system, they have lived in various states throughout their life. They are 32 years old. Their pronouns are: she/her, he/him, they/them. As a younger person these once mattered immensely, and as time passed and more experiences came, their impact and importance began to lessen. They live their life as an experience, so they can always be heard saying “You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis & Kathie Lee; I don't care! Just as long as you call me!” Throughout their life, David has always been fascinated by how things work and how the world is represented through the eyes of others, especially through movies, television and music. The interest was cultivated and honed during their teenage years and further developed when they opted to make their big move to a major city.

After completing their initial studies, David delved even more into logistic practice, which involved many aspects of production. David has no formal training, but has picked up skills through various production, food service, and professional logistic jobs. Although they haven't completed or attended any technical or higher education programs, the experiences learned and fostered have created a strong sense of ownership, duty, community and integrity. Never tethering themselves to any one thing for too long, they’ve learned to adapt and is no stranger to hard work. They are currently a leasing professional for a national university campus housing company. They also do work in the local nightlife, theater, and drag scenes.

Although they are currently not partaking in any volunteer work, they would like to add more, time permitting. They have no major accomplishments of note, but enjoy being a brown, queer, femme, and larger bodied person, in a society that deems to lessen their value every day.

David lives in Alameda and works in South Berkeley across from the CAL campus, surrounded by Bay Area.