It’s fair to say that freshman State Rep. Mary Gonzalez from HD75 in El Paso is not your typical first-term legislator. The Austin Chronicle has a nice chat with her.
Only the second openly gay rep to serve in the Legislature (former Austin Rep. Glen Maxey was the first), she describes herself as “pansexual” – no doubt mystifying her conservative colleagues in the House. No stranger to the Capitol, or to the Austin area, she served as an aide to Laredo Rep. Richard Raymond and former longtime El Paso Rep. Paul Moreno. Most recently, she was a visiting instructor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, and she’s currently working on her doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction at UT-Austin.
AC: Do you have any anecdotes about feeling dismissed because of your age or your gender or identity?
MG: I’ve been trying to position myself early as a leader, as someone who’s knowledgeable, so when the time does come it’ll be harder to dismiss me – taking a lead in the freshman Democratic class, or taking a lead by having the right conversations with the right people. When I meet state reps –there are 150 of us, there’s a lot of us, it’s hard to keep us all straight – sometimes they’ll meet me, and they’ll say, “Oh, you’re Mary Gonzalez,” and then there’s a pause. “The one from El Paso.” And you know they’re thinking, “The one who has the ambiguous sexual identity that I don’t understand.” I talked to another state rep, he’s a Republican, and he told me, “They talk about you sometimes, and they’re really confused.” I’m glad to be bringing some awareness. And I think what’s really powerful about what’s happened in my race – I’m not gonna lie – it’s been very difficult to be this honest and transparent, but something that’s really personal: My sexuality, while it’s identity, is still a personal identity – you’re putting very personal details about your life out there. We haven’t really talked about third-gender identity or the gender spectrum in the public political sphere. All of the ways in which we have talked about gender or sex in politics is very binary. So at least my presence allows for a conversation to potentially open up what we think about gender, to lead that conversation, to kind of disrupt people’s world view regarding gender. Obviously it’s going to be really difficult, and when people get frustrated, a lot of that frustration can be aimed toward me, because I’m that face.
AC: What was it like growing up in Clint, Texas? How and why did you become involved with politics?
MG: I grew up in Clint, Texas; it’s a little town outside of El Paso. It’s ironic because if you look at me I don’t look real country. So, I went to the agriculture meeting at the Ag Council where there were representatives from all the different Ag industries. They’re usually Republican – I think they’re all Republican – and I go in and start talking about my background and why I love the agricultural community and they just looked shocked. You could see their faces, like, “What is going on?” This five-foot-tall Latina with long hair who walks in with her hoop earrings and starts talking about crop rotation! I’m definitely an interesting phenomenon happening at the Capitol and in Clint’s farming community.
The ironic part about being out in politics is that you’re out because you want to be authentic and transparent, and when people come out in general they come out because they want to be liberated and be their own person. But in politics being out, it’s suffocating because it becomes the only thing you are. The thing that’s supposed to liberate you is suffocating you. And I don’t want that to be viewed as a negative – I’m proud to be who I am, I’m proud to be open and honest, but to be only one thing, of course it’s gonna have an impact.
That last bit was from a different answer, but I thought it was too interesting to leave out. Rep. Gonzalez won as a first-time candidate in a competitive field where the conventional wisdom was that her youth, time away in Austin, and sexuality would be too much to overcome. She’s clearly someone to be reckoned with, and I look forward to seeing what she will accomplish.