Gender Diaries: Vena Cava
As the world continues to push against gender constructs, the conversation around how people are identifying themselves is constantly evolving. Each week, Milk will feature a guest editor writing about their specific relationship with gender and, often, where it intersects with fashion. This week, we feature Anthony Velázquez, AKA Vena Cava.
The birth of Vena Cava happened three years ago in San Juan, Puerto Rico, however Anthony made their first appearance many years before that at a hospital in Mayagüez. Most drag queens are born during Halloween or Pride. I’m the spooky kind. The theme of the party was gender bender. I dressed up in a questionable look and wore a crown over my head that read: “social construct”. The audience gasped when I told them it was my first time in drag and I ended up winning best costume that night. I’m the same person in or out of drag. This is an intentional decision I made from the get go based on how I perceived gender. The mere fact that I chose to present female doesn’t mean I have to speak, act or move any differently than I would in my daily life.
I have always been rather flamboyant and visibly queer compared to my surroundings. I came out to my parents and close friends when I was 15. At the time, the amount of queer people I interacted with in my town who were out was less than five. I knew of a few other queer folks through social media, all of whom were cisgender. I started out at a Baptist school and then transferred to a Catholic school. I was told by authority figures in both that I would burn in hell if I was gay. My parents tried to be as understanding as possible but still told me to “not show off” that I was a homo™. It was for my own “safety,” they said. They’ve always monitored and policed the way I chose to express myself and what I chose to wear. I was constantly bombarded with disapproving looks and comments. The environment was very repressive. Nowadays they know they can’t influence me. They’ve learned to not comment about my appearance to avoid conflict, but to this day, they still gift me the most heteronormative articles of clothing. This communicates that they have yet to accept me completely. For eighteen years of my life I concealed my queerness from the majority of the world because I was told it was incorrect. I was made to feel flawed.
I knew I needed to get out of that town. I went to college in the capital where all the cool tumblr gays lived and I had heard stories of “men” who wore skirts around the campus. Blasphemous, right? It took me some time to realize that the internet and IRL are two different things. Don’t get me wrong, I was still living for the freedom, interacting with more queer people, and the fact that I could reinvent myself because no one knew me. However, the gays™ were a lot more Masc4Masc than I expected them to be. I learned about a new type of repression within the community where “las locas” or “las ponkas” (read: flamboyant & femme) were undesired and looked down on. If I wanted to be desired I still had to butch it up, so I did for a while. I was told I looked better without makeup. To dress normal. I was told I was too much, and they would leave me if I ever did drag. Whoops! Becoming comfortable with my gender expression and identity was a process. In the beginning, for me it was all about fashion. It was all about the look™. I didn’t think about how I was playing around with gender. I didn’t think about the impact choosing to be visibly queer was having on the people around me.
I had several style eras in which I changed my color palette and where I drew inspiration from. I moved from punk, to the pastel era, to club kid, to Parisian kid, to the glitter moment. Each time I explored different elements of my femininity. At first, I felt extremely uncomfortable wearing outfits that challenged heteronormativity but I just walked out into the world as if I was THAT bitch, and with time I became her. I surrounded myself with a core group of friends who supported me fully. I used the confidence they would give me until I found my own. Becoming Vena Cava opened up an entire new closet for me with new pieces and silhouettes to choose from. The line between what I wear in drag and out of it is very blurred. I’ve showed up several times to other people’s drag events and have been asked if I’m performing. For future reference, my dear reader, only when I’m wearing a wig or a headpiece, lashes, AND I’ve blocked my brows to redraw them does that constitute drag. Everything else is just my day to day.
When I moved to Brooklyn a year ago, I quickly felt my queerness evolving. Interacting with queer and trans* individuals from all walks of life made me realize I wasn’t as cisgender as I thought I was. Not conforming to society’s binary makes me feel powerful and authentic. It’s strange yet amusing how I used to hide my queerness for safety, but I’ve never felt more at peace and secure of myself until now. I’ve never felt like a woman in drag. Not only does it take me hours to get ready; it’s also my job. By not subscribing to the binary I don’t think I’ll ever feel completely female. However, outside of drag, with a light beat, I’ve felt more feminine than ever. I don’t entertain men who look down on femininity anymore. If you’re not down with queerness, then I’m not down with you. I don’t know if the way I identify is set in stone, but it’s currently what feels right. While most men around me talk about bulking up, I think of ways to make my skin softer and my pores smaller. I dream about fillers in my upper lip and laser hair removal in my face. For years I’ve rarely left the house without makeup. Not because I’ve felt unattractive, rather because that’s not the person I want the world to see.
Many members of the LGBTQIA+ community are forced to live in bubbles, sometimes surrounding ourselves solely with our queer chosen families for safety and comfort. Ever since I started drag I wanted to use as little of a platform as I may have for sociopolitical awareness, giving some meaning and worth to the vanity and the aesthetics behind it all. I take it upon myself to be visibly queer every single day because I saw no one like me growing up. We think everyone has our same knowledge and can grasp the terminology behind gender identity and sexuality when it might actually be the case that you are the first person that someone meets who identifies just the way you do. While it’s not necessarily our jobs to instruct people about our identities, our day to day lives are moments where we can plant the seed of queer excellence in those around us. Drag is whatever you decide to make of it. It’s an artistic medium through which we disrupt and explore the gender spectrum. My identity, while not fixed, is who I am.
Stay tuned to Milk for more Gender Diaries and see our previous installments here.