Tellus: (tel’us), n. 1. [Latin] earth, soil, and the land; a country; the world. 2. a collection of Willamette University student’s insights, stories, photos and thoughts from their experiences studying abroad.

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“So, are you a man or a woman, like?”

Spending a semester abroad affects people in many different ways; it can make the timid more assertive, the bashful more forthright, the obnoxious more respectful, the vain more humble, etc. I feel that it draws out the finer qualities in an individual as they overcome language barriers, time differences, social conventions, and culture shock. While it allows you to “find yourself” when you are in your most vulnerable, raw state, it also reinforces who you were when you arrived. You do not lose sight of that person; that person merely grows wiser and more worldly. I feel you are never changed completely (though it can certainly feel that way)…rather, you are simply updated with a better understanding of your place in a vast, divergent global community. The tale I am about to tell found me at a moment when I was most vulnerable, but I emerged from it not only with a newly heightened awareness of Irish social conventions, but also with a firm hold on my convictions.
One rainy night in Galway, Ireland, I was just coming out of a club in the wee hours of the morning, headed home after an evening of revelry. I had attended “Vegas Night”, a function put on by the local university (NUIG, holla!) which had effectively transformed a nightclub ordinarily open only on weekends into a casino on a random Thursday night. To prepare for what promised to be a truly extravagant event, I had donned a fun black and silver dress, a necklace that hung like a cluster of fake diamond grapes, my favorite “gladiatrix heels” made of pvc with metal heels, and back-combed the hell out of my hair (which I also decorated with feathers and glittering hairpins). I thought I had effectively evoked the spirit of the celebration, and after having donned my shiny black pvc coat Trinity (affectionately named after the svelte heroine of the Matrix trilogy), I had accompanied my three other gal pals to the club. The entire way there I got a cacophony of cat-calls and whistles from passing cars, as well as some curious looks from the occasional passerby. Now I have always dressed “different”, so I was used to these looks and didn’t let them distract me from my mission to look fabulous. As it turned out, the event itself proved slightly less so, inevitably resulting in me leaving the club without my chums and heading for home and a nice cup of tea.
While I was traversing the familiar avenue from downtown Galway back to my flat, I heard several voices scream out, “Whore!” from a passing taxi-cab. I glanced in its direction, resulting in further shouts from its occupants. From the two men inside the cab, I was asked, “How much do you charge an hour?” and what sort of “tricks” I did. From the girls I was asked, “So, are you a man or a woman, like?”
As I said, I have always dressed differently, using clothing and makeup as a way to express what I feel inside. In high school, I was used to hearing “freak!” shouted across the quadrangle, but I didn’t let it deter me. I knew that I would go to college, leave these small-minded peers behind, and cultivate myself as an individual that would be appreciated for me and not what social niche I was expected to fill. It’s amazing how in a matter of minutes, a person’s carefully crafted armor of self-esteem can be punctured, returning us to an emotional state we thought we would never again inhabit.
In life, if something offends you, you can choose not to engage with it. You can look away from it if it’s visual, or choose not to listen to it if it’s audible. This cab full of college students chose to engage me, for no other reason then that they could, and because I was seen as not inkeeping with their sense of what was “right”. I’m aware that Ireland is a conservative country, but their words still struck a chord in me. I wasn’t expecting them now that I’d grown beyond high school, and was now entering my early twenties.
After I got back to my flat, I found myself returning to the question, “Are you a man or a woman?” Never had my sex been brought into question before, and it was both frightening and exhilarating. I had often admired those models in fashion magazines that were androgynous, able to warp the boundary between what it meant to look good as a man or a woman. I had often admired the celebrities that exhibited traits that were both “masculine” and “feminine”, such as assertive actresses or thoughtful, soft-spoken actors. With that definition now being blurred for me as well, I could also now identify with a whole other sub-culture of the socially persecuted; transvestites. I thought of the courage they must have to not only dress as they do, but take the sort of shit that I had just moments before. I thought of how icons like Marilyn Manson, Eddie Izzard, and Ru Paul are making it more and more acceptable to dress in ways that the occupants of that taxi-cab would consider grossly contradictory to the gender norm. I decided that now, more than ever, I couldn’t possibly let them stop me from dressing as fabulously as possible, because I owed it to all those that have never felt like they could be truly themselves, to those that awaken themselves to that possibility every day, and to those that have fought for it and continue to fight for it.
So I thank Ireland and its conservatively minded youth for reinforcing my will and desire to be “alternative”, to think outside the box with my fashion, and to let my outward appearance be an expression of my individuality. Going to Ireland made me want to be more *me*, and hopefully, it encouraged others to do the same. Did I mention Ireland also boasted some of the most amazing boutiques ever? Before leaving I bought a myriad of amazing outfits, all of which reflected who I was *before* I left, and who I am now, after having spent a semester swept up in Irish life.
And, as I near the conclusion of my tale, let me just say that those individuals in the taxi cab made all the other Irish people I met seem positively delightful (which they were). It is not my wish to paint the Irish (or their young generations) in a harsh light, but merely to point out how I was able to cope with this sort of situation in another country, on my own. All things considered, I had a wonderful time, especially at the nightclubs!

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  1. 12 Comment(s)

  2.   By Modern Muslimah Fashion on Nov 2, 2009 | Reply

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  8.   By sbobet on Dec 27, 2009 | Reply

    i was once in galway ireland nice place to enjoy.. especially the clubs and ladies 😛 hehe
    i wish i have time to visit the place again..
    agen bola

  9.   By James Galway on Jan 22, 2010 | Reply

    Ireland is not the same country it once way. It seems every thing can change in a heartbeat. Thanks for your impressive writing.

  10.   By ACHMAD ZAINUDDIN on Jan 25, 2010 | Reply

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