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June 16th, 2004 Byron Beck, Sarah Dougher | Special Section Stories
 

Coming Out Straight

Living straight in a gay, gay, gay, gay world.

     
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PAULINO BORJA, HAIRSTYLIST, ZIVA SALON
IMAGE: AMY OULLETTE
Why would anyone feel compelled to come out as a straight person? Maybe because everywhere you look, everything is so damn gay. From occupations to social organizations to entertainment, it feels like homosexuals have a finger firmly on the pulse of culture. Nonplussed straight people are now willing to share their stories, alongside their queer brothers and sisters, as just another way to complicate society's stereotypes. Here are two.

Paulino Borja is a straight guy with a queer eye. So it makes sense that the 35-year-old Portland man would have a well-developed sense of things homosexual. Borja is a hairstylist, after all--a profession like interior design and ballet that has, over the years, been known to attract men who dig men.

"I admire gay men for their attention to detail, especially when it comes to artistic endeavors," says Borja, who works at Northwest Portland's Ziva Salon. "They have great taste."

He may be down with his homo boys, but Borja describes himself as "100 percent heterosexual." He says sometimes he gets tired of having to come out straight, of having to explain to clients that he's married--to a woman--and the father of two. "I've had guys beg to let them take me to dinner. But I always say thank you and decline."

He admits that it does make him wonder, though. "I've been exposed to so many gay men in my profession that I've had to ask myself, 'Could I be gay?'" Borja says. "It's crossed my mind." When he first met his wife, Danielle, in a Los Angeles lounge, she was asking the same question. "She thought I was a screaming queen," says Borja of the woman he married four years ago. "And I thought she was a fag hag, the type of woman who always put her gay friends first."

Borja's own sense of style sets him up to challenge cultural stereotypes. Though assured in his sexuality, he does have the multiculti looks--his ethnicity hailing from both Germany and Guam-- and compact 5-foot-5-inch build of someone who could be, well, at least bisexual. On top of that, since the age of 5 he has had an affinity for wrestling, the most manly of man-on-man sports. Stereotypically, and some might even say sadly, this has caused him a few problems--on and off the job.

"My friends still wonder why I went gay," says Borja regarding people's reaction when they find out he cuts hair for a living. But he's willing to put up with a few probing questions to do something he believes was his "destiny."

"This work is something I've always wanted to do," says Borja, who cut his first head of hair when he was only 11 years old (it was a female cousin's).

And he'll even put up with the attention of a few of his most amorous male clients. He just has one rule: He prefers not to be touched. "Respect goes both ways."

Rebekah Kassell knew she'd face stereotypes in her new job as the communications director for Basic Rights Oregon. And right on cue, the first reporter she talked to started asking her personal questions.

Was she married, the reporter asked. How long?

Two years.

But not legally, the reporter challenged.

"I had to just come out and say I was married to a man," says Kassell, a straight woman deeply engaged by her job for a crusading gay-rights organization. "The reporter was very embarrassed and apologized for his presumption."

Kassell, now 28, started developing her political convictions back in her hometown of Silverton, a place not particularly known for its progressive politics. She wrote editorials against the Oregon Citizens Alliance as the editor of her high-school newspaper during the first No on 9 campaign.

After graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism and women's studies, Kassell was a full-time volunteer for Howard Dean's campaign and then began volunteering for the gay-rights organization in February. When Multnomah County began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in March, Kassell was hired to handle public relations for the agency. "There were a lot of jokes in the office about me adding diversity to the staff since I'm straight," she says.

In the world of identity politics, many people assume Kassell is lesbian, and she corrects them only on a need-to-know basis. "Being married helps me understand the issue better," she says, "because what is important is the issue of civil rights, not my own personal sexual orientation."


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