By CHRISTIAN GOLLAYAN/For The News-Gazette
He's 6 feet tall barefoot, 6-feet-5 in his Jeffrey Campbell heels. He loves Lady Gaga and Andy Warhol and beautiful women who don't care about what other people think.
He loves vodka. He takes it straight up, pursing his lips, keeping a composed face. It makes him feel as if he's made of plastic; it's reassuring. If he can keep a strong face after a shot, he can keep a strong face after anything.
His fingers are long and slender like a lady's. His face is soft and angular. His eyes are almond-shaped with long lashes that flutter like butterflies. He loves bubble baths. When he shuts his mouth, his lips don't fully close, giving him a permanent pout. He has skin like porcelain. Wrinkles are his enemies. He has trained his eyebrows not to move when he speaks. He likes having an expressionless face. He doesn't want strangers to know him.
He categorizes his life through his outfits. It depends on how he feels when he wakes up in the morning. Different days he'll feel happy, gothic, angry, butchy, vengeful or hopeful.
One recent Monday he awoke thinkingMarilyn Monroe — old Hollywood glamour. He wore his high-waist checkered pants with a tight-fitted turtle neck and finished the ensemble with blood-red lipstick. He tries to stay away from classic-red lipstick. Every girl and gay guy wears that now. It has become the gay male version of aPlain Jane. He wants to be anything but ordinary.
He doesn't want to be a woman. He just doesn't understand why a man can't wear lilac lipstick or velvet nail polish or sequined stilettos to his 9 a.m. class without getting stared at. No matter; he likes it when people look at him; he gets worried when they don't. He likes it when he makes people uncomfortable.
He spent the past few years worrying about what people thought of him, whether they thought his voice was too high or he spoke with his hands too much. No more. Now every morning is a coming-out day.
He likes to use hard descriptions such as "marble eyes" and"leather hair." He loves perfumes, particularly Britney Spears'Midnight Fantasy. He wears it on his pretty days. He knows that some men he meets at campus bars would love to take him home for the night but never introduce him to their parents.
He doesn't kiss on the first date. Or the second. Or the third. He was once offered a job as a go-go dancer in Chicago. He turned it down. He's not that type of boy. A 50-something man on Facebook once offered him a weekend of dinners and shopping on Rodeo Drive. He turned the man down. He's not that type of boy, either.
He is an Aquarius. He was born in 1991. A visual person, he doesn't read newspapers and hates politics. They make his head hurt. He loves magazines because he can look at pretty pictures and not have to read anything.
He came to the University of Illinois as an art education major but soon realized he wanted to do photography. He is now a junior. His photographs for his classes contain thin 20-something models airbrushed to look like mannequins, like plastic. He hopes someday to see his work in V, Harper's Bazaar or W with his name emblazoned on the corner of the page: Photographs by Gino Baileau.
That is his artist name. He started using that name when he became a photographer. He doesn't like his real name, Gino Gusich. He hates the alliteration, theGG. He likes Baileau better. It meansbeautiful boyin Italian.
His mother and his grandmother called him that since he was a baby. He loves his mother more than anything.
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Gusich. It reminds him of his childhood in Melrose Park, that small, Italian community, a 20-minute car ride west of Chicago. Gino calls it the ghetto. He was raised in a house full of women: his two older sisters, mother and grandmother. The walls of his bedroom were covered with Britney Spears posters. He loved playing with his sisters' Barbies. Gino's parents separated when he was 5. His father was a Weekend Dad.
Gino was an ugly baby. His mother told him that he looked like a newborn alien because of his oversized head. Every day after preschool, he'd cry if his grandmother didn't feed him two double-decker sandwiches. By middle school, he was overweight. His mother put him on a low-carb diet. By eighth grade, he was average sized. By high school, he was thin.
Gino Baileau doesn't want people to see his grade school pictures. He is not that person anymore. He is now thin and angular and beautiful. Now, he tries to eat two meals a day. He admits he doesn't have a healthy diet. Today, he had a can of Progresso soup, 60 calories.
Gino is wearing black H&M harem pants, 5-inch leather wedges and a red vintage blazer with a studded belt around his waist. He's wearing black lipstick from MAC calledDark Night. His hair is wrapped in a black infinity scarf, and he's wearing thick, rhinestone sunglasses. He just came back from his photography class. He woke up today feeling vengeful.
Lately, Gino's been thinking about the people in his childhood who did him wrong. He says that kids in his grade school sold weed and ecstasy in the bathrooms. He remembers times he was threatened with assault in the boy's bathroom or on his way home. He was an easy target, after all: that chubby boy who hung out only with the girls, talked with his hands, and who knew all the lyrics to every Britney Spears song.
He remembers a classmate in fourth grade who would find every opportunity to harass Gino, calling him "faggot" or "fat boy." One day, after school, Gino's mother asked if anything was bothering him. His mother always knew how he felt. He said, no, he was fine. Later, Gino overheard his mother on the phone with his father. His mother was asking him what she should do. Gino would never forget the advice his mother relayed from his father: Let Gino take care of it. Let him man up. Don't let him be a wuss.
One day, during lunch, the classmate came up to Gino with that smirk on his face, Diet Coke in hand. Gino remembers the boy calling him a name. Something triggered inside Gino. He leaped from his seat and grabbed the boy by the neck and pushed him to the ground. Then Gino remembers taking the boy's Diet Coke and sipping from it.
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To Gino, being gay is bravery. It's a liberation of many things. Of sex. Of the way you act. Of fashion. He is an extremist, and if he says he's gonna be gay, he's gonna be gay all the way, which is why he wears what he wears to class, to the mall and to the bars.
He began dressing this way only nine months ago. In his mother's house, he'd lose himself in the fashion blogs of Alexander McQueen, Terry Richardson and Marc Jacobs. He'd sneak into his mother's and sisters' makeup boxes and experiment with different looks. He loved how he could use pencils to elongate his eyebrows, how blush could highlight his cheekbones.
Gino never had a coming-out moment with his mother or sisters. They always knew. At first, his father said that Gino could be gay and still dress like a man. Gino then took his sister's softball shin guards, embellished them with metal spikes, connected them with chains and wore the ensemble as shoulder pads. Gino remembers asking his father if he now looked like a man.
His father eventually came around to accepting him.
On Gino's right index finger is a tattoo, in cursive — "liberate." His right hand is often adorned in accessories. He sometimes wears his sister's armadillo ring or spiked bracelets or his gold-plated bangle (he calls it his Wonder Woman cuff). They are his weapons. He never knows when he might need to use them, especially at the bars.
When Gino walks into a bar, it's a spectacle. People he never knew come up to him and tell him how they love his fashion sense or how he's beautiful. Strangers take pictures of him. He loves the attention.
One night, though, at Fire Station, a tall man by the bar looked at Gino a certain way. Gino paid no mind until one of his friends pointed the man out. Gino looked at the man, who made a gun of his hand and pointed to his head, pretending to shoot himself. Gino, in his nude-laced button-up shirt and fur stole that wrapped around his shoulders like a cape, made his way toward the man and asked what his problem was. The man called him a "devil" or a "demon;" the memories of Gino and his friends differ.
Gino believes men like that don't expect men who wear lipstick or high heels or skin-tight jeans to stick up for themselves. Men like that expect them to just take it, maybe roll their eyes and sit back down like a lady.
Gino is not like other men, or ladies. He remembers looking at his hand, the same hand that had "liberate" tattooed on it. On his ring finger was his grandfather's diamond horseshoe ring. Gino looked back at the man — and then punched him. Gino doesn't remember much of anything else. He says the man came out of it with a horseshoe-stamped forehead. Gino walked away with two broken nails.
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Gino wonders if he will ever find a man who will love him for who he is. He is now getting ready in his apartment for another night out in Champaign, deciding what to wear. His bedroom is on a high floor overlooking the north side of Green Street.He is humming along to one of his favorite songs, Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." Tonight, he decides to wear a leopard-print blazer with ripped jeans and leather wedges.
Gino's only been in one serious relationship, with a man who didn't like how he dressed or his aspiration to be a famous fashion photographer. He gave Gino an ultimatum: Dress differently and choose a different career, or their relationship was over. Gino left him. After all, his favorite quote is from a Lauper song, which is now ringing through his room:
Some boys take a beautiful girl
And hide her away from the rest of the world
I want to be the one to walk in the sun
Oh girls they want to have fun
Gino can't imagine growing old. He is 21, in the first blossom of adulthood, his heels now planted on the ground, wide-eyed and hopeful. Maybe he'll make it as a high-fashion photographer in Chicago or L.A. or New York. Maybe he'll get to work for Marc Jacobs or W or Sarah Burton. Maybe. Who knows what's in the future?
He slips into his heeled wedges. In a couple of hours, he will be at Red Lion, dancing on tables, being photographed by strangers, being told he is beautiful. And he will smile and say thank you and lose himself on the dance floor, what's ahead of him a mystery.
Christian Gollayan is a University of Illinois journalism student. This story was done in a version of Professor Walt Harrington's literary feature writing class that included students and News-Gazette staffers. Funding came from the Marajen Stevick Foundation.