For the first time in the University of Missouri's history, a student who self-identifies as gender-queer is on homecoming court. Josie Herrera is running for Mizzou's homecoming king, and is also a member of a sorority.
Herrera first started to identify as gender-queer at the beginning of this year, while going through a self-professed gender identity crisis.
"It was really strange and very, very confusing," Herrera said. "You know, I've always had issues with body image but they became new issues with body image. Like things concerning my chest and being even more aware and self-conscious about my hips, and things that I felt would not allow me to express my gender as I wanted to."
Herrera started chest binding in May of last year, and then moved to Boston for an internship over the summer. That was the first time Herrera got to openly express the gender identity that felt accurate. Herrera began using the name Josie instead of the birth name, Laura.
"I went there and I worked for the whole summer," Herrera said. "I didn't have a lot of pressure when it came to, what is my gender identity. I can kind of take it slow. I can try out new things. I can try out new ways of expressing myself and feel really comfortable because for the most part no one knew who I was. I was in a new city that I had never lived in before. I was making new friends who I if I introduced myself as Josie, wouldn't think twice because to them I was never Laura to begin with and that was very freeing."
When applying to be a candidate for Homecoming, Herrera had to make a tough choice; run for the king category or the queen category?
"It's really strange because I'd really rather not pick one or the other because I personally think the binary is a little bit silly," Herrera said. "I don't think it's really a necessary thing to have. However, you know, it's either pick one or not be able to go through the process at all."
Herrera ultimately chose the king category, saying wearing a suit on the field would feel most comfortable.
"I definitely feel more comfortable in the King category," Herrera said. "I'm the shortest one but I don't stick out like a sore thumb."
Throughout the interview process, Herrera was never directly asked about gender identity, but decided to bring it up anyway.
"I made it very clear that the reason I was running for homecoming was because I wanted to represent communities that were underrepresented and I talked about those communities," Herrera said. "I tried to make silly jokes about 'Yeah it's not every day you get a Josie under the king category.' And stuff like that because I didn't want it to be a scary thing for people to talk about."
Herrera says so far, people on campus haven't reacted negatively, and the entire experience has been very positive.
"I think people are just a lot more willing to have conversations and become educated," Herrera said. "I think it's really fitting that we are the first homecoming and now we get to be the first homecoming that does this. I think that's really cool and to me that's really special that I get to make this happen because our homecoming has always made history."
As a disclaimer, Herrera reports for KBIA as part of classwork at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
This story aired as part of [Off the Clock](http://kbia.org/programs/clock), KBIA's show about arts and culture in mid-Missouri.