Published in the May 25 – June 7, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Connor Subocz-Quinn

Photo courtesy Connor Quinn From left to right, members of the Gavilan College Student Veterans Club who walked in drag to raise money for Monarch Services are Raymond Lopez, Johnny Sandoval, Jacob Hester Josh Santoro, Steven Pretlove, Ben Sandoval, Jose Chavez, Jorge Gonzalez, Terrence Terrano and Connor Quinn.

Photo courtesy Connor Quinn
From left to right, members of the Gavilan College Student Veterans Club who walked in drag to raise money for Monarch Services are Raymond Lopez, Johnny Sandoval, Jacob Hester Josh Santoro, Steven Pretlove, Ben Sandoval, Jose Chavez, Jorge Gonzalez, Terrence Terrano and Connor Quinn.

I’ve adopted several phrases that I use when life gets rough: “Someone out there has it way worse than me” and “I’m doing this for something bigger than myself.”

I used to tell myself these things when things were particularly bad in Afghanistan. I have continually referred to these lines in my time out of the service, however I never thought I’d need to use them while having mascara on my eyes.

At the Gavilan College Student Veterans Club, we’ve been looking for ways to help out in our community. We want to change the conversation that has become the norm when discussing veterans, especially combat veterans. A couple of months ago at a party, when one of the party-goers learned that a friend of mine had done several tours to Iraq he asked him “are you alright? Up here?” pointing to his head. He managed to brush it off, but it’s not an isolated incident. Most of us have had someone just assume that we aren’t alright after serving a tour. One of the goals that we at the club wanted to do was put ourselves out there so that we could show combat veterans in a new light. If we could find an opportunity to help out our community and simultaneously display that we don’t need to be taken seriously all the time we win on all fronts.

So when our club advisor Jillian Wilson came up with the idea of supporting “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” we all agreed it was a great idea. However, I wasn’t that excited when the suggestion came about for a tiered system of donations. With every monetary goal reached, we’d make ourselves a little more feminine – and at $2,500 we’d go “full drag.” Some of the club members were thrilled. That raised eyebrows, but we don’t judge. I really enjoy being a guy. I grew a beard as soon as I got out of the Army (I’ve shaved it once since and… no). So the whole process wasn’t thrilling me. The money we would raise would go to Monarch Services (formerly Women’s Crisis Support — Defensa de Mujeres), an organization that helps more than 1,500 victims of sexual assault and domestic violence a year. Indeed this was “something bigger than myself,” so undergoing something that some might consider torture would be worth it.

A couple of days away from the event it was clear that we’d make the goal for full drag. To add to the discomfort, I recruited my mom to help buy me a dress. It was definitely fun for her, since the day after we purchased a dress she called to tell me she got me another dress. I had to tell her, “Mom, what are you doing? I already have a dress and you already have a daughter. Go play dress up with her.”

On April 28 about 10 combat-hardened veterans showed up at the Cosmetology Department at Gavilan, ready to get dolled up. We were greeted by a very eager team of women who couldn’t wait to get started on us. I was uncomfortable and they couldn’t help but laugh. I think that every one of them really enjoyed doing this to us, so I’m not sure if I really need to thank them too much. I really did enjoy the pedicure that I got (don’t judge me, those are awesome). A special thanks does need to go to Gilbert Ramirez and Michelle Terrano (I know you did it just to get back at your brother). By the time we got to Santa Cruz, I think it’s safe to say we were all a bit nervous — and we were right to be. The 10 of us where gawked at and even cat-called. So ladies, job well done.

Our No. 1 earner Johnny Sandavol who personally brought in more than a grand in donations was probably the best looking out of all of us, if not the most revealing. Hopefully, his lovely girlfriend Erika Linn Chesnutis will choose to dress him a little more conservatively next time. Ray Lopez our team captain brought in more than $700, just behind myself, although in my opinion he should redo the mile since he looked more like an ’80s glam metal star. Our next big earners were J.T. Bikul and Trevor Acheson, they’ll only get an honorable mention since they walked only in heels, even if they were 5-inch stilettos.

The biggest guy we got Jake Hester pulled in about a couple hundred and ended up looking like a cross dressing Fred Flintstone. Jorge Gonzales was dubbed a cholo drag queen before we even left the campus, giving me something to laugh at. Josh Santorro with his waxed mustache and Betty Boop outfit will forever haunt my dreams. Ben Sandavol went for a Marilyn Monroe look, even down to the mole and dying his own hair to pull off the look. Steven Pretlove was probably the most uncomfortable of us all. Jose Chavez while already a pretty boy, kinda cheated by wearing basketball shorts underneath his dress: it wasn’t classy. Myself? Somebody described me as drag queen hippie Jesus — I’ll take it. In total we all raised $4,757, nearly doubling our original goal to walk a mile dressed in drag.

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It also wouldn’t be fair to not mention the woman who joined us on this walk: Mayra Rios, Ray’s wife Elaine Estrada, Melissa Santorro, and of course my mother.

The true title of queen of our group goes to Jillian Wilson as she’s the one who encouraged us into doing this. Thanks, I guess. A very special thanks goes out to Leeann Luna the Monarch Services Administrative Manager who was responsible for putting on this year’s “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event. Seriously this was an eye opening experience and I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing us to participate … and for putting up with us. I’m happy that I did it, even if I did over exaggerate how uncomfortable I was, I’d still not like to do it again.

Next year I think I’ll just stick to the shoes.

Connor Subocz-Quinn is a 29-year-old Gilroy resident who served 9 years in the Army. He is the NOR-CAL State Membership Coordinator, Region IX for Team Rubicon USA.