Greg Mania: An Original Gender-Bender
Greg Mania is one of the first, and most, unique human beings I have ever met. Within the first few weeks of Freshman year of college, I had taken notice of Greg’s appearance and personality; his tall (yes, tall,) blonde hair, non gender specific clothing, and amazing sense of humor. We had a fair amount of the same friends, and I was fascinated by his true sense of self. I wanted to sit down (aka FaceTime) with him to catch up and talk about how he became the person he is today.
CR: Before we get into all the amazing things that you do, I want to delve into your history with the LGBTQ+ community. When did you first learn about gender and sexuality?
GM: “I didn’t know about homosexuality; I always knew that I was attracted to the same sex ever since I can remember… but I didn’t know what it meant, or had a word for it. I didn’t learn about what being gay meant until I started getting bullied a lot. I was always very feminine and flamboyant; I primarily identified with Disney princesses, the Spice Girls, always was very into musicals, Sailor Moon... things that were not socially sanctioned for boys my age - and that got me into a lot of trouble on the playground (he laughs). Also all my friends were girls, I didn’t really have any male friends until my last year of high school. I didn’t know what gay was until I was basically being called ‘fag.’ The first instance I can remember, I was in line to shoot a hoop in basketball - it was like 5th grade field day and this kid said, ‘Hey Greg are you happy?’ I said, ‘Yea I guess,’ and then he started laughing at me. I didn’t get the joke so I said, ‘What’s so funny about that?’ He said something along the lines of, ‘Well I just learned that happy means gay, and you just said you were gay!’ I was like ‘Okay…’ the joke didn’t land for me. That’s when I became cognizant that I was gay.”
CR: When did you first identify with it and what do you identify as?
GM: “I identify as gay. In the 3rd grade I had a crush on a boy named Chris and thought that was totally normal- and obviously it is completely normal, but as a kid you’re taught, or at least when I grew up, you knew it wasn’t socially acceptable. Liking boys made sense, and I knew that was something that made me different than boys my age... but again I didn’t know the name. When I learned the word by being called gay and fag in 5th grade I knew it. I thought to myself, ‘Oh I have a label and it is deemed as bad, therefore I am a freak and I’m not going to have a normal upbringing like everyone else’... but I was closeted until senior year of high school, and even then I only came out to a handful of people.”
CR: What is your coming out story like? Who was the first person you came out to?
GM: “Okay the first person I came out to was my friend, Allison. It was the winter of my senior year. I had such a crush on this kid in my theater company… which was my inadvertent way of coming out to everyone. I remember that day clearly. We went to lunch in Princeton with my brother and my crush was so intense, I had to tell her. She kind of drew it out of me though. She was like, ‘Greg is there something you wanna tell me... I feel like there is something you wanna tell me.’ Because I was asking vague questions like, ‘If you have a crush on someone what do you do?’ (we laugh) - When I told her, she was super warm and sweet and such a best friend about it - it was really beautiful and she gave me advice... and that was my first time ever coming out to anyone. We went to prom together and she now works at NYU, we had lunch recently, and we’re still friends.”
CR: How did you tell your family?
GM: “I was outed to my parents by virtue of Google in winter 2011. I don’t know if you remember when I was writing a blog in college, (which I had,) called Le Cabaret de Mania. I was posting all these pics of me out in NYC with friends in clubs, that’s when I became active in the nightlife scene, and I was out to everyone except family by that point. When I’d visit home and they’d ask how writing was going I’d give vague answers, like, ‘Oh it’s good, or, it’s coming along.’ I think they felt hurt that I was excluding them and not being transparent. So, my parents took to The Google, and my blog was one of the first things that came up. They saw all the pics and dick jokes and when I came home, they had some questions. (we laugh more) … so yea Google outed me to my parents.”
CR: What were your parents reaction to you being gay?
GM: “My dad was really cool. He just said I should be honest with them, to tell them what’s happening, and that they’d love me no matter what. My mom was a little different because she had had a few drinks and I asked if it was because of me... and she didn’t say explicitly yes, but she was drunk and trying to have that convo with me. It took them some time but eventually they came around, they talked to my brother about it, and became used to it- fast forward to present day they wholly support me. I’m very lucky, they’re completely head over heels in love with my boyfriend, they even call him their son! Especially since coming out they have always been unwaveringly supportive and unconditional with their love.”
CR: You were the first person I, and a lot of other people, knew that defied gender stereotypes and did it with such a true-to-self yet kind demeanor. When most people probably felt intimidated by you, I felt comforted. How did you come to form and wholly own your unique aesthetic that you became so well known for?
GM: “Fresh out of high school and fresh out of being out of the closet I felt like I had a freedom to explore myself and my identity and a large part of that, a huge part of that, was NYC gay nightlife. I really learned from my friends Breedlove, Lady Starlight, Darian Darling - I met them at 19, underage, running around the LES, and my whole nightlife crew were so welcoming and each time I saw them I wanted to take off another layer that I was hiding myself in; eventually I shed all of those layers and I found that just by being in that environment, with those people who are so unapologetic and don’t give a fuck and blur the lines and wake up doing so effortlessly - it was like osmosis for me, I fully embraced that. Everyone enjoyed getting raised eyebrows and turning heads, it became a kink for me; being on campus and dressing like that, I wasn’t scared of the eyebrow raise anymore. I thought how my cool friends in the city 25 mins away do it everyday and I wanna be like them so I’ll do that on campus and Hofstra became my little playground to do that. Nightlife was the conduit for that and it really has had such a tremendous effect on me creatively and as a human period.”
CR: What inspired your iconic tall blonde hair?
GM: “The tall blonde hair was started by my best friend, Rachel, who in high school teased my hair for an 80’s musical, so I’ve been walking around with hair that looks like it was combed with a grenade ever since… I think the stencils were inspired by nightlife. I remember seeing a photo on Tumblr of someone with a word stenciled in their hair, so I decided to take a step further and stencil a portrait, like Lindsay Lohan, for example, because I wanted to be memorable and carve a space for myself in the nightlife scene. So I became known as the kid with a mural of Lindsay Lohan in his hair.”
CR: What did you think about Hofstra’s gay culture and being seen as “the one with the cool hair” or being distinctively different than anybody else at the school?
GM: “Hofstra I know does have a prevalent LGBTQ+ culture, and I remember feeling like an outlier most of the time. I don't really have a perception of how people see me or think of me. I didn’t dress to be sexy; I may have worn sheer leopard print tights but I did that because I like wearing sheer leopard print tights. I wore stuff that I thought was out of control and it made me happy...I wore crop tops but I didn’t do it to attract male attention, even though it may have been a plus at the time. I didn’t have perception on how gay men viewed me - I was friends with nice girls, a few cool chill boys from my dorm building, and Maggie (our close mutual friend), but I didn’t really have a perception of what other gay boys thought about me.”
CR: What about the cisgender perspective?
GM: “Cis girls at the bars would always be like, ‘Ahhh I wanna take a picture with you!’ They were sweet and thought it was awesome. The cis guys would be like *deepens voice* ‘Yea we’re super cool with it, we don’t care.’ I would hear slurs thrown at me at parties and at the bar, that didn’t go away, but for the most part it was a positive, comforting, very accepting environment at Hofstra.”
CR: You write incredible pieces for publications like OUT Magazine and Huffington Post, but what is your biggest dream/aspiration?
GM: “I would love to be an author… the only thing I know how to do is write and write and write. Like you have your writing regime, that schedule, I do too. I want that to come into fruition in multiple books, a collection of essays, who knows what else will come from it, but the title Author is what everything is culminating to. I have a manuscript for a book that is ready to sell and I wrote a TV pilot that I didn’t know would perform so well in the festival circuit- so now screenwriting is becoming a dream of mine that I fell in love with and am on a ride with it.”
CR: What else are you working on now?
GM: “I’m juggling multiple projects - its the book, and the pilot which is making its rounds through the festival circuit and being viewed by managers in Hollywood right now, so, fingers crossed. My primary focus is on teaching these writing workshops with Personal Disclosure and getting it off the ground, which is a humbling moment for me; and soon I’ll become a permanent faculty member and I’m very excited for that. So basically it’s the teaching, the pilot, and the book.”
CR: What important imprint would you like to leave?
GM: “The whole purpose of me is that I want to make people laugh - that's where I get my kick - writing jokes is my fav thing to do. If I can make people laugh with my writing and make them feel safe and enjoy themselves and get their minds off of the things that stress them out, even for a beat, I’ve done my job.
I wanna blend out the unapologetic and vulnerable spirit we have inside ourselves no matter how many layers we might cloak it with; I want people to realize that it's always been inside you, you can access it just by sticking to your guns and your guts. My dad always used to say to me, “No guts no glory;” and I always hated it because I thought he was calling me a wimp but as an adult I relate that mantra. I guess what I want to leave as an imprint would be stick to yourself, look out for yourself, no one can look out for you more than you. Be confident and kind, and the rest will follow… if you start there, you can’t go wrong.”
CR: What do you hope for our world?
GM: “For everyone to listen more. Believe people when they tell you what they’re going through, and if you can’t empathize, offer support. We gotta lift each other up and spread compassion. Shit’s gross out there and we need each other so we can come out on the other side stronger and wiser.”
You can find Greg Mania’s work through his social media and I highly suggest following him on Twitter. Greg takes real world problems and makes us laugh at them. Catching up over FaceTime with him brought back so many incredible memories I had completely forgotten about. In my early Hofstra days I didn’t even know who I was, most of us didn’t, but Greg did. Although we have differences in our story, and of course he is in fact a gay man and I am a straight transgender woman, I can still relate to Greg in many ways. We know who we are, but for a while made an important part of ourselves dormant. We both identified with the more feminine things in life and started learning about the term gay from being called it. When we met, I knew he was special and not just because of his aesthetic, but because of his demeanor. I saw Greg making statements with his clothes every single day, turning out new looks, and owning them. When I got back from studying abroad in Amsterdam I emulated him in a way. I too had thought of Hofstra as my playground, and my senior year I took it up a notch with some attention grabbing outfits. Because of Greg, I knew it was possible to pull something like that off. One of the most admirable qualities about him is he doesn’t want outright fame and fortune, he wants people to de-stress. Over the years Greg has become an incredible role model; someone who is smart, caring, confident, witty, quick, and best of all, himself.
Below are my fav photos with Greg (including a photo from our FaceTime)
Be confident, persistent, and thoughtful