Alex is the closing keynote speaker for the Transpride Pittsburgh Conference 2015 this weekend. He’ll be addressing the conference Sunday afternoon from 4-5 PM in Lawrenceville. It is very powerful that this conference is opened by a trans woman of color (Ciora Thomas) and closed by by a trans man of color, both local to Pittsburgh. That’s exactly the sort of systemic empowerment that activists have been calling for throughout the summer. I was honored that Alex made the time to complete the Q&A. His experiences are very eye-opening. I hope to see you at the conference this weekend. Alex gives me hope that my fears about things not changing are perhaps misplaced.
Name: Alex Smithson
County of Residence: Allegheny
Preferred Pronouns: He, him, his
How do you describe your identity? Black trans masculine male/trans man.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? Luckily for me I had more than a few friends in the community when I finally reached the point where I could admit to myself that I’m Trans. I had many brothers to talk to about what I was feeling and what I needed to do to take care of myself. My biggest challenge was admitting this to myself. I have children and grandchildren and have had to live my entire life one way. At the time it seemed hard but once I said it out loud to myself it was like the weight of the world had been taken off my soul.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I’m pretty open about it for the most part. Some people I’m comfortable telling and others I’m not. It all depends on where I am and who I’m with.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first LGBT person that I met happened to be a trans guy before he started his transition. We hit it off immediately. I didn’t know what being trans was at the time so when he told me I just took it with a grain of salt. After a few months of watching him change I began to ask myself if that’s what was going on with me. Five years later I followed the steps he took when he started his transition.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Mostly through friends on Facebook. They have varied interests and focused and share things accordingly. I also have email alerts on different subjects.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Shane from The L Word. I loved the way she carried herself and really wanted to be like her. She just really caught my attention and was the entire reason I watched the show. Speaking of it is on my Netflix queue. 😉
Describe your geographical community. I grew up in Woods Run on Pittsburgh’s Northside so I’m a city boy but I’m living in the South Hills now.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I’d say my local community is pretty diverse. When I first entered the community my very first contacts were trans and then I met other people. I started performing with the gender performance troupe Hot Metal Hardware and have become more involved with the community first through performing and then just being available to people with questions. I’ve had great role models and mentors. I would describe “my community” as diverse, creative and empowering. I know I’m never alone even if the only time I see my closest friends is once a month at a show. I know that I’m cared for and thought about and if I need anything they’ll do what they can to help me get it. I’ve found friends, made family and grown into a person that I’ve always wanted to be but thought I’d never achieve; and I’m nowhere near finished! I’m surrounded by amazing people and I hope to be an amazing influence to someone else like they have been to me. I’ve been given the most amazing gift and the only thing I can do is my best to pay it forward.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. I only had a problem on one job and from what I heard from other people he didn’t like a lot of people so I was never sure if it was because I was trans, black or he just didn’t like my face.
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not) When I first started transitioning I was still on the Northside and most folks would look at me but didn’t say anything out of the way. It probably has to do with me going from living female to male. It’s a lot easier and lots of people don’t seem to notice if you were pretty butch to start with and I was. Other than taking T the only things that really changed was me wearing a binder and getting consistent hair cuts. 😉
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? That’s actually a hard question because the company I keep talks about the issues that the LGBTQ community are dealing with but that doesn’t mean that is being discussed by the greater community at large. Like the fact that marriage equality is finally legal but you can still be fired or denied housing. Yes it’s a thing but people are still patting themselves on the back because people can get married. Trans people facing these stupid bathroom laws. Seriously! Even living female I didn’t care about who was on the bathroom. My business was doing my business and letting you do yours. Want to complain about something bathroom oriented? Teach people to wash their hands! The lies about trans woman piss me off! The murders of trans women piss me off! These are HATE CRIMES! Stop treating human beings like they’re less! No one chooses to be gay, bi, trans or anything else, we’ve just learned to accept who we are and what that means. Quite frankly if folks stopped living and reacting from a place of fear they’d meet some of the most amazing and beautiful people on Earth!
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Pass bills so LGBTQ people can live as equally as our straight cis counterparts.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. As a trans man the best advice I can give is to just live and to not apologize for being trans. Last year I had to get new glasses and had to use my birth name ( which is clearly female) and when the optometrist came out asking for the person with that name and I stood up he walked right past me. On his way back I said that I was who he was looking for. He didn’t believe me and told him I could show him my ID. He was surprised but declined and we went in for my exam. I ended up telling him I was trans and he was clearly surprised and I literally laughed. I pass very well because I have always had very strong features. He also didn’t believe I was over forty. After he checked me out he was a believer, especially when I basically whined about possibly having to get bifocals! I think he reacted well not only because he’s a professional but because I treated it as just another piece of trivia about me. I didn’t let it be a big deal. When I didn’t act like I was nervous and upright neither did he. I think we need to be more confident in who we are and not apologize for existing.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Mostly it seems like a great fear of the unknown. When you don’t know anyone from a particular group of people you’re going to be nervous about finally having that meeting. Laws need to be put in place but cis people need to be able to see us like they see themselves; just regular people trying to make our way in the world. Some people you meet you like and some you don’t and its not a big deal. The sooner folks get to that point the better.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? The GLCC, PATF, Persad and THRIVE are just a few that I can think of off hand.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That we forget that our strength is in our solidarity.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That people can get jobs without the fear of being fired, housing without the fear of getting evicted and not have to live in fear of discovery by people who would hurt us.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Listen. The best thing allies can do is listen. When something is said about cis or straight people it’s a statement about what people have gone through and shouldn’t be discounted.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? The same as above. Listen. When someone says that they’re bisexual is not because they’re refusing to admit that they’re gay. Trans and Queer people aren’t confused about what they’re feeling. That actually goes for everyone who thinks that being bi, trans or queer is a phase. To put it simply it’s hard enough for is trying to figure it out for ourselves, but when we finally do is just plain cruel for other people to doubt us and our intentions.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I’ve actually been thinking about it for a while but wasn’t ready.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. Actually I think this was pretty in-depth! 🙂 I’m glad I did it.
Thank you, Alex.
Read the entire AMPLIFY LGBTQ Q&A archive.
AMPLIFY LGBTQ is a new occasional series of blog posts designed to give a “signal boost” to the voices of our LGBTQ neighbors throughout Western Pennsylvania. We are using a Q&A format and will minimize editing their responses. The questions, however, may change as we ask each participant to tell us what we’ve missed asking. It is one of the vibrant elements of a blog format – evolution & growth.
Our intent is to highlight the voices of marginalized members of our community who are not always invited to the table or whose voices are not heard (because “we” are not listening?) Obviously, my choice of questions does shape the conversation, but beyond that – these are glimpses in to the lived experiences of LGBTQ people in Western Pennsylvania as told in their own voices. If you would like to participate, please email me pghlesbian at gmail or visit the online Q&A.