County of Residence: Allegheny
Preferred Pronouns: She, her. (Non-traditional female)
How do you describe your identity? Non-traditional female, bisexual, polyamorous.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I realized that I was bi at 42, after two hetero divorces. I think a big part of that was, when I went to school in the 80’s, I had short, shaved hair and wore combat boots. I got teased a lot. The most common slur was “dyke.” Because of the fact that “dyke” was said in a way that equated with “ugly,” it became (in my mind) something bad that I didn’t want to be. I’m pretty sure this is why I never bothered to think about whether it might be true or not. Had there been good anti-bullying programming at school, and if my first exposure to that word hadn’t been incredibly negative, I might have realized my true orientation a lot earlier or dared to ask myself whether I might also be attracted to girls.
When I found myself single at 42, having been partnered with men for over 20 years consecutively, I started going back out. One night, I met someone with whom I had really great chemistry…a woman. This confused me a lot, but I decided I had nothing to lose at that point by exploring it. That’s what made me realize my orientation. I told only a very few people at first (my family and my inner circle). Then last June, during Pride Week, my youngest son saw me scrolling through Social Media and saw lots of things about Pride Week. He asked about it. I explained that it’s a chance for LGBTQIA people to be honest about who they are, and be brave, and be out. He asked if I was out. I said, kind of, but not really. He asked why not. I explained that I was worried about how people would treat me, especially certain religious relatives, and worried that it would confuse people or make them not want to be friends with me or hire me. He said he thought I should be brave, because anyone who can’t see how fantastic I am is either not a friend I want, or not a place I want to work. (Kid was TEN.)
This was one of those parenting moments that you either walk the walk or be forever full of bullshit. I came out on social media the next day, with my son holding my hand as I posted. The comments were very positive — 100% supportive. I was so relieved. It isn’t like that for everyone, and I wish it was. Because I came out, a dear friend of mine was inspired to do the same, on the same day. I cried because it meant a lot to me.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? Things are strange. Everyone knows I’m out. Not everyone knows my husband and I are poly. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of who knows what.
Coming out has not changed anything at all, but I will say, I’ve found there to be frustrating in our region in a variety of ways. Trying to find a woman to date is hard…the second you put on a profile that you’re bisexual, you get a lot of messages. All from men. Saying ooh, that’s hot, will you play with my wife and I? (Headdesk) I’ve not once received any interest from women on those sites and am terrified of CraigsList.
I’ve experienced a lot of hostility from lesbians the second they find out I’m bisexual. They don’t see it as valid, don’t see us as a legitimate part of the queer community. They think I’m confused or not courageous enough to just be a lesbian. The fact is, I’m attracted to a person, to who they are. This includes people of all genders, regardless of their downstairs plumbing. My best shot at dating a woman in this town is to find another poly married bisexual woman, and I’m not even sure how to go about that.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? We had a gym teacher at high school who wasn’t out, but somehow everyone knew; she didn’t tell and we didn’t ask. Everyone liked her a lot, and nobody ever made fun of her behind her back. There was just this respect everyone had for her that we didn’t have for many other teachers, because she was bad-ass and everyone knew it.
She was tasked with teaching sex-ed to our co-ed, 10th grade public school class. She did surprisingly well with it, but I remember being a little freaked out when she reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a speculum, to explain what it was and how it’s used. I remember thinking, “Please don’t tell us why you have a speculum in your desk drawer…”
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. I’m a historical piracy buff. I’m a fan of Anne Bonny, who became a fierce cross-dressing pirate in a polyamorous relationship with Jack Rackham and Mary Read. I love that she owned who she was and just lived it. And hey…pirate! It’s said that she escaped. That’s kick-ass. I was a fan of the historical figure even before the show “Black Sails” came on the air. But as this question is about characters in entertainment, I love Anne Bonny on “Black Sails” because I’ve been a fan of the historical figure. I also loved The Viper on “Game of Thrones,” but gave that show up in Season 5 after they made some unfortunate choices about rape depiction.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I read a lot of online stuff and belong to several social media groups. I don’t generally go to community events…I don’t have rivers of money, and I’m just too busy, between having a demanding career and a family. I show my support by spreading information, being publicly out, supporting LGBTQIA friends and jumping in on conversations I think would be valuable to me or might benefit from my perspective.
Describe your geographical community. Grew up in the Eastern Suburbs of Pittsburgh, still live there.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community.I’m not totally sure…I feel pretty insulated. I know there are many resources for LGBT people in Allegheny County (PERSAD, GLCC, Delta, etc.) but that in many cases, their services are tailored mostly to gay and lesbian people and not anything specifically for bisexuals, so I don’t really bother looking for outside support.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. Luckily not, but I recognize this is largely because I’m married to a man and people see “a nice married couple” but might feel differently if they knew we were poly and I’m bi.
Describe your community in terms of being LGBTQ friendly (or not) The bi “community” in Pittsburgh is very frustrated. There is no funding for bi-specific activities or resources from any of the LGBTQIA organizations. It’s as though we don’t exist, and when we ask, we’re denied. Paula Brewer has done an excellent job of trying to make inroads with GLCC (which has no “B”or “T” in it, by the way) and organize things a bit, but there’s only so much that can be done without any larger support. Bi invisibility is a serious and painful issue in Allegheny County for us. We don’t feel welcome. The message is that we aren’t a valid part of the community, and aren’t important enough to warrant support or funding. And that’s rough.
It’s been my experience that straight people are confused about us (think it’s a phase, or that we’re hedging our bets, or that we’ll screw anything that moves), and gay people are outright hostile towards us. We get it from both directions, and I suspect this is why, statistically, there’s a higher rate of depression and suicide among bi people.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? I think the bi folks being frustrated is mostly what I’m aware of, but I feel guilty bringing it up because our trans brothers and sisters are in a similar (but in some cases worse) predicament, and of course the issues that arose over Pride this past summer. What I see is a community that’s divided, not united. And that saddens and frustrates me and many of my bi friends.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Be out, keep advocating for laws that are fair, and do what you can to deflate hateful measures that are motivated by religion.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. When I came out at work, it happened by accident. Three guys around me were talking about how attractive Scarlett Johanssen is. Someone said, “I bet (she, meaning me) would even throw down with ScarJo!” And that was a moment. I could either blow it off, or…well…I just chose not to. I just said, “Actually, yes, and there are many other women I would with, too.”
One guy just sat there and blinked. The second guy and the third guy high-fived, and the third guy handed the second guy a $20 bill. And that was as much as was ever said about it to me at work.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? A lack of understanding of bisexuality. We aren’t automatically promiscuous, we aren’t automatically attracted to everyone, we hate the automatic assumption that we want to play with couples. If I’m a female bisexual monogamously dating a woman, that doesn’t mean she has reason to worry that I’ll dump her for a man, just because I also like men. Similarly, just because I’m married to a man, it doesn’t make me any less bisexual.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Speaking for local bisexuals, join the eBiCenter on Facebook, owned by Paula Brewer. You’ll find friends there. There’s also a group called Bisexual Women of Pittsburgh, but they are organized mostly on FetLife, and because of my job (and because I have kids over 18 who I don’t want to see me there), I can’t be on FetLife. It would be super helpful if that group cross-advertised with eBiCenter.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That bisexuals will continue to be left out of programming, and will continue to be treated badly by gay people.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That bisexuals are included, valued and supported.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Stop perpetrating myths about bisexual people, and start breaking down that double-standard where bisexual women are hot, but bisexual men are gross. It’s ridiculous.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Count us as being a valid part of your community. Fund us. Support us. Include us.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I was asked personally by Sue Kerr. I have to say I was really conflicted because I feel like the LGBTQIA community in our region is pretty divided right now in some ways, and I didn’t want to add to it by explaining how difficult I’ve found it to be part of the community.
Other local bisexuals encouraged me to say some things that we all wish would be said, even if I have to do it anonymously. I understand that some things I say will be difficult for some people to hear, and I’m sorry because I’m not looking to upset people, but for some understanding, to make things better for bi people in our region. We are hurting.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. There were LOTS of questions here. I can’t think of anything else!
Thank you, Anonymous.
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.