Name: Viva Valezz! (aka Dre’)
County of Residence: Allegheny
Preferred Pronouns: female
How do you describe your identity? I am an old school lesbian… You can call me dyke if you’re my age. We earned that. You can also call me gay or queer. I’m also half-Mexican, so I also identify as Mexican-American. And… I’m a mom. That’s the best identity of all.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? After being bullied and harassed in my teens – even though I hadn’t come out of the closet – or even without having even consummated my first lesbian relationship – I finally decided to come out of the closet when I was 23 as an undergrad at The Ohio State University. I was a work-study in the Women’s Studies Department, and I hooked up with an older lesbian who introduced me to the first gay people I ever became friends with. Immediately upon coming out, my mother refused to accept me. We didn’t speak for about a year. Other members of my family did come to my support. But, being raised by a single mom, and always being pretty close, it hurt to have her react that way to me.
Other challenges included losing straight friends. But… the people who mattered… still remain – even now years later. Coming out helped me “weed out” the people I only would have wanted in my life anyway.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I’m Super-Out!
I am a queer burlesque performer www.vivavalezzburlesque.com I am the originator of the only all-queer-identified burlesque troupes in Ohio and Pittsburgh. And, I produce the ONLY queer burlesque festival in the WORLD – the Fierce! International Queer Burlesque Festival (www.fiercequeerburlesquefest.com)
I manage the V-Spot, a new lesbian happy hour event in Pittsburgh, and a small queer fine dining club, “The Art of M-Eating Out.” I’m … WAY… out. 🙂
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first “gay” person I ever met was my dearly departed Uncle Randy. Randy passed away from AIDS. Growing up, even though I was from an extremely small town, I knew love and tolerance because I knew that Uncle Randy was “different” and we loved him because he was “unusual.” I didn’t know until I was much later exactly why people thought he was so unique. In my late teens, my mom told me the whole story. I suddenly “knew” what this feeling was that I was having for girls in my class. I “got it.” He was the first person to open my eyes to what I knew I was. Thankfully, it was in my blood 🙂
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Rita Mae Brown helped me bring me out of the closet. Then, Ellen DeGeneres was my college crush. Katherine Moennig has always made my… heart skip.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I’m pretty active in the community. If it’s not happening around me, I usually catch things on social media.
Describe your geographical community. I live in Dormont recently. It’s too early to tell how much of a gay-friendly community it is. Before Dormont, I lived in Morningside close to Lawrenceville – which is Pittsburgh’s queer mecca.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I feel as though Pittsburgh’s queer community just keeps getting stronger and stronger. I moved to The Burgh from Columbus, OH where the scene is really very impressive. My own personal queer circle of friends – Pittsburgh’s burlesque and drag performance scene – are pretty amazing. And, the GLCC and Persad have been resources that I’ve tapped into while I’ve been here – and I couldn’t have gotten through my transition to Pittsburgh without them.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. Being a very “out” and boisterous member of Pittsburgh’s queer scene, I haven’t experienced discrimination. However, growing up, I have experienced some rough times – but oddly enough more so within my own community than from straight folks. I’m what some of the old guard consider “high femme” or a “lipstick lesbian.” I have never once apologized for my level of femininity in any community I’ve been a part of. I have discovered living in the Midwest that a lot of lesbians did not know how to respond to me – especially those who were particularly “butch.” (Though when I lived in the San Francisco area in the 1990’s this wasn’t a problem lol.)
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Not really, not surprisingly. I live close enough to the heart of Pittsburgh that I am blessed to have a very active community that looks out for most all LGBTQ issues.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Better visibility of trans rights, especially for the sake of trans (and queer) youth.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. I am the parent of a gender-fluid 10-yr old. I co-parent him with his trans dad. I have a pretty well-known lesbian partner. And, there couldn’t be ANYONE more out of the closet than me.
I live by example. I am not afraid to speak my mind. I am not afraid to speak up for those that I love. My only “advice” is to live unapologetically. Be true to yourself, and that will trickle down to being true to those around you. And, by all means, do not put up with abuse of any form – physical, mental, verbal, emotional. You are precious and beautiful. Don’t forget that.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? I believe that my trans brothers and sisters deserve more love, kindness, and understanding… and visibility. Barriers of misunderstanding and ignorance will continue to hold them back from equality.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? The Pittsburgh GLCC and Persad! also the Garden of Peace Project
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? My greatest fear is that we won’t continue to grow. That we silence our voices when we become complacent.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? True equality. True appreciation for each other.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Support us! Support the queer performance scene.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Learn what it is to truly BE an ALLY.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I’ve been meaning to… and now that it’s the end of 2015, I thought I’d take a moment to show my appreciation and support.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. Sorry, I think you covered it pretty well 🙂 Thanks for helping us share with each other.
Read the entire AMPLIFY LGBTQ Q&A archive.
AMPLIFY LGBTQ is a 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. 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.