Name: Dani Janae
County of Residence: Allegheny, attended college in Crawford County
Preferred Pronouns: she/her
How do you describe your identity? I identify as a black femme lesbian, poet, trauma survivor.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? My coming out process was gradual. I started by self-identifying as bisexual as a seventh grader. I only told my closest friends and my mother. My friends were super supportive and lovely. I came out in a more wide-spread way during my high school years to even more of my family members. That didn’t go over so well. My youngest brother said that he had always known, my niece (who I grew up with) wasn’t happy and didn’t talk to me for a while. I was outed to her on our high schools Day of Silence celebration. However, right at the same time, my best friend was coming to terms with her lesbian identity and we leaned on each other heavily throughout those years.
I didn’t start identifying as a lesbian until my college years. Growing up I had dealt with a lot of sexual repression, I had been taught that good girls don’t touch themselves and don’t have any curiosities about their anatomy, so for many years I didn’t know anything about it. I was really afraid to look at myself naked in the mirror or after a shower because I didn’t know what I would find.
I didn’t start to engage in sexual activity until I was 18-19. Many of the queer and lesbian women who had become my friends or intimate partners taught me so much about my body and its capabilities/limitations. It was and has been such a fascinating and liberating experience. To have my history and biology explained to me by other QWOC and not some old, white male health teacher.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? Now, in the year 2016, I’d describe myself as completely “out” to those that need to know. I work for an educational non-profit and so I’m not out at work/don’t plan on being out to my bosses or the children I work with.
In the last couple of years I have found an immeasurable amount of strength in claiming my lesbian identity. In part because I am living an authentic life now, and also because there is so much beauty and fulfillment in my relationships with women. I don’t think that I could have deep and meaningful friendships with other women if I was still closeted or identifying as straight.
Lesbian and queer art has also become very important to me. I make it and consume it. Visibility is very important but it’s not the end all be all. For so long in art, literature and music a woman’s presence has been through the eyes of a male admirer and I’m excited by the probability of queer art subverting that.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? I think the first real life, out LGBTQ person I met was my old sister’s friend Gwen. I have only interacted with her a few times in my life but I remember recognizing her as a “lesbian” and knowing that she dated women, without realizing what all that meant or why it was important to me.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Bette Porter will always have a really special place in my heart. For one, Jennifer Beals. Secondly, I really identify with her passion and drive. Art was Bette’s livelihood and no matter what was going on in her personal life she always found a way to keep art at her hearts center. Its the same for me with writing and poetry.
In Literature, I really loved Jeanette Winterson’s protagonist in “Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.” I’ve read the book twice now, and plan on reading it a third time. There’s a refrain in the book
“There are different kinds of treachery, but betrayal is betrayal wherever you find it.”
Its probably one of my favorite lines ever. I connected so closely with Jeanette’s feelings of powerlessness growing up in an uber religious home. Overall the book was just stunning. I read it after a pretty rough heartbreak and maybe cried on the bus a couple times while reading it.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Tumblr keeps me pretty up on the LGBTQ issues. Most of my friends are in the community and so my facebook feed is always teeming with hot topics, debates, new perspectives and information.
I have been following this years election very closely and so I have a sense of how LGBTQ issues are being spun in the political world.
Describe your geographical community. I think Pittsburgh is very G friendly. There have not been very many strides made to be more open to the LBTQ folks. Especially if you are LBTQ and not white and wealthy. I find that a lot of the spaces cater pretty exclusively to gay men, and that’s disheartening.
I went to college in Meadville PA and I don’t think there was much of a community in the town itself.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I’m a writer for Steer Queer, a Pittsburgh based zine featuring literature and art from some of the most talented LGBTQ folks in the city. I consider the others on that staff as part of my community (Hi Cat and Cynthia). My college friends, my best friend/sister/life partner Shanai.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. I would say so. I think specifically as black woman who identifies as a lesbian, there’s this weird and toxic assumption that we are indebted to black men because of our shared racial background. I have been harassed and insulted because I don’t want to have intimate or emotional relationships with men. I think sometimes for black men that rejection can sometimes translate to a rejection of their blackness. It feels like a personal attack. That, coupled with the fact that many cis men feel they are entitled to a woman’s affection can lead to some pretty “interesting’ conversations.
I try to be out to my housemates if I have them, but it has been a problem. To the point where the last place I lived, the house owner abruptly broke the lease because my having women over made her uncomfortable.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? One big thing that I like to get on my soap box about is the existence of sexual and domestic violence that queer and lesbian women experience. Its a myth that women can’t be perpetrators of violence. One that keeps a lot of DV and rape survivors from coming forward, or even recognizing their abuse.
Additionally, when we talk about the epidemic of police brutality and black death, we often leave out stories about the astonishing number of black trans women who are murdered as well.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? For one, acknowledge that we exist. Then we can work from there. If I’m not mistaken, gay marriage is legal and Pennsylvania but you can still be fired for being LGBTQ+. Seems a little backwards!
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. Recently I attended the QTPOC Market Place in Garfield during first friday. It was just wonderful to be surrounded by so many black and brown QT people, so often in my day to day I am deprived of that presence. There are people in this community doing magnificent things and I hope that gets more attention.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? racism, homelessness, economic disparities, lack of sexual education for LGBTQ youth, outdated medical information.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? STEER QUEER! Garden of Peace Project, Amplify/Pittsburgh Lesbians Correspondence, Planned Parenthood.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? My biggest fear is that we will grow complacent with the recent strides in marriage equality. There is still so much work to be done, and I realize that its become such a cliche to say that, but it couldn’t be more true.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That we will use our voices to elevate the stories of those that can’t speak.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? first step is to listen. Don’t assume that you know more about LGBTQ issues than those of us who identify as such and have actually lived through the things you can only talk about through theory.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Kill the idea that just because you belong to an oppressed group means that you can’t be an oppressor. Many gay and lesbian people are perpetuating harmful biphobic and transphobic stereotypes and rhetoric. Just as we ask for our straight allies to be critical and empathetic, we need to do the same.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I just loved reading the stories of others. My perspective is unique but not uncommon. I’m interested in sharing my experiences as a lesbian women of color in hopes that I can educate and inspire others.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I always find questions about first loves/heartbreaks to be fun and telling.
Thank you, Dani.
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.
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.