County of Residence: Allegheny, formerly Westmoreland
Preferred Pronouns: she/her
How do you describe your identity? Black; cis-gendered; futch; pansexual and panromantic; pagan/afro-spiritual; polyamorous; sapiosexual; leather slave and leather babygirl
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I came out to my mother the spring before I turned 17. I put a note explaining it and telling her a bit about the girl I had a crush on in the pocket of the coat she wore to work.
The next day, she called me into the kitchen while she was cooking. She said, “so you’re bi, huh?” I said yes. She said, “I just have one question: the girl you mention in your note, it’s not the nasty bitch from across the street, is it?!” I burst into laughter and assured her that it wasn’t and that she and my crush simply shared the same, very common, name. My mom wasn’t so much supportive as apathetic. I learned why a week later when I met her girlfriend and found out she was a lesbian.
She didn’t consider my being bi a big deal so much as a reason for ribbing. She constantly told me that being bi was being greedy and “its a pole or a hole, pick one! you can’t have both!” It was a running joke between us.
My aunt and cousin, on the other hand, weren’t so supportive. My aunt never actually said anything. There was just a general air of disapproval and dismissal. I just knew that it didn’t sit right with her. But as she’d, again, found Jesus, I wasn’t exactly surprised. My cousin, whom I used to kiss on the cheek in greeting, actually told me that once I slept with a woman, I wasn’t allowed to do that anymore. She also said she “didn’t understand” how I could even think about being with a woman because “that’s nasty!” Her sentiment always confused me as, if eating pussy was so nasty, why would she expect a man she was dating to do it?
Otherwise, I never really had any issues as I didn’t have many close friends. And the ones I did have were usually queer too.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I am completely out. In everything. The job I’m at now didn’t allow it as I’m a security officer who’s stationed at a Catholic Liberal Arts college with my co-workers being men in their 40’s and older who are Christian-leaning.
I got into an intense and loud argument at work with my direct supervisor (who had the same title and pay as myself, but had seniority) about transgender bathroom rights and gay marriage. He wasn’t amused. We eventually just agreed to disagree.
Otherwise, I am completely out to my family, including my chosen family, and my friends. My new job, which I start in a few days, already knows who I am and they are completely okay with everything.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first queer people I met were the kids I hung out with at lunch in high school. It was actually how I came out. One of the girls at the table asked us to go around and tell our sexual orientation. I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms, but I said Bi. Several of the other girls, and one boy, also said bi. One of the girls had actually been put in therapy and forced onto medication once her step-mother found out. Another’s dad (if memory serves) was happy to find her in bed with a guy since he’d thought she was a lesbian.
My best friend then, however, was also bi. We never really talked about it. She had a lot of trust issues and anger issues. We discussed kink and things more than that.
They weren’t close friends with me. I only saw them at school. My best friend, though, she was the first girl I asked out. She turned me down, It nearly ruined our friendship. It was my first experience with maintaining a friendship with someone who knew I was romantically and sexually interested in them.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Phedra no Delaney de Montreve from the first and second Kushiel Trilogies by Jacqueline Carey.
She was a woman born with an ill-luck name, sold by her mother, bought by a man who never loved her romantically despite her devotion who led a life of hardship, torture and brilliance. She was a masochist who was chosen by her gods to be the ultimate masochist. She was trained as a spy and courtesan. She was pretty and smart and chose to give herself over to pain at the hands of others. It was her only blessing from her gods, her absolute love of pain. And yet, she saved her several countries, freed the imprisoned, traveled across worlds, felt the presence of gods, both her own and others, and was constantly underestimated only to continually triumph, despite the costs.
Pleasure, masochism, intellect, love and her instincts were pretty much all she had, but with them, she changed the world several times over. But she’d say, her greatest accomplishment was her (adopted) son and the love of her life, Joscelin Verriell.
~ Love as thou wilt.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Facebook groups; People in the community I know
Describe your geographical community. My geographical community is mostly urban. Its the city here and the cities of Philadelphia, Baltimore and DC. Again, I spend most of my time in queer and leather spaces, so they’re LGBTQ friendly.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I actually spend more time in the Leather community, which is a small subset of the LGBTQ community. Being a, sometimes butch sometimes femme, woman in the leather community means the automatic assumption that I am a lesbian, the ocassional assumption that I’m a dominant and the ocassional assumption that being a non-dominant makes me everyone’s submissive. As I’m a fairly easygoing person who just likes to get shit done and make myself useful, I’m not as bothered by these attitudes so much as I’m bothered by their impact on people I love.
Despite that, I have a fierce love of the Leather community as it was Leather folk who saw me through my worst bouts of depressive spirals and suicidal thoughts. They’ve literally saved my life.
Just like the general LGBTQ community, there is still an overemphasis on white, cis-gendered gay men as the norm and many issues and concerns that are expressed by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color) are often met with divisive debates, jokes and cries of reverse racism, etc. When we seek to make spaces of our own, there isn’t as much outcry, but it still exists. However, when we ask for room to be made for us and for our views to be taken into consideration at events not created specifically for us, there is definite backlash.
This same situation holds true for the Trans* members of our community, as well as the bi/pansexual, sober, questioning and straight-allies of our community.
Local places that welcome women without hostility are few and far between and are queer spaces, not specifically leather spaces.
Locally, the BDSM community is more pansexual than anything else. It would seem to be a plus except that gender non-conforming persons whom are assumed to have peni are made to feel uncomfortable both in their non-conformity and in their lack of clearly broadcast sexual orientation. I don’t believe that this is done due to malice, but only due to ignorance and lack of exposure to such persons in the local community. Its hard enough being gender-nonconforming and not either hetero, homo, or bi-sexual in the vanilla world, but stepping into a subculture whose rules you might not know yet can make identity and “coming out”, once again, a terrifying struggle. It means that many of the non-heteronormative community don’t feel comfortable in BDSM spaces as it is very heteronormative as the default. There are very few spaces where this is not the case, despite the fact that many BDSM events happen in queer spaces.
Being a female in the BDSM community here is to be assumed bisexual or pansexual. The idea is that most women are queer and most men are straight and there are clear definitions of the two (men and women). Lesbians and gay men being the rule-benders, the accepted outlaws, by not confirming to gender norms. As such, its not at all considered strange for me to hit on or be hit on by another woman. However, men hitting on other men isn’t as common, though its not actually frowned upon. Women are given a lot more freedom with gender expression/identity in general than I’ve seen displayed by men. And as I said, I’ve seen little, if any, gender-nonconforming/bigender/non-gendered or any other non-cisgendered people in the local BDSM community period. As I increase my active participation, this may change. However, i doubt it.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. Beyond having things yelled out of car windows, no.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? The issues of how queer and leather and BDSM spaces are impacted by race isn’t part of the local dialogue. We don’t really talk about race, and I find that the conversations that are had are usually had among the few black people that are a part of those communities.
There is so much talk about our experiences of discrimination being the same because of how we identify/present/express ourselves, but that isn’t necessarily true. There’s a deeper layer when you where the skin of an already oppressed people, but talking about it makes white people uncomfortable and worried about being called racist so they either pretend it doesn’t exist or do whatever they can to shut down the conversation. However, its a conversation we should be having every day as that’s how often it impacts our lives.
Putting on a big media publicity meeting isn’t the same thing as trying to address the intersectionality of race and sexual identity.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Actually have public information about the Mayor’s LGBT Advisory Committee! Right now, the page is a ghost town with no information of any use! The brochure is gone and the governing documents link leads to and environmental ordinance! How are we supposed to know if this committee is even real, what they do or hold them accountable if we have absolutely no information on them?! Is there something I’m missing?
Also, it would be nice if it wasn’t legal to fire or evict a person for their sexual orientation or gender identity or gender expression. That would be nice!
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. I’m both poly and pansexual. This means there are a lot of interesting situations that come up when I’m in queer space. They mostly revolve around my dating cisgendered males as well as women and non-cisgendered people.
People who’ve seen me with my cis male partners assume I’m straight. When they appear in a lesbian/female-dominant space (which is where I spend most of my social time in queer spaces) they are also assumed to be straight because they are obviously my partner.
It means that, even when they aren’t around, women assume I wouldn’t be interested, mainly because I present as femme and have/have had male partners. It takes actually getting to know me to know that I’m not straight. However, until and unless people have seen me with female partners, they don’t bother to get to know more or even just ask.
This may seem a bit trivial, but when it comes to deciding where to socialize, parties and events specifically geared towards lesbians feels like a lie. Yes, I’m heavily both romantically and sexually attracted to women, but since I don’t exclusively date women, I don’t pass the lesbian test. I’m not a gay man so male spaces are out as, generally, non-hetero men in those spaces are seeking male partners and having women there tends to make them grumpy. There don’t seem to be any spaces that will welcome bisexuals, pansexuals or omnisexuals when it comes to social events, let alone seeking partners.
People assume that we can just look in vanilla spaces, but if we aren’t looking for a heteronormative partnership, then the only possible spaces for us are queer spaces. But if we feel like we have to pretend to be someone we’re not to be accepted, it doesn’t actually seem like an opportunity for anything but disappointment.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? A lack of understanding of the true meaning and value of solidarity. Being a microcosm of the macrocosm of society, we often fail to realize that our differences are just as valuable as our similarities. There’s often pressure to become some form of homogenous entity. This entity is often white- and male-centric as this is our societal default. However, our communities would be better served be keeping sight of a few important goals and working as a team (without blame or ego or perfectionistic imagery) towards those goals utilizing all those differences to find separate paths to the same place so that, one day, we can all reach the place we’d like to live.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? For Leather/BDSM folk fallen on hard financial times: The Leather Heart Foundation
For queer youth in need: The GLCC and Persad
For a social space for Queer BDSM/Leather folk IRL: Queer Munch
For support and education for Queer BDSM/Leather folk IRL: QUEST Leather
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That the divisions in the queer community, especially along racial and ethnic lines, will continue to expand due to the hurt that’s been caused by even more marginalized communities continually feeling ignored and overlooked.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That we will be able to all come together as one community and support each other and our youth.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Research. Find out what efforts are most needed in our community and support them.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? By taking our special circumstances into consideration when creating queer spaces, especially social spaces.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I don’t get to talk much about what it means to be a queer, black, futch leathergirl. I often feel my story is boring in comparison to others i’ve seen, but I thought, maybe someone else also felt that way about their story, so why not?
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. What relationships are like for us. What its like trying to date and form long-term relationships.
Thank you, Minion.
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.