County of Residence: Bucks, formerly Allegheny
Preferred Pronouns: she/her
How do you describe your identity? Bisexual – sort of becoming comfortable with the term queer also.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I’m still in the process. For reasons I don’t remember, it was in college that I began to contemplate whether I was something other than straight, and then shoved it back down for nearly a decade.
I began to embrace being bi within the last year. The first few people I told it was a relief, but after that, it’s sort of odd/awkward. Coming out is kind of weird experience to me because when you go through a few decades of your life believing you’re straight, you have let unfold all these other parts of yourself and so once you accept that there is this other part of you that you want to incorporate, it’s like ok – so……now what? Walking up to someone and saying “hey btw I’m bi!” just seems sort of odd to me. I mean, no one “comes out” as straight, it’s just those of us who are something other than the “default.” I also am more of an introvert, so wearing my sexual orientation on my sleeve is just not my comfort zone.
Also, inevitably when you start learning more about bisexuality, you realize that there’s a different situation than if you were coming out as gay or lesbian. Bi-invisibility is real, and so is not seeing an immediate “community” that you just walk in and join. So the benefits to being super out are not as immediate. And of course, we live in a state where you can still be fired or kicked out of your apartment if you’re not the “default” – straight and cisgender – and in which our queer brethren of color face even more significant barriers on top of that.
That all said, psychologically, coming out to myself changed how I cared for myself – I take better care of myself and have more confidence because I have accepted and love more of who I am. I found support among really good friends, including some who are LGBTQ. And I’ve just sort of let that part of my identity “be” and merge with the rest of me, and whatever else I am seeing unfold as far as who I am.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I’m out to me and a few other people. But like I said, still a process.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first LGBTQ person I ever met was probably a friend of a college roommate, but that didn’t make much of an impression at the time because of the situation (which I won’t get into….).
Probably law school is where I met more different types of LGBTQ people all in one place and who were open about it, many of whom were/still are my friends, and also people who were totally fine with it. After I graduated and moved, I did volunteer work with a statewide LGBTQ organization motivated by the fact that I had all these friends that deserved the same legal protections, but that the government improperly denied them. And that kept expanding my network, which made it easier for me once I finally accepted that I am bi.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Because of my later-to-the-game realization, I’m not sure, but maybe Amandla Stenberg…also I was reading something about Frida Kahlo recently too. Both are awesome people – I know Amandla came out as bi, and I think Frida was also.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Facebook (organization pages, etc.), friends, the occasional email, random news articles on the Internet
Describe your geographical community. Currently, it’s semi-suburban, semi-rural where I generally live and work and recreate. Places like New Hope are definitely pretty LGBTQ friendly, but I’m not really sure about the rest. I generally assume not until proven otherwise. Which is kind of stressful, really. Perhaps I should reverse that presumption.
As for Center City Philly, it’s really a mixed bag – yeah, there’s the Gayborhood, but there are any number of trans women of color who have been murdered, and then there was that hate crime last year where some kids from the ‘burbs severely beat up a gay couple.
One nice thing is that there are some really great organizations like the Mazzoni Center (Philly), Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Center (Allentown) and the Synergy Project (especially that one) that provide support to the LGBTQ population, including youth who are homeless because they’ve been kicked out of or left their homes due to rejection, abuse, etc.
In the past, when I was in law school in Pittsburgh, they did have an LGBTQ-focused student group where I went. I do still follow things back west, and I am a fan of the work that the Washington County Gay-Straight Alliance and Roots Pride PGH does currently. We need more of that kind of stuff.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. Directly where I live there really isn’t much, but there’s certainly a lot in Philly and then in the Lehigh Valley north of here. There’s a new LGBT community center opening in Allentown in a couple weeks, which is pretty exciting.
The politicians that rep this general area aren’t super liberal, but most aren’t on the super social conservative end of things in PA either, so that is somewhat helpful.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. Not yet.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? By coming to the bisexual table later in life than many do, and just being who I am, I have noticed that there are certain things that seem sort of “common” things that are associated with being LGBTQ (gay/lesbian bars, pride parades, drag shows, etc.) that are fine, but that for many of us, either don’t interest us that much and/or miss a lot of the rest of who we are. For instance – I work a lot, frequently with an unpredictable schedule. I’m also more of an introvert so loud events (unless it’s something like a concert I want to be at) are not really my thing. I love being outside at a park, in the woods, or in the garden, and my spirituality is also very important to me. How can we ensure that folks have a place to get together with other LGBTQ people around these kinds of similar interests? While I know that many people have issues with churches for good reason, I think it’s important that we have strong LGBTQ voices in the faith community because spirituality is important to a lot of people (including me), and we can’t just discount that. I left my religion of birth a couple years ago at least, so where I am now (both faith-wise, and congregation-wise) was not that big of a hurdle for me.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? 1) Acknowledge that we exist and we always have and always will, we are not going to corrupt your kids or disrupt the moral fabric of society, we are your friends, neighbors, coworkers, other elected officials, cops, firefighters, ministers, doctors, lawyers, etc., and we deserve the same dignity as you want for yourself.
2) Make express in state law that LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in housing, healthcare, jobs, commercial transactions, etc.
3) Re-read number 1
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. One thing I’ve realized is that I’ve started walking around with this question about whether if the other person knew I was bi, whether I’d get a different reaction than I get. I have to work on that, but it is sort of a new reality for me and with the current political climate, it’s definitely in-your-face more.
On the positive side, I love that where I go to worship every week is open and accepting, which I found out more after I had been going there for a while, so it made life a lot easier once I came out to myself.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? I wonder about those, especially younger kids, in rural areas and also those queer individuals of color in some of the hardest areas of Philly and other urban areas – who can they turn to for support? While I know I probably just don’t know some exist, I do want to see the LGBTQ community work toward support for every member of our community and toward intersectionality. Consistent with what I’ve been saying so far in this questionnaire, we have to break out of the white, urban, frequently gay-focused mold to get all voices and all experiences. This is one reason I love AMPLIFY, which has actually been very helpful to me – it really allows me and others to see the literal rainbow of experiences and identities that are out there, and that is comforting and supportive.
We have to let people embrace and celebrate all of who they are, which is even more than just the LGBTQ parts. And we have to help make sure people aren’t simply able to survive (which is a real battle for many), but also thrive.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Mazzoni Center, Synergy Project, Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, William Way Community Center, Equality Pennsylvania, Planned Parenthood’s programs for LGBTQ youth, LGBT Qmunity Center of Montgomery County, FACT Bucks County, Delaware Valley Legacy Fund.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Having watched the debacle with Pride last year from afar, that the voices and needs of those (people of color especially) who have been ignored for too long will continue to be pushed aside. Very relatedly, that the LGBTQ community will not be able to transcend the racism that is very real in W.Pa.. Also, that kids in rural areas will not get the support they need and turn to very-available drugs and harm themselves.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That the stuff I just wrote about above isn’t what happens – that Pride is inclusive; that the LGBTQ community becomes more inclusive both racially and across the community as a whole (including letting people of color lead the way); that support networks develop and exist and thrive; that the LGBTQ community breaks the white privilege barrier down.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Use your privilege to help us fight for our rights; make space for LGBTQ voices, especially queer people of color
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Use your privilege to help us fight for our rights; make space for the non-gay and non-lesbian members of the community; make space for queer people of color, and let them lead the way
What motivated you to take part in this project? I haven’t really had a chance to sit down and reflect on things since I came out to myself earlier in the year. I also really like this project, and wanted to add to it.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. Not sure exactly – this is a good set of questions.
Thank you, Rachel.
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.