Name: Chi Chi Rivera
County of Residence: Allegheny
Preferred Pronouns: she
How do you describe your identity? I am first and foremost a spirit, that has taken residence within a BIG queer latina female body, this time. Next lifetime, I may be a white drag queen or a straight woman with 16 children, or an Indian woman scrubbing floors in New Delhi. I’m not over identified with this body or this expression of what surrounds my spirit at this moment of time, because it could all change very quickly. Bodies are in reality very impermanent and the one true constant is my spirit.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I knew I was different by the time I started kindergarten. I knew I liked girls , and I knew I liked boys. The strange twist to my story is that knowing I was gay wasn’t even a thing for me. I was way more stressed out at the age of five to tell my mom that I was psychic, than thinking about who I liked, since I liked everyone. It has been a theme throughout my life. I have always told people that I am psychic, but have never really told anyone that I am queer. I just lived my life. I have been in relationships with women since I was in my late teens. I have never partnered with a cis-gendered men, but I have relationships with transgendered and transexual men. I found support in my metaphysical communities, meaning other people who are mystics like me. The mystical community was the first community where I felt accepted unconditionally.
My first challenge was with feeling accepted by the gay and lesbian community. I have never accepted the label of “bisexual” even though I am attracted to both men and women equally. I choose to partner with women exclusively. More specifically, butch women. But back in the 80’s and 90’s, mentioning you found men attractive immediately marked you as a traitor.
Another challenge was in not betraying myself while finding my own sexual identity without being perceived as a threat to a portion of the community that I was hoping partner with. Its a strange dichotomy that often in order not to betray one’s self, one must in some way attempt not to betray another. Thank goodness for the mystics, mediums, readers, clergy members, psychics, healers, astrologers, and such, as they showed me it was safe to just embrace even the parts of myself that I though would never see the light of day.
Another challenge I faced was finding butch women, being visible and being found attractive. I was painfully shy and had to overcome that in many ways so that I could locate butch women and then let them know I was interested, it has been a process of coming out of my own shell. One that has been well worth it. As I found my professional voice, it helped me overcome my shyness so that I could be assertive with my sexuality. It’s all tied together.
The last and probably most profound challenge was reconciling my spiritual life, having been called to become a clergy member and also having been born a very sexual person. I wanted to be embraced for both aspects of myself. I found that many stereotypes held within the LGBTQ communities were in direct conflict with my spiritual lifestyle. I often faced prejudice because of it, or at the very least rejection from potential partners.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? Again, I am not sure I was ever in any sort of closet, so I am completely out and living my version of queer and spiritual.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? My uncle Bobby and his lifemate Robby.I wasn’t biologically related to either of them, but Bobby was my mother’s best friend. He worked with er and they became like sisters to each other. Bobby loved my mother until the day he died of AIDS, Christmas Eve 1998. He had a tremendous impact on my life because he showed me the inherent value of having family of “choice” alongside with family of origin. The very inhumane treatment he received while passing taught me we all need to fight for those we love who don’t have a voice for whatever reason..and that wile all of us will die, our love lives on, and he also taught me through his love for my mom that friendships are so very important, and that we love who we love, regardless of ethnicity, sexuality, age or gender. Love is love !!
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Tilda Swinton played the title role of Orlando in the movie by the same name. It fascinated me, because I had long felt gender and sexuality to be fluid and not static. I loved seeing it expressed this way theatrically. I was drawn to the character and her/his transitions. I was always drawn to gender variants for as long as I could remember, and so finding Orlando was like finding home to me.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Social media mostly. I read all the time. Also from Logo. From Facebook and friends too.
Describe your geographical community. I live in the inner city Pittsburgh PA. I came from a small village in Panama ( Central America). Historically Latin countries are not very gay friendly so, I am thrilled to have a community at all. I never feel threatened because of who I am, and that may have something to do with my belief system in general, more so than my understanding of how the world works.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. Pittsburgh PA. I am learning more all the time about the wonderful resources this region has. As a person who is dedicated more towards my Spiritual life, I am embarassingly out of touch with what is happening, this year (2016) way my first time in 25 years attending pride, as in solidarity to my Latina/o brothers and sisters in Orlando.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. No, not at all out in the world. The only discrimination I ever experienced has been dealt by local LGBTQ people when disclosing information about my sexual history. Interestingly, I was married to an FTM, and lived a hetero-normative or hetero-appearing life for many years, and never heard straight people talk about gays, the way I was talked about for having a relationship with an FTM by gays. It was backwards to me. It was alarming and hurtful and I for a very long time felt disowned and marginalized. I realize that it was a very delicate peace because he was very stealth, not wanting people to know his business, for fear he would be harmed. I respected his desire not to be “out”ed, but it was very hard for me, essentially feeling like my visibility as a queer woman was gagged, erased and annihilated. Living like that was very hard, wanted to be seen and validated and yet creating a barrier to being see authentically. Very few friends stood by me through that, and for those who did, I am eternally grateful !
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Intersections of commonality. Between the races, between the spiritual communities, between the sexes, the sexualitites and ages. We ALL have desires in common, to love and be loved. I feel like the things that tie us together are far bigger than the differences, and celebrating these things in a way that would teach us where we share commonalities would be helpful.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Housing and education for youth who are alienated from family of origin because of being gay or trans would be my biggest desire.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. My friend gay boy bestie Scott Phares, owns a gift shop called Misty Waters on Brownsville Rd in Brentwood, he lives out and proud with his husband, he looks for opportunities to give back to his local community, to the gay community and to take care of animals. He is a beacon of light, he encourages me daily to be a great person, neighbor and friend. He inspires me to be exactly who I am, and who I want to be in practical reality…. Queer and loving, what else should there be?
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Lack of Spiritual life. I feel like the gay community has been so disenfranchised from religion, and I understand why so many have lived as if the soul has no impact on the now , and the eternal. I wish more clergy members were out there creating bridges between the the two. Souls don’t know gender, ethnicity, sexuality or anything other than right vs wrong, light vs dark, loving vs apathetic. I think the greatest barrier to living with a sense of hope and happiness is a spiritual perspective shift for lack of anything better to say.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? I am not entirely sure.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? My greatest fear would be that the community not find a way to come together on larger topics that bind us all, our political and Spiritual lives.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? My hope is that we find a way to love and accept one another.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? volunteer your time to educate
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? talk to the kids, educate them
What motivated you to take part in this project? I intended to be a voice to other s who may feel alone as a bisexual, or a person who is spiritual. That you are not alone.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. You could have asked who we participated in honor of? Liz Swindler, the love of my life, may she rest in eternal peace.
Thank you, Chi Chi!
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.