Jay, 33, Says Stories Are Part of Queer Liberation #AMPLIFY

Queer Pittsburgh

Name:  Jay

Age:  33

County of Residence:  Allegheny

Preferred Pronouns:  they/them

How do you describe your identity? white, genderqueer, queer, Mennonite, survivor with PTSD, justice worker

Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face?  It was a slow process. I had my first girlfriend freshman year of college at a small Mennonite school. I came out to a few friends.

I came out to my parents after I had transferred to a big state school, when they would be coming into town for an important event that my girlfriend would also be attending.

That event was my sexual assault hearing because a Mennonite boy from my hometown had raped me the first weekend after I transferred, so my coming out was all mixed up with the rape, my Mennonite community, what it means to be community, what it means to be family.

How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I’m queer as queer can be. Out and proud and fighting for justice and liberation.

Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? There are a lot of rumors about different teachers in my school system, but the first out people I met were gay boys at my high school. They deeply struggled with their desires in my little rural community.

I learned that being LGBTQ meant secrecy and shame, meant not belonging, meant rejection.

I learned that I fiercely loved my friends and I didn’t care if it contradicted my Mennonite upbringing.

Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Wow! Tough question, with so many options. I love Marge Piercy’s Woman on The Edge of Time because it queers gender and sexuality; it addresses race, class, and treatment of the mentally ill. Plus it’s a sci-fi utopian/dystopian novel.

How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Through our queer communities, queer literature, queer media.

Describe your geographical community.  I live in Pittsburgh. It was a big adjustment for me coming from a very queer-friendly city. I was called into the office at my first job here to explain my use of the word queer, as it was offending my colleagues. It was a non-profit, so I didn’t even think of self-censoring.

That really threw me off, because I count on my ability to assess the safety of my environments, and I really misread that one.

In our actual neighborhood, I’m pretty afraid the neighbors would not be down with us – but I hope I’m underestimating them.

Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I Co-Pastor Pittsburgh Peace Church, a queer-celebrating church focused on peacemaking, social justice, and applying Christ’s liberating love to fighting what bell hooks calls white supremacist imperialist capitalist hetero-patriarchy.

Come join us! Find us on Facebook.

I live with my transpartner. His son is with us part-time and with his mama -a badass Latina queer burlesque performer – and her girlfriend half the time. The kiddo is doing some gender exploring of his own.

I have queer feminist anti-racist community around the country as I travel a lot for work.

I have a queer community within the Mennonite Church called Pink Menno, a movement for queer justice I co-founded with my brother.

I also have a community of queer survivors of sexual and spiritual violence in the Mennonite church.

I’m always seeking new community members with whom to do awesome justice work, and to relax and do liberating self-care with as well.

Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. Mostly just in the Mennonite church, although I have been in job settings where it was necessary to be closeted.

When I had a shaved head (with this traditionally feminine body of mine), I had the highest incidences of slurs and violence. Things thrown at me from cars, my head slammed against the side of a bus, shouts of dyke, things like that.

Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? One of the first events my partner and I attended was a memorial for a local transman who committed suicide. Afterward, there was a very clear racial split. People of Color gathered and got lunch, and white people gathered in another group and got lunch.

I thought, wow, we have a deep racial divide in this community.

Last year for Pride that race divide and class divide was ripped open when The Delta Foundation booked Izzy for Pride.

They seem to be paying lip service to justice now, but we need deeper conversations and we need, as white folks, to do our damn work around the ways white supremacy lives inside of us.

Often that means getting the hell out of the way and handing over positions to People of Color and providing support when asked. Not doling out access piece by piece, title by title.

What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Raise the minimum wage, fund services and housing for people without homes, stop prosecuting sex workers, address hate crimes, paid sick leave, paid family leave, pass equal pay, pass anti-discrimination, change school policies so they don’t impact People of Color and queer kids disproportionately.

To begin.

Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. There is nothing that feels better than to feel truly seen and heard by another person.

Being non-binary, asking for they/them pronouns when it’s not common – it can be tiring to assert and explain your identity all day. And it can feel like the last thing to spend time and energy on when we have so much to work for.

So, for me, there is nothing better than the feeling of relaxing among close friends who all see me, get me, use my preferred name and pronouns, and just let me be me.

Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Racism, white privilege, white supremacy. Classism, homelessness, hate crimes. Sexual and spiritual violence. Mental and physical health impacts.

What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? That I know of: Garden of Peace, Persad, GLCC of Pittsburgh, I’ll go ahead and venture Pittsburgh Peace Church if God isn’t triggering (and totally get it if that’s the case).

What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Being divided among ourselves, doing racist and classist violence to each other.

If we’re divided among ourselves we can’t fight the violence coming at us together.

What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That we deepen our conversations and commitments to undoing white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, imperialism and capitalism. Together.

What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? If you see something, step up. Don’t check on me quietly and apologize for someone else. Call the person into account.

How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Step back. Support from there.

What motivated you to take part in this project? Queer liberation! Stories are a piece of it.

Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I’d love to have been asked about some interests outside the community.

I’m an avid puzzler; I love sci-fi and fantasy. I’m a gardener and dog lover, a runner.

I love rainbow jumpsuits and skinny dipping and dancing in the rain.

Thank you, Jay!

We need YOUR queer story to keep the #AMPLIFY archive as robust and authentic as possible. Click here to invest 30 minutes of your time answering the Q&A.

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.

You can read the other Q&A responses here.  AMPLIFY! LGBTQ is a project of Most Wanted Fine Art and Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents.

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