County of Residence: Allegheny County, formerly Beaver County; Mobile, AL
Pronouns: He, him, his
How do you describe your identity? I am white and bisexual (which I mean in the most inclusive sense). For most of my life, I have seen myself as a cisgender male. But over the past year or so, I feel like I’ve been questioning my gender, partly because of reflections over past experiences and feelings which I think I’ve pushed down and avoided thinking about. It may be that I will conclude that I’m still a cisgender male. But I feel like where I may be headed is somewhere under the nonbinary umbrella. The word genderfluid seems to resonate. I feel like I still identify fairly strongly with maleness, but I also have a more feminine side that I feel the need to express. I’m still figuring things out.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I first came out with some very close friends at church. At the time, neither they nor I had a positive view of anything deviating from heterosexuality. So I would not say I really got support. They did not judge me for having the feelings I had, but we saw same-sex attraction as a temptation to sin that I had to struggle with and resist. Later, when I left Christianity for other reasons, I felt such a great relief and weight lifted off my shoulders when I could finally just fully accept myself the way I was. I never even realized how heavy the burden I was carrying until it was gone.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I am only partially out. I tend to be an extremely private person with most people, not just with my sexuality, but everything. So I tend not to bring up my bisexuality unless it comes up naturally. With the general public, this tends to happen in the context of pushing back against anti-queer talk. But I have made a point of telling my close friends. I have not yet told most people in my family, but I think I will, soon. I have not talked to anyone face to face about my gender (see below).
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first LGBTQ people I met were not out—no one at my high school or middle schools were. Everyone who was “accused” of being gay or lesbian denied it, but I’m sure some of them probably were. They were regularly targeted for harassment and for jokes/ridicule behind their back. I didn’t join in with that, but I didn’t stand up for them, either. I regret that very much, and their experience is a reminder to me to not let things slide now, but to speak up.
The first queer people I met that were out was at college. The difference was night and day from high school. Here many people were out and the community as a whole, including many people in authority, was pretty supportive. At that time (mid 90s), I was committed to a Christianity that was quite conservative, with all of the traditional sexual and gender norms, and I was not ready to even acknowledge my own bisexuality until near the end of my college career. But I naturally gravitated towards hanging out with a lot of queer friends. It felt so liberating and peaceful to be around people who were self-assured and confident, openly self-accepting, and accepting of others. Although it took time, just being around them really helped me to learn to accept myself and others. I was very rough around the edges at that time, and I’m embarrassed at some of my attitudes and some of the things I said. But they were always very patient and kind with me. I never thanked them, but I will always feel grateful.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Stephie from the web comic Assigned Male by Sophie LaBelle. Because she always keeps it real, because she is a genius at taking all the complexities of experience of life from a trans person’s perspective and explaining it in a way that is concise and easy to understand, because she’s sarcastic and funny, and because all of the author’s love for trans and queer people shines brilliantly through her. I have learned a lot through her, and the comics are a good tool for communicating with other people. Check it out!
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? A variety of organizations/sources on the internet
Describe your geographical community. North Fayette Twp., suburban Allegheny County. In my experience, it’s not necessarily the worst ever, compared to other places, but also not great, compared to what I wish it was or what we all deserve. I’ve seen negative attitudes a lot more behind people’s back than to their face. My workplace had same-sex partner benefits, but that’s not true everywhere. And of course, Allegheny County has legal protections for LGBTQ people that don’t apply elsewhere in Pennsylvania.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I’m not sure there is one. Granted, I’ve been pretty much a loner much of my life, so I haven’t tried very hard to connect with other people. There were definitely other queer people in the last place I worked, but it seemed difficult to connect with each other for a variety of reasons.
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Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. I have not experienced discrimination as far as I know, which probably reflects my white privilege and my outwardly gender-conforming appearance. However, microaggressions have been a fairly regular occurrence at some of my workplaces. I don’t think it’s been as bad for me as for many people, but it’s definitely been stressful.
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) I have spent most of my adult life without health insurance and haven’t had a lot of interaction with doctors/hospitals, and I haven’t really come to anyone with LGBTQ-specific needs so far.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? This might not be the most common or urgent issue, but sometimes I wish I heard more from people who come out or develop a different sense of themselves late in life.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? There’s so many things, where do I begin? We should pass the fairness acts so that everyone in Pennsylvania can have protection from discrimination in employment, housing, and education. We should remove all the unnecessary barriers to trans people, for example, changing your name and gender on your documents should be free, easy, and something which each individual has complete autonomy over. Universal health coverage, doing everything we can to increase access to housing and good paying-jobs, undoing the mass incarceration and criminalization of black people… a lot of these issues affect wider communites, but often tend to hit queer people the hardest, especially trans people and queer people of color.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. One of my coworkers, who is trans female, has transitioned over time, from having more of a male/androgynous look to having more of a conventional female appearance, and from using a male-sounding name/pronouns, to asking to be referred to by a female-sounding name/pronouns. In the earlier stages, she mainly restricted herself to the family bathroom, and it was pretty clear that her situation involved a good deal of physical stress, mental stress, and anxiety. Eventually she and the people around her became more comfortable with her using the ladies’ room, so things seem to have become better. But it’s a difficulty she should never have had to put up with in the first place.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? In my workplace, the stress of the casual negativity toward queer people, and towards people who push back against that, takes a toll. And there was so many things that made the overall social environment toxic (negative gossip, managers treating workers like crap, not enough resources to do our jobs, territorial attitudes and bickering, policies seemingly designed to pit people against each other, etc., etc.) that connecting with other queer people that you don’t know well was very difficult. So we may have been going through similar struggles, but we were isolated from each other, and not in a good position to give or receive support.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? The internet is full of resources, and there are organizations in Pittsburgh. As far as anything closer to North Fayette, I honestly don’t know.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That maybe things will not get better, but will get worse; that prejudice will increase, discrimination will increase, and that people will become less sympathetic and willing to listen. Also, that those of us in the queer community will relative privilege will not listen to and support the most vulnerable, especially that white people will not listen to black people.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That one day children can learn right from the beginning to accept themselves, and that they are just as worthy as everyone else, and that there is widespread support and acceptance from parents and the adults in their lives.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? There are so many things, where to begin? One thing I think about is my desire for more and more workplaces to proactively train everyone in the company about respect and sensitivity toward queer people, both to make life less stressful and safer, and to reduce discrimination. So anything anyone can to do promote that is good. Another thing I would like to do, if it’s allowed, is to encourage folks to check out SisTers PGH, an organization focused on supporting homeless trans people and trans people of color, and consider supporting them.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? I tend to think listening with a truly open mind to someone who has a different experience than you, realizing that there might be a lot you don’t understand, and refraining from jumping to negative conclusions is important. I think a lot of learning how to support people different than you can follow from this. This seems to be particularly important when it comes to white queer people listening to queer people of color.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I feel like I have been touched by and learned a lot from reading other people’s stories. Maybe someone will get something from my story, you never know. Also, I struggle with being open about some of these things with other people, so maybe doing it in this low-risk way will be a good stepping stone.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I would be curious to hear from other people: What makes you feel isolated? And what makes you feel connected? For me, when other people are willing to treat me personally with dignity and respect, but exclude other people from that, this makes me feel isolated. Throwing other people under the bus for the sake of my own inclusion is never going to sit right with me. Another thing that has made me feel isolated is my own fear and distrust. For a good chunk of my adult life, because of some painful earlier experiences, my approach has been to be as self-reliant as possible, to avoid getting too close to anyone else, to think I’m just fine on my own, I don’t need anyone. Although I felt I was protecting myself, in the past few years, I have been belatedly realizing that this approach has some severe downsides; it’s left me feeling very lonely and isolated. I’m now in a slow process of trying to become more authentic and connected to other humans. As far as what makes me feel connected—when I see someone treat other people with respect, dignity, a non-judgmental attitude, gentleness, and kindness, that makes me trust them and be open. When someone is vulnerable, honest, and self-accepting, that also makes me feel open to be the same. For me, these things tend to pave the way to connection and friendship.
Thank you, Carmen.
Read the entire AMPLIFY LGBTQ Q&A archive.
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AMPLIFY LGBTQ is a series of blog posts designed to give a “signal boost” to the voices of our LGBTQ neighbors throughout Western Pennsylvania. These are glimpses in to the lived experiences of LGBTQ people in Western Pennsylvania as told in their own voices.