County of Residence: Allegheny. I spent some time up in Erie when I was about four or so, and I lived in Philly area for about 7 years right before I moved to Pittsburgh in 2008. But I grew up mostly in the Maryland (Baltimore-DC corridor) area.
Preferred Pronouns: her, she…for now
How do you describe your identity? I consider myself a gay woman. But, my identity is still evolving. I just came out a year ago, and I feel like that was just the first layer of me being who I am. I strongly feel like there are more layers yet to be peeled away to reveal even more of who I truly am. I like the word Queer because it’s almost like a boxless box, there’s a gestalt to it, but nothing that puts you solidly within a certain category or within certain lines. Sometimes I feel like I would like to call myself queer. For some reason I hesitate because I feel like I’m not queer enough. lol. Issues of gender identity come into play with me, but that’s still a rather amorphous area. Like I said, I’m still working on who I am and how I want to be in this world.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? My coming out experience was good in the end, but also quite awful and devastating. When I first came out to my friends they were supportive, though they felt that being gay is wrong. All my friends were from my old church which is conservative (backwards) and believes being gay is a sin. But, even though they initially seemed supportive, in the end they all ditched me for the most part. In fact, right now I only have one friend from before I came out, which was almost exactly one year ago! Woohoo! But, I am developing new friendships with people who fully support me, every part of me. And the freedom that has come with being out has been amazing! So, like Charles Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ and now I feel like I know what he meant.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? Oh, I am OUT. I’m too old to give a damn now about not being out. lol. I wasted so much of my life being afraid of being who I am and hiding. Now I would tell anyone in a heartbeat if they asked. And sometimes I just openly share it with people. I wear a rainbow bracelet. I have a PRIDE pin on my book bag. And you know what, I do have Pride. And it’s not even having pride that I’m gay, but it’s about having pride that I am finally out and living my life. MY life.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? I honestly don’t remember who the first person I met that was LGBTQ, before recently. I’m 38, so I know I must have met some, but coming from my religious and other background, I really just didn’t engage with people who were LGBTQ, unfortunately. But, the first person I really engaged with who is LGBTQ is my therapist. lol. Funny but true. She has been really amazing and she is the first person I really talked openly with about who I am with regard to sexuality and gender and the whole ball of wax. She is an amazing person and her support throughout the horrendous fallout of me coming out has been life-giving in very dark moments. She uses the word ‘authentic’ a lot, and she lives her life authentically, and has shown me the freedom that comes with me living my life authentically.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Yeah, I suck at remembering LGBTQ people apparently. lol. Honestly, I’m never really too thrilled with LGBTQ characters I see on screen. I am sure there are great ones out there, but I don’t watch much tv and I’ve just not seen too many. Though, this might be cliche, but Heath Ledgers character from Brokeback Mountain really affected me now that I think about it. It was because the psychological pain he was in from the oppression of self he had to live under, and the pain of separation from his partner, were so palpable to me when I saw that film. His ache in the film triggered my own ache and desire to be who I was and the pain of not being able to be free and open with it. It was quite a painful movie to watch in a lot of ways. Anyway, that’s the only example I can think of. lol
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? lol. As bad as it seems, mostly Facebook. Most of my friends on facebook are somewhat active in advocacy and the LGBTQ community, so I get a lot of updates and posts about current happenings in the local, national, and world LGBTQ community. I’m also a Master of Social Work student, and there is a facebook page that people in the program post on, and the program itself also incorporates LGBTQ issues in to a minor extent.
Describe your geographical community. I live in the East End of Pittsburgh, which, to me, is pretty much no problem as far as being gay.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. My main LGBTQ community is my church. They have an LGBTQ ministry, and are sooo inclusive and loving and their membership photo directory made me cry because I was finally in a church full of not only LGBTQ people, but LGBTQ families, and their pictures were so beautiful to see. A place where we are celebrated! Yay! Unfortunately my larger LGBTQ community is rather small, but I am trying to find ways to enlargen it. I do rather feel out there alone sometimes, trying to incorporate a larger circle of friends besides just my church. I want to get out there and get involved in the community, advocate, find causes to get involved in, help people, find friends, etc. So, LGBTQ community is still something I’m working on (as it seems I am working on everything else).
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. Not yet. I’m hoping that never happens, but since I am only out a year, I’ll never say never.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? I think LGBTQ people are greatly underserved when it comes to mental health. As a person in the mental health field, I am always appalled at the lack of basic understanding and sensitivity professional haves regarding LGBTQ issues and LGBTQ people. I think this is something that desperately needs to be addressed and rectified so that LGBTQ people can not only seek and receive mental health services, but feel safe and respected doing so.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Pass the anti-discrimination bill!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. Hmm. I like to write. Poetry, fiction, and just started writing spoken word. It’s amazing how much what you write and say can impact someone else. I recently performed a spoken word piece at a local faith conference on healing and hurt in the church. The piece was about how the church has caused me so much pain, but not I am in a church which is helping me heal that pain. It was only four minutes, but so many people came up to me afterward and told me they could relate so much to what I said. Some of them were in tears. It’s easy to fall into the thought that we are alone in our journey, that there is no one who understands, or that there is no one there for us, or that there is no good future for us. But the number of people who related to, and were in tears because, of my piece, just really helped it hit home that we are not alone, and that my journey is not completely unique. There are so many shared experiences, and it is in the sharing of those shared experiences that we can find healing, support, and strength.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? I think one of the biggest barriers I have seen since coming out and becoming involved in the LGBTQ community is the intra-community oppression that exists. It’s quite disturbing and honestly hard for me to understand how a community that fights against oppression everyday, can in so many ways be oppressive toward other members of their community. What I mean by that is the idea that people push people into boxes and categories. It seems (to me as a newcomer) that if people try to not fit into a specific category; Lesbians for a little example; are femm or butch or chapstick or hard femme and if you are ‘one type’ of lesbian than of course you can only date a specific other type of lesbian, and you can only dress and act in a certain way. I think there must be a rule book out there somewhere. lol. I don’t mean to say that everyone is like that certainly, but there is a general feeling about it, and with trans issues, there is a misconception that you aren’t ‘really’ trans* unless you decided to go on hormones and have every surgery possible. Again, Not all people, but just sometimes get that feeling from certain people. It’s somewhat unsettling and sad. Just seems like a community as oppressed and discriminated against as the LGBTQ community should focus on supporting and understanding one another in a more comprehensive and intentional way. I think it could be a beautiful thing! 🙂
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? There are lots of church locators online to find LGBTQ friendly churches. Pittsburgh Peace Church. PERSAD center. Trans lifeline (hotline) 877-565-8860. Samaritans hotline: 212-673-3000. Empty Closets online community.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Disconnection from each other.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? The individual members of the LGBTQ community in the area are so amazing and passionate, I think we have such an awesome community with so much going for it, especially for the size of the city we have! I guess I just hope for more and more interconnection and support and love and peace. 🙂
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Push to pass the anti-discrimination bill. Learn Learn Learn! Become informed and educated about LGBTQ people and their specific needs. Be open to changing your way of thinking, to taking your ideas of who and what people are or should be, and letting them come crashing to the ground.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? I think just by knowledge, unconditional support and love, even if they don’t completely understand what the other person is going through.
What motivated you to take part in this project? Hmm. Good question! I just thought it would be nice to share a little bit of my story. It’s been a long rough and great year for me, and I think this is a nice way to honor that year and the anniversary of my coming out. Plus, I thought if someone who is struggling reads this, then maybe it can help in some way to know that it can be hard, but also it is GREAT to be AUTHENTIC and truly yourself and FREE! 🙂
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. Where are you in your development of identity as an LGBTQ person? Are you still working it out, or do you feel like you are still discovering and growing into who you are?
I think I mostly answered that question above when I said that I am still working on peeling off layers of self to find the true self underneath and who I might really be after all these years of self-hatred, self-oppression, and fear, now that I have finally shrugged off all those heavy chains and been able to stand up and speak my truth!
Read the entire AMPLIFY LGBTQ Q&A archive.
AMPLIFY LGBTQ is a new occasional 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. The questions, however, may change as we ask each participant to tell us what we’ve missed asking. It is one of the vibrant elements of a blog format – evolution & growth.
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 (because “we” are not listening?) Obviously, my choice of questions does shape the conversation, but beyond that – 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.