My queerness was never the only thing I had to deal with, and trying to understand who I was in the midst of the rest of my life was so daunting.
County of Residence: Allegheny, previously Columbia, MD
How do you describe your identity? I am a Black, Fat, Femme, cis woman, Jewish, advocate and activist living in Pennsylvania.
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I came out when I was 15 years old, the summer after sophomore year. I grew up in a town that on the outside felt liberal and safe, physically, to come out. I knew I wasn’t in danger of being beat up on, but I was terrified of the microaggressions and rumors and falsehoods that my sexuality would bring. I’ve always known I was queer, I didn’t know the name of it and I was never vocal about it, but I’ve never been able to fully put myself in a box. When I came out I decided to come out as bisexual, not because that’s what truly felt comfortable, but because I knew it felt safe being able to define myself, even if it wasnt tru to my own truth. I came out to my close catholic friend, picking the religious one as my first hurdle, and the moved into my twin sister, cousin, and my best friend. Everyone except my best friend were decently supportive, but my best friend promised me it was a phase and dismissed me. But while she did it, even though I explicitly asked her not to tell anyone, she told about 15 other people who disclosed my sexuality to the whole school and her religious family. Pushed out of the closet and labeled a lesbian by everyone else, I had never felt less unsafe. I felt distant as I lost the trust of a close friend and, even more, I felt distant from myself because I was assumed a label I hadn’t connected myself with. I pushed myself to assume the stereotypes people placed on me, wore buttondowns and no makeup and made jokes with the guys about girls. All the while so uncomfortable with who I was and the way I wanted to express myself. I felt more closed in than ever, especially when soon after my coming out as a “lesbian” I started to date a trans man.
I didn’t find support for my sexuality and my fluidity with expression until I met my now best friend from New York City who promised me I could be whoever I wanted to be. She became my chosen family and she helped me experiment with my sexuality and find myself in who I am today. Her and my sister made me okay with not knowing who I liked and how I identified. They made me feel at home when I felt the least like myself. For them, I am forever grateful.
Ps. I also was forced out of the closet during one of my worst mental health conditions of my life and in the midst of my mother being diagnosed with cancer. My queerness was never the only thing I had to deal with, and trying to understand who I was in the midst of the rest of my life was so daunting.
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How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? being out means being open and unafraid. Being a Black queer fat femme woman, and realizing I can be all of that without being ashamed had been so wonderful. It feels so beautiful to feel authentically you and I feel like forcing myself out, coming to a women’s college and seeing queer life outside of my town and in a city has made such a difference. Of course I have to come out everyday being a femme Cis woman, but it’s also no a badge of honor I get to wear. I love getting to be queer and proud, it has given me so much joy in these last few years.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? In the 7th grade this new kid moved to my town from California and his name was Felix. His name, his loud voice and his authenticity tru personality drew me toward him. Always loud and speaking his mind, I wanted to be Felix, I wanted to have his strength in me. I wanted his confidence and his swagger. He wasn’t scared of anything, even the bullies who called him faggot and pushed him in the locker room. He was always strong, or so I assumed, even when he came around with a busted lip. Although we had a rough falling out, Felix remained this force of strength for me. I was short and chubby, loud yet awkward, and obviously attention seeking. He knew who he was and I was so confused and far from figuring myself out. Called lesbian and dyke in the hallways, I cried and was ashamed, if only I would’ve felt the strength I assumed Felix harbored.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. I love Aninata from Sense 8. She is so strong and full of passion and love. She loves so deeply and I feel that as a Black queer woman. There so much strength, power, and genuinely that I see through her that I feel in myself.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I’m an activist so I stay informed on all of my social media. I am a contributor for Queer Pittsburgh wich is an online magazine so I keep up with local queer politics that way as well as through the lesbian correspondents, autostraddle, huff post lgbtq, Vice, and other online platforms that focus on queer communities
Describe your geographical community. I’m in urban Pittsburgh. Because of who I hang out with and my unapologetic identity, I feel safe and open to be myself. Also it’s Pittsburgh so it’s decently accepting.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. My local queer community comes from my activist friends at Chatham who have become my roommates and have helped me and my other more closeted friends to be authentically ourselves, open ourselves to parts of our hidden selves, and explore our truths. My queer community also comes from Queer Pittsburgh,- family I am just starting to know and excited to connect more with.
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. Last summer, I was applying for sublet housing in Oakland and this house of grad school girls wouldn’t let me continue applying because I was Queer and some of the girls were religious and didn’t approve.
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) I have been lucky enough to grow up with parents who can afford decent healthcare and who have encouraged me to do what’s best for me. So I have had some non lgbtq+ friendly gyno’s but going to Magee has made me more comfortable. also I have found a wonderful queer lady therapist who makes me feel so beautifully comfortable.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Access to low income trans friendly healthcare.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? We need to ban housing and employment discrimination, ban conversion therapy, create protections for our trans community and improve funding for lgbtq+ youth and adult homeless housing that is safe and protected.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. I was Walking down the street with my beautiful partner, holding her hand, and this person told us we were a beautiful couple. I’d like to think I’m above that type of commentary but it felt so amazing to know two plus size women who are truly in love could be recognized as a beautiful couple.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? Healthcare access and gentrification.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Queer pgh, persad, GLCC, university queer straight alliances/ lgbtq+ groups, sisTers, Proud Haven.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? more persecution by police on our lgbtq+ communities of color.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Unification for the most marginalized groups in our community, Black and Brown trans people.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Be there, speak up, and stop silencing us and our pain
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Acknowledge us as real and worthy parts of the community
What motivated you to take part in this project? This is about showing authenticity and realness, I wanted to be apart of it.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. Why do you love being LGBTQ+?
Thank you, Maya.
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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.
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