Maybe my answers will help someone else. I didn’t have anyone to say these things to me and I wish I had.
Name: Lissa or Jac
County of Residence: Allegheny County, previously Westmoreland County
Pronouns: Lissa: her/hers Jac: him/his
How do you describe your identity? Gender fluid, gray ace, poly, pan romantic, sapio romantic and sexual, bipolar, PTSD
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? My mom was a little dubious when I told her in middle school that I was bisexual. It was a fair way to feel at that time. Everyone was “bisexual” in middle school because we were all trying to figure out who we were. She asked me if I wad certain it wasn’t just a phase. I’d known for years that I was interested in boys and girls, but I humored her. I told her I’d come back to her in a few years. That was in 7th grade. In 10th I did just that. I was still interested in both genders and mom accepted that.
My step father didn’t know still for a few years, but he didn’t react poorly. He still thinks one day I’ll find the perfect man and get married and have kids and all that, but he’s a man over 60 who doesn’t really understand how all this works. My biological father, though supportive of my sexuality, treated all of my partners, boys or girls with suspicion and that was a little rough.
In college I started my first official polyamorous relationship with the woman of my dreams. I think I was more scared to tell my family about being poly than I had been coming out as bi. I hid it for months and that hurt my mom when she found out. She was worried I was getting into something I wasn’t ready for. She did calm down, but in retrospect she may have been at least a little right. Now, she loves all my partners like her own children. My step dad is confused, but not unsupportive.
As for my biological father, he was surprisingly the most difficult. He had always been the open-minded parent. Suddenly he was accusing me of being homeless or in a cult. He turned his entire side of the family on my loved ones. They called the love of my life “that girl/woman” until very recently. We’ve patched things up a bit, but it took moving hundreds of miles away and six months of no contact to get my point across.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I don’t hide who I am anymore. I don’t have the energy to be someone else just because other people are prejudice. I don’t flaunt my sexuality or anything. I am who I am. Others are who others are. I don’t hide my affections with any of my partners whether at home or in public. There are of course standards for what is and is not acceptable, but that goes for any kind of relationship.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? The first person I remember knowing wasn’t heterosexual was my mom’s high school friend. He’s a professional pianist and a really good one at that. He’s one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. Now, he didn’t come out to anyone for years, but he really didn’t have to. His closest friends had guessed it long ago, but everyone was respectful of that and never brought it up so he could approach it at his comfort.
I remember thinking that this man was different from most of the other ones in my life. He was fun and full of life and love. I don’t really know how I figured out he was gay. It was something is kind of always known, but didn’t originally have a label for. He was a kind, generous man who filled the room with good feelings when he came in. I wanted to be like him.
That’s clearly not what “made” me not hetero, but him being such a positive person in my life compared to all the awful people I’ve had that he made it easier for me to transition into who I am today.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Definitely Holtzman from the new Ghostbusters movie. I know it wasn’t outright stated in the movie, but the actions of the character as well as the actress herself showed that she was at least not hetero. She was amazing. Confident, smart, unafraid to be herself. I wish I’d had her as a female role model as a kid. She really helped me gain more confidence even as the world turns against us.
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Mostly Facebook or Reddit. My family keeps me fairly informed, but I’m often out of the loop due to not having many outside of my house contacts.
Describe your geographical community. Pittsburgh in general seems to have a good community in there. The city is super open. They hold pine of the most popular furry conventions in the country. Most people hear Pittsburgh or Western PA and thru think coal, steel, and conservative thinking. They’re not wrong for some areas, but Pittsburgh has changed. It has turned its eye to the future instead of the past. It isn’t perfect. No where is. It’s better than anywhere else I’ve been, though.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I don’t know a lot, sadly. I’m just starting to toe the waters of the groups in my area due to my social anxiety, but it’s a slow process.
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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’ve been very lucky to not have a lot of prejudice aimed at me for my gender or sexuality, but mostly because I’m not a very obvious target. The worst I’ve experienced happened one my college campus.
There were “preachers” who showed up once or twice a week to scream hateful vitriol at passersby. They had those signs about all the people they say their god hates and condemns to eternal damnation. Muslims, lesbians, people of color in general. Slurs that they wouldn’t dare call someone to their face.
Why didn’t anyone stop them? The school couldn’t tell them not to be there. It was a public university and they had every right to stand on public property. The school was very specific, though. They stayed on the grass, we stayed on the sidewalk, anyone who crossed those lines was asked to leave the area or campus depending on who had broken the rules.
I got a little revenge on them once. A younger man was yelling about how lesbians had just never been with the right man and one day they would be put in their proper place. I was watching the spectacle with one of my lesbian friends. We decided to make the bigot angry by making out in front of him. Now, I was in a relationship at the time, but I was forgiven due to circumstances. That man yelled so loud I think he hurt his throat. It was really gratifying to stand up for my community.
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) It’s not bad. I haven’t had great access to health insurance, but I’ve managed. The doctors I’ve gone to have been a bit of a mixed bag. Most of them don’t say anything either way. Some will give you that disdainful look of people who don’t like our kind, but accept that society says they shouldn’t say anything. I’ve not really had anyone try to change me or my life choices.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Our community, and our country at large, has faced many issues in the past year. It has been trying and heartbreaking at times. Issues are far more visible these days, but I know there are more still beyond the surface.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? I’d like to see more done about discrimination against the community, but the issue is larger than that. Discrimination of all kinds needs addressed. In this climate of growing turmoil and animosity, all communities must come together. There are more of us than them if we stop fighting each other. Strength through unity.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. Though much of society still looks down on us, we are stronger than their hate and their ignorance. Though you may feel alone and isolated, we are everywhere. Finding others can be hard, but keep looking. We’re around. We are strong together. Stronger than we coud ever be alone.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? It’s really hard for trans people to get recognized as their gender sometimes and people often make a big deal out of making mistakes. Often the last thing a trans person wants is their friend calling attention to the issue. Politely correct yourself and move forward.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Facebook has been mine recently. I’m bad at finding friends.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That the conflict ravaging our country’s political and social systems will cause many to hide who they are. Fear is a terrible thing that makes people act like animals. Sadly, we’re one of many easy targets society turns on when things go wrong. I don’t want us to separate through fear, but together through bravery.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? That we can help shape how the future handles people of all walks of life. Be the change you want to see.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Learn all you can from your loved ones. What kind of misconceptions has society given you? Which ones have permitted our society? Be there for us when the world is mean.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Remember that we are still part of the same community. Don’t look at your bisexual friend and tell them they should just choose already. Can you choose to be attracted to only people of your own gender? It is the same. Sexuality, gender, romanticism, it all comes in a range. The rainbow is made of all the colors, not just a few.
What motivated you to take part in this project? Maybe my answers will help someone else. I didn’t have anyone to say these things to me and I wish I had.
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. N/a.
Thank you, Jac.
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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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