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County of Residence: Allegheny County
How do you describe your identity? Gay trans man
Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I came out twice, first as non-binary then as transgender. Coming out as non-binary I already knew I was a man but I thought being a queer female-presenting person would be enough. It felt empty and incomplete. It took a couple months for me to accept I needed to live as myself. I came out first to my fiancé, I used an app to create my face as a man, held it up to him and asked what he thought of that person. He asked “is that you?” and turns out the man I thought was straight is actually pansexual and loves his future husband. He said he was waiting for me to accept being trans, he could already tell. Coming out as trans there’s a lot of questions from people about my body and what I’m doing and how I’ll live. It’s never simple. Often I’ll hear “I’m so proud of you for living your truth”, every time I’m called brave it’s weird, it was killing me not to. It was pretty much a matter of survival. My parents have been fully accepting, though I think for them and a lot of people it’s tough to grasp non-binary so once I can distinguish a switch of gender (female to male) it was to understand. But just because I identify as a binary gender doesn’t mean everyone does so it’s frustrating when that’s the only way I’m seen as legit. Coming out for me was more like a process in different steps, telling different people, picking a new name, buying new clothes and so on. It was a journey which continues as I transition
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? “Now” is still a part of the long journey ahead of me and I’m still near the beginning. I started T almost a month ago and waiting is the toughest part. So “now” is kinda miserable as I wait for changes to appear in body, wait to figure out surgeries, wait for people to look at me and see a man instead of misgendering me, etc. I know who I am and I live as that person, I’ve started the journey. I do feel at peace with myself, the pretending is over, the confusion, the worst of it
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? Growing up I was very close to my mom’s first cousin who was a lesbian. My mom explained she fell in love with another woman and they were a couple just like her and my dad and they should be allowed to love whoever they want. I loved spending time with them and it was my first experience watching people go against norms. They always wore pants and were very down to earth in a not so feminine way. It took until I was older to understand how anyone could reject my favorite cousins. Tragically she died of cancer a number of years ago but I still consider her partner to be her wife and a part of my family. She remarried, this time legally, and I remember her as my first look into the LGBTQ community and defying gender stereotypes. My chosen name includes a middle name after her with my love and admiration
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. RENT!! I know it’s a whole show but it’s all the queer characters and attitudes combined. I’m a big musical theatre nerd (usually that’s when people are like, yea you’re completely a gay man). Rent, the movie but especially the stage show and listening to the cast recording helps me feel like it’s ok to be different and queer and embrace it. The song “la vie boheme” will take me from my lowest point to full of energy and confidence. I remember not only is it ok to be me, I should be proud of it and live every second to the fullest. I’ve struggled so much to get to this point and lost a lot of time living a fake life that wasn’t even really living. Rather than dwell on the time I’ve lost “forget regret, or life is yours to miss, no other path, no other way, no day but today”. I can’t get back time so I should enjoy every moment that’s left and make each one worth living
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? The internet. Facebook, YouTube, the news. Facebook is the biggest one, I’m part of a bunch of different groups and pages that keep me informed
Describe your geographical community. Since I do live in an urban environment it is a lot more LGBTQ friendly than if it was rural. I know a little outside of the city things are very different. The world is very different in terms of the LGBTQ community than when I grew up. No one talked about being transgender, there weren’t the same kind of resources and acceptance. I think people being so much more aware at this point helps because resources are more readily available
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I live within the city of Pittsburgh and being in a mostly liberal city really helps. I have access to resources. I go to Central Outreach for medical care, it’s a LGBTQ clinic so they know exactly what to do and how to help me. Persad is a mental health center I use for therapy. I find events and supports via Facebook. There’s a good sized community here
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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 never experienced outright discrimination like “you are not allowed because you are trans”. But I experience an extremely hurtful kind of discrimination regularly when people say things like “don’t worry we’re very open minded here, I don’t care what you want to live like even though I know some people do” or “she… oops I’m so sorry you have to understand this whole transgender movement is so new and strange in my mind but I’m trying, I really am and you can understand why I would say she even though I know that’s not what you like to be called”. It feels like I’m punched in the stomach with the wind knocked out of me when I’m treated like an outsider, a strange freakish person that is accepted in “normal” society. I’m a person, I’m a man. But I’ll end up feeling like a separate species allowed to live with humans instead of being human myself. I know back before I accepted who I am, I acted with the same kind of subtle discrimination and I feel awful about putting others through that. It’s what people do every day when they encounter the unknown but it’s not an excuse, it’s extremely hurtful and miserable to endure and the only way to stop it is education, so people don’t look at a trans person as staring into the unknown not sure who this is or how to act
Have you experienced microagressions based on your identity? Think everyday indignities & slights that you experience, but would not characterize as discrimination. Please describe in your own words. Oops I just answered this question in the previous one! I live in a liberal city and luckily haven’t come across real clear cut discrimination. No one has stopped me from walking into a men’s bathroom or even said anything but I do get some strange looks and one man didn’t use the urinal until I left. I guess I consider microagressions to be a form of discrimination that’s more harmful and takes a lot more to get past. It’s not like you can just get angry at someone’s ignorance and stupidity, it comes from coworkers, family, people you know and often like and care about. So the pain feels less acceptable and you question why you can’t just forgive and move on but you can’t. It’s more complicated, more common, and more destructive. It sets in and eats away at your self worth
Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) For my healthcare I go to a specifically LGBTQ health practice so it has been very competent. I use Central Outreach in the north side and I know there’s another one, Metro, farther out in the east end. If I ever need to go to a regular hospital or if I were going to a general doctor I don’t know what the reaction would be and I’ve heard some awful stories so I am nervous and switched over all my care to people and places already known as trans friendly. My body will always have some female anatomy yet I am male and not all, or even probably most medical providers understand or accept that. I’m scared of being misgendered and/or discriminated against while sick if it happens
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? We live in a very binary world and a very constructed society which affects all my fellow LGBTQ neighbors. There are certain “expectations” based on gender stereotypes. You walk into a store and see products divided by gender. You see a pink product for girls, maybe with princesses and dolls and blue for boys, maybe with sports and superheroes. What if a girl wants blue or a boy wants pink? What if a girl wants to play football and a boy wants ballet classes? It’s not forbidden anymore but it’s going against society’s recommendation and takes courage. A kid could be teased or refused and condemned, these stereotypes are reinforced all throughout childhood and a queer kid could end up hurt while the others learn to continuing harming the LGBTQ community by perpetuating those stereotypes that were drilled into them. It creates a bigger rift between the LGBTQ community and everyone else. We need to not assume. We need to not assume kids fit the gender assigned at birth or either gender. The earlier we have options, the less suffering and sooner we can be ourselves. I do see there is progress happening around me even since I was a kid. As adults we need to not gender everything, sort between men and women. There also needs to be other options. Don’t force a non-binary person to choose what they fit best. The world is too gendered. Does it really matter when signing up for a class or a job if you specify gender? We are forced to face that choice every day and sometimes the answer we give hurts inside. Whatever answer we put down what happens next is exactly the same!
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? I want to see options for gender include at least three on forms, applications, etc. I would love to live to see a law requiring choices of male, female, non-binary. Gender neutral bathrooms need to be more common and someday the norm, whether in addition to or instead of gendered bathrooms. Before I had the confidence to walk into the men’s room a piece of me had to die to walk into the women’s room. I want to see more protections for the LGBTQ community in case of discrimination. So if it happens there’s a place to turn and know you don’t have to live with it. I want to see on forms options for parents not mother and father. There are plenty of families with two mothers or two fathers. Someday when I have a family it will be with two fathers, both loving parents. Instead of an extra explanation I’d like to not have to go through the misery of seeing there’s a mother expected. Or vice versus if it’s two mothers. I want LGBTQ rights to not be seen as a nuisance to straight cis people but as another normal everyday option that’s fully accepted
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community. My advice is to confidently live as yourself. I walked into a dentists office and stated the facts, here’s my legal name, I don’t use it, here’s the name I use, my prounouns I want you to use, etc. I didn’t make a fuss and I felt confident at that point just being me. I didn’t doubt myself or point anything out like it wasn’t completely normal. They treated me the same way. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case and it won’t help if someone is going to discriminate anyway. But my advice is go about life like you know you’ll be accepted and if there’s a problem then deal with it. I’ve learned making a giant effort to explain how I should be accepted makes me strange and different to begin with and I’ve already blown my chance to be treated equally. Every member of the LGBTQ community has the right to be a person. It feels amazing when someone is like “ok cool, he” and I realize they didn’t see anything other than another person like they should
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? I think I went into this a bunch earlier, a very gendered world creates so many challenges. It becomes an issue for the LGBTQ people who don’t fit a gender or don’t identify with gender stereotypes. It creates problems for gay couples. More than anything, there needs to be more education about LGBTQ issues. People need to understand those around them not as specialty information but general knowledge so they understand how to be good neighbors for LGBTQ people around them
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? For medical, Central Outreach and Metro. For mental health supports, Persad. TransPride Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Equality Center, PFLAG, Delta Foundation, SisTers PGH, Safe Haven are local organizations. GLAD and HRC are national organizations, so is The Trevor Project which is amazing at helping prevent teen suicides. Facebook is one of the best resources, there’s support groups for every piece of the rainbow both locally and nationally. I’d just encourage my neighbors to search through social media and find supports. YouTube has some great videos too
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Honestly my big fears for the LGBTQ community come from the federal government and go beyond Pennsylvania. The Trump administration, the threat of Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court, the political divide and move towards more of a white Christian nation is our greatest threat
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? I hope for progress honestly. I hope people don’t see inclusiveness as a burden but a part of life. Being inclusive isn’t restricting straight cis people, it’s about not limiting life to just them
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Treat us like people. Educate yourselves. Include us as a normal part of society. You may not understand differences in gender and sexuality but they are just as valid. Don’t treat us like outsiders, stare and doubt. If a person tells you their identity, accept it and move on. Don’t assume someone’s identity by looking at them and if it’s not what you expected, that’s ok. Things aren’t always what they seem. Instead of highlighting the LGBTQ community as different people you have to make room for, let us be fellow people with other preferences. If you make a mistake, lots of apologies are hurtful because it makes us feel like there’s something wrong with us. If I said to a straight person “wow I can’t believe you’re dating someone of the opposite gender! That’s a bold choice” or to a cis person “are you sure you belong here? You don’t look like you fit in” it would make them feel awkward and outcast. So don’t do that to us! Show the world how you should treat the LGBTQ community. Read and learn from credible sources. And when all else fails, we are people who want to love the person we love and be the person we are. Stand with us to say that’s a good thing
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? You know what it’s like to be discriminated against by straight society. So do we! Stand as one community, it’s not the LG community, that’s some electronics company. You don’t have to understand what being attracted to more than one gender or being a different gender than assigned at birth. But validate us, some people don’t understand loving a person of the same gender. You want them to validate your relationship and family as ok. Advocate all the LGBTQ identities are legitimate and important
What motivated you to take part in this project? Being part of the LGBTQ community was how I found myself and what made me who I am today. I want to continue being involved and try to somehow make a difference so others don’t have to face some of the suffering I did
Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I really think you pretty much covered everything!
Thank you, Ian.
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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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