bee Revisits 60+ Years of Her Feminist Lesbian Experiences in Pittsburgh #AMPLIFY

Name: bee

Age: 60

County of Residence: Allegheny County

Pronouns: She/Her

How do you describe your identity? I’m a lesbian feminist.

Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I came home from a day in the First Grade and announced that I wanted to marry my teacher (a nun) and kiss her on the lips. My mother sort of laughed – she didn’t know I meant it; everyone else was horrified. So I buried it, of course, and didn’t think of it again for 10 or 12 years.

I grew up being a weirdo for lots of reasons: I was tall and fat, a tomboy who became convinced that I must have born a boy and – by way of some horrible sin – was being punished by being turned into a girl. But that all about being treated unfairly because of my sex — it was about the things I was and was not allowed to do. I asked ‘Santa’ for things like cars and drums and baseballs, and I shunned the dolls and “pretty” things I was given. I wasn’t allowed to run or climb trees or play anything resembling a sport. I loved learning when all the neighbor kids hated school. Like most abused children, I was shy & sullen, and haunted by the intertwined burdens of precocious puberty and childhood rape. I was the kid that all the other kids made fun of – and the one they used to make fun of other kids (ooh, you’re so weird you like HER). I had puppy crushes on both boys and girls but never considered the possibility of romance with anyone. For one thing, it was a sin; for another, I’d be humiliated by my mother and beaten by my father.

As I matured (physically, at least), I mostly thought of myself as asexual, when I thought about it at all, and navigated my teens with outward open-mindedness (it was the 70s, after all), secret wondering, but mostly doubt and self-loathing. It was the height of the sexual revolution and the beginning of the first wave of “gay liberation,” and I knew but I didn’t identify with any of it.

In college, I bonded with another ‘weirdo’ who was even more prone to depression than I was, and the first physical contact was a hug of compassionate support. She cried a lot, so there were a lot of hugs, accompanied by a LOT of guilt and more self-loathing.

We came out as Feminists and (at the time) Socialists long before we came out as Lesbians. But you know, once you start questioning the status quo in one area, you start questioning everything. When I turned 21, a grad student took me to Shawn’s bar (on Fifth Avenue uptown) after a Meg Christian concert, and I knew I’d found my home.

How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? Most people know. While I don’t exactly advertise, I don’t back down from advocating for LGBTQ+ rights or from identifying as a lesbian.

Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? I had friends in high school who were much more self-aware than I was. Looking back, it’s clear that I had cousins and uncles who were gay, but it was never said, ever, not even in whispers and innuendo.

Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. Molly Bolt from Rita Mae Brown’s “Rubyfruit Jungle”, so named because a molly bolt is a piece of hardware you use when a regular screw just won’t do – because she was the first lesbian character I encountered.

How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I’m pretty well tapped in to all kinds of media.

Describe your geographical community. Yeah, the city passed a non-discrimination ordinance when I was still in my 20s, and I’ve never had a problem, other than the usual street harassment by privileged young drunkards.

Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I’ve always been pretty visible in the community, and have friends in all demographic groups. It’s a much more diverse population than I ever imagined growing up.

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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.  Not really, just suspicious looks and whispering. Walking around the streets, yeah, sure, but not so much anymore – I’m finally old enough to not be of much concern to thugs.

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. Of course, all the time. Mostly, though, I think it’s just that people have a pretty insulated frame of reference; one you connect with them somehow, they’re OK.

Tell us about your access to health care in Western PA. Has it been LGBTQ competent (or not?) I’ve always been very selective about my health care providers, and very honest. My PCP’s office is very knowledgeable and chill.

Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? Not that I know of, although the city’s neighborhoods and social circles are pretty racially segregated, so there’s never enough discussion of intersectionality. That might be changing in the fallout from Antwon Rose’s killing.

What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? An acknowledgement that there are a LOT of LGBTQ+ seniors, and that facilities servicing elders are often the most discriminatory and uncomfortable places for us. The county government actually does a good job, but it’s a pervasive mentality among the service providers.

Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community.  I’ve found a wonderful community of friends. Nothing like a shared crusade to create life-long bonds.

Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? It’s not bad now. It used to be that you couldn’t visit your partner in the ICU, couldn’t share a bank account or property (mortgages still refer to two women co-owning property as person1 (an unmarried woman) and person2 (an unmarried woman), and lots of other ordinary things that straight couples take for granted. My neighbors are as “nebby” as anyone else, and they talk behind your back, but they’re still basically friendly, and would help out in a crisis.

What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? Persad, the Community Center, queer-owned businesses, lots of places.

What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania?  Same as ever – that some knucklehead who feels his privilege is being taken away somehow will attack violently. But that’s the case for every minority.

What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? I love how aware and publically-engaged Millenials are, and how – as a general rule – gender roles are not a rigid box to them.

What pieces of local or regional LGBTQ history would you like to preserve and why? How we’ve always been there, and have always survived. When I was in my twenties, it was still common for police to raid the bars, and men and women would suddenly stop dancing with their partners and pair up for appearances.

What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? Call people out when they dis us. Don’t be silent.

How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? Be open, listen. Don’t assume.

What motivated you to take part in this project? repeated requests.

Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. It might be interesting to find out something like “What’s the bravest OUT thing you’ve ever done?”

Thank you, bee.

Read the entire AMPLIFY LGBTQ Q&A archive.

Submit your own Q&A using our online form.

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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