Content Note: sexual abuse, child abuse, mental illness, religious abuse. We’ve posted several hotline numbers at the end of this post for your reference.
County of Residence: Somerset County.
Age: 62 years old
Pronouns: He, him, they, theirs, yinz
How do you describe your identity? I’m an atypical late blooming bisexual – I came to understand myself very late in life. I’m the B in lgbtqia+. At my age, old friends often tend to think you’re going through a midlife crisis or some other fugue state. When you say Bisexual to gay men they tend to categorize you as Gay In Denial but they’ll support you in getting over that.
Please describe your coming out. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? I am out to some of my family and some of my support network – which includes straight friends, PGH Prime Timers, and Burgh Bears. In this small Somerset County town I live in, being non-hetero (or non-monosexual) will get you beaten and seriously hurt or killed. Violence is an absolutely real possibility.
How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I am non-radically out. People I have relationships with know where I am. Strangers and acquaintances, not so much.
One church sign proclaimed, “Jesus loves homosexuals too much to leave them that way”. Drive by that a few times in a week and feel the constraints.
Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? My understanding of who I was took place at 58 years old. I had a friend that was genderqueer and bisexual. I asked them to lunch and sought their advice. It was a million-dollar conversation. Thanks B!
How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? I stay informed with PGH Lesbian and Sue Kerr’s column in Pittsburgh Current. Online it’s the Washington Blade. I have a Google news agent looking for both “gay” and “bisexual” as different searches. On Twitter I’ve been fortunate to build a network of LGBTQ contacts that brings me news.
Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why.
In the Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, Dorian is presented as a hedonist that has ruined the lives of both young men and women. He never ages or shows the wear of his lifestyle, but a portrait of him hidden upstairs documents every transgression. I found it fascinating.
Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I have friends in the regional community that I can discuss personal issues or national issues with and I am grateful for them. Pgh Prime Timers and Burgh Bears come to mind – although B-Bears seems to be temporarily schismatic and there’s a few different versions out there. It’s been valuable for me. Prime Timers runs dinners, brunches, and until recently Sunday bike riders. Bi-Pgh is excellent, but it does skew to include Trans people often – and that’s a normal crossover of the two groups supporting each other. Great people.
Describe your geographical community. I know LGBTQ people in my close-in geographical community but nobody speaks to each other. It’s not safe. How I wish for a local monthly coffee klatch or reading group. But the people with a few years under their belts are sure it’s not safe.
My geographical community is adversarial to lgbtqia+ people. I’ve been told by friends that it’s ok to be a lesbian here as long as you don’t flaunt it, but gay men will be beaten. So at greater distance, there’s a BiPgh group that’s great – also, this group includes trans folx because there’s a crossover and alliance there. There’s Pgh Prime Timers for the AARP crowd. There’s Burgh Bears for the big boys. There’s nothing like that where I live. I wish there was.
Tell Us About Your Access to Health Care in Western PA. My health care has been top-notch and LBGTQ competent. I suspect if I were looking for HRT or surgeries I’d be shuffled out to Pittsburgh.
Have you experienced microagressions based on your identity? Think everyday indiginities & slights that you experience, but would not characterize as discrimination. Micro-agressions do occur. I tend to view them as unconsidered speech/ acts by people that haven’t thought it through, and if conditions and spoons permit I try to make it a teachable moment. I pass as mainstream: white male, veteran’s ballcap on so I’m good. I have said things like, Are you talking about me, too? Because what you said includes me. That doesn’t always work out well
Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? I have not encountered housing discrimination.
Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue? My LGBTQIA+ neighbors live in fear and isolation, single-unit cultural ghettos. I suspect (but don’t know) it’s like Warsaw before the pograms, waiting for a knock on the door. This is DT2020 country, and there’s a major gun culture out here.
What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? I need state, county, and local legislation (and follow-up prosecution) for discrimination based on sexual orientation, sexual clientele (bars), marriage orientation, and non-binary presentation (for instance, in sales positions). I need it to extend to public offerings of business (bakeries and farriers). I need it to be so comprehensive that in ten years, people won’t see non-binaries; they’ll just see people. And I really need training for the deputies, bailiffs, police, and state troopers.
At my age, old friends often tend to think you’re going through a midlife crisis or some other fugue state.
Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community.
I just want to say it’s hard and omnipresent. There’s few “third places” to relax. And as hard as it is for me, I think it must be much harder for a person of color, or a transgender person of color. I can sit down for a few minutes and the LGBTQ doesn’t always shine from me, but those black friends of mine can never get away from it.
Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? There’s stigma, whispers, rumors, and the terrible weight of going first. One church sign proclaimed, “Jesus loves homosexuals too much to leave them that way”. Drive by that a few times in a week and feel the constraints.
What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? There are none locally. There’s some in Pittsburgh and online. In Pgh, I’d say: Pgh Prime Timers, Burgh Bears, Bi-Pgh. Look them up on facebook. Locally: nothing I’ve been able to find.
What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? Trump 2020 or not, if the backwards-thinking tribalism persists I think we’re going to see retrenchment of civil rights all across the board – interracial marriage, gay marriage, bill of rights, forced religion in the name of religious freedom, who uses what toilet – it’s not all Trump, there’s millions of those believers out there. It’s too easy for uninformed, uneducated people to turn to simplistic solutions when presented with complex problems.
What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania? I don’t believe in hope. Hope is like religion – I think it’s a myth to convince people to submit to the mainstream now in exchange for future benefits – I think it’s waiting for your pie in the sky in the bye-and-bye – but my wish for the LGBTIA+ community is it works through groundbreaking and acceptance and into being a full, normal partner in the community, just the way the SteamFitters are and the teacher’s unions are. And I hope they bring the full rainbow with them, not just the gay men and lesbians.
What pieces of local or regional LGBTQ history would you like to preserve and why? There’s so much history. I’d like to see markers for Saks on Fourth, the women’s club Southside, and all those places. I’d like to see a historical marker placed at Fruit Loop on Prospect Drive, where David Piergalski was beat to death in 1989 by two 20-year olds who found entertainment in harassing queers.
What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community? In my opinion, the biggest single thing allies can do is wait for a moment of truth and then assert your alliance. Wait for the boss to refer to the colored girl. Wait for the bus rider to say, let’s sit down here past these faggots. Wait for the bartender to mock a group of dykes, what can I get you boys? And stand up and say – No, that’s not right. And if you can’t get it right, you get out or we’re all leaving. Or variations on those themes. It’s not courage on your behalf, it’s courage for their sakes.
How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? It’s a rainbow, it’s not just red and orange. Don’t pinkwash the bisexual. Dont treat the transexual as a misfit. Don’t treat the queer folks as puzzles to be identified, categorized, and dropped. See their pain and give them some conversation and support. And if you’re in a gay / lesbian organization (I’m looking at you, PRIDE) please ensure that everybody’s involved from the beginning. Don’t let the fringier members of the movement stay on the fringes. If it’s not good for all of us, it doesn’t stand for any of us.
What motivated you to take part in this project? I’ve always thought highly of Sue Kerr’s work.
Finally, what question(s) should I have asked? Please also share your answer.
There’s a few you might have asked. They may not be universal, so maybe they could be optional.
Optional Question One: What reading would you recommend for a blooming bi-sexual?
— Why I am Not A Christian, Bertrand Russel
— Bi Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, Shiri Eisner
— How to be Gay, David Halpern
— Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin
— Prisons we Choose to Live Inside, Doris Lessing
— Fashionably Late: Gay, Bi and Trans Men who came out later in life, Vinnie Kinsella
— The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon
— The Persian Boy, Mary Renault
— Maurice, by EM Foster
And on depression, which is off-topic but essential to me:
— The Noon-Day Demon, Andrew Solomon
— I don’t want to talk about it, Terence Real
— Lincoln’s Melancholy, by Joshue Wolf Shenk
Optional Question 2: How is your mental health, and are you being treated for it to your satisfaction?
I have major depression, major anxiety, PTSD, and hallucinations.
Also high blood pressure and diabetes. I take so many pills.
I kept it all wrapped tightly in my head for 50 years and now it’s all unraveling.
It’s not pretty or straightforward to watch.
Optional Question 3: Do you feel that your current situation is a result of trauma in earlier life? Would you tell us about that?
I was routinely beaten pretty seriously by my father.
I was raped many times by my parish priest over three years.
*If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or need support for mental health symptoms, here are some resources
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.4673
National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-4-A-Child
Thank you, Anonymouse.
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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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