Spaces: Being Queer in Nonqueer Spaces

“I’m not used to seeing queer people in spaces that aren’t specifically for us”

A few nights ago, at dinner, I was sitting with my friend’s mother at the bar of a restaurant waiting for our table to be ready. (This was a popular establishment and we had been given an hour wait time.) At some point as we chatted, the man seated next to me asked us if we would like his leftover chips and queso. Gesturing to himself and the person next to him, he said “we” didn’t double dip or do anything weird to it. I was hungry and I am a trustworthy person so I said yes and thanked him.

He laughed and told me not to worry about him hitting on me or anything because he was gay. He leaned back and introduced me to his partner. I laughed and said I was gay too. We wished each other a happy belated Pride month and swapped a few stories. It was great.

I’m not used to seeing queer people in spaces that aren’t specifically for us. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing others at Prides because basically everyone is queer, but I still become giddy when I see two girls holding hands while walking on the quad at Notre Dame, a same-sex couple buying groceries, or even just when I see pride flags displayed. I am constantly (and pleasantly) surprised to see the normalization of the LGBTQ+ community. This visibility is a clear sign of our acceptance. It also causes us to be more accepted because the world becomes more used to it as a normalcy instead of a quirk. (#RepresentationIsImportant)

Yesterday, I spent about six hours at the South Bend farmer’s market tabling for TREES, Inc. Unlike the Prides I have worked before, it was not a specifically queer event. I didn’t just talk to young kids wearing pride flags like capes and their parents and others who were in and loved my community. I talked to older millenials on health kicks, baby boomers from agricultural backgrounds, families with little babies, etc. No one was outwardly presenting in a million rainbows, but everyone was accepting. People thanked us for the work we do and donated to the organization. It was incredible. I wore a button that said “Pretty, Gay, and Pretty gay” and it was the first time I was in a nonqueer space that I felt totally safe in. Granted, South Bend is pretty liberal (we have a gay mayor!) but this was still huge for me.

I’m not saying that these experiences have changed the world for me, but it is really inspiring to see that you can be safe while being out. Of course, I am a white, straight-passing lesbian and I can only speak to that experience, but hopefully in my being out and outspoken, I can help normalize queerness and make the world a safer place for others.

I’ve learned a lot about being queer in the two and a half months since I’ve been out. I’ve gone on dates, started a blog, and worn more rainbows in a month than most people wear in their lives. I’ve learned that coming out and being out is liberating but can also be exhausting. I’ve struggled with unlearning internalized homophobia. I’m making a lot of headway, but I’m still learning that at the end of the day, we shouldn’t be forced to confine our queerness to Prides.

Spaces: Des Moines Pride ’17

“we refuse to sacrifice any amount of our queerness in order to gain acceptance”

This weekend I’m at the Pride in Des Moines, Iowa. Today it was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit and humid. In addition, the Comey trial, the terrible events in Chechnya, and the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting are at the forefront of the minds of everyone here. It is difficult but necessary to be proud for multiple reasons.

First, the heat in itself presents quite a few logistical challenges. Many people overcome this by foregoing a shirt in favor of a bra, pasties, or nothing. (During my eight hours, I started in a shirt and ended in a sports bra, sorry mom.) The nature of Pride events is an incredibly nonjudgemental atmosphere, thus all sorts of outfits are seen, including kink outfits. Trust me, people in the LGBTQ+ community spend enough of our time being ostracized that we generally try to avoid excluding or judging others. Still, no matter how oppressive the heat became, people still came out to celebrate their pride. (A metaphor, if you will.)

As far as modern politics are concerned, I’ll only delve far enough into the Comey trial to say that while I definitely think Trump is unfit to be the POTUS and has broken several laws, the prospect of a Pence presidency is equally terrifying. We’re in some sick catch-22 of awful president options and we just need Major Major Major Major to launch us into a war (not really, please don’t let anyone start a war, I’m anti-war). Really though, either we have a criminal man-child who is grossly unqualified and hell-bent on erasing Obama’s legacy of progress or some sort of Bond super villain with a special hatred for women and the LGBTQ+ community. Either way, absolutely no one wins. Sure, the quotes from the trial are hilarious, but we’re all laughing uncomfortably and in fear for our lives.

These combined with the horrors happening in Chechnya (gay men being hunted and slaughtered) and the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando (in which a gay bar was targeted in a terrorist attack) put a pretty somber mood on Pride month. Plus, Kenne McFadden, a trans person of color, was just murdered, adding to the more than ten this year. The country and world are still not great places for queer people on the whole. To be honest, they’re pretty terrible. We face higher rates of violence and murder than straight people, especially from governments, we’re constantly discriminated against, and yet we will still continue to be visible.

In a sense, that’s what Pride Month is about. We understand and recognize that the world is a more difficult place to live in if you’re queer. We remember those who were martyred for being out and fighting for rights (in case you’re wondering, June is Pride Month because the riots at Stonewall by drag queens against police brutality occurred in June 1969). We celebrate our identity, our past, and we declare in our visibility and our existence that we are going nowhere and we cannot be scared into silence. In times of strife, this visibility and openness becomes necessary to our survival, as we cannot live in fear or silence.

I’ve already discussed to some extent why being proud is so important in today’s world, but it’s also important to fight against marginalization in all of its manifestations. This is why we wear pasties and rainbow tails and tight clothes normally thought of to be another gender’s. This is why drag queens have always been so important. This is why we gather in spaces in solidarity with each other. In the age of respectability politics, we refuse to sacrifice any amount of our queerness in order to gain acceptance. We will be loved and appreciated for who we are, and nothing less.

Spaces: KC Pridefest ’17

“everything that fights heteronormativity is proof of our resilience and resistance”

This summer, I am interning¬†with an organization called TREES, Inc., a nonprofit which travels around the country to do education about transgender issues in small town and rural communities (if you’d like to learn more, and you should, feel free to check it out here). With this, I’m traveling around the country to various Pride events and through that learning a lot about what it means to live as an out LGBTQ+ person.

This weekend, I started my internship by preparing for the Kansas City Pridefest. I spent a night folding pamphlets with the founder and CEO of TREES, Inc. Meghan Buell, a transwoman. Over the course of the weekend, I spent about twenty-two hours under a tent at the Pridefest with her describing the organization’s mission and pushing resources and buttons at the various people at the event. I saw and spoke to many people whose stories added to my knowledge of being queer in the world.

I have lived as an out and proud lesbian for about a month (May 1st is my Out Day) so I really haven’t had much experience in the world except for on campus at Notre Dame. Even then, my sexuality is typically assumed to be heterosexual and I generally stick around my accepting friends so I avoid harassment. I was also blessed with amazing¬†family members whom I did not hesitate to come out to because I knew I would be loved and safe. I knew I was incredibly lucky, but I had no idea to the extent in which I really was. This weekend, I met LGBTQ+ persons whose family had not talked to them in a decade or more because they came out, others who were still closeted out of fear, and others who have been fired, divorced, and abused because they were living openly. Yet, they all gathered at Pridefest because it was a safe space where everyone could love and be whomever without judgment. It was such a powerful feeling that I was moved to tears.

In a world where everything is political, even things like haircuts and hand holding and the sound of our voices become almost weaponized. Especially under the Trump administration, even within the safe space of Pridefest, everything that fights heteronormativity is proof of our resilience and resistance. Having the courage to be out is already amazing because of the hate in this country towards LGBTQ+ persons, and it continues to require more bravery because of the increasing number of hate crimes since the election of Trump. This weekend I found out for the first time how easy it is to exist in queer spaces, but I’ve yet to learn completely how to live in the rest of society. Seeing so many people who were unafraid in their identities gives me hope for myself in the future.