Spaces: Fort Wayne Pride 2017

“it was empowering”

On July 22 I attended the Pride in Fort Wayne, Indiana representing TREES, Inc. I wore my uniform tee shirt with the name of the organization and rainbow everything else: including a headband, bracelets, necklaces, and a fanny pack. For extra effect, I fastened my “baby dyke” pin on my shirt just to make sure that my sexuality was clear.

I love Prides. I hope I’ve made that abundantly clear. And I especially loved this Pride because I was only hit on by ladies(!!!). It was amazing. For the first time, I felt totally free from the male gaze and so many societal gender and beauty expectations. It was incredible. For the first time, my abundance of rainbows at a Pride event (and possibly my new septum ring) actually stopped men from talking and flirting with me. I felt so affirmed and invincible.

That day, I put in a solid eight hours of set up, tabling, and take down. It was muggy and hot and miserable, but because I finally understood why it’s so important to be in spaces where your non-heteronormative identity is seen and respected, I was happier than I’d ever been. I felt officially visible and it was empowering. Even through the heat, I don’t think I ever stopped smiling.

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: Lexington Pride Festival 2017

“the queer community made a powerful statement about the overwhelming love we have”

When I traveled to Kentucky with my boss, I wasn’t sure that the south would be the most accepting place. I am happy to say that, as far as Lexington is concerned, I was very wrong. We had the booth set up for about twelve hours that day so I was on my feet for about ten and it happened to be our busiest day ever so I was able to interact with a lot of people.

At Lexington’s Pride Festival, I was able to witness something I had never seen before in real life: Christian extremists protesting. They had the classic “HOMO SEX IS SIN” sign, some other ones about how we were all going to hell, and even an anti-Islam sign (for good measure I guess? I don’t know how they think. It was not super pertinent to the day’s events other than they fact that they had intersectional hatred.) They gathered around the entrance and for at least seven hours in the blazing heat held these signs and said horrible, hateful things at the crowd through bullhorns.

What I also witnessed that day for the first time was how much love the LGBTQ+ community has. Our table was fairly near to these protestors so we overheard them all day. I was not super bothered by it after awhile (apparently after being told you’re going to hell repeatedly eventually the edge wears off) but some people, especially young kids, were. Throughout the day, people stood in front of the protestors and made noise to drown them out. From students for the rights of trans students with pride flag capes and signs of their own, drag queens, a big gay marching band, and large groups with noisemakers, there was constantly a group who refused to let the message of hate from the protestors be heard. It was comforting to know that we (specifically here I mean queer youth and others who were bothered by it) were so loved by this community that people would sacrifice their time and energy to make us feel safe. It was powerful stuff.

I know this might not be the best way to try to get protestors to leave, but it wasn’t necessarily about that. We knew they wouldn’t leave. Instead, the community took it upon themselves to make sure that everyone who was there knew that we had each other’s backs. It was beautiful. To be around such a tangible symbol of how much love we have and how dead-set we are on combating hate was amazing. While I wish there had not been protestors, I am glad that the day progressed the way it did. At LexPride, the queer community made a powerful statement about the overwhelming love we have and how we believe that can and should be first and foremost in combating this type of hatred. Not necessarily fighting back or retaliation, but love and support for the rest of us.

Stay proud.

Being an Ally to the Queer Community 101

On Wednesday I was blessed to help and watch Meghan (my boss) give a presentation on some basics of how to respect and communicate with transgender people. She spoke for about four hours on issues specific to transgender people. She touched on the importance of being an ally and thus inspired me to write this little guide on the parts of allyship which I think should be more emphasized.

 

  • Remember that your number one job as an ally is to offer support for the LGBTQ+ community.

As an ally, you have to remember that your voice is only as important as it amplifies the voices of those who you are allied with. Constantly educate yourself on issues important to this community. Don’t depend on queer people to educate you, but always listen to the voices in this community because they know more about their experiences than you do.

  • Understand the impact of your vote and use it correctly.

This means voting for people who support the rights of queer people and sometimes queer politicians themselves. The LGBTQ+ community is a significant voting bloc, but we by no means make up enough of the population to elect the officials and vote for the issues we need by ourselves. As an ally, you have to support us both in word and action.

  • Understand your place.

Allyship does not align you with the struggles or discrimination we face. Don’t make this about you. Know that we appreciate the support, but also know that you’re here to offer that support by listening to us, advocating for us, voting in ways to help us, and so forth. Being an ally is an important part of being a good person and doing good for your fellow man. Don’t expect a gold star for doing your duty.

  • Accept that you will make mistakes.

Sometimes you’ll flub up pronouns or say the wrong thing. Don’t freak out about it. Apologize, correct it, thank someone if they corrected you, and move on. Don’t argue with a queer person about whether or not you meant to make a mistake, and don’t make this about you by over-apologizing and giving a million reasons as to why you would never mess up on purpose ever (“I have a gay friend!” “I love Modern Family!” “I voted for Hillary!”) That’s all super cool, but again, this isn’t about you. Apologize, understand that you may have offended someone deeply and they may need time or space to deal with it, and then continue with your life and try not to make the mistake again.

  • Support us when we can’t speak up for ourselves.

Here’s where being an ally really is tested. Much like voting for our interests, you have to remember that queer people are people too at all times. This means not making insensitive jokes, not laughing about them, and even correcting your friends if they make them. This is saying “Hey Tom, it’s not cool how you use (insert offensive term here) as an insult” even when no one who is queer is around. This is not watching shows or films which use homophobic, transphobic, or biphobic schticks to be funny or edgy. This one is difficult, but it is also of one of the most important, as change must happen in communities dominated by non-queer persons for equality to truly be reached.

  • Learn the importance of intersectionality.

I am a white gay woman and as such I only understand my struggles. I cannot speak on the journey of queer POC, transpersons, bisexuals, etc. I do consider myself an ally of and the family of people in these communities! Good allyship necessitates the understanding that the LGBTQ+ community is diverse and that just considering yourself an ally of queer persons neglects this diversity. You should consider yourself an ally of all persons less privileged and differently privileged than yourself.

 

Stay out and proud and loud y’all. Good luck navigating allyship. You can do it!

Spaces: Lansing Pride

“I’m just me”

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Yesterday I spent about eight hours under a tent in Lansing, Michigan doing everything from folding brochures, instagramming, and talking to people for TREES, Inc. The life of an intern is pretty great.

Recently, a person came out to me privately via social media. They explained the difficulties they faced in potentially coming out and asked what it was like for me. I read their message and cried. For someone to come to me in confidence and trust me simply because I was out and proud for a month was so moving. I responded by telling my abridged coming out story and giving them a little advice on how to stay safe in homophobic areas. I am not an expert though, I’m just me.

At Pride this weekend, I found myself constantly connecting with queer youths as well. We shared stories and favorite things–Tegan and Sara, Laverne Cox, Tumblr, etc.–and I found myself constantly being asked for advice. I repeated all that I know, which is come out as soon as it’s safe, be proud, and it eventually gets better because middle school and high school will end and one day you’ll wake up and realize that you and everyone you have surrounded yourself with loves who you are.

We aren’t that far removed from when Ellen coming out publicly was a big deal. Queer people are still constantly subjected to violence because of who they are. Pride month is a relatively new thing. The idea of being proud to be queer is a new thing! Using the term queer as a positive, reclaimed term is a new thing!!! The world is a difficult place to learn to maneuver, and this is even more true if you’re queer. We have so few role models that seeing someone online who wears rainbows, comes out, or be openly queer is big deal.

I am so thankful that queer kids are able to grow up and see and read of queer characters and follow actual queer people online. Hopefully this teaches them that who they are is okay and creates a more inclusive and safer society for them to grow up in. (Obviously, we have a long way to go before equality and we always need more representation, but I am so hopeful and optimistic and proud of the ground we’ve covered.) I am so thankful that in my being out, I can be a lighthouse to safety for others like me. I am honored that other queer people feel comfortable around me.

As always: stay out, stay proud, and stay loud. Happy Pride Month y’all.

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.