160: I am Out


IMG_7409.JPG

“I am Out,” Anonymous

The first time I remember someone questioning my sexuality, I was in early high school. Friends would swear that I was a lesbian because I never really had crushes, and boys that I did have crushes on (including the ones I dated) didn't appear very masculine. The first time I was asked, I was so confused, but I knew that having someone think of me that way upset my stomach. I didn't feel sick, but I was really confused. I'd had crushes on boys, and they knew that. Why would I be into girls? I was a girl. I was quick to deny them, but it didn't relieve that feeling in my stomach. If anything, it made my stomach hurt even more.

I had one boyfriend in middle school, and one in high school. I wasn't attracted to any of the other boys in my classes. That weird feeling in my stomach didn't go away, often coming back when I was in the locker room at my school. I found myself looking at the other girls as I helped them get the pesky locks on the bathroom locks open. It made me uncomfortable in my own, larger body, but I didn’t turn away out of that. If anything, I only turned away because I was afraid of getting caught. What would I say if these beautiful girls caught me looking at them? I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to find out.

I was always a kid who supported LGBTQIA+ people. My parents had views on it that I didn’t quite understand, but I always just saw them as loving differently than other people did. Who was I to judge that if it didn’t hurt me? Who was anyone else to judge that?

I got older, and I got more confused. I was in love with a boy who didn’t love me back, but I didn’t have a hard time seeing myself with a girl. What did that mean?

It was around this time that the Pulse shooting happened in Orlando. I’d inexplicably woken up in the middle of the night in my dad’s apartment, and got up to get some water. It was a one bedroom apartment, and my dad had transformed the living room into a half-bedroom, half-living room. He’d fallen asleep with the TV on, and I could see people being carried out for medical care, people crying watching this happen, the whole thing, in real time. I woke my dad up and we sat, watching the footage in the dark, and wondering how someone could be so hateful. It wasn’t until I was back in my bed, what felt like forever later, that I curled in on myself and cried.

It wasn’t until college that I realized that something was off, and I realized that I was attracted to girls. But I was attracted to boys, too. That was somehow more confusing than just liking one or the other. I struggled with the idea that I wasn’t straight because that’s what everyone expected of me. So I kept it to myself, internalized it and buried it in a deep part of me where no one would be able to find it.

My second year of college, I went to a shadow cast of Rocky Horror Picture Show with some friends for my birthday, and they did a burlesque number as part of the pre-show. I couldn’t look away from the girls dancing, and that familiar feeling returned to my stomach. I leaned close to one of the girls, who identifies as pansexual, and whispered, “And I was questioning my sexuality before I got here.” She laughed, reasonably thinking that I was kidding. But I wasn’t. That night, when the MC went through their line about getting offended at the show, “If you’re gay, we’ve probably already offended you. If you’re straight, we’ll offend you shortly. If you’re bisexual, you’re just plain greedy,” that feeling was back in my stomach. And it didn’t go away. But I sat through and enjoyed the show.

The next morning, I texted her and told her that I wasn’t kidding. “I think I’m bisexual,” I said.
But I knew.

I came out to my mom and a lot of my friends that same day. I made the mistake of telling my mom while she was driving, and she automatically braked in the middle of the neighborhood, asking me to repeat myself. I didn’t cry, but she did. I only cried telling one of my best friends, who immediately accepted it.

The only person I wanted to tell but didn’t was my dad. He was the old-fashioned parent, the one who still insulted people by calling them faggots and dykes, who taught my brother not to cry because if he did he would become a faggot.

That was almost a year and a half ago now. My mom took a few weeks to come around, but she did, and she’s doing her best. I’m so passionate about the LGBTQ+ that I started doing my honors thesis on coming out stories in young adult literature. My dad was a little confused when I told him about it over the phone, seemingly a little off-put, but I had the feeling that he didn’t suspect anything. So I left it at that.

A few weeks ago, my dad came by to tell my brother and I some news that he’d been keeping from us, and I knew deep down that I had to tell him. That feeling was back in my stomach, and I knew that if I didn’t tell him then, then I never would.

So I did. In the back seat of my dad’s car in front of my dad’s house, I came out. I cried so hard I could barely speak at times, but I explained that I’m attracted to both boys and girls. “I’m bisexual,” I said. “I’ve wanted to tell you for more than a year now, but I didn’t want you to hate me.”

It was the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and even thinking about that moment is enough to make me cry. My dad was quiet for a bit before he said, “I bet you’re relieved that you told me,” and went on to say that this is who I am, that he couldn’t ever try to change that part of me. That made me cry even harder. I’d come out to everyone I’d wanted to come out to, and I’d kept both of my parents.

So here I am, saying it again, I am bisexual, and I am proud. I am bisexual, and I am not greedy. My capacity of love just spreads further than it does for most, and that could never be something greedy. I am bisexual, I am out, and I am proud.

Tattoosday 023: Equal


Content warning: The following story contains references to a person's coming out story, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Equal," Matt Carpenter

Sunday April 8, 2012. Denton, Texas.

I was about one month away from graduating from the University of Oklahoma with my Master’s degree. I traveled down to Texas because my parents had driven up from San Antonio to visit my brother while he went to school at the University of North Texas. I had just finished my comprehensive exams, and it was a good weekend to see the whole family before graduation weekend.

Two months prior to this, I came out to my fraternity brother, the first person to whom I ever said the words “I’m gay.” I had chickened out two weekends in a row prior to this, and it was distracting me at work, in classes, in every facet of my life. He was my roommate at the time, and it was one of the most terrifying and wonderful experiences of my life. He already knew, because my internet history and data management skills on a computer were less than stellar back in the day, but he never pushed me and possessed the grace that a true friend should have and let me get to coming out at my own time. I’ve since been his best man at his wedding, and he will be mine, but back to the story….

One month earlier, I spent one weekend of my Spring Break to drive down to Denton and come out to my brother. Like every other person I had come out to, the themes were the same. “I have something important to tell you; it’s been eating me up inside; I just really want to be truthful with you.” That weekend was one of the best weekends I ever had with my brother, because I finally felt I could be myself with him. We went out, I probably had a drink or two too many, and I probably told him things he never needed to know about me. And that was a freeing experience as well. 

But this Sunday was special. This was the only time I knew my family was going to be together prior to my graduation, and I knew I didn’t want to drop this on them during graduation. So this weekend would have to do. 

Did I forget to mention… this was Easter Sunday?

If there ever was an odd coming out story, it would be a family dressed in their Sunday best, after Easter Mass, having lunch at a Fuddrucker’s Hamburgers, with a very large (6’3”, 270 lbs.) man crying and barely muttering out words. Not my prettiest moment. But that day was the start of a new portion of my life.

I felt like I could be honest with my mother and father and not lie about who I was or was not dating. I could be honest to all my friends on a level that I had never done before, but that they all had done to me. I was able to actually share my personal life with others. 

Over the past five years since coming out, I have been lucky enough to find someone who is odd enough to say yes to spend the rest of his life with me. And while most would say, “Oh great, you got your storybook ending,” the coming out process has not ended.

I come out when I have to correct our vet when I take the dogs in for an exam because the bill is in my fiancé’s name. It happens when I get asked how close in age we are apart because we look remarkably similar for brothers. It happens every time people see my fiancé’s full name and use female pronouns. I never take it as an affront, but it’s just a reminder that a part of my identity can be easily ignored if I don’t have Mack right next to me with our engagement rings on.

In summer 2013, I walked in to Main Street Tattoos in Norman, OK to get my first tattoo. It was probably an impulse decision to get one, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I got an equal sign, the symbol of the Human Rights Campaign. My identity as a gay man was very important to me, and I wanted to put it out there for all to see. Unbeknownst to me, a week before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, it ended up being exactly one week before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. I have jokingly referred to it as my “gay barcode” for the government to track me, and one told a bunch of sixth graders that I got it because I “really like math.” But it means so much more to me as time passes.

My equal sign is my visible representation of my identity. While I cover it up at work due to its placement on my left calf, it’s visible most of the time. I don’t always think about it, but it’s always there. And that’s something that can’t be erased. 


About Tattoosday:

Tattoosday is way to demonstrate the storytelling quality of tattoos as well as the healing quality of tattoos.

If you would like to share the stories behind your ink, send us a picture of a tattoo or tattoos that have a significant story tied to your survival in life. Then write at least 400 words (you can write as many as you'd like) about the tattoo, it's meaning, and what it means to you today.

These stories will all run on Tuesdays!
One per week! So you have plenty of time to submit them to us!

The caveat with TATTOOSDAY is that we will not be making you a free piece of art, instead, your ink IS the art we will share with the story—which makes the most sense. BUT we will send you some stickers for sharing your story with us!

CLICK HERE to share your Tattoo story!

0107: The Deconstruction of Transness


Content warning: The following story references someone coming out as Transgender, and explains their experience as a Trans individual, some elements of the story may be triggering to some readers.

"The Deconstruction of Transness," Jesseanne Pope

Maybe my words will never come together in a way that accurately conveys the thoughts swirling in my mind and the emotions weighing on my heart, but maybe one day they will. I keep writing because sometimes I don’t know where I am at until I see it on paper. Part of being a queer person in an educational role is always being shoved into the token spotlight; always being expected to speak on The Queer Experience™.

There are a few things that play into the development of this situation.

I am a ‘safe queer’ in many aspects: I am white, I am young, I don’t visibly look ‘too radical’, I am assumed to be American and English speaking, I am able bodied, and I am extroverted and well spoken (also a product of my white privilege). The privileges that I hold in my other identities allow me to be a safe trans person for both well-intended and mal-intended curious folks to direct their questions to. So I write to help prepare myself for the questions, although they are never-ending and ever-adapting. 

When/how did I know I was trans?
How did I decide to ‘change’ my pronouns?
How did I realize I wasn’t trans-binary?
Do I hate my body?
Why haven’t I had top surgery?
Am I on T? Why/Why not?
How can I be non-binary if I present masculine?
Was I born a girl?
How do I tell the people I’m interested in what’s in my pants?
How does it feel to be ‘born in the wrong body’?

I’ll go ahead an invite you to check back into my dissertation a decade or so from now, because that’s the only place where I might be able to tackle the mess that is the questions above. For now, I wanted to share a glimpse of my story, and you can take from it whatever you need, as a trans person, as an ally, as a friend, as whoever you are. 

The story from birth to now would include many different pieces to the puzzle that is my transness; however, that’s something I would share 1:1, maybe over coffee? For now, I want to start here. When I came out as trans non-binary I took the anxiety that I had harbored in a deep, dark place in my body and faced it head on. I felt immense pressure from those around me, both members of the queer community and people outside of it, to validate my transness. My social transition started with cutting my hair off, then changing my gender expression to be more masculine, then using gender-neutral pronouns, and then tackling my 24 years of socialization as a woman. 

As a trans masculine person I was socialized for 24 years to think, live, be, act, do, talk, walk, and breathe womanhood. Coming out as trans meant that I could finally be authentically myself, and begin to deconstruct the harmful messaging that I had received that had pushed me into a box where I felt isolated, confused, and as though I did not belong. 

I bind my chest whenever possible. I wear men's clothing, and get my hair cut at the barbers. I use gender-neutral language, but enjoy masculine centered language more than feminine. I am self-conscious about the tone and pitch of my voice. Each and every day my body, my voice, my name, my hair; it is all intertwined pain of misgendering, of gender suppression; of denial, self-hate, and loneliness. My efforts to present authentically are also efforts to find a home in my body. To have others see me as I truly am.

For many trans people, surgery and hormones offer a way to do just that. So why am I at a point where that is not what I want? I don’t know. Deconstructing 24 years of transphobia, bedded with homophobia, misogyny, and endless socialized and internalized oppression makes it difficult to address my body as a trans person. I was taught that my worth as a woman lies in my body; that it lies in the ability of my body to fit an extremely oppressive and unrealistic standard of attractiveness to men. So what does it mean for me to change my body in a way that removes the sole place where I have positioned my worth for 24 years? Detaching myself from misogyny means that I have to tear apart the idealized version of womanhood that I was told is where I should strive to be. How do I build self-worth, self-love, or self-acceptance in a body that has repeatedly been valued and rewarded for it’s complacent femininity? 

I don’t have the answers, and I’m sorry to leave you with questions. As I continue to evaluate my soul and redirect energy within my mind and body I hope that I will come to a place where I feel home and where my authentic self can truly exist. However, that may be a lifelong journey for me. Coming out as trans has created a space in my life for me to express myself and share my experience, but socialization runs deep; it is embedded in everything that we do. Being trans means that I fumble through dysphoria every day, some days it’s okay and some it’s worse than others. Sometimes I can find solace in the chair at the barbers, or with a bow-tie. And then sometimes I feel the weight of people’s assumptions about my gender so heavily.

When people look at me and see my chest, or hear my voice, or learn my name and push me back into years of hiding, I feel as if I will never be able to speak again. My spirit is lost in the translation, between misgendering, transphobia, misogyny, ignorance, and exclusion. In these moments I take a deep breath, I center myself, and I validate myself as a trans person, as a masculine person, as a non-binary person, as a queer person whose existence in my world is radical. The way I fit in my body may change, my body may change; I will change.

The one thing that won’t change is my validity as a trans person, because our worth and our existence is not dependent on our bodies fitting into a pre-determined set of expectations. I am real and I am trans, and each day that I live and breathe my existence is disruptive, and that is a wonderful feeling. 


jesseanne.jpg

About the art:

I first met Jesseanne a little over a year ago at Oregon State. We had been in touch for a while before that, and I even helped them along their grad school application process. So I've been able to watch their transition, if even by afar, for some time now.

What I have loved about experiencing Jesseanne's transition and evolution, is that they've have been perfectly unapologetic and open every step of the way. It's been wonderful to witness how they advocate for themselves and the others in their community. It's truly inspiring.

So for this piece, I wanted to take a powerful moment in this story - all of the questions they ask toward the beginning - and write them all out on the canvas. I find that while these questions are pertinent to Jesseanne's experience, they are also reminders of the work they still have to do in their transition, which is completely normal.

I painted the Transgender flag over the questions as an homage to their identity in hopes it will be a positive source of inspiration for them moving forward.

I'm so thankful that Jesseanne shared this piece with us and I cannot wait to see what happens with them next.

-Craig.

 

068: I (fucking) Love Who I am


Content warning: The following story contains a story in which a survivor discusses coming out in multiple queer identities, the post also contains some homophobic language.

“I (fucking) Love Who I am,” Katy Hamm

 

Have you ever found yourself surrounded by a group of people, and thinking, “what do I have in common here?”

--

Flashback

I grew up in a small farm town in Wisconsin.

I’m sure you have a general idea of where this is going already, but hear me out. 

I remember a friend of mine in high school being harassed for being gay. He wasn’t out at the time, and I wasn’t really sure what “gay” was, but it sounded bad. I remember yelling at two guys who were calling him slurs with the response, “shut up, he’s not gay.”

He was. He is. He just wasn’t out. No one was. You weren’t queer in my hometown. It wasn’t an option. 

--

Fast-forward to college

I had struggled through my first year - overwhelmed by depression and anxiety, depending on an unhealthy relationship, and losing my best friend Emily to a drunk driver. Emily was one of the most wonderful, and accepting human beings I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. She was one of the few people I knew who was constantly excited to learn about differences in people, and I'm so lucky she taught me that skill before college. 

I was the first in my family to graduate from college. During my five years there, so many things blew my mind, especially in terms of learning about and respecting the experiences and identities of others.

I made so many different types of friends through student organizations, living on campus, in classes, etc. I hadn’t thought much of it as it was happening, but I suddenly found myself surrounded with a group of wonderful human beings who pretty much all had one thing in common. They identified within the queer spectrum.

I remember attending our school’s Rainbow Alliance for H.O.P.E. (Helping Others Perceive Equality) meetings. This club was basically the Gay-Straight Alliance type organization, and I was there to support my friends. I learned SO MUCH through those meetings. I quickly became driven by queer issues and wanted to be the best ally I could possibly be. 

Once my college career was wrapping up, I decided on a career-path change to student affairs, and my next turn would be to graduate school. In my second year, I served as an intern for the university’s LGBT Resource Center.

This was the first time I met an asexual - and my heart sank when I heard her explain what it meant.


-----

WHAT.

WHAT?

WAIT.

WHAT???

You mean -- THAT was something I can be?!

Everyone was supposed to be sexual, right? That’s literally all I’ve ever known. All that has been surrounding me. All that has been portrayed in the media.

At the time, I was in a long term relationship. One where we consistently struggled with my lack of sexual desire.  He thought I wasn’t attracted to him anymore. That I didn’t want to be with him anymore.

I blamed myself, my depression medication, my busy schedule, my body - which would NEVER cooperate through sexual activity. I was broken. My brain didn’t work without my medication, and my body didn’t work with it. 

Sex was painful, but it had always been. Literally since the first time. But it was supposed to be, right? I was basically conditioned to think that this fear and anxiety surrounding sex was normal. It just never stopped like it seemed to for everyone else. 

I went back and forth with doctors to try and solve this problem. To get rid of the pain, and increase my interest. Tests came up with zero answers. I was doomed to live with being consistently convinced into sexual situations, each of them ending in intense pain.

Not having sex wasn’t an option. That was just something people in relationships did, right?

Right?


------

All this went on in my brain while she was describing asexuality. I came out of my ‘JD from Scrubs’ dream-like state, and walked away with a newfound sense of clarity about my life.

A couple weeks, or maybe months later - I was begrudgingly participating in an intimate encounter when I broke down crying. I was frustrated that I wasn’t interested. Frustrated that my body wasn’t cooperating with what I was supposed to be doing as an ‘adult’ in a relationship. 

That’s when it came out...“I think I’m asexual.”

I remember this moment so vividly. The first time I said it aloud.

Months went by with no changes. Eventually, he and I parted ways - I couldn’t give him what he wanted or needed from a relationship.

I felt doomed to be alone because of my lack of sexual desire. No one will ever want to be with me - and there is no way I will find someone else like me.

---

Flashback to early college

I finally felt comfortable in my skin after years of feeling ugly, inadequate, and uninteresting. I felt beautiful. I felt sexy. Can one feel sexy and not want to have sex? Nah. That’s not a thing. I found myself in sexual relationships because of course I did. That’s all there was, right? Anyone I was remotely interested in romantically always wanted things to go further, and I accepted the fact that I had to participate to be in a working relationship. To be wanted.

There isn’t anyone who is romantically interested in someone without sexual attraction. Sex is a part of a relationship. Sex is a part of a relationship. 

Sex is part of a relationship.

---

Flash-forward

Nothing in my behavior changed after I left my ex. Any time I found myself romantically attracted to someone, I assumed that had to lead to some form of intimacy. I didn’t allow myself to experience my world without that pressure.

Okay, don’t get me wrong. There have been times when I have enjoyed being intimate - but those times definitely do not increase my interest in repeating it -  and it definitely has no relation to my attraction to someone. And I can DEFINITELY be physically/aesthetically attracted to someone, which has made my brain a very confusing place to be.

---

Then I met my current partner. 

One night we were in deep conversation via Facetime (he was living on the east coast, while I was still in the Midwest), and he admitted to me that he had faced struggles with his desire for intimacy in the past.

I broke down crying. 

Finally, someone who understood. Finally, someone who I had a desire to be with who won’t constantly pressure me into doing something I don’t want to do. Finally. 

Finally.

---

Flash-forward to moving to Massachusetts to search for a job, moving to Boston to start a job, and finding my home at Lesley University.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been brought to (happy) tears by the beautiful, accepting, activists that I have the pleasure to call my students. So many artsy, queer, gender non-conforming, activist, weirdos that I wish had been in my life all along. So many people like me.

---

My college roommate: “I am more attracted to personalities than what body they are housed inside.”

A student in the LGBT Resource Center: “I just don’t want to have sex, and that’s fine.”

A Lesley student: “I use the pronouns ‘they/them’ because I don’t feel that I fit inside the gender-binary.”

My partner: “I love you for you.”

---

I’ve been terrified to finally come-out to the world, because I’m not sure how my family will react. In fact, I’m fairly convinced it will be negative - but for the past two years, I have embraced my identities openly at work, and in my personal relationships; and it has made me so much happier overall.

Have you ever found yourself surrounded by a group of people, and thinking, “what do I have in common here?”

I've been there. It may not be easy to find yourself, or how you fit in, but as one of my brilliant students has said, "Don't worry about how long it takes you to blossom. It will happen."

--

I’m asexual.
I’m panromantic.
I’m agender.

And I (fucking) love who I am.


katy%27s piece bw.jpg

About the art:

I read Katy's story several times and felt it out. I mostly do floral work but didn't think that vibe totally fit, and I liked the idea of that neutral-masculine look they often have, so voilá. Ink pen and marker.

The colors I chose are from the asexual, agender, and panromantic flags.

- Kelsey Chaplain (new artist)

067: What Took Me So Long?


Content warning: The following story chronicles a survivor's exploration through their coming out process of being an out-lesbian. 

“What Took Me So Long?” Amanda Myers

Where do you begin telling a story that has taken your entire life? A story that is impacted by small moments, minor events, long nights, and many, many hours of thought? That story isn’t an easy one to begin, or an easy one to tell. My story, specifically the part of my story that has to do with my sexuality, isn’t linear, or crystal clear. It is also a story that only a few people know. 

I came out as a lesbian a few years ago, as an adult in my late twenties. I said the words, “I’m gay” for the first time out loud, and then cried (more like sobbed). I cried for what it meant to be able to say it out loud, the relief at acknowledging myself, and for the anguish it caused me. I only told one person. Over the next several years, I told a handful of people. Truly a handful, only five people knew I was a lesbian for more than 3 years. 

I kept quiet because my coming out is destructive, and it is against my nature to be destructive. I am also not a quitter, and I am fiercely loyal. So to say that I am gay means that I am acknowledging myself, and I can be who I am, but at the high cost of quitting. Breaking loyalty. Being destructive. Because I have spent the past 15 years of my life with a man, 8 of which have been in marriage. A man who I still care about. A man who I have had a beautiful child with. But a man I can’t be with and be myself at the same time. I sure hope it gets better, as the phrase goes, but this has been an incredibly difficult path with very high costs. 

So what took me so long? When did I know? Have I always known?

These are questions I have been asked as I have come out to more people in the past six months. I don’t really have answers. I know that I was able to ignore what I thought and felt for a long time because I was in a committed relationship, then married. I have had to deal with a lot of other issues, including the loss of my sister, which I’ll write about for August’s theme for the Art of Survival, and I think I had a lot going on for a long time. I know that there were signs and experiences I didn’t pay attention to. I know that the idea of attraction, love, and sexuality is complicated and difficult stuff. 

One thing I do know. I remember going to a gay bar for the first time when I was 22 years old. It was a Hamburger Mary’s and besides the pretty tasty food, I loved the drag show. I loved being around the LGBTQ+ community. I remember thinking that it felt like home. Like I could be myself, and I was around people that I wanted to be around. I didn’t realize for a lot of years the weight of that thought. But it is one of the things that sits most solidly in my brain when I reflect back. 

A few months ago, I started the process of changing my life to live more authentically. I told my husband. I started telling a lot of people, including my parents, whom I was terrified to come out to. I am still engaged in the difficult and heart wrenching work of ending my marriage and my partnership with my husband while at the same time trying to figure out what life will be like as an out lesbian.

I don’t know. I haven’t been in a relationship with a woman. Hell, I haven’t dated since I was 15 years old. I’m terrified. I’m tired. I’m scared. And I’m ready. Well, maybe not so ready, but I’m living my story. A story that needs to be shared.


Amanda.jpg

About the art:

The inspiration for this piece came from the relief that Amanda described from when she first came out.  The black, grey, and white dots represent the life that she's leaving behind and the color splash represents her lesbian identity and future as she discovers what life will be like as an out lesbian.

Her future is full of possibilities and new experiences as well as the peace that comes from being true to yourself.  I picked this quote for Amanda because by being authentic to herself and to the rest of the world, she is able to shine a light to the world that she had been hiding before.  I'm so glad Amanda felt compelled to share her story and I hope it inspires others.

- Emily Silkman