0104: Question Everything


Content warning: The following stories contains references to a person experiencing gender dysphoria, which may be triggering to some readers.

"Question Everything," Shay

About a year ago now, I started questioning my gender. Around the same time, I cut off all my hair. I’m not sure which came first-- for me the two things kind of went together. Like many women, I worried about the extreme change to my hair because what if I regretted it? It would take so long to grow back. But I never have. If anything, I wish I’d done it much sooner. Getting rid of my hair was like shedding the part of my identity that didn’t belong to me. 

I started identifying as demigirl, but now my gender is just queer. I don’t like the term “nonbinary” to describe myself (although I will use it in certain contexts) because I feel that the term itself reinforces the idea that there IS a binary. Although I’m not a woman, my gender is strongly tied to my feminism. I can relate to the experiences of oppression that women have, but I can’t identify with femininity as a positive feeling.

Looking back, I have always experienced gender dysphoria, but never recognized it for what it was. As a teenager, I would overcompensate (unconsciously) with very feminine gender expression, which included hypersexual behavior. This is because of the ways women are sexualized in our society, in media and advertising. When I started identifying as trans/gender non conforming, I no longer felt comfortable in women’s-only spaces. However, I have embraced my connection with the queer community, and I wouldn’t have gotten through the last year without it.

It’s hard to be like this. Some days I wish I was cis, or at least binary trans. How do you explain nonbinary to people who insist there are only two genders, or they/them pronouns to people who insist they’re grammatically incorrect? Which bathroom do you use? What do you wear? No matter what I wear, people won’t see me for who I ameven though when I look in the mirror, I don’t see someone who looks at all feminine.

I’m not publicly out at school yet, and as a consequence I’m unintentionally misgendered all day, every day with the wrong pronouns, the wrong name. I’m scared to come out because after that, it won’t be unintentional anymore. Then I’ll know how few people are really on my side. 

I also wouldn’t have gotten through the last year without my partner, a cis man who is supportive and affirming. He uses my real name and pronouns. A few of my friends do too. Hearing someone use my pronouns, it feels like I’m taking a deep breath for the first time in forever. I filed my name change paperwork a few weeks ago.

My chosen name is a nickname I’ve had since high school, a shortened version of my birth name, so a lot of people call me that already, but not everyone. Hearing my birth name or she/her pronouns to address me is like getting punched in the gut. How many times can you get punched in the stomach and survive?


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About the art:

In recent months, Shay has become one of my favorite people. They are brilliant, stoic, and incredibly thoughtful with regard to how they navigate spaces and the world.

In knowing Shay, I know that one of my most favorite aspects of them is their bright and colorful tattoos. As well as their colorful hair. So I wanted to create a piece that was bright and colorful to match these traits.

I didn't want to fill up the background of this piece with too much color. Normally I gloss the entire canvas over with a layer of color, but I wanted these three colors to POP, so to speak. And I think I achieved that pretty. It stands out pretty vibrantly on a wall and/or in a room.

The quote is pretty dynamic and comes from  the penultimate paragraph of Shay's story. Right when they're talking about the importance of when someone gets their pronouns and/or name correct. That relief is something that comes through so much in this piece and I just wanted to echo that emotion in this painting.

I'm thankful that Shay had the courage to put words to their experience and I hope it inspires more people to do the same.

- 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.


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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.


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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