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!

0109: On Wearing Black


Content warning: The following story contains references to gender and sexual fluidity, expressions, and performance, which may be triggering for some readers.


"On Wearing Black," Angie Tissi-Gassoway

I wear mostly black—I always have. Black is the only color I find comfort in. My choice to wear black is not about fashion or style. I mean, at this point it rarely feels like I have a choice anymore. Wearing black is about my existence and survival. At night, once my head hits the pillow I am typically so exhausted that I literally pass out. Despite the exhaustion, throughout the night I have trouble sleeping—I wake up, toss and turn, and go through the rolodex that is my brain full of all the things I constantly worry about. In the morning it all starts over again—my own version of gender dysphoria that disrupts my every move.

I have tried to love this body I live in. I have tried to change this body I live in. I have tried to embody and embrace both the feminine and masculine parts of my body and soul. I have tried many things, but it never seems to be enough. I stand at my closet door every morning with the hopes that the anxiety attack will not begin. I stare into the black hole—making the choice about what black piece of clothing I will wear today.

Is it too feminine? Is it too masculine?
Will I confuse people?
Will people make statements or pass judgment?
Will I blend in because I always wear black?

I ask myself these questions every morning.

The internalized oppression I experience around gender, gender expression, and performance is debilitating and for the most part, unwavering. As a queer, white, androgynous, genderfluid person I often feel invisible and painfully visible all at the same time. My gender identity and understanding of my gender expression have shifted over time Even now—naming my gender in such a definitive way—I have never done.

I have only lived in a world in which my gender has been policed. Often it is policed by those that I least expect, serving as a reminder that I must uphold the expectations placed upon my assumed gender. This complicates everything. I never know what feels right anymore, because I am so jaded by the messaging of what it means to live in this body—what it means to express gender in this body. Is it possible to break free? Will I ever truly understand my relationship with gender, especially if it is always informed by others? The process by which I have explored my gender identity has been intensely private and personal. I have been validated and invalidated. I have found comfort in my neutrality around gender. I have found comfort in hiding—hiding behind and within the black clothes that I wear everyday.

As a professional who has spent years studying, unlearning, unpacking, and redefining gender and sexuality I often find it hard to believe my own words. I work with college students everyday, reminding them of their beauty, strength, and resilience. I work to celebrate, embrace and affirm the fluidity of gender and sexuality. I work and I work, yet, I find it so difficult to apply my teachings to my own life. These are teachings that I deeply believe in—I am rooted in their ability to transform one’s life. However, the fear of naming my gender and peeling back the layers to expose my truth feels unhinged and too vulnerable.

For now, I will continue to be resilient. I will continue to explore my gender and learn to live unapologetically as my true and authentic self. I will take one day at a time and trust that I know this body more than anyone else. I will wear mostly black—I always have. Black is the only color I find comfort in. My choice to wear black is not about fashion or style. I mean, at this point it rarely feels like I have a choice anymore. Wearing black is about my existence and survival.


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About the art:

Angie expressed a love for the macabre, especially bones and all things skeletal. Relating to their story, we thought a full skeleton would be wonderfully representative of the body.

Flowers for me have always symbolized growth, so I wanted some of Angie's favorites to come blooming out from between the ribs. Despite the florals, black and white seemed important in keeping the theme.

- Hannah

069: I’m Gay—or, Something


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

"I’m Gay—or, Something," Nevan Doyle

“So… pretty much, I don’t know. This is crazy and weird and new and all sorts of things but I guess I’m gay.”

I had never considered that I would ever utter a sentence like that. I was never against the idea, nor did I have any fears of rejection. It was simply a matter that, to my knowledge, I was straight from birth. Being gay wasn’t an option for me. It wasn’t like I grew up in a heavily devout Mormon family. I grew up in a family that embraced and accepted all folk. My parents are both hippy AF. Yet, the fact that I could ever be outside of the assumed norm went against everything I strived for growing up.

I’m sure I’m no different from most, but as far back as I could remember I just wanted to fit in with my peers. In second grade, my friend instilled the idea of fashion within me and from that moment on I became incredibly self-conscious of everything. I was a typical PNW child -- I’d been raised on granola and patched up jeans, not any of those trendy new clothes from department stores.

On the first day of third grade, one of my classmates commented on my jeans.

“Nice capris,” she laughed mockingly. I was devastated. Not knowing what on earth capris even were, I assumed she was jesting at my Tevas. I never wore those shoes to school again. I never wore that pair again period.

In fourth grade I began rolling my socks back to give the appearance that I was wearing those hip no-show ankle socks. In PE we had fitness testing and I was filled with anxiety when I realized we had to take our shoes off for the sit and reach test. ALL OF MY CLASS WOULD KNOW. I was living a lie. I think I almost threw up out of anxiety as I graciously let every single one of my peers go ahead of me in line for the blasted test. I couldn’t let them see that I was STILL wearing nerdy long white socks and that any indication to the contrary was false. I could write novels of all the stupid shit I did to try and fit in.

Girls were never an issue until middle school. Everyone else was reaching those hormonal levels where sexual desire is pumped into the bloodstream like heroin (probably, idk). I never felt that. 

I’d always thought some of the girls in my grade were incredibly beautiful, but that never came along with any desire to DO anything. I would catch myself looking at their faces during class or in the hallways at lunch. Like anything beautiful in this world, it’s hard not to look. One doesn’t just look away in the final moments of a sunset over the ocean. In my state of absolute conformity, this just solidified to me that I was straight. I liked looking at girls, right? Must be straight then. It’s pretty easy math.

I continued this delusion throughout high school as well. Whenever the topic of women’s bodies came up, I’d get quiet and red cheeked. I was working under the assumption that well, you know, I just needed to have sex to really GET it. Like it probably wouldn’t be super fun to reach that point with someone, but after I’d totally be able to join in the Boobs v Ass discussions of adolescent boys.

I had one serious relationship in high school. Ultimately she was someone who laughed at my jokes, and I really enjoyed spending time with. I confused it for more, and led myself on the path to breaking her heart. The insane pressure of being a senior high school and never having kissed a girl was too much and I had to act.

My mom had always called me shy growing up, but it was more than that. The effort it took to have a conversation outside of my group of people was hardly worth it. In moments of silence, I would brainstorm questions to ask to avoid the crushing awkwardness of the death of a conversation. I would force myself to count down from ten. I’d bargain with myself: If I ask this person this question within the next 20 seconds, then I can eat some ice cream or something tonight. Of course, it would never work. That silence was my ultimate fear, but my inability to act only made it my reality.

I thought of my crippling social anxiety and labeled myself as an introvert. That was probably one of the most dangerous things I could have done. It became an excuse to avoid asking myself the questions I needed to. It was an escape from confronting what I wanted and needed from life. In the week leading up to and after the break up, I allowed myself to become incredibly isolated and depressed.

Breaking up with her is still one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Looking into her eyes when she asked why and not having an answer broke me. I had no list of reasons to give her and ultimately felt like I’d failed the trust and respect of a fellow human being. I assumed I was doomed to a relationship-less life--that physical intimacy wasn’t for me. I figured I would forever find solace and strength in isolation. I didn’t know the term yet, but in that moment, I settled as being asexual. In that moment, the end of my first relationship taught me that I would never be truly emotionally or physically intimate with anyone. I accepted that because it fit my self-defined introvertedness. 

Luckily, I found someone who led me to the light.

Alex came in the form of an emotionally savaged soul who grew to become the person I hold closest. Honestly, I don’t even know how much to get into our fucked up and beautiful path together. I should’ve asked the people in charge how long these stories typically are, haha.

We met through the absolute gift that is Calculus (which can also be referred to as a soul-draining exercise in wrongful self-expectation and academic pressure).  We bonded through our complete frustration and eventually grew to a point of emotional openness. She helped me more than anyone else through my break up and eventually told me of her own suffering. I became the person she could depend on for emotional support. 

After some time, I became one of the few people that could provide her with comfort from her bad thoughts and honestly, it wrecked havoc on me. Our relationship became dependent with a basis in emotional manipulation and guilt. Also we were living together and I wasn’t able to set up any boundaries. As most people are, she had needs and wants beyond anything I’d really done or considered (no we never did the sex thing). Everything I did was to try my best to help her. 

It started off small. She began hugging me more frequently. Then it became nightly. Next thing I knew, we were laying in bed each night for about an hour before I felt like I could go to my own room and sleep. This became especially hard when I was working the closing shift on weekends at a restaurant downtown. I felt guilty anytime I wanted to go to bed before her.

What made this so hard for me was my own lack of understanding of myself. I knew I cared deeply for her, yet I felt so incredibly uneasy lying next to her. At times I almost felt paralyzed. It was deeply upsetting and confusing. How could I care about someone so much, yet feel so uncomfortable providing for their needs?

Eventually it all blew up (as it should have). For the first time, we had to ask each other “What the fuck are we? What do we want? What do we need?” That night sucked. It was a shit night. Yet, it also one of the most important nights of our relationship.

Through my actions, I had led her to believe I had the same feelings and wanted the same things she did. In that moment of clarity, when everything came tumbling down, I realized how my own inability to cause others harm caused more harm than anything else.

Somehow we overcame. She asked me if I had ever had those types of feelings for someone else. As far as I was concerned, I hadn’t. After a brief pause, she looked up into my eyes.

“I think you might be asexual Nevan,” she said. Over the next few days, I did the bare minimum amount of research and, well, it sure made sense. My experience growing up fit a lot of the stories I read.

Boom. Sorted. I had a label. Easy.

Except, I still felt unfulfilled with my life. No matter how hard I tried, I continued to feel somewhat empty. I attributed it to the fact that I was still living within 15 minutes of the place I grew up. I lusted for new experiences.

Also, I had reached a point of acceptance with Alex, yet, I still felt uncomfortable. While I had grown to appreciate and even need the physical intimacy we have, I still found it hard to allow myself to be completely at ease. There were still questions. Questions I refused to ask for months.

However, over that period I grew closer to Alex than I'd ever been with anyone else. Our relationship became strong and healthy as we fully accepted each other and ourselves. I grew even more open to her and shed all guilt and discomfort. With time we became incredibly strong.

Each hurdle was met by both of us with (mostly) grace and ease. Together we reached the level we'd always strived for. Through the magic of the universe, our struggles were paralleled and we knew that we'd always have each other for support. We were free to pursue our lives fully unrestrained, while still forever tethered at the heart. To this point I'm still amazed at how much we grew together since those frustrating Calculus study sessions a mere 3 years prior.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago and the worst public shooting in modern USA history. Orlando hit me fucking hard. It was beyond the pain I usually feel when innocent lives are stamped out. This time it felt personal. I realized that I had been questioning myself for a while. My actions were not indicative of an asexual introvert and I needed to stop and look within.

That week my roommates were all out of town, so I sat down and forced myself to be honest and to finally search for what I most likely knew all along. I’d like to take this moment to really appreciate the internet. I literally googled “am I gay,” and found so many stories from people across the world. For some dumb reason, I had to find someone with parallels to my own life before I’d truly accept myself, but what the crap, I totally did.

One of the women on a random forum was essentially me. How. She grew up in a small town with only two fully out gay people. Check. She thought she was asexual for months. Check. She realized when she was 20 that she was gay. Check (although if we’re being technical I guess I’m still 19).

By this point too many things were clicking. I kept looking back on my experiences and chuckling at how much sense they made with this new lens. Yet, I was still in denial. I couldn’t say the words out loud. That’d be much too real. The moment of true acceptance was some of the most ridiculous creative-writing-student-trying-way-too-hard kind of nonsense. 

The Thursday after the Orlando shooting, after spending each day reading and researching for hours,  I decided to open my window to let in some fresh air. I noticed a hummingbird zooming about and suddenly it was right in front of me. Fluttering less than a foot from my face, it stared into my freaking soul. Like no joke this little hummingbird made eye contact with me for about ten seconds. It truly felt like it could see within me, and in a way, I was looking into its soul too. Yet, at the same time, when I was staring into its eyes, I was seeing myself. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an intense spiritual awakening. Pretty much a little bird saved my life.

I’ve been struggling a lot with the fact that it took 49 people being brutally massacred for me to finally stop and accept myself. It’s really fucking painful to be honest. I’m really trying to look at it from a different perspective though. Maybe, just maybe, if it allowed me to finally reach within myself, than maybe it allowed someone else out there to look within as well. I wanted to tell my story in the hope that anyone out there with questions about themselves will take the time to ask. I want to make sure those that died didn’t die for nothing.

I’ve never truly thought highly of myself. When I identified as asexual, I didn’t feel okay with taking on the queer label. There’s so much pain and suffering behind that community and I felt that I wasn’t deserving of being associated with that. My life has been easy. I surrounded myself with the most accepting people I can imagine. My parents want nothing more that for me to be happy. I have a life partner who will always be there for me and can rely on so heavily for emotional and physical support.

Telling Alex that I’m gay was considerably nerve wracking. She goes for a week, comes back and suddenly I’m gay now. How do you just spring that on someone? Luckily she is one of the most caring and thoughtful people I know. Her support has been one of the most powerful forces on this journey. There are no more questions, no more guilt, no more dependency, just pure love.

Label that how you will. 

As I’m truly fortunate as shit, it’s hard to recognize my own pain and suffering. I realize now that it takes different forms, mine just happened to be self-inflicted. Upon reflection, I realized I was depressed for about three years. I isolated myself because I thought it was where I would best thrive. I was wrong. I am not an introvert, I am not straight, I’ve conquered my social anxiety, and in the first time in years, I am truly happy.


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About the art:

Fun fact: The survivor sharing this story, Nevan, was one of my high school students when I was a teacher in 2011-2012. So this was a wonderful story to get to share.

Nevan and I have kept in touch ever since I left teaching, and what I've been able to watch from afar is that he has matured into an amazing artist and an even more amazing human being.

If you haven't checked out Nevan's art, you should do so now. He is now a freelance artist, having left college to fully pursue his art. I admire the hell out of him for doing so. He even did the art direction for my upcoming EP, as well as my first EP in 2013. Check out his art by clicking HERE! Or by clicking the ad to the right of the page.

So when Nevan came out to me a couple weeks ago, he was toying with the asexuality identity, which my partner Katy Hamm has experience with (read her story HERE), so we chatted a bit more. And then a few days went by and Nevan messaged me saying, "I don't think I'm asexual. I think I'm just regular gay." I LAUGHED SO HARD AT THIS.

Knowing Nevan's very calm, reserved demeanor, this delivery made so happy to read. I do remember the introverted, awkward teenager that wrote amazing stories for my sophomore writing class. He even requested to be our 69th story, ON FRIDAY! When I had planned for us to take the weekend off, but he was READY to share his coming out, which I also admire so much!

So I had to act quickly when it came to creating his art for this piece.

I took from Nevan's moment with a hummingbird as inspiration to create this piece. I wanted it to be both strikingly beautiful and chaotically messy. So I used some acrylic paint with water to color in the hummingbird that Katy outlined for me, since I suck at perspective and replicating. I had so much fun making this piece, especially since I knew it was for one of my favorite former students to commemorate one of the biggest moments in his life.

After I colored in the hummingbird with all the colors of the rainbow, I went in with a fine tip sharpie and lined out the piece with my style of simple filigree. I then added some straight lines to give the piece a more dynamic look, as I continue to figure out what I want to do with my art next.

the funny thing about Nevan's association with a hummingbird is that I have a hummingbird tattooed across my chest, as it is the animal I connect with the most since it has the fastest heart rate of any animal. Since I'm ALWAYS on the go, and always doing new projects, I relate with animal a great deal.

AND THEN Nevan told me that TODAY he is getting his first tattoo, ever! And he's getting a hummingbird! I am so stoked that we will be connected through this story, through animal, and through this tattoo subject.

I'm so proud of Nevan. I love him.
And I am so thankful that he is able to finally be himself.

Thank you, Nevan.

- Craig Bidiman.

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

061: The Scenic Route to Self-Acceptance


Content warning: The following story tells of a survivor's experience of what it was like to come out as a lesbian.

"The Scenic Route to Self-Acceptance," Brittany Rasmussen


“Charlotte is a lezbean,” an 8-year-old girl wrote on the school bus window, the teenagers behind her encouraging her and snickering as Charlotte moved to the front of the bus to escape them. She didn’t really know what a lezbean was, despite writing it on the school bus window at the encouragement of the teenagers, and therefore didn’t know what made it a bad thing to be. But she wrote it anyway, wanting to fit in and not be picked on for once.

When she turned 12 and got to 6th grade, she was warned by her classmates to stay away from Angel and Kathleen because they were thought to have kissed in the bathroom.

One day on the bus ride home, Kathleen waved at her as the bus passed by her house. Embarrassed, she turned her head away and pretended she didn’t see her.

She is me. 

I received a lot of messages growing up about the value of being gay, and the messages were that it was of negative value. It took a long time for me to be okay with my orientation as a queer woman, and I would like to tell you my story of self-acceptance.

When I was 16 going on 17 I worked at Subway for the summer, and was frequently put on shifts with Jenna. She had a good sense of humor, was easy to talk to and get along with, and had a beautiful smile – truly, you should have seen it. I enjoyed being on the same shift rotation with her, but didn’t think much of it.

About halfway through the summer, I was driving home from work one day and stopped at a red light. Jenna took a left at the light in her blue Cougar, perpendicular to me, and passed by. She was wearing her glasses, her red and blonde hair in a messy bun with two sticks crossed through it. My heart skipped a beat and I felt e-lectric.

For the rest of the summer, I looked ahead on the schedule to see if I was working with her. I was excited when we were on the same shifts and would eagerly go to work. I tried not to think about the way I was feeling too much and told myself that I just thought she was cool.

The feelings became persistent and I couldn’t turn off the way I was feeling by thinking myself out of it. I started going to the gym to sweat the gay out, and the more I thought about her the harder I worked out, believing that it would somehow “fix” me.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t.

When the summer ended, I quit working at Subway so I could focus on school. This also allowed me not to be around Jenna, which made it easier to let the feelings fade.

In retrospect, I now realize I had crushes before Jenna, but that Jenna was the first girl I recognized having a crush on.

Fast forward to freshman year of college. I made a few friends in the residence hall and we were together all the time, eating meals, watching movies, studying, and sometimes even napping in each other’s rooms. We bonded quickly because of all the time spent together, and I grew especially close to Elizabeth. After several months of significant amounts of time spent together, Elizabeth and I developed a relationship beyond friendship, but undefined.

That relationship ended badly and traumatically, and I explained it away by saying I was experimenting in my college years, that I was lonely and she was there, and that it was only due to the amount of time we spent together. I told myself that I had confused friendship for something more.

I dated Clinton to try to forget about her, but constantly compared him to her. His kisses were wet and sloppy and I felt like my face was being swallowed; hers were more precise, delicate, and thoughtful. He was boring and just wanted to listen to country music and watch shows about tricked out gas stations; she and I got a piercings together and went out dancing. He hardly talked; she shared her dreams for the future and talked about her family.

Since he didn’t work out, I tried to date Andrew. But Andrew said he hated Tim Burton, and that (and the peen) was a deal-breaker.

By sophomore year I couldn’t deny that I had loved Elizabeth. I had learned through extensive socialization as a child that loving another female was a problem. I went to counseling after this realization, and in my first session asked that the counselor fix me so I wouldn’t be gay anymore. She assured me that being gay was not a problem, and that I didn’t need to be fixed or cured of it. I was reluctant to believe her.

At the prompting of my psychologist, I engaged in self-reflection and self-care activities. I routinely went to the gym, a place of refuge, to compliment my therapy; wrote in a journal to process my thoughts and feelings; and surrounded myself with symbols of strength.

I listened to a lot of Lady Gaga, finding strength and confidence in her music. I remember listening to “So Happy I Could Die” because she sings, “I love that lavender blonde, the way she moves, the way she walks,” and being in awe of her courage to sing about a same-sex attraction. I have an affinity for Lady Gaga because her music made me feel confident during a time when I otherwise felt ashamed.

I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the representation of Willow and Tara, and gained further comfort from the representation of a loving, committed relationship between those two. (I now have a bonsai tree named Tara and an aloe vera plant named Willow.)

Tara and Willow of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (as portrayed by Amber Benson and Alyson Hannigan, respectively)

Tara and Willow of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (as portrayed by Amber Benson and Alyson Hannigan, respectively)

Pop culture was my solace.

After several years of processing what my queerness meant to me and 13 counseling sessions spread through sophomore year, I warmed up to the idea and felt okay with it. I did not come out to anyone at the time because I feared how my friends and family might react, and when I thought of them I felt less okay with my queerness. When I thought of it separate from everyone around me, I felt comfortable with it.

The summer after sophomore year, Elizabeth and I started talking again and we eventually ended up dating during my junior year of college. It took a long time for me to be okay being with another woman, as it was an admission of my queerness, and I was proud to finally be open about and comfortable with our relationship. That relationship has since ended, but I am happy to be in a spot in which I can be in a relationship without feeling ashamed.

Though I am in a good place with my queer identity, I still navigate discomfort caused by messages I received growing up and misconceptions about my identity. I have trouble making eye contact with women because I don't want them to think I'm attracted to them - I learned growing up that there are straight women that think a lesbian will be attracted to them simply because they're a woman. I know this is not how it works from experience, but I also know that there are straight women who do not believe that's not how it works. 

But we are all just people in progress, and I am not excluded from that. I am continuously working on accepting myself and trying to live a life in alignment with who I am, with a goal of doing so unapologetically. 

I have come a long way through counseling, self-reflection and self-care, Lady Gaga, queer culture, and the support of friends and family. After that long and painful journey, I’m now out, I dress how I want to dress – bowties included, I’m part of an LGBTQ+ faculty and staff association on campus, and am assuming the role of advisor to the LGBTQ+ student organization on campus.

A rainbow flag hangs in my apartment, my personal symbol of the journey I have taken to get here, fighting for myself in order to feel unashamed and okay.


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About the art:

Brittany is an incredible person, and one of Katy's good friends from grad school, so it's nice to have her share her story with the project for this month!

For Brittany's piece, she wanted something related to her love of Minneapolis. So I wanted to create something that was in my style, but also a little different because I wanted to try something new, so I busted out my Jackson Pollock style and splattered the canvas with paint using my hands and it got REAL messy. I used all of the colors of the rainbow to celebrate queer pride in this piece.

After everything dried, I took a paint brush and freehand stylistically drew the letters MPLS on the canvas. MPLS is the shorthand abbreviation for Minneapolis. I absolutely love how this piece came out and I think it fits Brittany's aesthetic very well. And I'm glad to know that she loves it! I can't wait to make more pieces like this!

Thanks to Brittany for sharing this awesome story!

-Craig.