0154: Classic Rock Queer


"Classic Rock Queer," Anonymous

I first discovered I was part of the LBGTQ+ community in October 2015 and told three of my closest friends who I knew I could trust with the secret that I was bisexual. Eventually, I started telling other friends and some of my family, getting reactions that occasionally surprised me.

On National Coming Out Day 2016, I posted a picture of the bisexual pride flag on Instagram and people I knew were supportive and said that they would still love me no matter what. These people are friends, family, classmates and I still talk to them, even though some are far away and we don't see each other often, if at all. I know that if I ever need someone to talk to on a bad day, I can always text one of my friends. I love them and I also love myself for who I was, who I am, and who I will be in the future.

For me, being part of the LBGTQ+ community in the United States gives me the freedom that members of this community who live in other countries might not have, such as the freedom to marry whoever I want. I also have friends who are part of the LBGTQ+ community and I'm glad that these people are part of my life because I can talk to them about anything if I'm having a good day or a bad one. We laugh together, we cry together and have become a family. When I think of the family I made, all the memories we have makes me smile and I'm extremely proud that I have an amazing support system made up of incredible friends and family who make me feel like I can be myself.

I'm proud to be a bisexual person living in New Jersey and I have friends and family who love me and care about my feelings and well-being. These people inspire me and help me become the best person that I can. They also help me believe that I can set out to do whatever I want and achieve my dreams. If I didn't have this support system, I don't know what I'd be doing or where I'd be.

One thing I do that makes me feel a lot better on my bad days is play the guitar my grandmother got me for my 15th birthday. When I pick up my Fender Stratocaster that I named White Lightning, after Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark, I feel like I can do anything and I'll play songs by my favorite classic rock artists, like Def Leppard, Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, KISS, Bruce Springsteen, Mötley Crüe, AC/DC, Journey and many others. These bands inspire me to write my own songs and start a band one day with friends who are also musicians.

When I'm not practicing my favorite classic rock songs or writing one of my own, I'll write stories, read books, draw or watch my favorite WWE superstars' matches on YouTube. Playing guitar, writing stories, reading, drawing and watching/talking about WWE are all things that make me feel better when I'm down.


IMG_9486.JPG

About the art:

I met this wonderful human after giving a talk on their campus a few months ago, and they were just wonderful. I was very thankful to have them reach out to share their story. This piece was important to them - using the bisexual flag and this quote was essential - so I made it happen for them!

- Craig.

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!

0142: Figuring out Why


Content warning: The following piece contains references to a person processing their identities as a nonbinary human being, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Figuring out Why," Karyssa Bickford

When I was in the sixth grade I started to realize I'm not straight. My best friend at the time, Alicia, was bisexual and when I would talk to her about her sexuality it kind of made sense. Back then, I didn't know much about sex or sexuality or gender expression so I didn't really understand what was happening with what I was feeling. It wasn't until freshman year of high school that I came out as bisexual.

Everyone told me I was just doing it to be trendy, because all my friends were, and it hurt because I had suppressed it for three years prior. Nevertheless, I dated my first girl. Her name was Sydney, and kissing her was magical. When I came out to my parents, my mom was angry and forced me to break up with her, which I did. The day before Christmas break. She came into school with my Christmas present, a gothic cross necklace, and I made her cry. I still have the necklace in the top drawer of my dresser.

I went back into the closet and suppressed my feelings for girls. My friend Breana, who I had been friends with since diapers, and our friend Amanda were like the three musketeers end of freshman year/beginning of sophomore. They were both a grade above me. Amanda was also bisexual and I had feelings for her and they were mutual. We started fooling around and my sophomore year we dated. I walked her to her classes, we shared a locker, we kissed each other goodbye in the halls.

She was also the first girl I was ever sexual with.
I didn't know it then, but she was my first love.

We wrote each other love notes and passed them off between classes to read in the next. We'd hang out at her house after school and cuddle in her bed and talk for hours. She always smelled like daisies and honeydew melon. She wanted me to come out and be Facebook official, tell my parents, have a real relationship; so I got scared and I ran. I left her a note on her bedside table while she was showering and left her house. Our friendship wasn't the same and we weren't really the three musketeers anymore. 

I suppressed being queer until I was 20. In the summer of 2015 I came out as pansexual, and I wasn't going back in the closet. I realized I wasn't bi, rather identified more with pansexuality it had been more present in our society so I had the chance to learn about it. You can definitely tell times had changed, because my mom was supportive and asked me questions and listened. 
I was in a long term relationship at the time, and experimented a little bit with gender nonconformity, which I had wanted to do for years, but was scared that he would leave me if I did it in public, so I did it in private.

When he left, I experimented more with it and came out in the summer of 2016 as nonbinary. At the time I was under the impression that I was genderfluid. As I continued to grow, I realized I enjoy being feminine, but my issue is just that I feel uncomfortable being boxed into a gender binary. I always have. It just took me a long time to figure out exactly why. My family still has a hard time using my correct pronouns, but my boyfriend whom I'm with now does it effortlessly and I'm accepted by his friends and mother as nonbinary. It's taken me a long time to get to a point where I'm okay with who I am, and why. But I'm here, and I'm queer.


About the art:

Karyssa is a brilliantly outspoken human being who owns their identities. That's the Karyssa I've known, so it was illuminating to read how much work it has taken for them to find this voice and this confidence.

I was given complete control with this piece of art and I'm thankful for that because it allowed me to take Karyssa's most powerful statement at the end - a deeply queer sentiment - and make a piece of art out of it! I added the "and I riot," based on a protest sign I had seen once! I think it sends an even stronger message and it fits Karyssa's mentality very well.

- Craig.

0141: Queers in Love


"Queers in Love," Craig Bidiman

I came out as bisexual in June of 2010, to much celebration among my friends, and many jeers among my family. Since this initial coming out, I have revisited what queerness means to me. 

I had always felt an attraction to men, an attraction to women, an attraction to really anyone that intrigued me or made me swoon. But I never really spoke of anything outside of the assumed/the heteronormative – so I internalized my attractions to men/masculine-assumed folks. However, college changed this for me. I became more comfortable showing affection toward really anyone but still didn’t really know what it meant for me.

My exploration of sexual fluidity over the last few years has led me to understand this a little bit more. At first, I thought of coming out as this permanent thing. Once I said I was “bi,” that was it.

But nope!
I realized that coming out is a process.
Coming out can be fluid.
Sexualities are fluid.
Gender is fluid.
All of this shit blew my mind.

Because while I initially felt my attractions were toward two genders, I found that my attractions were much more broad and inclusive. Yet, I didn’t know what to call this feeling. I’ve always been a little effeminate for a dude, and my dad used to say that I “walk like a queer,” which at the time was funny to me and even slightly contributed to why I didn’t feel comfortable coming out. So I reclaimed this term, “queer,” and I started to think about it more.

I realized that I am queer. I am a queer.

And for me, being queer transcends my sexual orientation. Being queer is my personal/overall identity. Queer is how I perform my gender (which I do identify as a man); queer is the lens by which I interpret the world around me; queer is how I exist in the world. 

Here we are going to the bathroom together at the amazing gender-less bathrooms at Optimism Brewery in Seattle, Washington!

Here we are going to the bathroom together at the amazing gender-less bathrooms at Optimism Brewery in Seattle, Washington!

Now, insert Katy Hamm (Ken, Kenny) – my best friend and the greatest human being who has ever lived. I often use that phrase when I introduce people to Katy for the first time. 

Last year, Katy wrote this amazing piece coming out as being both agender and panromantic – on the asexual spectrum. While Katy’s identities might appear more complicated than mine, it’s been so important to me as their partner to recognize the significance of what this sort of coming out meant for them. It took a lot of unlearning of norms for Katy – I watched them and helped them process years of repressed sexual frustrations and anxieties about intimacy and sex. It was wonderful to hear them explain to me that they felt comfortable identifying on the asexual spectrum—because they were so happy to have finally figured it out! And for me, as someone with an active libido, it also meant reckoning with the reality that I love this human being more than I love sex.

We don’t hold hands too often in public, and we hardly express much affection in public – simply because 1. neither of us are big fans of PDA to begin with and 2. we are so keenly aware of our privilege in society as a couple that at least APPEARS straight. I dress and appear pretty masculine, and while Katy doesn’t necessarily dress femme very often, they still appear femme. So we get how that looks.

We talk about this all the time with each other.
We know that we are a queer couple that appears straight.
We’re just two queers that happened to fall in love.

It does get convoluted because when I refer to Katy, I use the term, “partner,” which throws some people off. It’s a term we prefer to use. We have never used the terms, boyfriend, or girlfriend, partly because Katy doesn’t identify as a “girl,” or even a “woman,” so it wouldn’t make sense. But it also doesn’t feel right to us. Boyfriend and girlfriend have always felt very temporary to me. Partner feels more attached, more comfortable, less childish – I mean, we are adults after all. Might not act like it all the time, but we are adults – and “partner” just feels right to us. We also reject heteronormative relationship troupes like those titles and the roles by which we are "supposed" to occupy within our relationship.

Nope. Not for us!

Yet, it’s disarming for some folks when I call Katy my partner because that term is often associated with couples that are same-sex or appear same-sex. So it especially disarms people when they hear me use it without any knowledge of who my partner is or how they identify because I almost always see their expression changed—seeking out if I might be gay—and I often use Katy’s pronouns (they/them), so I can tell it might confuse them. And then if I refer to Katy by name, the person tends to ease up a little. As if they are piecing it all together.

I know that this stuff isn’t always easy for folks who don’t live with a queer identity or in a queer relationship. But I try to be as normative with how I refer to our relationship and the queer community because that’s a form of resistance. I refuse to accept heteronormativity, so I’ll queer this shit up at any chance I get.

I’ve even had people say things like, “you’re gay? but I thought Katy was your girlfriend.” In this example, queer is inexplicably synonymous with gay.

Nope! That’s not how that works. 

At no point do Katy or I feel like we need to justify our queerness to each other. We have helped each other become more and more comfortable with our identities through the three years of our relationship.

Yet, within the queer community, it can feel sort of disengaging to feel forced into proving and acknowledging our queerness just to feel as though we belong.

Honestly, I’m not always comfortable in overtly queer spaces because of our relationship presenting so hetero—and that sucks! It’s an internalized stigma that I haven’t gotten over and am still unsure of how to get over it. Because when alone, I am very comfortable in these spaces. Even within the queer community, there are still a lot of unnecessary stigmas and prejudices that exist toward certain identities—especially toward the bi- population and the Trans- population. There is identity erasure within the queer community – sadly, the same as in many communities – that shouldn’t exist, but it is rampant.

And I think a major contributor to my frustration and apprehension toward our relationship being present in some of these spaces stems from having felt his erasure firsthand from fellow members of the queer community who make assumptions—when the crux of our community’s inclusivity is predicated on not making assumptions of anyone’s identity.

One particular experience stands out like a sore thumb to me and Katy and it’s a circumstance that happened early in our relationship – and has sadly stuck with me ever since.

I brought Katy to a meeting with a colleague (who I was meeting for the first time) who worked in the queer resource center at the campus in which I worked at the time, and I introduced Katy as my best friend and partner (to which this colleague laughed—which I thought the timing was odd), shook our hands, and we began chatting. At one point in the conversation, this colleague, a queer woman, said, “well, we over here in the queer community have specific support and resource needs” - which is obviously very true and I agreed with them completely. However, I transfixed on the emphasis my colleague put on we — “we over here in the queer community.” It hit me real hard because in that moment I didn’t feel comfortable in calling myself a queer — years after I have owned the identity and the label that accompanies it.

Again, we are very aware that our relationship presents very hetero – so I’m not saying this colleague wasn’t in the wrong to assume – but again, these assumptions are hazardous to the queer community. And I was fairly confident that I had informed this colleague that identified as a queer through email correspondence, but they might’ve forgotten. Because as the conversation continued, this colleague continued to refer to a separate “we” in reference to the queer community, as though Katy nor I were included and spoke down to our knowledge of queer issues in society – again, as though we hadn’t lived it.

I recognize that every queer experience is different and our exclusion might not have been intentional – nor did we attempt to correct this colleague because we were made so uncomfortable that making a correction would feel like overcompensation of some sort. Which, in hindsight is a stupid thing to think – we likely could have made some sort of comment about our identities in order to relate and to connect, but we did not.

It made me think back to those times when I wouldn’t confront my queerness out of fear of persecution or confusion, or that no one would believe me because I don’t necessarily look or act stereotypically queer. It’s internalized shit like this that made me contemplate suicide in high school because I couldn’t figure out my sexuality. It fucking sucks.

Almost immediately when we left the conversation, Katy and I turned to each other and said, “was that weird?” “yeah, that was weird!” “are we not queer?”

It sucked to ask that question after I had spent YEARS questioning this shit.
Are we not queer enough?
Am I not queer enough?
Is our relationship not queer?

Fuck, this sucked.
Feeling as though your identity was invalidated sucks.

But it's not just this example. This sort of stuff happens quite often in the queer community.

During college is when I realized I was queer. And it was when I started being an activist for queer rights and awareness. I even started an organization while at Oregon State University called the Campaign for Understanding, which did awareness campaigns, actions, and spread the message of intersectional inclusivity.

During college is when I realized I was queer. And it was when I started being an activist for queer rights and awareness. I even started an organization while at Oregon State University called the Campaign for Understanding, which did awareness campaigns, actions, and spread the message of intersectional inclusivity.

This is a reminder that even in the queer community, we are capable of micro-aggressions toward each other – and I’m not innocent in this regard, it’s something I know I am still working on. But this is an example where it can feel pretty erasing. It sucks – and you may even think it’s a little overdramatic to feel that way – but after you spend years working on your identities and you are finally comfortable with your body, gender, and sexuality, it can hit hard.

As though, my queer credibility, Katy's queer credibility, and our relationship's credibility was in question. It's a frustration we live with and reconcile every day.

It goes to show that there is still a lot of work to be done. There are still problematic performative expectations of queerness. I’ve legitimately had people say to me, “oh, but you don’t look queer,” or, “you don’t act queer.” I hate that these types of comments exist because it’s the same reason why so many members of the queer community are afraid to come out – because of these unnecessary expectations of what it means to be or act according to a certain identity. These connections are harmful and can make our community unsafe.

There is no right or wrong way to perform or present your gender, and/or demonstrate your sexuality/preferences/or lack thereof.

Even now, as a sexual health educator, I work with college students to understand their bodies, their attractions, and how to be safe sexual beings. I talk with male students who have sex with men but don’t consider themselves gay – and I tell them that’s fine! I talk with nonbinary students who identify as lesbians and ask me if that’s how they “should” identify, and I tell them that I cannot tell them how to self-identify.

How you identify is a process of learning and unlearning, as well as an evolutionary personal understanding of who you are attracted to and who you aren’t attracted to—either romantically or sexually. Or, again, if you have no interest in any of those things! And that’s okay!

This process is not easy – trust me, I know.

Yet, we gotta help people become more and more comfortable processing their identities publicly. Even within today’s political landscape, we need to resist the politics of hate and self-hate that keep us from living authentically.

Happy Pride month!
Let’s be queer together.
 


About the art:

This caricature of Katy and I was commissioned from our friend, Matt, who lives in Montreal. Matt is a friend I met on vinyl instagram and eventually became friends on Facebook and in human form when we visited Montreal last year. He also designed the screenprinted b-side for the vinyl release of my upcoming EP. Which you can preorder by clicking here!

He is an amazing artist and was willing to do this for us in like no time since I was giving it to Katy as a gift! After giving him the picture, he asked what two of our favorite things are and I said one of mine is vinyl records, and Katy's favorite thing in the world is pizza. So he made an amazing patterned background of those two things and placed us in front of it to make the whole piece look like the greatest image ever created.

HE EVEN GOT THE DETAILS OF MY TATTOOS! Come on!

You can contact Matt through Instagram at @txdrmst or @txdrmstvinyl

Here is the original image of us, for context. Matt really knocked it out of the park. 

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.


IMG_1532.JPG

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

0108: My Story Changed


Content warning: The following story refers to someone coming out as transgender, as well as their experience transitioning, which may be triggering to some readers.

"My Story Changed," Kameron Winters

I was asked to write this story because I came out as transgender about two months ago and started medically transitioning shortly after. I was more than happy to share because I wanted to tell people my story. This week, my story changed. 

Earlier this year I was talking to a friend of mine, a gender therapist, about what the process was to medically transitioning from female to male. I had been a masculine of center queer person for most of my adult life and was always comfortable in how I expressed myself. However, I never asked the question, “what does it mean to feel comfortable in your body?” “In the mass that you use to navigate the world every day?”
 
Sure, I wasn’t a fan of my curves or how my shirts lay over my chest, but I thought that was everyone. I knew men’s clothing was never going to fit me perfectly, but I started to realized it wasn’t just what I was wearing.  It was how I looked, it was my body, my gender. I wanted to change it. It wasn’t until then that I realized that I was suffering from gender dysphoria, the condition of feeling one's emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be different than one's biological sex.
 
After going to a gender therapist, I decided to socially and medically transition. I’ve been fortunate because up until this point my parents, friends and coworkers have been extremely supportive. I realize I live in a fairly liberal city and my transition was a lot easier than most trans folk. I also recognize my privilege in the fact that I’m white, can afford to medically transition and can pass as a man. This can not be said for all trans people. I'm lucky that today I’m successfully living as Kameron Reese Winters. 
 
This is where my story changes. 

Only a few days after a devastating election I am overwhelmed by fear. Trump is our President elect and his agenda includes removing the pro-LGBT legislation that President Obama, along with the Supreme Court, implemented.

Many white, cis folks (both men and women) are dismissing our fear. But let me tell you why I feel fear:

1) Trump will create anti-LGBT legislation and allow us to be discriminated against on the basis of religion.

2) I don’t want to lose my insurance. As someone currently taking testosterone and wanting top surgery at some point, will I be able to if my insurance is taken away? Probably not.

3) I haven’t gotten a legal name or gender marker changed and I’m scared to start the process and I’m scared to wait. If I start I might only be able to change my ID, not my passport, social security card and birth certificate. If I wait, who knows if I’ll ever get to change my name or gender marker. 

4) Bathrooms. Bathrooms (which have always been a thing) will be an even bigger thing.

Those are just a few things I’m scared about and this is just the beginning of my transition and a Trump nation. I will not run. I'm going to stay, heal, rebuild, organize and fight like hell to keep the rights we have. To all my trans family, you are loved. Take care of yourself.


About the art:

I knew that when we got to Transgender and gender dysphoria stories that I needed to get Kameron's story. I was so stoked on the first story they wrote for us back in June for Queer pride, and since then, their story truly has changed. And it's changed into a powerful form of advocacy and exposure to the evolution that exists when someone is transitioning genders.

For Kameron's piece, I wanted to recreate a piece of art that Katy forwarded to me, something they found on the internet. It's an amalgam of pronouns, with "she" repeated atop the piece and "he" repeated below, and the dominant imagery comes in the form of watercolors behind the word, "THEY" in white. I outlined the letters "HE" of "THEY" because Kameron uses both He/his and they/them pronouns, so this subtle change makes a bit of a poignant statement.

Feel free to click above for the details of the piece. This one was so much fun to make and I think it came out pretty cool and I can't wait from Kameron to have it in their new office as they begin ANOTHER new chapter of their life at American University.

Could not be more proud of this human, and I cannot wait to cross paths with them again in the near future.

- Craig.

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.

 

0106: Shape-shifting


Content warning: The following poem contains references to transitioning genders, which may be triggering for some readers.

"Shape-shifting (a poem)," Tommy Claire

How do you know your nature?
When nurture distorts…
What thoughts creep in and out?
What do you hold or set free?
When you know this isn’t your story, your vibration, frequency
What does it matter?

Survival is about acceptance. 
I’ve had to accept situations and circumstances that I would not have chosen since I was born. 
Gender was a part of that. 

I’ve enjoyed shape-shifting, culture-crossing, dancing with ambiguity.

There has also been a nagging.
It’s like an itch you just cannot scratch. 
Or a cactus thorn invisible to the eye, but easily provoked to agitation and discomfort. 

Just accept it. This fly by the sun… this is the body I got. 
Put it to rest.

But rest never came. 
I searched wide and far for another answer. 
Just don’t let it be gender… and it always was.

Finally, I decided to baby step in curiosity. 
What would it reveal to look behind that door?
What if I could acknowledge this part of me?
How far would I go to live in alignment of self?

No matter what anyone says, no one really understands this. 
How could we?
We are all bathed in distortions- roles, bodies, rightness, wrongness… righteousness.

I do have my own compass to guide me. 
I know when I feel lighter, more free.
And when I feel tighter, smaller, confined. 

Taking testosterone? Lighter.
Taking a little more? Lighter.
Using they/them pronouns? Lighter. 
Having top surgery? Lighter.

“Transition” is a word that somehow became the talking point. 
A reference point.
To medicalize the supernatural.

Just because you can describe something does not mean you understand it.

We are all transitioning all of the time. 
It’s called aliveness.

I feel more alive than ever before in my life. 
Alive in the joy, freedom, hope. 
Alive in the grief, pain, despair.
My senses have come alive- to meet the world. 
I decided to join the planet. 
To touch down on earth, in this form of my creation and choosing. 
I decided to forgive myself in order to love myself whole again. 


About the art:

Tommy is one of my most favorite human beings. They were my first supervisor in grad school and from our first interaction in a hallway, in passing, I knew we would connect immediately as our work moved forward.

Over the last three years, I've been able to learn and grow alongside Tommy, being with them at various points in their transition, and their developing agency over their shape-shifting body and identities.

In making this painting, I knew that Tommy is from the Southwest, loves a good hike, and the outdoors. So I wanted to make a bright piece that could remind them of being out in the sun, kick in some of the earthy tones with light browns, and a white splatter.

The quote is taken from this brilliant poem that Tommy wrote to express the various emotions, phases, and experiences of transitioning. It's a quote that stood out to me because I can tell Tommy needed to write this poem to get a lot of these experiences out. And I'm so glad they did because it has given us a great look into their life.

I hope it inspires more folx to share their experiences as well!

- Craig.

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?


IMG_7841.JPG

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.

089: One Day at a Time


Content warning: The following story makes references to self-harm, including cutting, pills, and suicide ideation, which may be triggering to some readers.

“One Day at a Time,” Robert Alberts

Growing up in a conservative family is one thing but growing up in a conservative family while being Queer is something completely different. I spent many years hiding who I was. Once I started coming out, first to friends and then to parts of my family I was still worried—what would my parents do when they found out. I was lying to them all the time and I was hiding my life from them, I couldn’t be who I really was in front of them. Then I started getting depressed and I didn't know what to do. I hated myself, I hated my family, and I hated the world around me.

I remember the day that I cut my wrist for the first time; it was euphoric. Then one cut wasn't enough and I had to cut several times at once. Then I started thinking about it more and more. It was the only way I could cope, digging down into myself and showing how awful I felt on the inside was a reflection of what I felt inside. Finally, that wasn't enough. I remember the day that I considered suicide for the first time. It started off pretty tame. I was just thinking about if I wasn't around if it would make everyone's life better. That's when I realized that could become a reality. I was already taking medication for depression and I knew that if I just swallowed the whole bottle it then it would stop. It would all stop. Stop hurting, stop feeling hopeless.

One day, enough was enough; I swallowed the whole bottle of pills.

I woke up in the hospital and I felt again like a failure. Like I couldn't even kill myself right. Again, I just spiraled further down my dark hole, like Alice but the world I was falling into wasn't filled with white rabbits but self-loathing and despair. The hospital staff was asking me questions about my scars and self-injury.

I could see my father's facade crack and crumble as I gave answer after answer: "Yes, I cut myself." "Yes, I restricted food from myself." "Yes, I isolated myself."

The first time since I was little that I truly saw emotions coming from him. That was also the first time I'd ever seen my father cry. He was never one of those parents; he never showed me his emotions or let them seep through to me. That's how men are supposed to behave in his opinion. In my teenage years I never got a hug, or an “I love you” or an “I’m proud of you.” However, when I saw this reaction I knew then that I had to do something to change. I knew that my Dad loved me and in some way that helped me understand that he would always care about me. I spent months in and out of the hospital. 

Then there was one day that my life turned upside down. The hospital wouldn't release me to my egg donor—the person who gave birth to me and was supposed to love me endlessly. She was mad that I couldn't go home with her and finally, she looked at me and said she didn't care anymore, I wasn't her son anymore.

It's been 8 years since that day and I've never been more grateful that she's gone. However, losing someone like was like a flood of emotions none of which I could process or understand. I was unable to hold my world together. I remember being in my father's arms and sobbing, telling him that he couldn't leave me. He just held me as I cried and promised that he wouldn't. That's when I really knew that I had to change my act and I had to get myself together. I spent more and more time in the hospital trying to fix my life. 

There are still days I struggle.

Being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder felt like the day that I understood who I really was. I felt like I was more in control of my life now that I have words and understanding to place to my emotions I don't feel so scared of them anymore. I don't feel like I'm unable to keep my world together.  I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t still think about cutting myself and even on the bad days, I can't say that I've never thought about suicide again. It’s the best way I know how to cope.
 
I’ve learned to take every day, one step at a time and lean on those that love and support me. 

One. Day. At. A. Time.


IMG_6562.JPG

About the art:

I was thankful that Robert asked me to create his art for him. I also have a history of self-harm and I knew that I wanted to summon the shear struggle of what that looks and feels like.

Robert's piece covers a few instances of self-harming and the imagery that popped into my head was of hand sort of reaching for help/standing up to reclaim its purpose in life. I feel Robert has had to reaffirm his strength many times in his life, so the image seemed to fit.

I modeled the hand idea off of the album cover of You Fail Me, by Converge. Granted, I didn't want to replicate it, but make it somewhat my own by adding the filligre that I put into a lot of my pieces and juxtapose it with some splatter and a black bar. The phrase, "One Day at a Time," is pulled from Robert's story and serves as a great reminder for him moving forward in life.

I am glad I was able to make this for Robert and I am so thankful he was willing to share such a personal and powerful story with the world!

- Craig.

080: Passing for Straight


"Passing for Straight," Amber Harsh

When I think about my sexuality, it feels like I’m looking at another person. I don’t actively take my sexuality into account, it just is. I don’t wake up thinking about it. I don’t worry about what people will think of it. Don’t get me wrong, I often reflect on my feelings and actions. Sometimes I get anxious thinking about things I believe, say, or do. It’s just that sexuality isn’t something that I worry too much about now that I’m starting to figure myself out.

I call myself bisexual, but my sexuality is evolving. Before, like in high school, I just assumed I was straight. I liked boys and that’s what I was “supposed” to like. Whenever I felt things for girls, I figured it was because they were my best friend or because of some random other reason. I didn’t even realize that you could like both men and women. You were either gay/lesbian, or you were straight. Growing up in Eastern Oregon, most people were straight. It just was. I dated and had sex with men. Occasionally I would meet women who were lesbian or bisexual, but a lot of the time bisexuality was thought of as a “fad.”

I don’t remember when I became aware of the thought of not being straight. I’ve never thought it was wrong, I just didn’t worry about it because I assumed I was straight. In college, I had different times where friends and I would be drunk and make out. It seemed “normal” and was encouraged by my male peers, but I didn’t think I was lesbian or bisexual.

At one point, I had a sexual encounter with a close friend. I discovered that I enjoyed women and their bodies just as much as men. Something clicked. I went from thinking “I like guys, but gals are kinda hot too I guess” to thinking “wow, everyone is hot. She’s hot, he’s hot. I’d fuck both of them.” I haven’t had another sexual experience with a woman since my friend, but I flirt with gals online and when I encounter women who also flirt, I enjoy it. I have a male fiancé that I love deeply. We are best friends and lovers. But I still consider myself bisexual. I’m still attracted to men and women. I guess my preference leans towards men more than women. But I don’t doubt that had I been more “enlightened,” if I would have met an awesome woman before I met my fiancé, I might be marrying her instead of him.

I don’t actively talk about my sexuality. Talking about my inner thoughts and feelings seems weird to me. I’ll talk (I love to talk) about anything, but when it comes to my past, myself, or anything like that I get anxious. It’s something that I don’t think needs to come up randomly in conversation. It’s nobody’s business. Just like my marital status, if I identify as male or female, or my religion. Unfortunately, everyone assumes that the default is the straight binary.

Occasionally, sexual orientation does come up. It’s always bizarre.

For example, I’ve had “interested in men and women” on my Facebook profile for years now. But when people notice it, they say something. They’ll ask me about it. They’ll ask if it’s a joke or if I did it as a prank. When I tell them “no, I’ve always liked men and women. I just didn’t see the point in saying anything,” they seem…offended? And not because I didn’t deem them worthy of sharing that information. It doesn’t feel like they are upset that I didn’t tell them my life story. It seems like they’re upset they didn’t know something about me that would have changed the way that they interact with me. It makes me uncomfortable. I’m also in an “open” relationship.

My fiancé and I are in love and don’t want to romantic interaction. But we do miss the “thrill” of having sex with new people. And I have some kinks that he isn’t capable of helping me with. We are both extremely open with our communication and are on the same page with our relationship. We keep our romantic relationship separate, but we both have “friends with benefits.” This is a relatively new development, but it’s just as weird when it comes up as when sexual orientation comes up.

I’m “lucky.” I can pass as straight. My relationship looks heterosexual. I don’t have to deal with the blatant problems that others in the LBGT community deal with. Since I’m in a “hetero” relationship, I can almost pretend that I don’t like women. But I still do and some of my partners (other than my fiancé) are women.

I don’t really feel like I’m included in the community. Not because I haven’t been welcomed. In fact, I’ve never really tried to be a part of it. Partially because I’ve always thought of myself as straight. Also partially because I don’t identify with the struggles some people have faced. I’ve faced my own set of struggles, like growing up poor, my mother being a drug addict after my father died, and things like that. But I’ve always been comfortable with myself and I guess I don’t feel like I should “intrude” when the LBGT has bigger things to fight for and I’m just here.

But anyway, I’m a random bisexual woman in a polyamorous relationship in Oregon. I manage a couple coffee shops, I like pizza, and I’m always on Tumblr. I don’t actively worry about your sexual orientation, so I don’t think people should actively worry about mine.


amber.jpg

About the art:

Amber's story covers something I've had a tremendous time trying to put into words. Identity is hard to define, and I think Amber has done a great job describing the issues of bisexual and pansexual erasure.

I found myself focusing on the word 'articulation,' and with Amber's interest in skeletons and bones, I thought a scattered pile of bones would work as a good visual for muddled words. I drew the skeleton, cut it up and collaged it on top of a mixed media ground. I feel it gives the illustration a loud, cacophonous feeling, to get across the confusing process of self-definition.

- 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.


IMG_5258.JPG

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.


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)

064: I Know the Red in the Rainbow


Content warning: The following poem tells of a survivor's experience of what it is like to exist as a Queer Trans Latinx human being, as well connecting their experiences to the lives of those lost in the Orlando gay nightclub shooting.


"I Know the Red in the Rainbow," by Califa Torres

Yesterday, my family sent me a photo of them at a Pulse Orlando Vigil.
I am Queer. I am Trans. I am Latinx. And seeing this picture, I was overwhelmed.
As my mother was holding a homemade sign that read “We Are Orlando; Somos Orlando”
I was 1,457 miles away from them, alone and crying.

I’m trying to process my emotions, and I’m reminded of my pain from coming out.
My mind flashes back to laying on the cold wooden floor in my room, still but the salty tears running across my face—
With a rainbow belt in arms reach.

I laid there for 40 minutes, until my mother found me and carried me onto my bed.
The last time she came into my room, she firmly told me that my “lesbian lover” was not welcome in our house anymore.
And that’s when I broke down, both my body and my spirit.

My rainbow belt was my symbol of pride.
And at that dark time, I desired to use it to end my pride—to end my pain.
My belt laid there still, like me, 
And I stared at the red in the rainbow.

Staring at the red in the rainbow, I saw my blood.
It was the blood that was to come from my neck, and it was the blood that I shared with my mother. It was the blood my mother lost birthing me. And it was the blood that soon boiled in my mother, causing me to become homeless.

The red in the rainbow was my heart, beating in my chest as I lay seeming lifeless, although I could not feel it pounding inside me during my numbness.
It was the heart made within my mother’s womb.
The heart she nurtured for 19 years up until that moment.
The red in the rainbow was the heart she helped grow inside of me, showing me how to love, unconditionally, or so I had thought until that night, existing in my tears.

I saw the red in the rainbow, and I saw my pain. I saw my anger, that I had been so proud to be me, spending most of my time advocating for my LGBTQ community, recognizing my privilege that I had a family and home unlike many of my Queer and Trans siblings, only to realize at that moment, that I actually did not. I became a number in the LGBT homeless youth statistic.

I know the red in the rainbow.
I saw the red a year and a half later, at rainbow graduation, where I had the largest and loudest family present, among them my mother.
I remembered the red again five years later, at my wedding, reciting my vows to my “lesbian lover” in front of my mother.
I know the red in the rainbow, and I saw it again, 6 years later, on the sign my mother made and brought to a vigil honoring 49 slain and beautiful souls who looked like me.
I was overwhelmed, feeling that my family’s presence at this vigil was them showing their support for me. Seeing me.
I was overwhelmed, thinking these kind of mourning moments are exactly why my mother was so hurt when I came out; the life she had expected for me did not involve facing discrimination, hate, and murder. And for that she mourned, as the world mourned for 

Stanley Almodovar III
Amanda Alvear
Oscar A Aracena-Montero
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala
Antonio Davon Brown
Darryl Roman Burt II
Angel L. Candelario-Padro
Juan Chevez-Martinez
Luis Daniel Conde
Cory James Connell
Tevin Eugene Crosby
Deonka Deidra Drayton
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez
Leroy Valentin Fernandez
Mercedez Marisol Flores
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz
Juan Ramon Guerrero
Paul Terrell Henry
Frank Hernandez
Miguel Angel Honorato
Javier Jorge-Reyes
Jason Benjamin Josaphat
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla
Christopher Andrew Leinonen
Alejandro Barrios Martinez
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez
Kimberly Morris
Akyra Monet Murray
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera
Joel Rayon Paniagua
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez
Enrique L. Rios, Jr.
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan,
Edward Sotomayor Jr.
Shane Evan Tomlinson
Martin Benitez Torres,
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega,
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez
Luis S. Vielma
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon
Jerald Arthur Wright

I know the red in the rainbow, and I will never forget it.


IMG_5071.JPG

About the art:

In discussing this piece with Califa Torres (a pseudonym), they made it clear that there was one specific inspiration to their overall existence in the world and that is Queen Califia.

They gave me the following quote to demonstrate the influence of the Queen on their life:

"Know that on the right hand from the Indies exists an island called California very close to a side of the Earthly Paradise; and it was populated by black women, without any man existing there, because they lived in the way of the Amazons. They had beautiful and robust bodies, and were brave and very strong. Their island was the strongest of the World, with its cliffs and rocky shores. Their weapons were golden and so were the harnesses of the wild beasts that they were accustomed to taming so that they could be ridden, because there was no other metal in the island than gold." -García Ordóñez de Montalvo in Las Sergas de Esplandián

So I wrote ALL of those words in the background of this painting. Next, I wanted to live up to the rainbow imagery and references in this story, so I splattered rainbow colors all over the canvas and let it all dry.

Califa let also told me that they love Disney, and that Disney films, imagery, etc, are one of the things that will always make them smile. So I created a silhouette of Mickey Mouse over the splatter and the words. And what is cool about this approach is that the white paint allows for some of the words to seep through the Mickey Mouse silhouette, which makes for a dynamic image.

I'm so thankful for Califa sharing this piece as an homage to their community, their experience, and to those who lost their lives in the Orlando shootings two weeks ago.

We will never forget.

- Craig Bidiman.

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.


IMG_4825.JPG

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.