My Almost Epiphanies

Everyone has the realization that they’re queer at different ages, but at 20 I had felt like I was pretty slow to my epiphany. Why did it take so long for me to get a full grasp on my sexuality- weren’t there glimmers of truth sprinkled throughout my childhood?  Of course. But what may seem obvious to me and everyone else was completely hidden from me. In the midst of it all I couldn’t see the forest through the gay trees.  It’s much easier looking back at my past and picking out how my queer identity had shaped my life even when I wasn’t aware of it.

My youngest queer memories revolved around television. I remember loving the Pink Ranger on Power Rangers. I just couldn’t get over how pretty she was. I didn’t understand why people watched Bay Watch for David Hasselhoff or the other men on the show. Why fawn over them when you had all of those pretty ladies? My 8 year old self was clueless, still pretending that I much preferred the male pop culture icons of the 90s. The biggest crush of my pre-teen life was Captain Katherine Janeway from Star Trek Voyager. I loved her power and her ability to command a ship. I loved her smile and her coyness; her ability to be vulnerable as an authority figure. I thought I wanted to be her when in reality it was a combination of wanting to be her and be with her. And don’t even get me started on Jeri Ryan as 7 of 9.

When I was 15 I had a sex dream about my female best friend. At that time I did have the thought of ‘Hey Amanda, maybe you like ladies? Do you think you could be bisexual or a lesbian?’ That thought process maybe lasted a month or so and inevitably was pushed to the back of mind for another five years. I was so very close, but I don’t think my teenage mind wanted to deal with the idea of being more different than I already was. I didn’t know any gay people and my Catholic education didn’t exactly give me room to explore gender and sexual identities.

Probably the most obvious gay hindsight was the fact that I was never attracted to boys. But my friends had crushes on boy bands and movie stars so I decided to follow suit. I didn’t know what a crush felt like, so I liked people, thought they were cute, but had no emotional or physical attraction to them. I thought it was normal. I had lived a very sheltered existence and didn’t get my boobs or period until much later than my friends- I had just thought I didn’t hit that part of puberty where I felt sexually attracted to guys. I was drunkenly making out with guys on the feminine side in college and I still wasn’t getting it. Why wasn’t it clicking for me? Am I really that awkward where I can’t romantically interact with men?

I truly had my epiphany as I was leaving my study abroad experience and started the spring semester of my junior year. It took a girl telling me she was bi to finally let my queerness out. I wish I could say the clouds opened up and a giant rainbow light shone down on me. Really, this girl wanted to hold my hand and I didn’t back down from it. That’s all it took. Something unconsciously clicked in my brain and I decided to roll with it. Did years and years of building a wall of suppression cause it to collapse? Did all of my queer experience topple it over in one fowl swoop? I’m honestly not sure what happened. The door swung open and I never went back. I was here and I was queer.


Being Out and Staying Out

When I started coming out seven years ago it was terrifying. How would people react? Would I lose friends and family over it? I obviously survived all of those encounters. The awkwardness and fear felt so strong back then- I’m glad that I have put most of that behind me.

I know its cliché, but I just stopped caring. Obviously having the love and support of friends and family was extremely important, but after that I realized that I didn’t need to have an emotional investment in the insurance guy’s or my dentist’s opinion.

Now, I just want people to assume that I’m hella gay. I get annoyed when people think straight until proven gay. Like, I have an undercut, and wear plaid and beanies… do I need to be making out with my girlfriend all of the time for people to get my queerness?

For being out all of the time isn’t telling one that I’m a lesbian. It doesn’t come up in most day-to-day conversation. Being out is about my state of mind. I used to put on my ‘straight’ mask whenever I had to interact with a new person or go to a new place. That shit is exhausting. I realized that I didn’t need to ‘act’ to make my way through social unknowns. I know that in certain places that I’m probably not going to bring up my girlfriend unprompted, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less out. I’m still going to have my undercut, my plaid, and my girlfriend. The gayness is still being projected, even if I’m not hitting people upside the head with it.

Everyone’s journey is different, but it’s absolutely fantastic when you get to an emotional and physical place where you can just be gay all of time.

It’s absolutely freeing.

Dear 17 Year-Old Self – You’re Hella Gay

17 prom

Dear 17 year old self,

It’s been 10 years, and I’m feeling a tad retrospective. I definitely don’t miss that period in my life, but I figured you could use some advice and insight. I want to write you a couple of letters to make things a tad easier for you in these next 10 years. I’m going to start off with one of the most important parts of your life. Honestly if I had known this at 17, life through college (we’ll get to college) would be a whole lot less complicated and dramatic.

You’re gay. Like, super super gay.  You are sexually attracted to women. You know those dreams you had a couple years ago about one of your good friends from grade school? Yep that means you’re gay. You almost figured it out then, but there was a lot of other stuff going on at the time. Trust me, I totally understand.

It’s not like you need to come out in high school. Actually, I would recommend not doing that. Coming out to yourself is way more important that coming out to anyone else. High school is not a safe place for you to be out, so don’t worry about it right now. Just be really gay in college. And don’t end up kissing the boys you took to prom. I felt nothing after kissing them, and really it didn’t make you happy, just more drama. And if you decide to tell the boy you went to senior prom that you’re a lesbian, please expect major ‘religious’ backlash. He is a terrible person, really. You know how everyone around you thinks he’s a douchbag? It’s because he’s a douchbag. So just find a cute girl in your freshman year to make out with. And don’t drunkenly sloppily make out with boys, it’s not that great.

Do come out to Mom and Dad, in your own time. I know that there is a lot of stuff going on, but they’ll make time for you. I know that it seems super scary, seeing how Catholic they are, but you know how rebellious Mom is when it comes to institutionalized religion telling her what to do.  If I’m remembering correctly this is around the time Dad is either considering or he has started to train to become a Deacon. I spent a long time thinking that a convert evolved into a Deacon could not be opened minded. That he couldn’t accept me for who I was because he was so cemented in his beliefs.

I know you’ll be surprised to learn that that line of thinking is totally wrong. Having that douche bag boy throw Bible quotes at you has turned you off from the idea of religious people being tolerant and accepting. Dad is clueless about anything LGBT, but he does love you, all of you. It’s going to be kind of awkward at first, but Mom and Dad get used to the idea and it just becomes a normal part of life.

You’re probably wondering about the romantic side of things. You’re awkward and shy and anxious, and I know that you have absolutely zero confidence. You struck out with guys because you weren’t interested at all, not because you’re not attractive or loveable. Online dating is a thing, and trust me, it’s still awkward. So is trying to date in college. Really dating is just awkward until you find the right person.

You are NOT incapable of being loved, and you are not broken. You probably don’t believe me, but you do find the right person, and she is absolutely amazing. You love her so much, and she loves you back for who you are, not just the shiny parts. Trust me it’s one of the most amazing feelings in the world. And it keeps getting better and better. Better than you could ever image. Better than I could even imagine.

You’re gay, and it’s fucking awesome.


27 year old me

My Dad’s Boxes

As I have gotten older I realized how much my dad and I are alike. And how painfully different we are. Through these similarities and differences we have grown and evolved our relationship into something I feel very lucky to have. Not all people have great relationships with their dad, and for LGBT people the tension and strain on the relationship with their fathers can be a lot worse.

It wasn’t always like that for us. My dad converted to from Judaism to Catholicism when I was 8. As time went on his faith grew, and mine began to wither. When I was a teenager he became a deacon. I had pretty much given up on my Catholic roots, but we were able to agree to disagree on topics concerning the church. We knew we weren’t going to change each other’s minds so having debates and discussions stayed interesting and respectful.

When I finally fully came out to myself in the winter of 2009 I was absolutely terrified to tell my parents, especially my dad. He’s an active member of the Church and I didn’t know how he would react to me being a lesbian.

In reality I had nothing to worry about, but when it was time to tell him I had to do it through a full blown panic attack. How could someone so deeply cemented in his faith, a faith that actively preaches against my existence, accept his daughter for who she was?

As a child one of the things that has constantly annoyed me about my dad was that he is able to achieve almost perfect cognitive dissonance. He’s able to hold onto two completely opposing beliefs without having one contradict the other. I couldn’t believe at the time that he would be able to do the same again, putting his daughter in a separate box away from his beliefs?

I realized that the part of my dad that had annoyed me for most of my childhood was one of his most endearing qualities. It’s admirable that he has the ability to love his children the way that they are without it challenging or shaking his faith. In a world where everything feels like an inseparable tangled web he has been able to divide perfectly into his boxes – making sense and order out of chaos.

In his world his faith compliments and strengthens his love for his children, and vice versa. I may never understand how he does it, but I’m lucky to have him.

And You Say She’s Just a Friend

Language can be a tricky thing. When I came out to my great-aunt several years ago, I could see her struggling to find the right words throughout our conversation. She was an extremely progressive woman, but she wasn’t equipped with the resources that we who have an internet connection have so readily available. I realized that I’d taken for granted the access to a LGBT-centric vocabulary that I’ve found on the internet.

Now, when I came out to my aunt she didn’t seem to get it at first. I kept saying “my girlfriend” but she definitely thought I was referring to a girl who was also my friend. Which is sort of funny in a strange way, because now that she knows I’m a lesbian with a girlfriend, she constantly asks how my ‘friend’ is doing.

This is the same aunt that I had nightmares of her chasing me around the house with holy water. So I see it as a victory that she actually asks how my girlfriend is doing. Of course it would be nice if she actually referred to my girlfriend as ‘my girlfriend’, but I think there is a language barrier stopping her. I don’t know for sure, but this might be the first time that she had to talk about a non-heterosexual relationship.

I’ve had many opportunities to correct her, but honestly, sometimes I just don’t have the energy. I don’t want to be the walking encyclopedia of queer language, especially for my family. Is it terrible that I want people to just get it? Or if not get it automatically, teach themselves?

I just had Uber driver who had only known me for 10 minutes refer to a possible romantic partner as a ‘significant other’, because he didn’t want to assume either way. If this random guy can take a couple of extra steps to be inclusive without knowing my sexual orientation why can’t a family member who knows that I’m a lesbian put forth the same effort?

Really I just want straight people to try. You aren’t going to get it right all of the time. And for me, that’s okay. Because I would rather see you struggle to find the right word than stay comfortably ignorant.

Don’t Look Back

When I arrived at my old high school for the Career Fair I was extremely nervous to say the least. I hadn’t been back in many years, and I surely wasn’t out to anyone there. At this point, I really didn’t care if people know that I’m a lesbian, but something about coming in front of the whole student body, plus the nuns terrified me.
What if they made me leave? What if there was snickering? Every possible terrible scenario ran through my head. And then I started doubting myself.
What was the point of coming out to the panel? Was I just bringing up my queerness just to bring it up? Would it serve any purpose, or would it hurt my organization’s chances of working with the school?
After sitting through other people talk about their children and their husbands, I knew that I had every right to mention my supportive girlfriend. Mentioning her did not mean I was making some big political statement, I was acknowledging that I had someone in my life who supports me while I work within my non-profit.
When I mentioned her, the most amazing thing happened. Absolutely nothing. I kept talking, without murmurings or snickers, or no nuns chasing me off the stage. It just happened, without fanfare or consequence.
 I still don’t look back at my high school years with kindness. Even if I was out to myself at the time it would have been nearly impossible to be out and feel safe there. But at least now they can have an openly gay former student talk about their non-profit and the work that it does – showing queer kids that you’ll survive that school, and when you do, you can do amazing things.

You Probably Thought Me Coming Out Was About You

After dipping into a part of my coming out narrative last week I started thinking about all of the times I had to come out to friends, family, and co-workers and how they have reacted.

I’ve realized a long time ago that whomever you are coming out to tends to make it about them, but under further review I realized that every straight person I’ve come out to has gone through virtually the same process in reacting and dealing with the my gayness.
The process, in my opinion, is absolutely hilarious.
Step 1 – How does this make them feel?
Coming out has really never been about me, which by itself could be its own blog post. I tend to get “Oh I knew” or ” Why didn’t you tell me sooner, you didn’t trust me? “I’m totally okay with it”.
Well… yes I figured you are a decent human being and you won’t completely reject who I am. As far as the trust “issue” I also find that extremely entertaining. Straight people have no idea what it’s like to be afraid of that kind of hate and rejection… but yes it’sdefinitely all about you.
Step 2 – They are totally accepting of the LGBT community
I’ve only had a few bad coming out experiences, so I’m not even going to touch on those experiences. After they get over the shock of me coming out and telling me that they don’t suck as human beings,I get showered with pro-LGBT centered articles. “I saw that New Jersey got marriage equality, isn’t that great?” ” Did you see the article on Huffington Post about that gay House representative?”
I really do appreciate them sharing all of this information with me, but especially when it’s my family sharing, I have usually read the article two weeks before someone emails it to me. I would much rather get emails about Doctor Who news, I’m not so quick on that.
Step 3 – Proceed to show me how open minded they are by specifically talking about my love life / girlfriend.
This step specifically applies to my extended family and general acquaintances. Anyone who knows me really well knows that I don’t want to be specifically catered to because of my sexuality. I get told to make sure I bring my girlfriend, when none of my siblings or cousins my age have that reiterated to them. I’m not offended by it, but making my relationship a special snowflake compared to the rest of them doesn’t actually show acceptance.
I do understand I’m dealing with cultural and generational differences when I’m coming out and navigating through my family. I certainly know that most of them are trying their best since I’m the first openly out person on either side of my family.
I know I need to patient with their processes, but it the meantime, I’m just going to laugh at how ridiculous my family is.

Always Room for Improvement, Always Room to Grow

It’s hard to deal with people who don’t agree with you, who are narrow-minded and are shallow. Who don’t believe in the causes you believe in, and think who you are is a sin. These people are easy to write off as hopeless with no chance of redemption and beyond saving.

Most of the time I would agree with you. I normally don’t have the time nor the energy to spend on ignorant and bigoted people. I can’t shout at the world for not thinking my organization’s mission isn’t important. I don’t have the courage to correct every homophobic comment I hear. It’s not my job to correct people, and most people don’t want to be corrected.

But, there are always those people who can surprise you. People who you never would expect to grow learn expanding their view of the world.

No one was ever outwardly homophobic in my family. It was kind of a “hear no evil, see no evil” mentality growing up and going to Catholic elementary school in the 1990s.

There were, however, those little pieces and tidbits I heard growing up that shaped my idea of how my dad thought of gay people and homosexuality in general. The old family joke was that my dad didn’t want my mom to put a rectal thermometer on my brother, who was an infant at the time, because it would make him gay. As a kid that had much more of an impact on my sexual identity than I was even consciously aware of. Deep down every time I heard that story I felt like my dad was someone who not be supportive.

When he converted to Catholicism I think it made that fear even stronger. I didn’t know I was gay at the time, but when my dad was becoming a deacon I became even more anxious over something I wouldn’t let myself understand. I don’t think religion is naturally oppressive, but the brand of Catholicism that was forced upon me in school was hateful and repressive. I was being told in school that gay people didn’t actually exist because “God didn’t make mistakes”. My dad became more and more associated and intertwined with an institution that was hateful.

I didn’t come out to myself until college, and I really didn’t feel like waiting around before coming out, but I was terrified of coming out to my dad. I was shaking and having a full-blown panic attack while coming out to him, which took about an hour to complete.

His reaction? He was hurt that I thought that he would react badly and reject me. I didn’t have the words to describe to him all of the little things that had paralyzed me with fear. At that point his views on marriage equality and gay rights were far from perfect. He wasn’t against any of it, in reality, he really just didn’t understand. After explaining things to him I could see him starting to change for the better.

It certainly wasn’t an overnight process. It’s been almost 6 years since I’ve come out to him. We still have discussions about Catholicism’s views on anything and everything. I love that I get to explain to him the different parts of the gay movement and why it’s important.

He’s learning from me, and he’s open to new ideas. He understands that there isn’t a conflict with being religious and accepting me for who I am.

I’m not saying that everyone is going to change their mind or that they’ll become magically open-minded. Probably most people aren’t worth your time, but that doesn’t mean that you should write off everyone. There are going to be some people who are actually worth being patient with as they grow.

If you asked me ten years ago if I thought that my dad was capable of that much progress and growth I wouldn’t have believed you. I’m so glad I was wrong.

“But You Don’t Look Gay…”

When I was abroad and socializing with the oil workers I mentioned the last weekthere were several times when these middle-aged men would try to create drama within my study abroad group (composed of 20-somethings).  One of these incidents was one of them insisting to me that another person in my group was gay, and you could tell by “just looking at them”.

I’m not going to touch on the idea of creating drama over sexual orientation (that’s a whole other blog post). Even after I started to come out to myself, no one on that trip could tell I was gay. Everyone that I came out to at home was surprised. It felt like my homosexuality was pouring out of every part of me, but my ‘straight acting’ of the past was just too good.  I had pretended to have crushes on male celebrities and tried to convince myself that I was in love with several of my male friends. It never felt real to me, but I guess I was fairly convincing. The markers that seemed so obvious to that oil worker were wrong, but all of the markers I had weren’t ‘gay enough’.

Can you always tell that people are gay by just looking at them? At the beginning of the trip when this occurred, I wasn’t even out to myself yet, but no one was picking up on what in hindsight was pretty obvious gay vibes. Even after being out for 6 years, I still get surprised reactions; they couldn’t ‘see’ my gayness. Before I cut my hair short, I would go  to Pride parades and events with my male gay friends and automatically be pegged as the ally or hag tagging along.  Now, there are times when I look at myself and think I look ‘gayer’ than other times, but those visual markers don’t necessarily give me away. My hair could be in a faux hawk, and I could be wearing skinny jeans and a plaid shirt and people have still be surprised when I refer to my girlfriend.

Is there a mysterious gay vibe that I’m not emitting? Being a lesbian is a crucial part of my identity, and honestly it frustrates me that people don’t see it when I think I am making it obvious. Is it that it’s so obvious to me, but surprising for everyone who assumes heterosexuality until proven other wise? Is that what has kept me safe when I have been traveling with my non-profit? I feel gay all of the time, but I guess since straightness is assumed ( I usually dress in the middle of the butch/femme spectrum) I get lumped in with all the other heterosexuals. I don’t mind that when I’m traveling with my organization if it protects me, but I get frustrated that people can pick up on gay vibes from other people and not me.  What separates me from all of the other women you can ‘just tell’ are lesbians?

Even though I’m grateful that assumed straightness protects me from homophobia abroad, it’s a double edged sword. Having people know that I’m a lesbian is crucial to my identity. I feel like less of myself while under this protection, and I feel like I’m lying to everyone involved.

I want to be my gay self all of the time; I just have to wait until being my true self wouldn’t get myself or my organization hurt.

I won’t hold my breath, but I remain hopeful.


Working in Anti-LGBT* Countries

With the Prime Minister of Uganda  signing the anti-homosexuality bill into law I feel like I need to talk why I work in a country that isn’t friendly to LGBT* individuals. The country outside of the United States that I work in is not on the same level as Uganda or Russia, but it would be hazardous to be openly gay there.

It’s a complicated issue. I have heard professors, teachers, and friends refuse to financially support organizations that are working in anti-gay countries like Uganda and Russia. Which is very understandable.

I’m lucky in the sense that the country I work in isn’t extremely anti-LGBT*. Yes there is a culture of homophobia, but I cannot personally draw a line in the sand and say I’m not willing to work there.

Is there a line that we as gay humanitarians have to draw? I’ll give/volunteer/work in country X only if the government doesn’t discriminate against the LGBT* community and if there isn’t a culture of homophobia? Does a country like that exist?

Sometimes, it is hard to justify working in a homophobic country (especially to myself). Why work in a country that would kick me and my organization out if they knew I was a lesbian? For a lot of the LGBT* community – they wouldn’t participate, and that makes a lot of sense. Supporting your own discrimination does seem counter intuitive.

For me, my reasoning lies with the people I am working with, the constituents. I have an emotional connection to the families, children, schools, and communities. I am constantly reminding myself that the people are not the government, and the government is not the people.

I won’t be outing myself there anytime soon. I don’t want to find out whether people would still like and accept me regardless, and I don’t want the government to kick my organization out of the county. I guess that is cowardly.

Maybe I’m also naive – but I believe someday I’ll be able to talk about my girlfriend to the people I work with here and abroad.

Will I be donating to a Russian or Ugandan aid organization any time soon? Probably not. Will I give up my organization? Definitely not. What is driving me despite everything is the emotional connection I have to the people, the country, and the mission.

We all have to draw our line somewhere.