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.

 

Depression Doesn’t Make You an Artist

I read an article a week or so ago about mental health, creativity, and treatment. I’m not going to mention where the article was posted or anything about the article specifically because it is without a doubt one of the worst, disgusting, and harmful pieces of writing I’ve ever seen on the internet. Now you might say Amanda, there is a lot of terrible things on the internet, why is this one more horrible than the rest of it?

The intention of this article is the reason I would put it up there with the worst of the worst. In it the writer claims that it was better for her friend to have committed suicide than be on medication, because she wasn’t able to be her true creative self. I’m going to write that again. Someone thought, wrote down, and posted on the internet that someone killing themselves was better than their friend living a ‘lesser’ medicated life.

I don’t know what’s scarier, the fact that she thought she was being insightful or innovating, or a person struggling might use this as justification to not try therapy or medication. I can only speak for myself and my mental health journey, but I can say with 100% certainty that my writing was absolutely awful before I started a therapy regime supplemented with medication. Insanely terrible. I could barely write in coherent sentences, and if I did manage to write something not awful I had no confidence to let anyone read it. I wasn’t living up to my true self. I wasn’t living up to my creative potential. Honestly, I wasn’t really living.

After I started managing my depression and anxiety I’ve had people tell me that I had changed and my different self was not as good as the ‘old me.’ Apparently I was a better friend and a better person when I constantly grappled with chronic loneliness, anxiety, and depression. My medication and therapy has helped me find who I really was, not a depressed version of myself. And for some reason people have a hard time when people they know with mental health issues struggle toward being their better selves. It probably does look like we’ve changed, but really it’s just a matter of rediscovering who we are without depression or anxiety completely controlling our lives.

Romanticizing mental health problems as a way to being a great artist is dangerous, unhealthy, and extremely untrue. I was an unproductive writer who occasionally wrote sad, terrible poems in a journal I was never going to share. Now I’m writing a book, writing on this blog, and writing for Geeks Out. I’m a much happier and content person, and my writing benefits from that. A person who is struggling to be happy or stay alive isn’t automatically better at their craft. And even if they were for some reason? A person’s life is far more important than their art. A person shouldn’t feel like they need to sacrifice themselves to create something for the world.

Our lives are more important than our art. Our better lives help us create better art. This is what we need to be telling our friends and family. Struggling doesn’t make you a better artist, writer, composer, or anything else.

Our friends’ lives have no less value when they are trying to get better.

The Mentors in My Life

This Mother’s Day, while I am  extremely grateful for my mother and how she has raised me, I would like to focus on the mentors in my life. I’ve been very lucky in my adult life, having mentors that have guided me through my journey in the LGBT* community and also the non-profit sector. I would not exist the way I do if it weren’t for these people, for which I am eternally grateful.

I would imagine that being out in any profession can prove difficult, but I know first hand what the repercussions of coming out in the international non-profit sector are. Honestly, I have felt like a unicorn at times, a mythical creature rarely seen. I know that other queer people work in non-profits, but unless they have worked in a LGBT* non-profit, I have never had a mutually ‘out’ interaction in my field with a peer.

Without my mentors, and specifically one of my former professors, I wouldn’t have anyone who truly understands what it’s like to travel to a different country as a gay humanitarian. Being closeted in some cases and being out in others has a lot of emotional and practical consequences. I’ve written previously about how toxic the closest can be, and it’s even more toxic when you have no one to talk to about being stuck in there.

My professor has let me voice my concerns and has legitimized my fears. She gets the complexities of weaving in an out of identities for the sake of doing something that you love, while being with someone who you love.

Some days it’s really hard reconciling my Lesbian identity with working in a country that is not LGBT* friendly. There are days that if I focus on it too much I become a big spiraling ball of anxiety heading towards a bout of panic attacks. Luckily I have people to pull me out of these funks. I have my girlfriend, my friends, family and mentors. Without these people, and specifically my former professor, I might be doomed to be rolling in my anxiety forever.

Just having someone who gets it allows my head to clear and it restores my passion and my faith in what I am doing. Even if we need to stay closeted for the sake of our work and passion, we need to find at least one person who can relate to and empathize with our struggles.

LGBT* non-profit workers aren’t unicorns and we aren’t islands. We need people who get the queer and the non-profit of us.

Finding Myself Through My Non-Profit

I celebrated my birthday this is past week, which has put me in a retrospective mood. How did I get to where I am today? Who am I now compared to who I was last year, or 5 years ago? What have been the main components that have shaped the course of my life?

Obviously the answers to these questions are long and in-depth, and not quite relevant to this blog. However, one of the quintessential parts of my life has been co-creating and running my own non-profit.

I have learned about myself through the successes and failures, the tweaking of the mission, and learning new skills. I found out that I could build a website (nothing fancy, but pretty damn good if I say so myself).I learned that we needed a financial adviser and accountant, and that speaking in front of people wouldn’t kill me. I now have the ability to see what skills I am able to learn, and what would make sense to outsource to more talented people.

Most importantly, I have learned where my true passion lies. Growing up, I had no idea who I wanted to be; I wanted to be an astronaut, photographer, writer, and psychologist,  but none of those professions seemed to truly fit me. Even in the beginning of forming my organization, I couldn’t feel it driving me. Luckily, it didn’t take too long to click for me. I honestly don’t know exactly what was the catalyst to this revelation, but something sparked within me that changed my life for the better.

Creating my non-profit has allowed me to find myself amidst the rubble of my self-doubt and listlessness. It gave me a purpose that brought together my many passions. It allowed me to see the many talents I possess, and what I can offer to the world.

I am infinitely grateful to have this organization and the experiences that have come with it. I know that I am making a positive impact on the world.

It’s who I am.

Help ALL of the People…?? Don’t Burn Yourself Out

I tend to over think things a lot. I won’t go into detail about my neurosis (you’re welcome), but one of my struggles within the non-profit sector is making sure that I don’t stretch myself too thin and burn out.

For example: In most states, the state that I live in is working toward marriage equality. I have tried getting involved and volunteering for the cause (actually have attempted to get involved in multiple states), but I never feel motivated to follow through and put all of myself into it. My head says DO IT while the rest of me resists. This dichotomy makes me feel extremely guilty – how can I not feel motivated to participate in winning my basic civil rights?

I would think that those who work in the non-profit sector outside of the LGBT* arena would  also feel guilty if they are not actively working toward their rights.  Should we feel guilty? Definitely not. We are more than just our orientation, and we have many different passions. There is no need to get burned out because we feel like we should be spending our energy on multiple issues. I’m not Super Man, and just because I am a lesbian does not mean I have to be an activist. If you want to delve 100% into education, water development, homelessness or anything else – you should! If you want to commit yourself to just queer issues – do it!

LGBT* rights are obviously extremely important, and participation is essential. But we need people who are fully dedicated to the work involved, not people who feel like they need  to participate to keep their gay card.

To be our best selves, we need to follow our hearts. We are educators, humanitarians, aid workers and volunteers. We are a complex group of individuals who are passionate about a plethora of issues. We are all working towards a common good – and weighing good deeds against each other gets us no where.

Assuming Does Make You an Ass

Culture isn’t real- at least what most of us think of when we hear the word culture. The “homophobic culture” of a country (i.e. Russia) is not the entire country. Saying that there is only one culture in a country or geographic area is ridiculous. Yes, there are features that are unique to specific countries, but saying there is only one homogeneous American culture would negate the differences that the North, South, East , West, and Midwest are proud of.

I think it is getting better, but a large amount of the aid/non-profit/government workers still treat countries and regions as having one collective mindset. Going into City A with locked in expectations is counter productive to whatever your mission is.

Assuming that a group of people in any aid/non-profit/government situation has nothing to offer will also decrease the chance of your program making the most positive impact. We are not the true experts, and utilizing  every resource, even if it’s not an obvious one, is crucial.

I do need to remind myself of these things quite often: every time I travel, give a workshop or work with volunteers. Assuming that a person, group of people, or entire country hates who I am closes me off from creating the most positive impact.

I’m not saying that every gay humanitarian should tattoo the word “Queer” on their forehead, but putting every Russian, Ugandan, or American in the same homophobic box discredits the diversity of opinions that exist in humanity’s spectrum.

When going into a new location, we need to remind ourselves that politics and political agendas are not people.

And it’s not why we do the work we do. It’s the people.

In Which Private Schools in PA Suck: See Also the Fire at Will is Terrible for the LGBT+ Community

Last week a teacher was fired from Holy Ghost Prep Catholic High School after maintaining a marriage license with his partner in New Jersey. Griffen had worked at the school for 12 years, teaching Spanish and French. In this time he had brought his partner to events, and had also had administrators over to their house as guests.

The administration stated that he broke his contract by obtaining the marriage license…. but they’ve known that he’s been gay for over 12 years? Now, it’s a Catholic school right? What should I really expect, especially a Catholic school run by a priest?

My mother voiced the need for Griffen to sue the school into submission. In theory yes, that would be fantastic. Luckily the tide has turned and our rights can be won in the court of law. But…in the great state of Pennsylvania ‘fire at will’ is the legal policy that rules the state. (I’m not going to go into private school issues…. that’s a whole other topic that I’ll try to tackle next week).

Obviously PA needs to get their shit together and get on the marriage equality and anti-discrimination bus. But the thing that I keep coming back to is that Griffen has taught their for 12 years….. 12 years…..

12 years of being who he is…. and THEN getting fired. When is it going to be completely safe to be 100% out 100% of the time? Will there ever be a time where  true work safety and security can exist for LGBT+ folks? Will a sweeping nationwide anti-discrimination policy secure peace of mind in the workplace , or is the fear of a loop-hole always going to make us afraid of being out?

I know that Catholic / private institutions will always have some right to hire / fire outside the realms of decency, but there is still a glimmer of hope that I hold onto; I hope that one day I could work with a Catholic run organization (shelter, hospital, school etc.) and not have my organization be kicked to the curb if I’m outed to them.

Maybe its the few people in my 12 years of attending Catholic school (more on that next week) but I would love to believe that this case in Bensalem, PA will be one of the last of its kind. I hope that the growing push toward true social justice inside these school walls will one day change the administration and hierarchy of the church towards an age of tolerance, acceptance, equality.

The Queer Identity and International Aid Work

When I voiced my concern to a colleague about being gay and traveling abroad, I was basically told I shouldn’t make everything about my sexuality. I really struggled with this… was I applying my international work and travel through an unnecessary queer lens?

Luckily one of my mentors in all things LGBT ( and one of the loveliest woman I know, hands down) guided me to the crux of the issue- it wasn’t about applying my lesbian-ness all over the place; the true issue is that I am afraid of stripping my identity in order to be successful at my job and in my long term career.

When I think about identity, my head honestly starts to spin. I only came out 5 years ago. My queer circle hasn’t expanded much in those years, the large majority of my friends are heterosexual. Do I “act” and “look” more gay than 5 years ago? Probably. Some ‘friends’ have given me crap for it, but I see nothing wrong with buying into different identities and changing how you want to present your identity. If I never changed, I’d still be wearing Hot Topic shirts and thinking that Dashboard Confessional got their lyrics from my diary.

*Shudder*

People change, identities change. I really hope that I’m not the same kind of gay 10 years from now. Everyone grows, everyone evolves (cue Pokemon reference..?)

My identity never comes into question in my domestic work, and luckily hasn’t caused conflict or disturbance internationally. I know everyone has their “work” self, their “family” self, etc. But straight people get to be straight in all of these scenarios if they choose to.

I don’t want to tattoo ‘Lesbian’ on my forehead , but at the same time, I don’t want to worry about if my hair looks too gay, if I shouldn’t wear plaid of my marriage equality ring. Or purposely not talk about my amazing girlfriend.

I am a gay woman. Yes I have other identities, but this one is pretty central to who I am. Because I want it be, and at least for now, that works.

International Update (Sorry you’re only getting one…)

The country I have been working in has waxing and waning internet access, so I figured I would dedicate myself to one longer post versus two shorter ones. And I have also, you know been doing work for my non-profit, so I haven’t given myself much time during the day hours to process .

Warning: the following post will be rambly, highly emotional,  and only mildly edited.

I’m not going to give you a play by play of each daily experience, because most of the time throughout each day there wasn’t really an issue 95% of the time. And honestly, I haven’t actively thought about the issue from day to day. Which sounds great yes? This lesbian is definitely not stressed out about being in _____ as a gay women?

Nope.

As many of my gay peers know, it really only takes one incident to rattle you. We were at a local market, and being the good girlfriend that I am, I was looking for something to get her. As we were walking through stalls with one of our hosts (who I am out to), she mentioned (in the language of ____) that it was for my girlfriend, and quickly changed it to ‘friend’. I was not looking at who our host was talking to, but I know a flash of horror passed across my face.

And the moment was gone in an instant. In reality I felt no danger, and mild panic. Nothing out of the ordinary in my daily life honestly. But I just couldn’t settle it… until a colleague of mine had said that in the future I could use the ‘foreign language excuse’  when referring to my girlfriend.

Aaaaand then my righteous anger set in. Not at my colleague, she was right after all. I was angry at everything: the world, this country, my country, social inequality, prejudice… and the list just goes on. Why should I have play silly games of mispronunciation? Why in meetings should I have to feel concerned that I’m giving off to much “gay”?

WHY SHOULD MY SEXUAL ORIENTATION HINDER MY ABILITY TO TRY TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE?

I should be leaving this trip feeling accomplished, satisfied, and happy. We have so much to work towards, and I want to focus all of my energy towards the future of my organization. But what does that mean as I continue to stay in the closet for the sake of success and funding?

I guess I’ll have to find out.