Archive for ‘LGBTQ’

October 9, 2014

Coming Out: A Personal Journey, Not a Stance

National Coming Out Day is October 11th this year, which is two days away. So, I think it’s only right that I share some of my thoughts on what it means to “come out.”

For me, “coming out of the closet” is a conscious decision to live and present yourself authentically within a social group that perceives you in a way which contradicts with your true and authentic self. Until one’s decision to come out, one is consciously choosing to repress or hide a part of their identity from a social group, be it sexual orientation, gender identity or both. One is assuming the identity that has been built by others’ perceptions of them rather than the one they perceive for themselves. This is important to note. This is the reason that heterosexual, cisgender individuals don’t need to “come out”; because nothing is being repressed or hidden. They are already living authentically. Granted, that has a lot to do with cultural norms, privilege, and the distribution of power within our society. Hetero-, cisgender individuals are perceived by society to be the majority, to be “the default” state of being. Because of this, they have the privilege of being perceived in the same way that they identify. A hetero-, cisgender person can live true to their identity without having to actively try and change others’ perceptions of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

That was the lecture part. The next part is a little more intimate.

The act of “coming out” holds a lot of personal significance for me. I have had several “coming out” experiences in my life. And as is true for many others in the LGBTQ community, I will continue to have them throughout my life. When I was in middle school, I came out to my two best friends (despite not really having the language or the terminology to describe my sexual orientation). One welcomed me with open arms and congratulated me for having the courage to tell her. The other never spoke to me again. When I was in high school, I came out to a particular group of friends as well as my partner. My partner (who I am still with today) accepted me and said that this new knowledge about my sexuality would do nothing to negatively affect how much he loved me. My friends were for the most part accepting, with a small handful who decided to alienate, bully, and out me to others.

When I was in college, I came out publicly on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and my blogs. I also came out to my parents. This was the hardest coming out experience for me. In the 2+ years following my decision to live “out,” I struggled to maintain family relationships, was threatened with being cut off financially, was threatened with homelessness, received online death threats, was physically assaulted, and tolerated an almost constant stream of cyber-bullying from individuals I once called friends. I was also urged by professional colleagues and advisors to retract my coming out statement and to stop “perpetuating the idea that your sexuality is acceptable.” The social aspect of my life became so toxic to my mental health that I began to have daily thoughts of suicide and engaged in a number of self-harm activities including taking improper doses of prescribed medications, excessive drinking, cutting, and ingesting toxic chemicals.

I consider myself lucky; despite more than one suicide attempt during this turbulent period in my life, I am still here.  I have since had one more coming out experience – coming out as a professional in a workplace setting. This was by far the most positive experience I have had. The organization that I work for is very pro-diversity and prides itself on encouraging employees to live in the healthiest, most authentic way possible. It even includes the language “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in its official Non-Discrimination Policy, putting it miles ahead of most Utah-based firms.

I am proud to say that I have lived “out” in all aspects of my life for the past 3+ years.

Coming out requires personal courage, resilience, and a great amount of positivity. There are easy, positive coming out experiences and there are difficult, negative coming out experiences. Each experience is different and there really isn’t a proven, faultless, fool-proof way to come out. There’s no way to determine if your coming out experience will be positive or negative, though you can make an educated guess based on a million diverse factors. No one can tell you when or where or to whom you should come out; that is a decision you can only make yourself. I would never encourage someone to come out if they are uncomfortable or scared of the idea of living authentically. It’s my experience that you need to be comfortable with the idea of everyone knowing – and potentially making critical judgments of your character based on the idea – that your sexual orientation and/or gender identity do not conform with their perceptions and preferences of who you are.

[NOTE: I also do not advocate coming out if you think doing so would add more danger to your life than it would happiness and fulfillment. Yes, coming out despite the threat of harm does take courage. Yes, it is very commendable. Yes, many great people have put themselves in harm’s way in order to further a cause or bring attention to a social problem. But, in my opinion, your life and happiness are far too important to reduce yourself to being someone else’s martyr.]

As an “out” member of the LGBTQ community and what I consider to be a generally good person, I feel that it’s my responsibility and privilege to be an ally to those who still struggle with coming out in their lives, as well as those who decide not to come out. But, allies don’t identify themselves; allies are identified by those they support. You can’t just call yourself an ally and make it so. Your actions and the perception of those actions determine whether or not you are an ally. That’s one of the reasons I don’t think it’s appropriate to “come out as an ally.” Announcing your support is wonderful and helps a lot of people. But I don’t know that we should be equating it to the act of coming out.

Now, I’ve recently been criticized for saying that allies should choose a phrase other than “coming out” when announcing their support of LGBTQ individuals this Saturday for National Coming Out Day. People have gone so far as to say that I must not want allies and that I am rejecting their support. That’s not what I’m trying to do at all, and I’m truly sorry if I have made people feel this way. My intention is not to alienate allies. I don’t want to diminish their efforts and actions; allies are and have been valuable support systems for LGBTQ individuals and powerful voices in the fight for social equality.

But – and there’s no polite or sugar-coated way for me to say this – it’s not about them. And allies shouldn’t try to make it about them. Selflessness is a very important part of being an ally. You shouldn’t support people simply to gain praise or be commended; that’s just an added bonus to doing the right thing. As an ally, it’s important to acknowledge that you are supportive of the movement, but you are not the movement itself. In order for true social equality to be accomplished, the LGBTQ community needs to be the most active, most involved, most visible members of the LGBTQ equality movement. Allies should not act as if they are the spearhead of the movement; that gives the opposition the chance to say that it was the majority – the heterosexual, cisgender community – who gained rights for the LGBTQ community, downplaying and invalidating all the work that the LGBTQ community put in to ensure that equality is achieved. We need allies, not saviors.

I know that’s blunt. I know that’s not what some people want to hear. But I believe it needs to be said and understood. Many people aren’t going to agree with me and that’s okay. As always, these are my thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. They may not be true for some; I understand that. But, I think it’s important to bring these kinds of perspectives to the table.


Please, feel free to leave questions, comments, concerns, thoughts, hopes, dreams in the comment section below. As this is a somewhat touchy subject and a virtually anonymous forum, please try to be kind if you do decide to strike up a dialogue. I do field all comments on my blog, so if I feel that your comment is hurtful or inappropriate, I may decide not to publish it. On the same token, that also gives you the opportunity to ask that I respond to your comments privately; all you need to do is leave me some way of getting in touch with you and let me know that you wouldn’t like your comment to be published.

I love you all.

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December 19, 2013

Breaking the Silence

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

One of the worst things about coming home is seeing and hearing just how ignorant the people around me are when it comes to offensive and prejudiced language. Since coming home on Friday, I think I’ve heard at least a dozen racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or heterosexist comments made in regular conversation.

These aren’t blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, or heterosexist people either. These are my friends and loved ones — people who are incredibly intelligent, loving, and compassionate. That’s why it saddens me so deeply to hear offensive language, stereotypes, and slurs being tossed around with no regard for people’s feelings or well-being. These people have the capacity to speak without offending. I don’t understand why, in the grand catalog of humor, someone would need to stoop so low to make jokes that target, objectify, and ridicule an entire group of people. They should know better…

Being basically the only minority I know in my group of friends (and the only semi-liberal queer feminist in my family), the burden kind of falls on me to speak up. Not saying it should be that way, but that’s how it always seems to end up, isn’t it? Naturally, I’m forced to be the representative of every oppressed, targeted, marginalized social group ever. I’m getting a pretty good idea of how Atlas felt. But, if I don’t do anything about what’s happening, nobody will. Everyone around me is completely content with the current social standards (though, I’d assume that this is the default setting for those in the favored majority).

It looks like I have plenty of work to do as a bystander. It might not make me many friends, but I’m through giving others my silent consent. In the past, my speaking out against offensive language with my friends and family has resulted in people resenting me, so I’m expecting the same kind of backlash moving forward. Around here, people treat “political correctness” like a dirty word. That mentality is part of the problem and really stunts my efforts to affect change where I live (it was much easier back in Portland, OR). People hear one word about social change and they just start to tune you out. It’s a good thing I have the rare gift of persistence.

If people really want to shoot the messenger, I don’t mind biting the bullet. What’s important to me is that people begin to think critically about what they say and how it affects the people around them. People have gotten way too comfortable using offensive language around me and I’m done sitting silently while they make my skin crawl and my ears burn. It’s time we started holding each other accountable for our words and actions. And that’s precisely what I’m going to start doing.

Prepare yourself, Utah. I’m comin’ for ya.

May 24, 2013

“There’s no need to get upset over nothing.”

Once, I was being verbally and sexually harassed at the mall by a group of teenage boys. My ears became hot with anger and I felt as though my blood was beginning to boil. I wanted to scream at them. But I didn’t. Instead, I vented to a “friend” of mine. This friend responded with the statement, “There’s no need to get upset over nothing.”

Yes, I am getting upset. No, it is not over nothing.

I get upset when white, straight, upper-class girls say that since they have never felt afraid to go out in public alone, I have no reason to be afraid.

I get upset when I am stopped by police officers for taking a walk in my own neighborhood.

I get upset when people shout obscenities and slurs at me when I walk down the street in “dyke” clothing.

I get upset when my parents tell me that I need to “stop dressing so butch.”

I get upset when people ask me, “Where are you from?” as if it’s impossible for me to be from the United States.

I get upset when girls ask me if I’ve ever had a crush on them as soon as they learn about my sexual orientation.

I get upset when people ask me if I have any straight friends.

I get upset when people ask me if I have any white friends.

I get upset when people ask me if I’m in an open relationship with my boyfriend simply because I’m bisexual.

I get upset when people ask me if my relationship with my boyfriend is some kind of diversity statement.

I get upset when people tell me to “get over it.”

I get upset when people say, “It’s all in your head.”

I get upset when people do not understand what it means to be depressed.

I get upset when people use the word “depressed” as a synonym for “bummed out.”

I get upset when people see my scars and call me an “attention whore.”

I get upset when I cannot freely walk through my own house without the fear of knowing that at any moment, I could be judged, ridiculed, or reprimanded because of my body and the way that I look.

I get upset when straight white men make jokes about their friends being fags or queers.

I get upset when a local news station refers to an entire community by simply calling us “gays,” as if our sexual orientation is our only identifier.

I get upset when people do not understand that the fear of being harassed, assaulted, discriminated against, or even killed because of my biological gender, my gender identity, my sexual orientation, my skin color, my race, my ethnicity, my weight, my mental health, and/or my partner is constant and ever-looming.

I get upset when people, who have never known what it means to live your entire life in a constant state of fear, attempt to dictate how I should and should not feel.

You have no right to decide a goddamn thing for me. Because you can and will never even fathom what it feels like to live in a world that you are simply a guest in.

April 24, 2013

#CYP

Have you ever had a conversation in which the person you’re talking to says something that you aren’t comfortable with? Something that you’re offended by, or you feel could be offensive to someone else? I definitely have. And it’s really hard to blatantly call someone out on things like that. But if people don’t realize that what they’re saying is offensive or hurtful, we can never expect them to learn and grow. Right?

Well, I propose we start a trend.

We all want to help build inclusive communities that celebrate rather than stifle diversity. We all want respect from one another, and we have a right to expect it. But sometimes people, even those who don’t have a single malicious bone in their bodies, say things out of ignorance or misunderstanding that can be hurtful or offensive to one person or another. This is especially true when it comes to talking about minority groups and stereotypes.

Well, I’ve come up with a little tool that you can use when having discussions with people about diversity-related topics in a respectful but critical way. It’s called CYP.

CYP (pronounced like “sip”) stands for Check Your Privilege. When you say “CYP,” you’re asking a person – without the use of public humiliation or anger – to rethink the way that they say things. You’re requesting that the person ask themselves Could what I’ve said offended someone? You’re also asking them to think critically about the advantages they have in our society. These advantages (or privileges) can change the way people view the world around them. They can also change the way people view other people, especially those who are different. 

Here’s a good example:

A couple weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a friend from back home (who is a white, heterosexual, cisgender male). We were talking about being queer in a predominantly heterosexual, cisgender world. He said, “I’ve never seen any LGBTQ people treated differently just because they were gay. That doesn’t really happen around here.”

Enter the CYP. Note that this actually took place before I came up with the acronym.

I explained to him that just because he, a white, straight cisgender man, doesn’t see discrimination happening doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. Being unaware of something doesn’t make it any less real. I explained that a big reason he doesn’t see discrimination against LGBTQ individuals is because of his privilege as a white, straight cisgender man. We live in a society where he is unfairly given an advantage over minorities, because of his majority “status” (for lack of a better word). And he doesn’t see how privileged he is because he has never been required to look.

As a minority, I am forced every day to see just how disadvantaged I am. This is something that my white friends never truly experience.

I see it in the way media portrays women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.
I see it in how my family treated differently by cashiers at stores because my mother’s accent makes her questions sound different from those of a white woman.
I see it in how people ask me if my sister is my daughter when they wouldn’t dare assume the same about a young white girl.
I see it in how police watch me a little more closely than my white counterparts.
I see it in how many times TSA has asked to search my bag instead of anybody else’s.
I see it in my family’s history.
In how my father’s family lived constantly straddling the poverty line because Latinos in the 40s and 50s were never afforded the same opportunities as their white counterparts, and as a result had to work twice as hard for half the gain.
In how my mother immigrated to the U.S. from a developing country, seeking a better life, but not being met with the kindness and opportunity promised to her by the Land of the Free.
I see it in the looks that I get when I tell people that I’m bisexual.
I see it in the way people ask me where I’m from, as if I could never be American.

These are just some of the things that a member of the minority faces on a daily basis. But if you’re a member of the majority, you don’t see this. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of it.

That’s where CYP comes in. It can be as simple as writing it on a note or whispering it in someone’s ear. CYP is a way of holding a mirror up to the world and getting people to think critically about themselves and the difference between their perspective and reality. All perspectives are skewed by experiences. But that’s no excuse for ignorance.

We can eliminate ignorance. Slowly, but surely. One CYP at a time.

#CYP
#CheckYourPrivilege