VOLUME I SPRING 2017
UNAPOLOGETICALLY QUEER: ARTFUL, POLITICAL & INTERSECTIONAL
KATHRYN MANGUS, Director | Student Media
do not be fooled, there is risk. Our contributors, which include both openly and closeted Queer individuals as well as several straight Allies, are mindfully bringing attention to some of the most challenging moments in their entire lives. Our contributors are not career journalists and are not participating for payment. Some have elected to share anonymously or adopt pen names to protect their safety and privacy. They are everyday outliers in life who believe that sharing stories from their lives will help broaden conversations and visibility surrounding differences within the Queer community, so that we all one day may feel understood by society and represented by mainstream media. The personal perspectives and life experiences presented by Outlier Magazine contributors do not represent all other members within their ascribed identity — cultures are not monolithic, and the experiences of individuals within set communities are all very different. The Outlier Magazine editorial staff and Student Media of George Mason University may not necessarily agree with all of the perspectives that our contributors convey, but as advocates for a free and inclusive press, we will always fight for platforms where students may express themselves. Please read with the intention to understand, respect the privacy and courage of our staff, and recognize that our contributors (and their written experiences) should never be read as spokespersons for their entire culture or identity. Acknowledge the autonomy of the individual, and respect the outlier’s right to live beyond what’s trending.
Thank you for your tireless pursuit of funding for this project, keen publising insight, and service as a champion for a free student press. This would not have been possible without your hard work.
JASON HARTSEL, Asst. Director for Marketing & Communication | Student Media Thank you for your endless support and guidance over many months—you are a natural mentor in all areas of design and content management, and above all else, you have been a great friend to this staff and community.
LESLIE STEIGER, Fiscal & Operations Asst. Director | Student Media Thank you for taking a chance on hiring Tom to join Student Media, for reintroducing the world to Outloud Magazine, and for being our logistical guru throughout this process.
DAVID CARROLL, Assoc. Director | Student Media Thank you for the many Student Media camera equipment loans, ﬂexibility with studio use, and for all of the great insight you’ve provided as we’ve established OutlierMag.OnMason.com.
Tom Shaw Outlier Magazine, Editor-in-Chief
Cover Model Extraordinaire Thank you for gracing us as the face of Outlier Magazine. Our staff is captivated by your presence, but above this, your beautiful heart.
BATEL YONA, Staff Photographer Your outstanding skill in photography is only matched by your immense allyship and kindness. Thank you for your excellent service.
Outloud Magazine (2011) Photo by Batel Yona
Outlier Magazine is the product of a lifelong vision realized: an opportunity to challenge conventional media narratives by creating a platform to discuss somewhat unconventional stories — the victories and hardships within a very culturally diverse LGBTQ (or Queer) community. Outlier Magazine is a publication that acts to chronicle and connect the experiences of Queer millennials, yes, but has been drafted with the intention to explore how many other cultural identities intersect and converse to bring modern cultural “outliers” into conversation. An outlier can be defined as a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system, or as a person or thing differing from all other members of a particular group or set. Content contributors to Outlier Magazine ascribe to identities at every imaginable point within the LGBTTQQIAAP* spectrum — Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, straight Ally, Pansexual — and beyond, if you can believe it! But our experiences within the world do not exist within a vacuum; if we are to firmly understand Queerness, we need to recognize that our conceptions of the human self are created by not one but many intersecting identities, including varying degrees of ability and disability, race, ethnicity, spirituality, generational perspective, economic status, political ideology and many more factors. While the outliers represented within this publication hail from extraordinarily manifold areas in life, what every single member of our Outlier Magazine team shares is a belief that the vulnerability and exposure that the contributor welcomes by agreeing to publish these incredibly intimate essays and works is worth the risk. And
The staff of Student Media’s Outloud Magazine has inspired this project, and we are proud to have built upon their legacy of expanding LGBTQ visibility in college media.
Contributors Abby Picard A. I. A. Al Raines Andi/ Angela Andrea Mendoza Colleen Flanagan Daniel Dominguez Daniel Tsang DC Quinn Demitri V. Jimenez Dominic Fiedtkou-Leonard Hannah Warner Hannah M. Jenika McCrayer Jillian Gogel Katie Herbst Lara Hatib Lenny Paquette Mary Cuccio Monet Sutton Natalia Crowder Nathaniel Pittman Ricky Albrook Roger LeBlanc Sasha Toophanie Sean Donald Shyheim Williams Tom Shaw
Editor-in-Chief Class of 2016, Public Relations; Government & International Politics
Content & Layout Editor Class of 2016, English: Creative Writing; Writing & Rhetoric
“Speak the truth even when your voice shakes.” — Maggie Kuhn
“Started from the bottom now we queer.” — Al Raines
Director of Photography Staff Photographer Class of 2017, Class of 2016, Environmental Photography & Sustainability Studies: Business & Sustainability “My duty is to live life truthfully, even if it means disappointing others.”
“There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.” — John Lennon
Design Al Raines Batel Yona Christopher Campos-Perez Christopher Chandler-Liu Devin Stewart Jason Hartsel Matt Addonicio Mazin Harb Mina Bursalioğlu Ricky Albrook Senya Donkor Shyheim Williams Tom Shaw
Advertising Alyssa Swaney Lauren Ernst Leslie Steiger Kathryn Mangus
EVAN DOMINIC FIEDTKOU-LEONARD BAINES
Co-Editor-in-Chief Global Affairs & Human Rights Section Editor Class of 2017, Global Affairs; Economics
Culture, Art, & Lifestyle Section Editor Class of 2016, English: Cultural Studies; Psychology
Intersectional Identities Section Editor Class of 2018, Government & International Politics; English: Cultural Studies
“Don’t worry about it.” -— Hannah Warner
“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.” — Harvey Fierstein
Domestic News & Advocacy Section Editor Class of 2018, Government & International Politics; Criminology, Law, & Society; Legal Studies
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into “The first gay pride was a riot.” other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” — Audre Lorde
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Don’t Ask,Tell All The Few,The Proud & The Married
Finding Angela Decoding Queerness & Disability
Swipe. Swipe. Block. WhatYour “Preference” Speaks to My Worth Why I Drive A Mental Health Narrative
Discovering My Spiritual Self Healing the Soul Upon Religious Dismissal The Elephant in the Room Young, Gay, of Color, & Voting Red
Pride Across Generations Millennial Activists Need Queer Mentorship Coming Out Across Cultures Being Black & Gay in Rural Virginia Adopted: My Roots Lead to China First Generation Iranian-American Growing Up Queer & Biracial
14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
The Economics of Coming Out
DOMESTIC NEWS & ADVOCACY Brotherhood Above All Gay in Greek Life
Leaving the Scene My BDSM Experience is Complicated
The Dilemma of Intracommunal Oppression Identity Isn’t As Simple As It Looks I Asked For Her Southern Discomfort & My Queer, Interracial Family
Hookup Culture FOMO My Fear of Missing Out
Beyond Miley Cyrus Gender Queer Artists You Won’t Find in Mainstream Media Media Transparency Where The Fuck Are All The Trans Protagonists?
22 24 26 28 29
Art, Poetry & Prose
31 Don’t Just Survive - Thrive Physical & Sexual Violence in my SameSex Relationship Black Lives Matter The Movement Black Trans Lives Matter Space for Queerness in Black Communities Sorry for Bursting Your Bubble A Pointed Response to Term Policing
Uneducated. Unprotected. Unsafe. OurYouth Sexual Education Crisis
Sex Work as a Choice Disclosure from an Advocate, Sex Worker & Student
32 34 35 37
Human Trafficking & Sex Work in the LGBTQ Community Global Affairs & Human Rights Map
Displacement & Discrimination The Experience of LGBTQ Refugees
Reparation of the Two Spirit Identity Preserving Native Culture Amid Western Gender Discourse In Memoriam This Magazine is Published in Memory of the Victims of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting
GLOBAL AFFAIRS & HUMAN RIGHTS
CULTURE & LIFESTYLE
don’t ask, tell all The Few, The Proud & The Married PAT GUILLEN those four years because everyone I worked with didn’t really care, until I was stationed in Japan. In Japan, everyone knows everyone on base, and if something seems off, it’s hard to hide it. While I was there, Krissy came to visit me. She wasn’t supposed to stay with me, but my roommate allowed it. One morning, Krissy and I woke to loud banging on my door. My corporal and sergeant barged into the room, yelling and asking who Krissy was. After they told me to report to the office, they left, and I told Krissy to leave. At the office, my corporal and sergeant yelled at me and lectured me about having guests in
Do you remember telling a friend not to tell a secret when you were young? That’s how it was in the Corps when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was in effect. If someone in command found out your secret, you were out of the military. No one was safe, but the group of friends that merely “put it together” became a safety net. When it came down to the military and my relationship with Krissy, I was lucky enough to call her my “friend.” When I was hospitalized, when my family members passed away, when I felt like I was alone because no one understood my situation…she was just a “friend.” Many who served with me knew, but they could not ask. I knew they couldn’t, and I couldn’t tell them. Krissy was my “friend” for years. I guess I was lucky for most of
my bunk, as I expected. But that wasn’t the end of it. Suddenly, they demanded to know who Krissy was and even asked me directly if I was “fucking gay,” an action that was against DADT policy. After telling them that I didn’t have to answer and making sure I was free to leave, I notified my gunnery sergeant and was moved to a different section. Months later, DADT was repealed. At first I didn’t like it; I liked that no one could ask me about my sexual orientation and that I had staked out who I could and couldn’t trust. But just a few months later, I left the military so that I could be with Krissy. Shortly thereafter, however, we broke up, and she joined the military. I went through a terrible depression, and around that time is when I met Jenn — my wife. She and her
Photos Courtesy of Pat Guillen
Have you ever been in love? Have you ever had a secret that could destroy your dreams? If you joined the military in 2008 and were homosexual, you might have been in the same situation as me. I met Krissy at the gym when I was working there, before traveling to boot camp in November 2008. Krissy was beautiful: blue-eyed, a former ballerina, and as smart as they come. I never meant to fall in love with her. I never knew I would love the Marine Corps so much either. I never meant to get attached to her. But for four years, I kept the secret to myself: I was a female marine in love with a woman named Krissy.
dad helped me through this time, especially with transitioning to civilian life. Eventually, Jenn and I became very serious. Jenn was able to help me get used to being in a relationship and showing affection, something that I wasn’t able to do in the military, especially under DADT. In September of 2015, Jenn and I got married, and Jenn recently decided to join the military. So now, in our relationship, I am the dependent while she is at basic training. And to be honest, I am struggling without her. I have trouble doing taxes and paying bills; I even accidentally gave myself food poisoning while making a dinner-for-one lasagna. I really do miss her being home, but even though she is gone, I grow to love her more every day. Although being lesbian in the military was not as harsh on me as it was for the gay men I served with, not being able to be open about my identity affected my relationship a lot. I remember I had to identify Krissy as “other” for our relationship on paperwork. I couldn’t post certain things on social media — not even our anniversary. I couldn’t talk to people if something was bothering me. At one point, I felt so bad about lying that I felt like I couldn’t do relationships anymore. Entering the military made me go back into the closet, and I took multiple steps back from what I had become comfortable with. But I wasn’t the only one. A lot of people entered the military in order to “go back into the closet.” When you join the military, you bring honor and pride to your family. You are no longer the “gay son” or the “lesbian daughter”; you’re the “marine son” or the “marine daughter.” Your label entirely changes. Because of this, you feel more empowered, and it gives you a chance to overcome your struggles from the past. For me, I felt like I couldn’t be myself. But now that I am with Jenn and DADT is over, I can better understand myself and the military relationship I’m in. 3
Finding DECODING QUEERNESS Angela & DISABILITY ANDI / ANGELA Every morning when I get out of bed to start the day, I walk to the bathroom, stare in the mirror, and ask myself the same question: Am I a boy or a girl today? Sometimes I find myself to be either male or female, depending on my mood, while other days I can be a combination of the two, or even see myself as a person who does not associate themselves with a specific gender. I have been repeating this process for about half a year now, ever since I finally came to understand that I was genderfluid (a gender identity in which a person’s identity can change over an unpredictable period of time across the gender spectrum). While I continue this ritual every day in order to match my identity with my personal feelings, there is also another reason why I look at myself through a piece of reflective glass: to be sure that who I am that day will also keep my anxiety at bay as I navigate life with Asperger’s syndrome. Growing up, I never had many friends. Kids in school would constantly poke fun at me for being smart but shy, due to a lack of social skills. I could never understand how to make or keep friends as a child. Reading nonverbal cues such as emotions and facial expressions would always prove a mystery to me as I could never tell if a person was happy to see me, or annoyed, but trying to be polite. As a result, I would find myself prone to anxiety attacks in social situations. These short bursts of fear usually sparked up when I felt disconnected from those around me. My parents, who were growing greatly concerned with my disconnection from other people my own age, took me to a doctor in my freshman year of high school. The result turned out to be Asperger’s syndrome, a mental disability that shows heightened concentration in certain areas and interests but at the cost of understanding social skills and, at times, keeping control of emotions, resulting in amplified anxiety. From that point on, my parents tried the best they could to help me reach out to other kids, teaching me what was right and wrong to say at certain times and even attempting to help with understanding how to read nonverbal cues. While my social sphere was beginning to grow, I still continued to isolate myself on certain days, particularly around my male friends. On some days though, I found comfort in the company of my female friends. I realized on these days, I felt more comfortable hanging around them, and my anxiety would wash away as I began to embrace my femininity and chat amongst them. These moments of bliss would not last long though as I would return home, welcomed back by my parents as their son. The conversations my dad and brother would have about sports and other things that are traditionally considered “masculine” brought no interest to me, causing me to feel a strong disconnection with them. I found myself wanting to be with my female friends again. Saying goodnight to my parents at seven in the evening, I would go to bed in my room and lay in bed for the rest of the night, staring at the ceiling, wondering why my anxiety was acting up now. This would happen almost every night on days when I had 4
spent more time with my female friends, sharing a more fulfilling social connection with them. It had gotten to the point where this happened so often that one night I thought to myself, Maybe I’m a girl. As my high school years went by, I secretly began questioning where I fit gender-wise. On trips to the mall with my family, I would walk with my mother as she shopped, darting my eyes at the different articles of women’s clothing, trying to imagine myself wearing them. Some days I felt like I could, but other days the very thought made my anxiety spike, my brain shouting at me, “No, you’re a BOY!” On nights when I would take a bath, I would find myself staring down at my body. Sometimes, I was very unhappy with what I saw, desiring a more feminine figure. Other days, I would feel proud of my masculine look. No matter what, I was either pleased one day but disappointed the next. At night, I would always go to bed early, lying there wondering what it would be like if I could hit a reset button and be assigned female at birth. When I finally moved in for my first year at George Mason University, I was eagerly anticipating what the future held for me. After my first week though, the anxiety once again began to set in. I was staying in a hall inhabited by men. While there were some that shared my interests and were happy to carry on conversations with me, I just could not identify with them. I spent my first year being increasingly awkward, not speaking to the people in my hall, and always in my room either doing homework or watching Netflix. Fortunately, I met someone who would turn out to be one of the best friends I ever made at Mason. For the first time, I felt like I had a friend I could talk to regardless of how masculine or feminine I felt. I knew that I could turn to her for anything without anxieties. Even with my newfound friendships, old habits resurfaced as I continued to return to my room and stay there for the remainder of the day. However, the questioning of where I stood on the gender spectrum began to escalate. While I no longer pondered the possibility of being transgender, I was sure that I was not cis-male. At the time, I only knew of three possible ways to identify on the gender spectrum: cis-male, cis-female and transgender. But I never felt like I could stay in just one box. If I stayed cis-male, I was sure to have anxieties on the days I felt more feminine. If I transitioned to female, I would just be switching to the other side of the spectrum, which would cause anxieties on the days I felt more masculine. As it turns out, I discovered that there are more than only three gender identities. On YouTube, I watched a series of videos by a gender fluid person who explained in great detail what it means to be gender fluid. As I continued to watch their videos, many of the events in my past became clear: the changes in feeling, the anxiety of not fitting in with other groups of the same sex, the desire to dress differently on different days — everything was beginning to make sense. My anxiety wasn’t trying to make my social situations uncomfortable; it was serving
Photo by ThinkStockPhotos
as an indicator as to how I was feeling on certain days. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had a place to belong. Of course, to be sure that this was indeed who I was, I decided that I should probably experiment with my newfound identity. At first I started small. I came out to one of my friends while on a mall trip and asked her to help me buy a hair clip to wear on days when I was feeling more feminine. This way, people could tell how I was feeling that day. This proved to be more successful than I possibly could have imagined. With a rose clipped to my hair, I felt like a small part of my insides were being reﬂected on the outside. As a result, I noticed that I was less anxious than before. I was feeling much happier and less stressed. Schoolwork became easier for me to concentrate on without anxiety bogging down my thoughts and making me question everything. From there, I slowly built myself up. I finally came out to another friend that I made my freshman year and she was incredibly pleased to see that I have found myself. She even pointed out that there were times in my past that actually began to make sense now that I had a label for it. With her help, I was able to come up with a female name to call myself on my more feminine days, as well as start to go by “she/her/hers” pronouns on these days. I felt relaxed in doing so. My confidence seemed to be increasing two-fold and the anxiety that had plagued me for so many years finally felt like it was disappearing. Today, I am mostly out to the Mason community. Everyone has become so accepting of who I am and actually wants to see the outward expression of who I am inside. My closet has been growing with new outfits that I can choose from every day; I can finally express myself the way I want to, and fight off the anxiety that has made it so hard for me to connect with others. I am still learning how to read nonverbal cues. There are times when I can get so carried away with talking about my gender that I vent without consideration of the other’s emotions or thinking about what is going on the other end of the line. There are also days when anxiety does begin to
set back in, but it’s not because of social situations anymore. Instead, it’s more about the doubt I feel that this might not be who I am (usually on my more masculine days). I always have to turn to my friends to see if they can see a change in me since on these occasions I sometimes cannot read my own emotions. Doing so helps reduce the anxiety I feel and helps to improve my own self-image. One thing is for sure though: coming to terms with my gender identity has helped me to understand the hindrances I face as a person with Asperger’s and has allowed me to work toward improving myself. I can now see just how pressing I can be on certain topics at times, so I try to open myself up to new topics that I never imagined I would take an interest in. I can also see how much I talk about myself instead of paying attention to others, so now I try to start off the conversation by seeing how the other person is doing and learning everything about them before I get to the problems I am facing. I still have a long way to go, but coming to terms with my gender identity is perhaps the best thing that has ever happened to me. When I started metaphorically “coming out of the closet” to friends, I also literally began coming out of my room. I no longer wish to spend most of my day catching up on TV shows and movies; instead, I wish to see what exactly life has to offer now that I feel like I can speak to anyone, be anything I want to be, and take on the world. 5
Swiped. Your “Preference” Speaks to My Value
Photo by Devin Stewart
With the amount of time I’ve invested in dating and hookup apps, I could have read a few book series, climbed a mountain, and traveled to another country. While conscious of this, I still log in every morning as if today could be the day that I find “the one” who will forever change my life. I deem my fear of rejection as the sole reason that I spend as much time on apps as I do, because I believe that it’s easier to be rejected online than visà-vis. Rejection has been a part of life to which I have become all too accustomed. It has kept me from initiating conversations not only online but in bars, has made me oblivious to any and all flirting, and has caused me to feel the need to accommodate others by becoming aware of their “preferences” before contacting them. My friends often tell me that I over-exaggerate the ordeals I endure in the dating/hookup world, but that’s because they can’t see the world from my perspective. Many of my gay male friends are white, slender, attractive, and slightly entitled, so of course they would not understand. Right? I don’t feel that my friends’ sense of entitlement is necessarily a bad thing though. In fact, I’m pretty sure many of them aren’t even aware that it is a thing. In a culture where appearance is heavily valued, I cannot compete with them as a minority. In fact, I gave up trying to compete with their appearances a long time ago in order to save myself from a pain so devastating that it could potentially prevent me from loving any part of myself. Whenever my friends invite me to go out with them, I have to mentally prepare myself for the night to come. The anxiety of going out alone generally hinders any appetite for food, twists my insides into knots, and makes me over-analyze all of my features. But the real anxiety hits me when I get to the line for the door. The feeling I get in line is the same feeling I get when a roller coaster is ascending before the fall. Each move forward is a tick of the roller coaster as it ascends up the track. Tick. Tick. Tick. And then comes the drop as I walk into the door. A rush of adrenaline initially excites my nervous system, and I brace myself for the upcoming turns and loops. But this feeling quickly passes as my friends slowly migrate
towards other attractive people in the bar, leaving me to feel like the last kid to be picked for kickball that is never actually picked. Then, at some point in the night, I start to receive attention from guys much older than I am, guys who never would have talked to me when they were my age. I’m their last resort to get lucky for the night. Sometimes I give in, let them come home with me, get them off and let them leave. But after all is said and done, I feel empty and unsatisfied. It’s hard to feel sexy or even good about yourself when you know someone only came home with you as a last resort. Usually I lay there for a while, long after my visitor has gone, and wait for something to happen inside, something that will tell me I’m worth more than a last resort. There once was a time when I felt good about myself, but like a rock eroded by a river, so too was that feeling eroded by time. Now I spend most of my time trying to salvage what I can of myself, hoping that the dim lights will work in my favor if I invite someone over, or that the guy will be just horny enough not to care that I used an app to clear up my acne and filter my face. I wasn’t born a supermodel, and I’m aware of that. I’m nowhere near a “10,” but I don’t want to have to feel like a “1” every day just because my skin is brown, my eyes are brown, and my hair has texture. I can’t change these things about myself, which is a reality that took me a long time to grasp. But I can accept my features — that some view as flaws — for my own sanity. Accepting myself has given me a lot of relief, but I still feel pain. On multiple occasions I have had a friend use my differences, which also happen to be my insecurities, against me in pursuit of another individual. One such example happened a few months ago, and though I know that he didn’t intend to hurt me, it did. It all started with this one app that most of us know, Tinder, for its ability to provide us with a list of people attracted to us by simply swiping left or right. I was using it one day, swiping everyone right, hoping to eventually make a match. And then I did. He was beautiful, tall, and had the perfect amount of facial hair! I was enamored by his looks and immediately started to
message him, and to my surprise he didn’t unmatch me, as many do, but he started talking to me. I had butterflies up to my eye sockets because of the joy I felt. I was so excited. My glee drove me to screenshot his picture and send it to my friend. I was so proud of having matched with someone so attractive and that he was talking to me. Then, my friend immediately sent him a friend request and proceeded to tell me, “You need to compete,” as in, I need to compete with my friend for the affection of this guy. But I had lost this game too many times to want to even consider playing again. The pain I immediately felt was overwhelming. Did he not realize that he automatically has a clear advantage over me because he is a white gay male? I felt like someone had decided that something of mine had belonged to them now, and there was nothing that I could possibly do about it. When you have the advantage, you don’t often realize the amount of privilege you have. You don’t have to ask someone if they are interested, or worry that you will make someone uncomfortable by saying hi to them because you don’t fit within the limitations of their preferences. Personally, I’d much rather be ignored on an app than to come across a “preference” part of a profile, because I can at least then imagine that it is my face and not the color of my skin that has been deemed off-putting. I don’t want to be anyone’s fetish. I don’t want to be anyone’s last resort. I don’t even want to be someone’s second option. But if I am any of these, I don’t want to be made to feel as such. I’ve spent way too much time crying in my room from feeling empty. Yet, I continue to see people. The way I frame the situation is that I’m at least getting some sort of attention, even if it’s only for 10 minutes every now and then. Will I ever stop using apps? Maybe one day. But that would require me to find someone who finds me appealing for more time than the time it takes them to get off. There are plenty of fish in the sea, and everyone is fishing for the biggest and prettiest fish to take home. I’ve been returned to the sea more often than I can recall. One day it will be different, and when that day comes, I hope to be caught forever.
WHY I DRIVE
A MENTAL HEALTH NARRATIVE
Photo by ThinkStockPhotos
KATIE HERBST Last week, I found myself in The Plains around midnight, sprawled out on the hood of my Civic in a gas station parking lot and staring at the stars. One car drove by while I was there, slowly as if its driver was wondering why I was loitering about. “It’s alright,” I tmuttered to myself, “I’m wondering the same thing, too.” If you hit 66 toward Front Royal from Fairfax, you’ll end up in The Plains in about 45 minutes without traffic. It’s two, maybe three exits past Haymarket on your way to the Shenandoah Mountains. There isn’t a sign, and you can’t see it from the highway, even at night. There are two restaurants, a bank, a few boutiques, and a coffee shop on the singlestreet town, but nothing more. Year round, the trees are strung with fairy lights, making the little town look as if it belongs in the stars that I was admiring that night. I had never planned to go to The Plains — I don’t think anyone ever does — but it was the second time that I’d ended up there. Each time, I stumbled upon the gem while driving out toward the mountains. It’s always about 45 minutes of driving until I begin to get anxious and exit the highway, considering turning back toward home. Five years ago, it was exactly 45 minutes that got me from my dormitory in Murfreesboro to downtown Nashville, Tennessee. But that time, I wasn’t quite brave enough to turn around. It was mid-January in Tennessee, and ice was on the roads, but no snow stuck to the ground. I had just finished a sorority chapter meeting, my first as an initiated member, and my heart couldn’t stop racing. On the walk back to my dormitory, all I could hear was white noise; all voices and sounds were being drowned by the sound of my beating heart. In the dorm lobby, I could hardly see my friends near the back door. I remember stopping for a bit and trying to regain my bearings before realizing what I needed to do. I left. I turned around, walked out, got in my car, and I left. At first, I didn’t think; then, I thought maybe I would drive to Vanderbilt. There was really nowhere else in Nashville for a 19-year-old kid to go to, and I didn’t know anyone at Belmont. So, I drove. Off the highway, though, all I remember seeing were the AT&T building and a
McDonald’s. I passed that same McDonald’s four times that night before finally stopping in my frustration and confusion. I ate my cheeseburger and chicken nuggets from the security of my car in the parking lot. Then, it was time to go home again. I reached up to turn the key in the ignition, but I couldn’t make it happen. My hand wouldn’t move; my arm wouldn’t lift. I was paralyzed, trapped inside of myself. Emotions rushed up inside of me, memories of the past year that I had worked diligently to suppress. I stared at that key, willing myself to turn it, focusing all of my energy on that one small action. Then, I sobbed and sniffled violently in the driver’s seat until I fell asleep — confused, scared, alone — in a McDonald’s parking lot under the glow of the horns protruding from AT&T’s roof. The next three months were spent in that car, ﬁghting back the ﬁrst and most violent manic episode I have experienced in my short life. Some nights I went back to Murfreesboro. I even attended chapter meetings and church events. I went on dates, I walked around campus, and I went to concerts in Nashville. But every night, I was back in my car, sleeping outside of churches and restaurants anywhere from Nashville to Murfreesboro to Franklin. I wasn’t homeless since I had a place to stay, but I definitely wouldn’t have called that place home. I spent many hours during those three months wondering why no one wondered about me. It would be weeks sometimes before I would see my sorority sisters, days before I would get around to returning my parents’ calls. My roommate saw me only three times that semester. Why were there no red flags going up in anyone’s heads? Those nights, I stayed up for hours, huddled under a blanket and anxiously worrying about whether or not I was truly loved. Yet, something kept me moving forward. There was something inside of me that kept me driving. The semester ended, and I decided to drop out of college to move home to Knoxville with my older sister. When asked, I shied away from talking about the experiences of my first year of college. I had become a person that even I didn’t understand. No, I didn’t become that person; I had been her all along. So why was I
ashamed? Because I was her or because I drove away when I realized exactly who she was? It would be another five years before I could fully understand the answer. Back then, I was convinced that everything about the real me existed in direct conflict with my conservative Roman Catholic upbringing. I was in a sorority; I had dated boys. Weren’t all of these things completely mutually exclusive from being...what? What was I supposed to call myself ? Lesbian? Bisexual? What was the word? It was always there, all my life, right on the tip of my tongue. And yet, when I found it, I drove away. After all that time and all of those drives, I finally realized why. No, I wasn’t ashamed. I was confused. I felt as if I should have been ashamed, but the reality was that I wasn’t. And that was what scared me the most. But now I know and understand that those things were not mutually exclusive. They were all a part of my identity. They were all perfectly good and perfectly okay. During those five years of self-discovery, I continued to drive. Through those trips, I lost my way many times, but I slowly and very surely found myself. I learned to not only come to terms with but to love my identity. I learned how to explain exactly what it was. I learned to quiet the mania that was raging inside of my mind. I learned to focus long enough to keep the suicidal tendencies at bay. I think that was the greatest thing that driving did for me. When I drove, I focused too hard on the road to listen to the voices inside of me that wanted me dead. Staring at the asphalt, I instead let my mind wander into long tangents and meditations, allowing the road to be my therapist. And then, about 45 minutes in, I would turn back and go home. So today, when storm clouds gather and I can’t find my center, I drive. I stare at the dark of the road ahead and of the sky above and I just drive. I let myself get lost in that one repeated action. Sometimes, I find The Plains and I remember how simple and pretty things can be. Sometimes I just get hopelessly lost. But every time, I meditate about why I’m there and why I’m going to turn around and go home. In those brief moments, my mind can escape and I can finally be free. And I can finally understand and accept who it is that I am meant to be. 7
Discovering My Spiritual SELF Healing the Soul Upon Religious Dismissal
Photo by Batel Yona
Growing up, I thought there were few things worse than living in a household that believes in a faith I didn’t believe in. It wasn’t that I hated being raised Christian Baptist or hated the idea of going to church; over time, I grew to understand that being Christian and going to church just works out for some people. And when the Christian lifestyle didn’t work out for me, I panicked. I was baptized at age eleven by my choice. I wanted Jesus Christ to love me and accept me. I wanted to show my family and friends that I was dedicated to Christianity and the Bible and God. Until I learned more about other religions, I thought Christianity was the only right way to practice worship. My family told me how important it is to pray to God and forgive others, just as Jesus did. Without growing up in a Baptist environment, I feel I would not have the qualities of compassion and mercifulness that I have today. However, aspects of the Baptist environment were abrasive to my young, developing psyche. I distinctly recall the image of our pastor screaming the word of God until his face was pink then red then purple, with one of his followers lying flat like a pencil on the floor, twitching sporadically, as if she was having a seizure. I was frightened to say the least. Shouldn’t he help her? I thought, Shouldn’t he help her instead of yelling at her? But I said nothing. I just watched what was happening before me, my brother, and my parents. We said nothing and did nothing. In school, being Christian meant you were fun and popular — you went camping and had sleepovers and went on retreats with your Christian friends. For a while in middle school, I thought that was what I wanted. I remember when one of my Christian friends told me he was gay and that he was scared to tell his Christian friends and parents. I was scared for him. I knew that whenever homosexuality came up in the household, people became angry and offended. I was taught to understand that homosexuality wasn’t the right way. It was not God’s way. It was an abomination, one of the highest sins to commit. But what was so bad about love? Was it really so horrible to feel strongly about someone else, gender and sexual orientation aside? In high school, I took a comparative religions course, and the more I learned about various religions, the more I explored distorting people’s expectations about my gender and sexual orientation. It was around this time that I noticed my attractions to multiple genders. The problem was that I didn’t want to accept the attraction that I couldn’t control; I suppressed the feelings and thoughts in the back of my mind because they didn’t feel “normal.” However, no matter how much I tried to suppress them, they always came back, creating a conflict in my mind. My identity constantly fought between who I was supposed to be — a Christian cisgender female — and who I really was deep inside: someone who did not conform
to gender norms, someone who did not follow Christian beliefs, and someone who wanted to give all their love to whomever would receive it, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. I was scared to talk to my Christian family and friends about this realization. More than anything, I was scared to be myself.
SOMETIMES I FELT LIKE A GIRL, AND SOMETIMES I DIDN’T. THERE WAS NO RELIGION FOR THIS; THERE COULDN’T BE. I DENIED THAT I COULD EVER FIT INTO ANY BELIEF SYSTEM. At age fifteen, I decided I could no longer try to be a Christian. I realized that being Christian was never for me; being Christian was only for the sake of my family and friends. I couldn’t tell anyone about my decision, and that hurt me more than anything. I knew that it would hurt them to know I didn’t believe in the same things my friends and parents believed in. It was painful that I could never let them see my True Self, for fear that they wouldn’t accept me. I lost all faith in myself and in the world, entering a brief atheistic stage. I believed in nothing; I didn’t want to believe in anything. Being attracted to genders other than cisgender male was scary for me to the point where I began questioning my own gender. Sometimes I felt like a girl, and sometimes I didn’t. There was no religion for this; there couldn’t be. I denied that I could ever fit into any belief system. Then I met astrology, which is the study of how the movements and positions of celestial bodies in the solar system have significant influences on the state of humanity and on every individual person. More importantly, the movements and positions of celestial bodies show us how we currently are and where there is room to grow into a “better” person — a person who believes in oneself, all life, and the universe. I studied and practiced astrology as much as I could, researching different aspects, planets, and placements. For the first time, not only did I begin to accept and love myself, but I also felt connected to something greater than myself. Although I classify astrology as a form of depth psychology rather than a religion, it continues to be one of my highest forms of belief. I concluded that I would never gain fulfillment from practicing Christianity in the
way millions of Christians do. Still, I needed a way to practice my own faith and spirituality. I could mindfully practice astrology and sacred geometry in everyday life, mostly through research. But I needed to implement more practices that I could use to open up my Higher Consciousness, which is the greater voice in our minds that encourages us to live in the present moment. When I learned about yoga and meditation, I found these practices to be the most spiritually fulfilling for my Higher Consciousness, or my True Self. I took an introductory meditation course in spring 2015, and I found it was one of the most spiritually fulfilling experiences of my life. Not only did I develop a greater appreciation for the world, life, and the universe, but I developed a greater appreciation and acceptance for my belief in astrology and identity as a genderqueer individual. Then, I took an introductory yoga course in spring 2016, and it taught me so much about the potential of my body, mind, and spirit. When I practice yoga, I begin to listen to my Higher Consciousness because I notice the unlimited potential of my mind, body, and spirit. When I practice yoga, I realize that I am only as limited as I allow myself to be. I did not fully come out and entirely accept my identity until October 11, 2015, which is also National Coming Out Day. Coming out, for me, did not involve speaking to anyone; I simply wrote about my identity. I ended up writing a blog post about being gender fluid and pansexual, and I feel that I could not have come to terms with who I am in any other way. Writing continues to tell me more about myself than any other activity. When I feel the utmost extreme of any feeling — dislike, envy, happiness, fatigue, depression — I write about it, and I am somehow able to make more sense of myself than I did when the thoughts and feelings were stuck inside my mind. This principle rang true when I finally wrote about my identity; I made better sense of myself and I found my inner peace at last. Whether you are transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, asexual, or any identity, your religion or spirituality is your choice and no one else’s. If you were raised in a Muslim, Jewish, or Christian family or any other family that raised you to believe certain things, you are not obligated to follow that religion forever. You can be spiritual despite your religious background. Religion and spirituality will always be a person’s individual choice. Being pansexual and genderqueer, gender fluid, and gender nonconforming, I have adapted my spiritual practices to fit my spiritual needs. Particularly I’ve found that yoga, meditation, and writing are my strongest spiritual outlets. Spirituality is simply the greater voice inside yourself telling you what is right and what is wrong. As long as your practices benefit yourself and affect no one else in any positive or negative way, you too can adapt your spiritual practices and beliefs to fit your spiritual or religious needs. 9
THE ELEPHANT Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted before Election Day 2016.
“How can you be gay and a Republican?” is one of the most frequently asked questions that Lewis Young, a sophomore and Government and International Politics major, hears while at George Mason University. Lewis describes himself as a “fiscal Republican” and strongly believes that there is no contradiction among his identities, despite what others may think. His pride in his identities leads him to be an avid and engaged participant in the political process on campus and beyond. Lewis derives his inspiration for political education from his keen awareness of how the gears of government and the resulting policies affect everyone in American society, especially during such a tense election season. Although he is liberal regarding issues such as gay marriage or abortion, he holds conservative views concerning federal government spending. Lewis’ strong faith in the Constitution also urges him to encourage others to have faith in themselves and their beliefs. “It’s easy to fall into peer pressure and listen to someone else’s opinion about issues, but it’s important for you to become educated on them yourself.” His desire to seek out political knowledge is inspired by the diverse array of political opinions and level of political interest within his family. His father’s family is not heavily involved with politics and Lewis often has to remind them to vote, whereas his mother’s family leans more liberal and even has a relative who worked on Bernie Sander’s campaign. At times, the holidays can be a little awkward, but he either finds points of intersection with his family where they can agree or he cultivates dialogue with issues where they don’t, even if it “feels like talking to a brick wall” at times. His family illustrates that communities can have a wide array of political opinions and beliefs while retaining a cohesive identity. He firmly believes that it is important to not be a single-issue voter and has reservations about members of the LGBTQ community who vote exclusively on one policy. “No one, even if you’re not in the LGBTQ community, should be a single issue voter. The Supreme Court has already ruled that gay marriage is a thing, so why are we still voting on a question that the Supreme Court has already answered?” Because gay marriage has already been established, Lewis does not think 10
IN THE ROOM
Young, Gay & Voting Red
that it is a major issue to unify behind anymore. Rather, how the candidate plans to allocate money is the most pressing issue, although he believes that advances still need to be made in regards to anti-discrimination policy. “Anti-discrimination policies are integral to the way we function in America,” he said, “regardless of what political party you’re from. We’re a nation of different ideas and people, and it’s something that I personally stand on, as well as I think the country should stand on. So when we talk about discrimination, I think we kid ourselves when we say that we came from a history without discrimination, I think that’s human nature. But as for marriage equality, I’m all for it! Even the conservative part of my family figures, ‘Hey, it’s not affecting our marriage, so why should we have a say?’ We write these great amendments in our Constitution because they’re for perfect incidents like this where we have a part of society who doesn’t have the privileges that the rest of society has.” As gay, a racial minority, and a Republican, fellow conservatives have been hesitant about Lewis. But while he recounted a few negative interactions with other Republicans, sexual orientation is not a topic that, in his experience, normally comes up in a debate about politics. Topics such as welfare and government spending are most controversial in the heat of debate, not whether or not he should switch parties because of his sexual orientation and support of the LGBTQ community. In his interactions with other conservatives, he has also observed that there is a growing contingent of voters – millennials especially – that are attracted to the party for their fiscal policies but tend to be more socially liberal than their older peers. These voters are often left out of the mainstream conversation regarding political identity.
“You talk about the Republican Party, and you automatically think that it’s a bunch of white old racists,” he said with a laugh. “But I don’t think that’s true. Yes, there are white old racists in the Republican Party, I won’t deny that, but I think that there’s a movement among younger voters who see those fiscal responsibilities.” Lewis also feels that the Republican Party is often stereotyped as having little ideological diversity, and that these prevailing narratives deny the existence of conservatives from a wide range of marginalized backgrounds. This erasure affects his day-to-day interactions with others, as some people will assume that he is uneducated for holding his beliefs, disregarding the amount of time and effort he has put into thoughtfully researching his political views. His ethnicity, sexuality, and political beliefs also often confuse those who automatically “assume that the Democratic Party actually cares about minorities” while simultaneously branding the Republican Party as “the anti-gay, anti-LGBTQ party,” which he chalks up to this erasure. “It’s frustrating,” he admitted, “but at the same time, I try to take those moments and morph them into a teachable moment.” According to Lewis, there is a place for everyone in the Republican Party, even those within the LGBTQ community. While some have become more accepting than others over the years, he mentions one just has to find the right people within the party — “You just have to find those who will accept you for who you are and not condemn what you can’t control.” But he cautions everyone to avoid “judging a book by its cover. Just because someone may look a certain way, doesn’t mean that they are a certain way. Identity isn’t one-dimensional either. Just because something may not be right for you, doesn’t mean that is isn’t okay for anyone else. It’s okay for me. It is me.”
Photo by ThinkStockPhotos
Something that I believe is special about being gay is that members of our community are linked by a certain set of shared experiences, even across generations. If we are open to listening, some pretty amazing stories are waiting to be told. With the many rapid changes for LGBTQ rights in recent years, I wondered, how has the queer experience been transformed? I spoke with four George Mason University alumni to hear about what discovering your queer identity in a society with less representation was like, how campus activism was received at the time, and where they wanted to see the movement go next. One common thread seen throughout for the alumni, young and old, was that the importance of connecting with a supportive community could not be understated. All four alumni have walked inspiring roads to get where they are today. Alex Gant (class of 2008) was instrumental in founding the Lambda Alumni Chapter due to her desire to help queer alumni and allies give back to the community. The group holds frequent fundraisers and community events, and allowed me to connect with each of the alumni interviewed. After university, Brad Berlage (class of 1996) found a home in the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus. He proudly recounted that his group was the first gay group to sing the national anthem at Wrigley Field, and to his pleasant surprise the group received a standing ovation no less. José Calvo (class of 1995) aided in organizing a highly publicized protest while at George Mason Law bringing attention to the discriminatory policies of former state attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli. The most recent graduate of the group, Conor O’Malley (class of 2012), bravely came out of the closet despite pressures from his religious background and went on to captain a gay darts team in DC with Stonewall Sports. Berlage describes himself as in the tail end of the baby boomer generation. He spoke about how growing up gay in the 70s and 80s was filled with secrecy and shame. “We grew up feeling shame before pride. We were blamed for the AIDS crisis, we were blamed for a lot,” Berlage said. When asked about media representation before the 90s, Berlage noted, “It was nonexistent. There were public figures we suspected, but they weren’t out for a long time.” He explained that this made it painful for young people to come out to their families, since the concept was so unfamiliar to most parents. Calvo illustrated the lack of representation at the time by recounting a story about when a same sex kiss was featured on the sitcom Rosanne, “It became a big political event. Someone had recorded it on VHS and set up a TV. We all gathered around to watch this famous kiss.”
Millennial Activists Need Queer Mentorship Photo by Diana Davies, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library
The Gay Liberation Front (GLF) marches on Times Square, New York City, 1969. He also felt that access to representation is a critical difference in the gay experience today. He felt that “the ability to connect and find like minded people online compared to actually having to go downtown is a tremendous advantage.” Berlage lamented that in the days before the Internet, queer youth didn’t find resources until they made the choice to tell others. On joining a gay group for the first time as a college student Berlage said, “It took a tremendous amount of guts to walk through that door. It was a huge, positive turning point in my life.” In regards to campus activism, Berlage spoke about how his group (then called the GLBSA) faced overt opposition from the student body, describing an instance where their banner was stolen while protesting the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law. However, the tight-knit community of LGBTQ students and allies were able to support each other. This support allowed the group’s co-chairs to establish the first drag show at the university as well as hosting a successful dialogue about homophobia with Greek Life in the early nineties. Calvo also said he met a strong group of friends through GLBSA, and said he appreciated the university for allowing this safe space to exist. He also acknowledged that the program’s visibility and reach was much smaller than today. The group met in a literal repurposed closet. “Ironically the coming out group hung out in a closet. There weren’t that many people who were out.” Flash forward to about a decade later; O’Malley felt that his coming out was still a courageous and difficult choice, but he felt
encouraged by popular songs on the radio such as “Brave” by Sara Bareilles and out celebrities like soccer player Robbie Rogers, both of which helped normalize the identity. Gant also celebrated the strides made in representation but she recognized that we are not there yet, as “gay male representation has skyrocketed, but bisexuals, lesbians, and trans people are often under represented or misrepresented.” All four alumni noted that while much has improved, there are still many fights against systemic discrimination ahead. “The Employment Non-Discrimination Act needs more attention. It is legal to be fired or not hired for sexual orientation or gender expression in over half of the country,” Gant says. “With progress comes more backlash. I would say now there is a bigger political force fighting back,” Calvo said. One piece of advice for young people that was repeated in all of the interviews was that while discussions about differences among the community are critically important, excessive infighting could keep the community from uniting for progress and distract us from our goals. “It’s important for youth to respect the past even if they can’t understand it, since no one has the same experience,” Gant said. “Movements of the past have led us to where we are, and have allowed us to exist where we are. We are on a continuous path all together.” “It’s important for the older gay people to respect the younger generation and vice versa, because we have so much to offer,” Berlage said. “We really are a community if we let ourselves be.” 11
COMING OUT ACROSS
CULTURES Black, Gay & in Rural Virginia SHYHEIM WILLIAMS I grew up in an African American family in Farmville, a rural town in Prince Edward County, Virginia. No, not the viral Facebook game, but the former tobacco town and current college town that was the site of the first student-led protest for civil rights. Barbara Johns was a high school student at R. R. Moton, the county’s all-black segregated high school, who led her classmates on a strike to protest unequal, inadequate facilities at the aforementioned high school. Her protest eventually inspired the Davis vs Prince Edward County court case, which was incorporated into the landmark Brown vs Board of Education decision. As a result, I had many black role models to look up to as I grew up. From local hero Barbara Johns to civil rights legend Martin Luther King, Jr., who visited Farmville in the early 60s, Prince Edward County is rich in civil rights history. However, there was a lack of notable gay figures who were portrayed in a positive light, or even gay role models at all. This, in turn, made it extremely difficult to come to terms with being gay. I really didn’t even give much thought to “gayness” until I actually starting developing an attraction to guys. It would be years until I finally mustered up the self-realization and courage to come out. Coming out went surprisingly smoothly and without incident. I came out on Facebook at age 17, in December 2013. I didn’t tell my mom in person but she found out through my Aunt who read my Facebook post. She took it quite well, giving the generic “I don’t approve because of my strong Christian upbringing, but I still love you the same” spiel. When I went to school the day after coming out, things went more or less the same as any other day. Some of my more hyper-masculine straight male friends expressed light disapproval and disdain. I strangely remember one of them remarking on how he “can’t say the word ‘fag’” around me anymore. One of the most surprising aspects of the aftermath of coming out was the fact that I did not experience much homophobia, even though I went to school in a small southern town. During the last period of the school day after I came out, I even got a slight applause and a commending handshake from a fellow classmate. Regardless of how relatively smooth my coming out was, many gay black men, and LGBTQ black youth in general, experience disproportionately high levels of discrimination and other hardships, both from the black community and LGBTQ community. Many African Americans in the United States, especially in the South, have strong Baptist Christian, and therefore conservative, values
regarding the family and sexuality. Many have said that a strong religious conviction has let African Americans prevail through grave hardships throughout their history in the United States, from slavery, to Jim Crow, to The Civil Rights Movement. However, western religions, such as Christianity, have historically been against progressive social ideas, especially those that involve sexuality. The influence of the church along with a focus on maintaining “masculinity” for black men makes many black LGBTQ youth feel the need to hide their sexuality. Many remain closeted in the fear that they will be disowned or bullied by their peers. However, many young African Americans, like most millennials, have grown significantly more progressive than their parents and support the rights of LGBTQ people. As for discrimination from within the LGBTQ community, there exists a racial hierarchy and white elitism. The racism in the gay community is closely tied to the general “lookism” that is also quite prevalent amongst gay men. Think of the classic gay hookup mantra: “no fats, no femmes, no blacks.” This is best exemplified in hookup culture, but based on testimonies from LGBTQ people of color online from across the country, racism within the gay community is also present in social areas as well, with some gay clubs even in progressive liberal cities reportedly implementing discriminatory policies (e.g. the disparity in door policies in the San Francisco gay dance club Badlands in 2005). The prevalence of racial discrimination in the gay community is often hard to quantify, since much of it is so subtle, but if you are a minority in the gay community, it is hard to deny that it does exist and is prevalent. But the bottom line is, black LGBT youth often remain closeted because they are afraid of what their family and peers will think of them. And once they come out, both the black and gay communities often ostracize them. If a person is stigmatized by both communities that they belong to, what do you expect them to feel?
Adopted: My Roots Lead to China DANIEL TSANG The hardest part of coming out of the closet was admitting I was wrong. For years I was bullied for coming off as gay, and I continued to retaliate by maintaining that I was straight. I’d never been attracted to a male before, so I thought I was straight until, to my surprise, when that one special guy walked into math class with a new haircut. My world moved in slow motion. I just knew that I
would never feel that way about a girl. The daydream movie-esque sequence was abruptly broken with the auditory, “Shit, they’re right, I’m gay.” It only took me twenty minutes to squash my pride and come out to the world and admit my bullies were right. I was lucky to be in a position where that was my biggest grievance. It is also very surprising when you look at my extremely traditional and mixed family. My mom is from a devoted Italian-Irish Catholic family, and my dad and family are immigrants from China. When I came out to my parents, life continued immediately. For them, they loved me no matter what and that would not change. Their biggest concern for me was my extended family. My mom did not know how her parents would take it. I am not the first person to come out on my mom’s side of the family, and having to keep it a secret was a shock to me. I did, but it only took months for everyone to catch on. There was never a hiccup about it. Meanwhile, my dad told me to never tell his side of the family. That was easy to do, because there is a huge language barrier that stops even greetings from being easy. To this day they allegedly do not know. My distanced cousins my age all know, my uncle has openly discussed it without a “coming out,” but my grandparents allegedly do not know. Even though they’ve met my boyfriends. I allow them to live in their blissful ignorance. This was all the first time I had to come out of the closet over a decade ago. The second time I had to come out to family was a few months ago when I found my birthfamily on Facebook. There was another language barrier to navigate, as I had been adopted from China, but now it was through virtual communication as well. After talking to them for a few months, I asked how they felt about homosexuality. This was the scariest part about ever coming out. These people who I have never spoken to or had a relationship with since I was a fetus, were the ones I was scared most about losing. What would I have lost? Nothing really except a few Facebook friends. I never felt I was missing a piece of myself, because my adoptive family has been my world since I was seven months old. My birth-uncle’s answer was, “I do not believe in it, but that is your choice, and I respect you can make your own decisions. Nothing will change that I am your uncle.” Now, the piece that sexuality is a choice I chalk up to cultural beliefs or mistranslation. But the intent was that a man who was twelve when I was born and have never met was so devoted to me being a part of his family. Even more, he respects the person I am and shows unconditional love from half a world away. Maybe one day, my families’ love for me will help combat their cultural beliefs that have been instilled in them for generations. True acceptance cannot be taught by others but must stem from an authentic self. So do I take it personally? Nope. Their intent of being loving and sincere is all I need from them.
A. I. A. “I’m sorry. What country is it that you get stoned to death if you are convicted of being gay? Oh yah. Wait I know. It’s Iran, the country my entire family is from.” — Desiree Akhavan Imagine having to tactfully navigate your way through every conversation you have at a family gathering just to avoid the fact that you identify as LGBTQ+. Hearing that quote up there on repeat in your head just so you don’t forget. Thinking to yourself: have my family members seen someone be killed for being gay? Have they turned someone else in to the police for being gay? I choose every word in my sentences carefully to not let it slip that I am attracted to men. I’m the son of two Iranian immigrants who happens to be bisexual. Coming out to my parents happened when I was in high school and it wasn’t my choice. I had to explain to them what bisexuality means. It was a new concept for them to grasp because, growing up in Iran, all they knew was the term gay and that being gay is wrong. Now, my parents aren’t intentionally homophobic at all. I grew up with them telling me to accept other people no matter who they are, what they look like, or what they believe. Which made it so funny to watch the hypocrisy reveal its ugly little head. “I support gay individuals” turned to “I support gay individuals, as long as they aren’t my child.” But soon, they convinced themselves it was just a phase. They thought I’d decide if I’m gay or straight, hoping for the latter. As time passed, I don’t know if they have forgotten that I came out or have just turned that part of my life into “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I look at myself and have to ask “Can I have just one part of my life that I don’t feel persecuted for?” Being Persian and growing up post 9/11 is an ongoing battle for survival. You tell yourself that when it comes down to it, other Persians will stand by your side. But then you wonder about how many of them would defend me knowing I’m in the LGBTQ+ community? Why do I feel restricted by a country’s ideals when I’ve never even been there? If I died, which of my identities would be mentioned? Will people send me thoughts and prayers through a hashtag? Everyone has a different way of coping with discrimination. Some people become activists, some people write out their feelings, and some people develop unhealthy coping mechanisms. I was stuck in the last option for a long time. But then I developed a new way of thinking. Instead of letting what people said and did get to me, I would just laugh. I started to look at those people as a joke. If you realize that the people who are using those racial slurs or homophobic remarks have nothing better to do than put you down, how sad must their lives be? Even if that discrimination is coming from your own family.
People should know that being a person of color and LGBTQ+ go hand in hand. It’s our many intersecting identities that make us who we are, not just one thing. I struggle with being Iranian and bisexual but I make it work. It’s who I am and that’s not going to change any time soon. I’m not going to let others use that to hold me back. I’m not throwing away my shot to be me.
Growing Up Queer & Biracial SEAN DONALD For as long as I can remember, people have always told me that growing up biracial or having multiple ethnic identities is a wonderful blessing, an opportunity to have the best of both worlds. For those of us who actually are biracial, this is not only problematic to hear but that the exact opposite tends to hold true: biracial people tend to get screwed over in both worlds. Absolute and complete acceptance is rare. Biracial people face several challenges in their journey to find acceptance in each of their ethnic cultures with just their complexion alone. A whole new layer to these struggles befalls us when we have a queer identity to factor into this equation as well. So, where do we even begin in coming out? To preface, I am a bisexual with a black mother and a white father. Growing up black and white has always been one of my hardest challenges. Strong tensions between the races have existed for literal centuries in the United States and history like that cannot simply be put aside or forgotten. I’ve spent my whole life being simultaneously not black enough and
not white enough: I’m too light-skinned; my hair’s too curly; my eyes are too light; my nose is too big. I developed a dysphoria with my body image at a very young age. I struggled to stay on the good side of each respective side of the family. And then I discovered that I like boys. Holy shit. Anxiety, fear, and depression all come to mind upon this discovery, but the underlying surge of deliberation paled over everything else. I could not for the life of me think of a way I could come out to both sides of the family while remaining intact. Where does one begin in coming out to their family? How will the people you tell realistically react to it? Is it safe to come out? Despite the infamous homophobia coming from my mom’s side in South Carolina and my dad’s side in central California, my parents were both very progressive thinkers and I was very lucky to have this dynamic. However, not every environment is like this. If you believe that coming out to your family could potentially put you in danger, do not come out. My situation was nonlethal so I told both of my parents separately and, fortunately, they both understood. Unfortunately, I still to this day have not shared my orientation with the rest of my family; it’s just too complicated with treading the varying lines of alleged morality and family values of my ethnic backgrounds. I hope not to discourage anyone else in a similar situation, as being biracial is so infinitely varied, and every single family is different. But while biracial people do tend to get the short end of the stick, especially when coming out to our families, we are also beautiful blends of character. Regardless of how hard dealing with your multiethnicity and queer identity may be, things will get better. Be strong and love yourselves.
Photo by Devin Stewart
First Generation Iranian-American
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s members of the LGBTQ community, we are told that coming out is supposed to be a momentous occasion — and it often is. It can be a way of asserting one’s identity and aligning yourself with the community, but is it always the best decision? When I was sixteen, a classmate told me after a tense discussion about gay rights that if I were to ever come out as ‘a gay’, that he would beat me up. For the first time in my life I looked at someone I knew and evaluated how much damage they could do to me. On that particular day, in that particular classroom, I did not feel safe, and so I had to consider my choices. On the one hand, I could choose to take a stand and come out of the closet. On the other hand, I could maintain my secret and guarantee my safety, my standing within the school, and potentially, the reputations of my younger siblings as well. I had a decision to make, and I believe I made the right one. I stayed in the closet. Economics teaches us that life is choice. In a world of scarce resources, individuals must weigh the marginal benefit and marginal cost of every action. If a choice harms you more than it helps you, it is rational not to 14
make it. This reasoning can apply to every human decision, even the very important decision in an LGBT individual’s life about whether or not to come out. For some people, the potential costs of coming out — their safety, happiness, and financial situation — are too great to justify the decision. This is a choice that every member of the LGBT community must make, and yet we are often led to believe that there is no choice at all. Well intentioned ad campaigns and political movements tell us things like ‘It gets better’ and ‘no one ever regrets coming out’ but how well do these sayings reflect reality? For many of my friends, coming out was the wrong choice for their given time and set of circumstances. I know some people who regret coming out, and more who regret the timing of their choice. This decision is a big one, and it should be carefully considered. For me, coming out was a calculated act. Like most people, I did not like being in the closet and I looked forward to the day when I would feel secure enough to leave it. At a certain point, it became more exhausting for me to hide my sexuality than it was to defend myself against the opinions of others. I came out when I left
my conservative, southern Virginia town. I waited until the time when the costs wouldn’t be so high that I couldn’t enjoy the benefits. There are people all over the world who keep quiet out of self-interest everyday. This is an act of self preservation, and it is completely rational behavior. Unfortunately, some people never get to a place or time where they feel they can come out. For some people the costs are always too high. Of course there are also those that choose to come out even in high risk scenarios, when the personal costs of not being true to their identity are so heavy that they outweigh the risks of being exposed. This is the right choice for them, but it shouldn’t define the choices of others. When I was younger I felt pressure to come out, to be brave no matter the consequences. I listened to the ad campaigns and read blogs filled with coming out stories in secret, and I wondered. But throwing caution to the wind has never sat well with me. Ignoring the consequences of my actions has never once yielded a good result. In the end, I’m glad that I wasn’t brave. I’m glad that I decided to be rational instead. It was the right choice for me, and it was good economics.
Photo by Tom Shaw
Brotherhood Above All Gay in Greek Life D. V. JIMENEZ
ersonally, I could not care less that I am gay. I came out to my mom at 13, the rest of my family at 15, and everyone else... who cares? I was scared at first (who wouldn’t be), but eventually I figured the best way to come out was to let people figure it out themselves. I would never have thought that I would be pledging a fraternity during my time at George Mason University. Considering the stereotype that Greek life is majorly homophobic, I avoided fraternities like the plague. Sometimes I ask, What was I thinking? -- not because I regret the decision, but because I am so shocked that I made it. I met the brothers of my fraternity on campus through another organization, and at the time I was not aware of their integral role in Greek life. I saw them while out at parties with my friends, noting the strong bonds the brothers had with one another. One would be whining about how he was sad over a girl and the other would tell him to just grow some balls and get over it. That sort of advice was something I associated with my own biological brothers at home, and I could not believe people talked like this when they were not actually related.
Months later, I saw a Facebook post about recruitment, so I attended one of their sessions, and the tightness of the bond was reinforced even more. The more they talked about their fraternity, the more I could feel how this was not just some hypermasculine stereotype, but rather an authentic experience shared among a vast amount of people. When these people called themselves brothers, they actually meant it. I showed interest by attending their parties, volunteer services, and conventions. What I liked most about this fraternity was how each brother displayed an authentic personality. I had an epiphany: the purpose of Greek life is not to impress people with letters embroidered on fabric, but rather to showcase a bond that people can share with one another in spite of their differences. Although I had a feeling that pledging this fraternity would not be easy, eventually I committed. I was set and ready to take on a new challenge in my life. I had a lot of fun with my fraternity brothers, and they appreciated me for who I was. When they found out I was gay, there was a huge wave of indifference towards the subject. One brother has a gay cousin, and one of the advisors for the fraternity is gay himself.
You might think that is the end of it, but eventually, I did encounter homophobia. I still remember the harsh words from my pledge brother in a voice that sounded like a congested throat scarred from infection, “I do not want to pledge with a gay person.” Later, the same brother said to me in private, “Even if we end up crossing into the fraternity together, I will not call you my brother.” My first reaction was to brush it off, just like I had brushed off ten years of enduring the machismo of my stepfather. But, I realized this might be easier said than done. Identifying as a homosexual and pledging a fraternity was not a good mix, even in 2016. Homophobia is and always will be an obstacle for the LGBTQ community. If we did not endure it, how would we grow? The process of accepting this has been hard, but dealing with my pledge brothers has been even harder. Becoming brothers of the same fraternity didn’t eliminate our differences, but over time they were diminished in the name of brotherhood. While I might not be able to tell everyone that being a gay person in a fraternity is easy, in my personal experience it has been worth it. 15
Photo by Niko Deeighten Courtesy of Volition
LEAVING THE SCENE (My BDSM Experience is Complicated) DANIEL DOMINGUEZ Graduation had passed and the summer was finally here. I knew I wanted to finally delve into the BDSM community before going to college and getting wrapped up in full-time schoolwork again. Before this, I had been interested in BDSM for many years, ever since I turned on my parents’ TV and accidentally watched BDSM porn. I was mesmerized with the confidence the woman in the video exuded. Over the years, I had dreamed of having such confidence and power while restrained. Until that summer, it had only been a dream though — just a steamy fantasy before bed every now and then but not much more. Once I realized that I was on the verge of graduating high school and becoming a “real adult,” something in my head clicked, and I thought of how I could turn this fantasy into a reality. After countless hours of research and speculation, I finally decided to take the plunge and sign up on a website dedicated to BDSM. Because I was young and new to the whole scene, I decided that finding an older dom would benefit me most. I never thought of how someone so experienced could take advantage of me. I must have rejected dozens of propositions before I found the couple who would take me under their wing. I knew that the couple was older than me — it’s what I had originally sought after — but after meeting them at restaurants a few times, I felt that they were almost too old. At one of the restaurants, we had our waiter ask if we were a family, assuming that I was their child. We all picked up on this, and laughed it off at the moment, but a lingering uneasiness persisted. Chip, my official dom (his girlfriend was there for support more than the BDSM), picked up on my uneasiness and proceeded to reassure me that he was young at heart, therefore rendering us mentally closer in age. This worked for some time, but I still had my doubts. Once they officially took me under their wing, after a series of embarrassing and uncomfortable tasks, I was ecstatic. I finally did it, I thought to myself. For the first month or so of the relationship,
I was still concerned about how I would break this news to my boyfriend of six months. He had never had a girlfriend before me, and was enamored with me for years before we got together, so I felt especially responsible for his feelings. I wanted him to accept me and the lifestyle I chose, but at the same time I knew it wouldn’t happen. Regardless, I had him meet Chip and his girlfriend a few times and even suggested we try some kinky things together. As the months passed on and his resistance became more upfront, I figured that breaking up before we went off to college was the best option for us. My experience as a sub for Chip and his girlfriend was probably quite different than that of most subs. First of all, as I pointed out earlier, I was significantly younger than the two of them. Second, we saw each other on a scheduled basis to work on their new project to give their old junk, or “antiques” as they called them, a new home. We interacted quite well together as friends. This complicated my understanding of the situation even more as I saw them both as friends and sexually dominant over me. In one setting, we were equals and in another, there was drastic inequality. At first I thought that Chip’s girlfriend and I would be on the same level, but this was not the case. She took preference over me in almost all settings, and I catered to her needs before mine as well. Third, the issue of race arose quite frequently as Chip and his girlfriend are both Caucasian, and I am a person of color. Jokes about submissive women of color were thrown around on an almost daily basis. Some days, I was the “Hispanic cleaning lady” on others I was the “spicy Latina.” I laughed along with these jokes, as we all understood that neither one of them were trying to be racially discriminatory towards me. But this also gave me a fake sense of equality. By pointing out the differences between us, I had mentally glossed over the intersectionalities of my life. In my mind, even though I was vastly different in terms of race, age, and socio-economic class, I felt that
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our precarious relationship had rendered us equal. I was wrong. After the summer I spent with them, I had moved away to my new life on campus. I was excited to start a new chapter of my life and gain independence. They, on the other hand, thought that our relationship could be continued at a distance. For a while, Chip would email and text me about school and BDSM. I found this communication unwarranted and wanted to step away from the life I had with them and build a new life at college. Some days I would just “forget” to reply and on others I was “stuck in class.” Over time I realized that I no longer needed the attention Chip gave me and even detested it. I wanted out, but didn’t know how to say it. I managed to slowly fade out from the BDSM scene by focusing on school work and a new boyfriend; however, Chip still wanted more from me. Chip invited one of his friends into our relationship without telling me. This is something I did not consent to, and Chip coerced me into having relations with this friend I had never met before. Because of this sexual experience, I did not feel safe within my specific relationship inside the BDSM scene. When I reached out for support from my boyfriend and family, I experienced harsh judgment, rejection, and ultimately isolation. I returned to the spring semester of school depressed and isolated. I wanted to reach out to someone, anyone, and get it all off my chest, but I didn’t have any friends I felt like I could talk to on campus. Luckily, my boyfriend and I had managed to work on the issues that led to our break up and improve our relationship. In the end, I hadn’t gotten the power and luster I hoped to get from BDSM, but instead lost the trust of my family and boyfriend. Over time, I began to understand how BDSM isolated me from my loved ones and kept me from talking about my concerns. It ultimately constrained me, instead of liberating me. But I was still determined to look for the positive aspects of BDSM, especially in the face of the crude demonization society at large hears about it. I did not want to be another “victim of BDSM.” I wanted to tell people to stop demonizing or fetishizing the whole thing. I want people to know that there is no singular experience of BDSM, and like most other things in life, it is complicated and multifaceted.
The Dilemma of Intra-communal Oppression AL RAINES
When people picture me with my fiancé, Chris, they picture a happy couple. While we are extremely happy, the fact is, we are not traditional. Chris is a cisgender heterosexual male, while I am a gender fluid, pansexual individual. However, most of the world doesn’t want to see things this way. People assume that I am a cisgender, heterosexual woman because that is what I appear to be. Due to the invisible nature of my identity, members of the LGBTQ community tend to overlook me as a part of their community, or they assume I am an ally. For several years, gender was something I didn’t want to confront. I finally came to terms with my gender nonconformity in October of 2015. As I became more comfortable with my true identity, I realized that traditionally feminine pronouns didn’t match up with my gender. What I did not realize was that the journey of gaining acceptance from others would be just as challenging as learning to accept myself. I eventually started using they/them pronouns and requested that my friends, family, and peers do the same. They did not. I was surprised to learn how often members of the LGBTQ community failed to honor my preferred pronouns as a genderqueer individual. This ignorance has been the biggest obstacle I have experienced since voicing my identity. LGBTQ members are all looking for respect, a respect that starts within the community. If respected pronoun usage doesn’t start within our community, how will we ever spread awareness toward genderqueer, gender fluid, and gender nonconforming individuals to the rest of the society? Gender is ever-evolving. If we do not start realizing that gender and sexuality exist on separate scales, then it is going to be extremely difficult for principles of our society to progress. In addition to pronoun usage, there are many other areas which need to be addressed. Indeed, transgender and genderqueer individuals are repeatedly singled out as a result of heteronormative expectations and objectification. Think about it: A man enters the bathroom and you find yourself caught off guard by his clearly defined breasts. A woman raises her hand as the professor takes attendance and asks to be called Michelle instead of Michael. Moreover, certain members of the LGBTQ community are guilty of objectification of sexual and gender identities as well. Lesbian women may think that it is okay to inappropriately touch and flirt with men, and gay men may think it is okay to inappropriately touch women and flirt with them. Their excuses don’t travel further than, “It’s okay, I’m a lesbian” and “It’s okay, I’m gay.” Your sexuality is not a free pass to violate someone else’s body. From the outside, the LGBTQ community looks like a welcoming and accepting community. It is, but that does not mean there is no room for improvement. We still suffer from issues of repeated mis-gendering, heteronormative expectations, and internalized homophobia. Thus, we have to continue to practice acceptance in order for the rest of the world to adopt the same attitude. Hopefully, calling attention to these issues within the LGBTQ community can promote solutions for issues within the larger spectrum of human rights. 17
Southern Discomfort & My Queer, Interracial Family MONÈT SUTTON
Ask me how I met my wife, Kayla. Ask me how we started talking to each other. I’ll tell you that we met on a dating website back in January 2012. We were both awkward as hell. Behold, our first encounter: Hola! How are you? I’m going to be honest and say that I am completely horrible at starting messages because I never know what to say. But I will say this, if I could be granted one wish it would to be a time traveling ninja. Just thought I’d put that out there. I’m good, how was your New Year’s celebration? Same here, I don’t know how to start convos either lol. And I like your one wish, I thought it would always be cool to time travel and the ninja part is just an added bonus. Oh what’s your name btw? I’m Kayla. My name is Monet, like the painter but I don’t paint. I can’t draw either, it’s a shame really. My New Year’s celebration was good. Watched Misfits with my two best friends and then we started talking in bad British accents. I feel like time traveling would be fun but so dangerous. Plus the whole time travel paradox. Don’t even get me started on that. Whew!
Ask me about what makes Kayla and I different. Ask me about how each of us grew up, and about how each of our personalities is unique. I’ll tell you that I’m loud and outgoing, while Kayla is shy and quiet. I wear my feelings on my sleeve. If I dislike someone, they will know, and so will twenty other people. If Kayla is mad, she only calls me to talk about it. I’m only close to my parents, brother, and a few extended family members. I cringe at family 18
reunions. Kayla is close to her grandparents, aunts, cousins, etc., and that is really strange to me. I always knew I was gay, and I came out when I was 14. Kayla didn’t realize she was gay until after high school and came out to her family at 19. Ask me about the first time I ever told Kayla that I loved her. Ask me when and how I did it. I’ll tell you that it was a few months after we started dating. I went home for spring break and said something really stupid on the phone to her that made her upset. I came back early from spring break to apologize: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I said on the phone. I’m such an idiot and I’m lucky to have you in my life. I realized that I hurt your feelings and I felt bad about it, like really bad. I’ve never felt bad about hurting someone’s feelings before, it’s never really bothered me before. But with you, with you it’s different. And that’s when I knew… I love you Kayla.” Ask me about some of the dumbest arguments we’ve ever had. Ask me what we do that pisses the other off. I’ll tell you that most of our arguments deal with Netflix and food. I’ll tell you that most of our arguments lead us to being mad at each other for only a few hours. Ask me how I knew she was the one for me. I’ll tell you it’s because she understands my love for Mason and the Pittsburgh Steelers and she doesn’t judge me for it. It’s the fact that she’ll watch a television show that she absolutely hates but knows I like, just so we can spend time together. I love that when I’m upset about something, whether it be about my career, family, or just life in general, she knows exactly what to do or say to make me feel better. I love that we both have the same sense of humor. Now, ask me what it’s like to be an interracial lesbian couple in the South. There’s
Photo Courtesy of Monet Sutton
I Asked For Her
only been one incident, which always sticks out in my mind. Kayla and I went to Busch Gardens with my parents in August 2013. We were standing in line, holding hands. A white couple standing close by was shooting us dirty looks. I wanted to ask them if they had a problem with the fact that we were a lesbian couple or that we were an interracial couple. However, I didn’t say anything because I knew Kayla didn’t want me to. Instead, I put my arm around Kayla’s lower back, I kissed her cheek, and I looked back at that rude couple. Aside from that one time, being an interracial couple in the south is not such a big deal, in my experience. Now ask me what I’m afraid of. Ask me what I’m afraid of when it comes to the future. Kayla and I want children. But we’re scared. We’re scared of living somewhere conservative, close-minded, and religious. We’re scared of living somewhere like Mississippi, or Georgia, or one of these other states that’s close to passing a “Religious Freedom Liberty” bill. We’re scared that our children will go through what we went through — that they’ll be teased for something out of their control. We’re scared that one day our children will come home with tears running down their faces as they tell us that someone in their class decided to pick on them because they have two mommies — two mommies that just happen to be different races. So, ask me what it’s like being an interracial lesbian couple in the south. Ask me what I love most about my amazing wife. Ask me what my marriage is like. I’ll tell you that our marriage is just like anyone else’s. Our marriage is full of love, laughter, stupid argument, and sometimes tears. Ask me what I would do if I could travel back in time. I will tell you that I would try to meet Kayla a lot sooner.
FOMO My Fear of Missing Out
COLLEEN FLANAGAN Every so often, my phone makes that pleasant sound — the same kind of sound as when I receive a Snapchat. But unlike Snapchat, this alert boosts my ego and lessens my FOMO — my fear of missing out. I open my purse, grab my phone, and stare at the new, pearlescent text that illuminates the screen: Kelsey wants to chat. Say hi! Less than ﬁve seconds later, I scan Kelsey’s proﬁle and shove my phone back into my purse. I don’t know if Kelsey is the gal that I’m supposed to have a gazillion adopted babies with, but I do know that she’s a brunette who watches The Big Bang Theory and it’s just not meant to be. This can be seen as superﬁcial, of course. Well, okay. It is superﬁcial. Tinder, Grindr, and Her are some of the most commonly used mobile dating apps in the LGBTQ community. While dating websites like OkCupid once appeared to be the most prevalent within the queer community, there has been a major shift from mouse-clicking to ﬁnger-swiping among college students. Some are looking for friendship, others aim to hook-up, and some are on the search for love. The rising popularity of dating apps in the LGBTQ community is especially meaningful to those who are under the age of 21. These individuals are not old enough to hang out at gay/lesbian bars, and they might be too shy to check out their university’s LGBTQ student organizations (if one even exists). “I have been surprised on various levels by the guys my friends or I have come across on gay dating apps,” remarks Clinton, a freshman at George Mason University. “In the gay community, these apps can serve as an outlet for those who are in the closet.” Although dating apps can certainly beneﬁt the LGBTQ community, they are not without fault. The same “stranger danger” rules that apply to the external world apply to the internet as well — you really don’t know who you’re talking to. In addition, it can be difﬁcult to obtain a full understanding of a person from their online persona. “It’s easy to come across as two-dimensional online,” says Cameron, a recent George Mason graduate. “It’s also difﬁcult to tell whether you’re really physically attracted to someone, from just a couple of photos,” she adds. Clinton agrees, “Some people’s proﬁle and message pictures simply don’t do full justice. Meeting a person in real life is different because you are able to hear their voice and gain a full sensory experience that is not possible via electronic communication.” The private nature of dating apps also allows for snap judgements. Most often, these judgments are based on so-called “preferences” related to race. Grindr, for example, is notorious for being full of proﬁles which are highly problematic in their descriptions. These proﬁles, declaring ‘no blacks, no Asians’, would hardly be tolerated if they were printed out and displayed in a progressive public space. Although the motivations behind these preferences are numerous and, well, numerously racist, attraction based on familiarity and personal idealizations of a particular race reign. “If a person is mixed or appears to have European features, this increases my chance of swiping right. It is a matter of preference, as I tend to ﬁnd white men more attractive,” Clinton admits. “I have seen a few peoples’ proﬁles in which people, both white people and people of color, have said that they only prefer to date those of their own race,” says Cameron. “I think that’s really telling about the way people allow stereotypes and past experiences to close them off from potential relationships and friendships. However, as a black woman, I also understand how it feels to realize that someone else, especially white people, can’t fully, personally understand many of your experiences, and I can see how for many people that might be a barrier to real intimacy in a relationship.” This lack of understanding creates as much of a barrier in the LGBTQ community as it does in interpersonal relationships. When queer white people refuse to understand the struggles of persons of color in the LGBTQ community, progress ceases for everyone. We must acknowledge our own racial biases towards each other, and our own internalized racism, in order to make LGBTQ spaces more inclusive for all queer people—and in order to improve our dating app experiences. 19
BEYOND MILEY CYRUS Gender Queer Artists You Won’t Find in Mainstream Media ANDREA MENDOZA Visibility is essential to introducing a discourse which includes non-binary people. In terms of visibility within the media, non-binary people have repeatedly been (and continue to be) under-represented. Why is it that an affluent white person can gain a disproportionate amount of publicity after the announcement of their gender identity while so many creative queer people of color remain largely unknown? However, there are individuals making strides in a variety of media disciplines. The artists featured here do not find themselves at a crossroads of having to permanently decide on their gender identity along the binary, but instead accept themselves for where they are each and every day.
TELEVISION & FILM In the realms of film and television, Tyler Ford has spoken out about their struggle in the entertainment industry as a non-binary person of color. In an MTV Diary of their daily life, they state, “Feeling misunderstood seems to be a common human experience — but for people like me whose narratives are not represented as often in mainstream media, it’s our everyday existence.” Ford’s interview also illuminated several personal security issues faced by non-binary people in their daily lives. For example, Ford’s choice to shave their facial hair or not is one which must be meticulously calculated based on the situation. “I’ve had a few experiences that entailed men following me around mostly deserted subway stations at 2 a.m., and being read as transgender heightens the terror of these situations.” Ultimately, they state that they chose to speak out in order to demonstrate the importance of compassion to all readers. “The reason I shared my day, however, is to show that all human beings are worthy of being treated like human beings — and the way we react to and treat other people has profound effects.”
“(Paula) 2015” by Uman. Photo courtesy of: Anne de Villepoix; www.annedevillepoix.com
Uman is a visual artist and founding member of New York-based artist collective 137AC. A gender fluid painter who was born in Somalia and raised in Kenya, Uman is a self-taught artist whose work utilizes a variety of media including paintings, masks, collages, blankets, and more. In regards to their gender identity, Uman told Huffington Post, “I think I’m female and male. At one point I was considering fully transitioning... and somehow, I stopped and realized I’m perfect the way I am. I was born a certain way. Accept this body. Accept this person.”
Joey Pacheco, more commonly known by their YouTube username Joeyblondewolf2, is a Mexican-American genderqueer individual. In one of their videos titled “Draw My Life,” they explain how being continuously ostracized from their peers in elementary school led them to develop an interest in drawing. Later on in the video, Joey describes how learning about anime and manga helped them express their identity. They found solace in being able to cosplay as male characters and ultimately derived their nickname Joey from a favorite character they
Photo courtesy of: Katharina Poblotzki
cosplayed as. However, Joey’s story is laced with their rigid Mexican upbringing which enforced gender norms onto them at an early age. Joey is also a prominent figure in other social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, where they are known for their activism for LGBTQ rights and education about genderqueer issues. These non-binary individuals illustrate common struggles for those within the nonbinary community. As a gender fluid person myself, I have experienced a dysphoria similar to what Tyler Ford described. For gender fluid people, the choices we make in one moment might backfire on us later on as our identity shifts. Growing up in a Mexican Salvadoran household, I can empathize with Joey’s struggle to maintain ties with their cultural heritage but still be authentic to their identity. These artists’ ability to blur the borders of the gender binary is a testament to the non-binary community’s emphasis on the open acceptance of individuality. Photo courtesy of: Tino Caceres
Photo by ThinkStockPhotos
Everyone looks for themselves in stories. Sometimes you find a character and you latch onto it because they’re just like you, even if their struggles are beyond the realm of possibility. But other times, you connect because the person you are reading about is you — they share your defining feature or the label that you’ve chosen for yourself. I’m trans. Specifically, I’m a genderfluid trans man, pre-transition. I’ll give you a second to try and think of a story that features someone like me. It’s taking a while, isn’t it? And that’s the point. I’ll let you cheat a little, and we’ll take the “genderfluid” out of the search. Who’s the first trans man you can think of? I’ll let you be even more vague and just put it like this: who’s the first trans person you can name? I’m going to guess you said Laverne Cox or Caitlyn Jenner. Chaz Bono if you’re old enough.
Now, name someone else. Coming up blank? Don’t worry, I am too. I don’t see myself on TV or in movies. I don’t really have trans actors or actresses to look up to—in part because trans people aren’t realistically presented in media, but also because trans people aren’t cast in trans roles. Look at The Danish Girl or About Ray. Those are trans stories — one a dramatic semi-biographical drama about an actual trans woman, the other a fictional story about a trans boy. Both of those roles are played by cis actors that match the “pre-transition gender.” If you don’t see the problem here, let me make a comparison: imagine a movie about President Obama’s life, but instead of casting a black male actor, they decided to cast a white man. Even if the movie’s plot isn’t about Obama’s race, casting a white actor would be
ridiculous. Even if — by some miracle — a movie about a trans character wasn’t about their gender, casting a cis actor is wrong. There are trans actors, and they should be portraying trans characters. They should be portraying the characters like me. And, they should be portraying characters like me in equally complex and original stories. I can’t tell you the last time I watched something with a trans character where their plot didn’t revolve around their gender and transition. Those may be important aspects of my life, but that’s not the only thing I have going on. I happen to be struggling with a lot of the same things that everyone else does: finding a job, paying the bills, keeping a regular sleep schedule, etc. Believe me, I’m going about my life just like the rest of you, trying to find balance — I just have one extra plate to balance. So why can’t I have a character that’s trans and a hero fighting crime? Trans and a CEO navigating a huge company merger? Trans and a doctor struggling with their own morality? Why are all of the characters just trans? Stop focusing on our bodies. Stop sexualizing and fetishizing our transformation by making our stories all about our genitals. It’s as problematic as all gay character stories being about them “coming out.” Stop treating being trans as taboo and abnormal. Let us be complex people, not caricatures, dumbed down to the basic idea of what you think it means to be trans. What it comes down to is this: I don’t get to see myself on TV or in movies. Not in a way that’s beyond a transitional story, past being a basic supporting character, or is played by an actual trans person. I need more trans characters portrayed by trans actors and actresses, and I need to see them in movies and films that have complex plots. I need it to take less time to think of more than three prominent trans people. I need to see me.
“Cherry Glaze” | Jillian Gogel The conﬁdence that comes with the beat of a faraway drum sings to us all in the sweet dredges of a crystal morning or a tangerine afternoon as we skip down a sidewalk licking our melting sugar cone in the hot summer sun and passing cars with LED radios sound the harmonies of our soulful existence, a call to raise our head and glasses for the victory we achieve as our bodies pulse swirl, turn, the melodies of a foot tapping memory only beginning and the past of rumbling greys, cubic ﬁgures, our square lives a distant lingering, an ancient geometric time, now give way to the rush of vibrants and citrus molded by the hands of children
“Growing” | Mary Cuccio Plant a tree. Find the seed, plant it. Stick it in the soil, water it. Keep it in sunlight; water it every day. Spend time with it. Watch it sprout. Take a picture of it. In ﬁve, ten, twenty-ﬁve years, this tree will not be the seed you remember. You: the seed you planted. Tend to yourself every day. Drink water. Be gentle. Be kind. Bathe in sunlight. Know your roots. Take a selﬁe. In ﬁve, ten, twenty-ﬁve years, you will not be the you you remember. 22
“The astronaut was walking through his sunﬂower ﬁeld when he heard a thunder from above. The moon was cryi ng.” | Matt Addonizio “Sight in Subconscious” | Dominic Fied tkou-Leonard It is a curious thing, to dream of someone so long forgotten. To sleep is to surrender to the inventions of the psyche, to sit idly and allow the subc onscious to frolic uninhibited. This takes the form of wild visions, theor ized as indications of unresolved. But, resolution requires investment. This means the lending of precious time and emotions — a necessary sacriﬁce whic h we never seemed to master. Perhaps, this explains why our visiting hour s were always restricted to nightfall–my lingering desires left to traverse through dark reces ses. In these corners, far removed from the stres ses of day-to-day, I am able to view our past with the greatest clarity. A lens of perspective, unclouded, radiant, and piercing, pressed cool against the mind’s eye. And at last, our true reality comes into focus
“On Depression” | Tom Shaw Depression is not a state of “being sad.” Depression is a wide ocean, where an individual looks to the sky, and sees every experience and victory one is desirous of just above the surface. Tremendous weights shackle the individual’s ankles, forever pulling to a bottomless ﬂoor. All the while, the individual arches towards the sky, but is swallowed more deeply by the ocean. Depression is purgatory.
“Thin Skin” | Tom Shaw What do I remember? I remember everything. It was all very... narrow. Thin. I loved him when his hair was thin. When his wallet was thin. When his hope was thin. When his patience was thin. Always through thin, and thin. And thinner. Even the air was thin, then. When he vanished.
Don’t Just Survive—Thrive Physical & Sexual Violence in my Same-Sex Relationship
TOM SHAW Gosh, I really wish I still felt something about that night — the indifference that I now feel regarding my assault overwhelms me. It’s not that I don’t care that I was physically and sexually assaulted by a former boyfriend. In actuality, my mind had made itself numb to the assault because I did not then possess the resources needed to defend my body. Everything I write about my experience feels wrong, and I’m not sure how to articulate enough of what it means to experience domestic violence in a same-sex relationship so that the knowledge can actually help someone. But I can share that I began a beautiful relationship in May of 2014, and that I departed a beautiful relationship in September of 2014 with a broken heart. It was around October of the same year when I encountered someone new who I would not choose to date under ordinary circumstances, and maybe it was out of vulnerability and desperation that I allowed him to sew his chaos into my life. He was made up of qualities that I quietly disdain to this day: arrogance, irreverence, recklessness, and obliviousness to his own societal privilege. But he was also flattering and very persistent in trying to win me over, which was key, as his willingness to accommodate my dejection is what I think kept us together for so long. But when faced with a choice between being abused and being alone, I will always choose to be alone. I have always thought I had my father’s eyes, or at least that my green eyes more closely matched his hazel than my mother’s brown. And it’s funny to me, that in one moment on a night in January of 2015, I recognized my eyes for the first time without ever needing a mirror. In my mind I imagine a face that I have never met in person, yet has features that are all very familiar to me. It’s like the memory is encoded into my DNA: my mother’s eyes, my aunt’s eyes, my grandmother’s eyes, her mother’s eyes — I remember all of their eyes. And in the moment of the first time he hit me, I realized that I shared these same eyes, too. He hit me because he was drunk, and had a dependency problem. He hit me because he wasn’t accepted into an Ivy League university like his parents and his first love — a woman who dumped him because of it. He hit me because he had graduated over a year ago and still hadn’t found a job in his field. He hit me because he hadn’t taken his anti-depressant medication that day. He hit me because he had cried in front of me on the ride over to his house, because he was yelling at me and acting erratically, and was so certain that I would break up with him. He hit me because I wouldn’t consent. But first, he pushed me down. And then I saw my mother’s eyes, and my aunt’s eyes, and my grandmother’s eyes. I saw them in me, and he sure as hell saw them looking out. I am the product of many generations of women who have escaped violent men — every single woman in my family has either stared down the barrel of a man’s gun or the knuckle of a man’s fist. He saw the eyes that are my birthright as the survivor of survivors. These eyes cut him, and I was to be damned if some privileged wannabe frat boy was going to lay his hands on me. He realized what he was doing, and that he had become the very same abuser that he had been tormented by in a former partnership, and also by his own assaulter many years before we met. He kept crying “I’m not violent! I’m not violent” as I walked away, which then turned into him chasing me 24
through his parents’ living room. Then he tripped on a glass coffee table, and the fall sounded rough. He had hit his head, crying long before the fall, and once again thought he was alone and that I had left. Somehow I pitied him, on the ground, and returned to sit by his head. And I saw my mother’s eyes in this moment, too. When he tried forcing himself on me again, I fought free and got the hell out of that house — alone and somewhere in the District of Columbia, under the snowfall, at 2:30am. I was miles from home with 2% phone battery power. I called the only person who I knew would stop at nothing to find me, my best friend and mentor, Chelsea. She drove 18 miles in the middle of the night with only a street name and a photo of the law firm I was standing under to avoid snowfall. Before my phone died, she messaged me that she had arrived at the wrong address and was lost. I waited for an hour without being able to contact her, and then she came for me, just as I knew she would. All of this happened during Winter Resident Advisor training at Mason. I did not plan to go out on the night that this happened, but rather was persuaded by my ex-boyfriend after he appeared unannounced at my residence hall. I didn’t want to talk about this with anyone, and it felt embarrassing not being able to keep a boyfriend. Less than 24 hours later, I had an interview to be rehired for the Resident Advisor position. This position is one that allowed me to support myself as a first-generation and out-of-state college student. A week later, my supervisor and I had a meeting. According to the notes he received, I had not been “peppy enough” during the interview, and would not be rehired for the next year. When a topic of sexual assault actually came up in the interview, less than 24 hours after being sexually assaulted, I was honest and said that the question was very triggering, and continued to offer all of the same advice that I would offer a resident under regular circumstances. In that meeting with my supervisor, the only reason I told him about my sexual assault was because it was interfering with something I really cared about — a job that I loved, and the hard-won financial security that I had earned. The financial security that, after three years, had allowed me to exhale the extreme anxiety and depression I had from student debt as a first-generation college student who had worked at least two jobs and an internship every semester since freshman year. I had survived and succeeded in life following so many traumatic events — abuse, disabilities, caring for and mourning ill loved ones — and was determined to compartmentalize this experience and move forward. But now I was stripped of not only the feeling of privacy in my own skin, but also the only financial independence I had ever known, and by extension, my dignity. On the outside I was excelling at a prestigious internship and balancing long hours of work, but on the inside I was broken and every bone in my body tried to escape the moment I sat down to write essays or do written school work. Everything I had worked so hard to achieve and build was slowly crumbling, and all I could do was watch, crippled with anxiety. At this point, my grades began to suffer, and I was running out of options. I needed a medical withdrawal from a course, and to do so, needed to
Photo by Dominic Fiedtkou-Leonard
address my assault to my parents. I needed to explain why I was home to see my doctor, who would write a recommendation letter for medical withdrawal that would be accepted by my academic dean. I needed to explain to my parents that I was essentially wasting their money by withdrawing from this course, but that it would be saving my GPA. I needed to explain to them that I didn’t know where I would be living during my senior year of college, and that I didn’t know how I would be paying for it. I needed to get this all over with and move on — and they were supportive of this. Meanwhile and from afar, I watched my assaulter’s life get better over social media. My former partner was hired to the job of his dreams as a financial investor, and everything seemed uphill for him. He was gaining confidence and financial security as I was losing mine. He began to rise in the world as I was just barely hanging on. I took almost exclusively government and constitutional law courses that semester. I remember listening so closely to the legal insight of my professors. I remember asking questions that seemed to veer so far off topic that there needed to be a reason they would come to mind in the first place. I remember feeling embarrassed that I was asking legal questions that pertained to sexual assault and victim rights, but even more vividly I remember when my faith in our criminal justice system died. That even with my “evidence” in the proof of text messages, my case would be little more than “he said, she said”, and I could not afford a lawyer to argue on my behalf. His and his family’s wealth seemed endless. Working full time, going to school full time and battling anxiety and depression required all of my energy; to move forward, I looked at my options and chose to forgive in order to make it through the rest of my college career — and I did. I left my job as a Resident Advisor to work for George Mason University’s Office of Student Media as a marketing manager and magazine editor-in-chief. To make sense of this, I’d like to paraphrase words that the director of Student Media shared with me: maybe the point is that you were led to where you are now for a reason — to build this magazine. If you are a victim of any kind of abuse or assault, same-sex or otherwise, please respond in a healthier way than I did. Just because I made it out okay does not mean I chose the best path in this situation. If you are assaulted or abused, please reach out for help because you are worth being helped, and not just because you’re out of options like I was. I repeat: do not wait to find help just because your professional, academic or financial life is being affected. Seek help because you are worthy of so many experiences — real love, kindness, joy and freedom. And if you are assaulted or abused, file a claim with your local police station immediately. You’re not being vindictive, you’re not acting to “ruin their life,” you’re acting to find due justice in this chaos and to protect the future victims who may otherwise follow you. Do everything in your power to make the criminal justice system work for you; I didn’t have the energy or the money to pursue a legal battle, but even if you only have the energy to do so, you’ll find the money along the way. Just speak up about your experience, try to prevent it from happening to anyone else, and help anyone you meet later who is also just trying to get by. Don’t just survive — thrive.
M at t e r THE IMPORTANCE OF THE MOVEMENT
Photo by Batel Yona & Devin Stewart
Older generations will try to tell you that this “Black Lives Matter” thing is a passing fad because it is driven by lazy, entitled millennials. Every half-baked thought piece written by a middle-aged white man with a receding hairline harangues the “Selfie Generation” for being on our phones instead of preoccupying our time with thoughts of marriage, children, and consumption. But how can we think of starting a family when there is a one in three chance of being incarcerated in our lifetimes, or that we may have to endure the pain of losing a child to police violence? How can we consume and shop with our friends when we are followed around in every store or denied service because of the color of our skin? But while our elders expect us not to disrupt the status quo, Black Lives Matter has created a space for black youth to push back, be seen, and be heard. Our countless selfies are a practice of radical self-love in spaces not built for us. Our Twitter feeds are our lifelines because they give us unfiltered access to networks of other people like us who feel the same injustices, no matter their zip code. And the technology that we are so adept at allows each of us to become our own sources of news at times when traditional media fails us with their static, one-dimensional views of the black community. CNN calls us “thugs,” while Fox reports us “rioting.” The latest victim of police brutality will almost certainly have “a history of violent behavior.” Cue mug shot. Black Lives Matter has given black youth the opportunity to shape their own, more accurate narratives. Black Lives Matter has catalyzed a movement to dismantle institutional oppression, and has created a network that validates all of the varying black experiences. We’re fighting for the “white-talking” black nerds. We’re fighting for the high school dropouts. We’re fighting for the middle class snobs, the poor “welfare queens,” the bougie, the ratchet, the thugs, the thots, the others. Black Lives Matter has created a safe space for black youth to accept who we are and to fight for what we deserve. We are beggining to embrace our beautiful skin tones and hair that reaches for the sky after generations of self-degradation and assimilation, and we refuse to be relegated to the shadows at the very margins of society any longer. All Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter was built for us, by us, to set us free. And living our truths, even on Twitter, shall set us free.
BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER & ALLYSHIP JILLIAN GOGEL Let me just say right off the bat: I am not black and I am not trans. I am white, and I am “just a lesbian.” I will never be able to relate to the violence and suffering and hardship that is all too real for the black trans, queer, and generally marginalized LGBTQ members in the world. I will never write this pretending to know. But what I am realizing is that the queer community needs to fully embrace the Black Lives Matter movement — a movement of survival. The Advocate reports that 17 out of 20 murders of transgender people in the United States are people of color. I, and many others, too often forget that three queer black women founded the Black Lives Matter network. This is a movement that has been shaped through an intersectional lens, as the founders have worked across race and gender biases while fighting for the survival of all black people — not only the straight and cisgender ones. The intersection of this movement provides non-black, queer allies with space to support our queer siblings of color. But as a movement, nonblack queer allies must recognize and respect the autonomy of the Black Lives Matter movement and message. Being an ally means helping to share and reflect on messages within the movement, while simultaneously not acting to shape or direct messages within the movement. There is a profound distinction. As white allies, we are offered the gift of listening more deeply to voices within the Black Lives Matter movement, and we may show our respect by responding with acts of love. What continues to overwhelm and inspire me is the fact that, amid a fight for survival, this truly is a movement full of love. In the words of Alicia Garza, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter network, “[Black Lives Matter] is a way for us to love each other again, to love ourselves, and to project that love into the world so that we can transform it.” In a December 2015 interview with The Advocate, Garza summed up “Black Trans Lives Matter” this way:
Finding Space for Queerness in Black Communities NATALIA CROWDER I am an African American woman. I have been profiled by police; I have had many a professor comment in surprise that I am “extremely wellspoken”; I am confident that I have been passed over for opportunities simply because of what I look like. I have endured micro-aggressions and blatant racism, and both have cut deeply. For all of that, I have always been confident that there is a network of support in the African-American community behind me. Other women like me have raised their voices, and changes have been made in this country because of it. I have been told repeatedly in the past year that my skin and my identity are something to take pride in. I have been told that my life matters. I am a bisexual woman. I think. To tell the truth, I don’t know how I feel, and part of the reason is because this is the first time I have said the words, even to myself. It terrifies me, and not just because it means having an awkward conversation with my parents and friends about my “newfound” discovery. Even if I were sure that I were bisexual, I would never feel completely safe admitting it, because that precious network of support that I have relied on for my entire life would quickly fade away. As assuredly as my life matters while I am thought to be straight, it would just as assuredly matter much less if my truth ever came out. A straight college-educated black woman is celebrated openly in our community. She has overcome at least some of the obstacles placed before her at birth and made something of herself. If she even hinted at being other than the norm, the silence from the community would be deafening. Publically (that is, in front of white people), the black community in America maintains a united front against adversity and persecution. In private, members of the LGBTQ community often find that they are completely ignored or disowned for being honest about their identities, or they are violently confronted and marginalized, and suicide is not uncommon. Black lives matter, but there is more than one type of black person. All of them matter.
Black Trans Lives Matter, to me, is really different [from the Black Lives Matter movement at large]. I think it speaks most directly to the marginalization and disenfranchisement of trans people within the Black community. What we’re really trying to do there is say that black trans folks are sitting at a particular intersection that deserves attention, and that also deserves as much priority as we place when the lives of cis black men are taken.” — Alicia Garza 27
Bursting Your Bubble A Pointed Response to Term Policing LARA HATIB When you’re first meeting someone and getting to know each other, what kinds of things do you share about yourself ? How do you identify and what does that even mean? Identity is complex. That’s why we all have different identities. However, identity is more than just personality. Identity can be found in something changeable like your name or something unchangeable like your race or ethnicity. Your identity can be informed by almost anything in your life, from your race to your sexual orientation to your national identity. It’s probably safe to say that I find a great deal of my identity in my sexual orientation, race, hobbies, and even my friends. I identify as a gay woman of Middle Eastern background, as well as a football player. Some people might have noticed my choice to use “gay woman” instead of “lesbian”. This isn’t for any particular reason – in fact, up until I began thinking about this article, I never even realized that I do not use “lesbian” as a self-identifier. However, some people in the LGBT community are very specific and deliberate in their use of the word “lesbian.” I’ve heard that “gay is a homosexual man and lesbian is a homosexual woman, and I’m a woman so therefore I’m a lesbian.” And I’m happy that those people have found identity in certain labels and terms. It is when people feel they must impose their labels on you that it becomes an issue. I had a similar experience with terms and labels not too long ago. I was still a naïve sophomore, and I decided to attend my first Pride Alliance meeting (an LGBT club on campus) with a friend. I had never been to meetings or events held by this club before but I had been feeling out of touch with the community and felt like, as a gay woman, I should probably know more gay people. It was at this meeting that, for the first time, I met a gender neutral person, who goes by the pronouns “they” and “them.” As you can imagine, I had some difficulty adjusting my language, because this was all foreign to me. My only unpleasant encounter the night of the meeting was with a different gender neutral person. I walked up to them and I complimented their music taste by saying something along the lines of, “Hey man, I like this song you have good taste.” My compliment was met with a scolding look and a reluctant “thanks,” and I walked away feeling extremely uncomfortable and a bit disheartened. A friend I made that night later told me this person uses “they” and “them” pronouns, and when I said “man” I offended them with the masculinity of the word. You’re probably wondering what I wondered at this point – how could I have possibly known that? I was cast off and judged as intolerant instead of being politely corrected. Now, while this was my personal experience, this ties to the issue of term policing that is widely important to our community. “Term policing” sounds harsh. I think “term policing” should be more like “term guiding.” Helpfully directing people in the right direction and explaining why such labels should and shouldn’t be used goes a long way. Educating people on your labels helps them understand you. Showing someone enough respect to teach them why a certain label is acceptable and another is not will be met with respect by that person using the right label from here on out. It is not my place to tell you how to label yourself, but if you show me respect and guide me, then I will show you respect and follow. 28
educated. protected. safe.
Our Youth Sexual Education Crisis
ABBY PICARD LGBTQ youth are experiencing a sexual health crisis, a crisis fueled by a lack of information. Only 22 states and Washington, D.C., require sex education in their public high schools, and only 19 of those states require their programs to be medically accurate. Only 12 states allow sexual orientation be discussed in their curriculum, and these programs are not clearly structured or strictly enforced. Meanwhile, in 8 other states, there are legal restrictions on how non-heteronormative sexuality should be discussed and discouraged, including an Alabama law stating teachers should “emphasize […] that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.” Beyond the lack of accessible education reaources, there are lesser-known obstacles that negatively impact the physical and mental health of LGBTQ youth. Minority stress is a phenomenon experienced by those in marginalized groups in which the chronic subjection of prejudice, discrimination, and oppression lead to higher rates of mental and physical illness in oppressed populations. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has documented far higher rates of risky behavior such as drug and alcohol use, dating and sexual violence, and attempted suicide among LGBTQ high school students than their heterosexual peers. In addition, 1 in 3 LGBTQ teens experience family rejection, another common predictor of health problems in the population. With the combination of these factors and exclusionary sex education, the sexual and reproductive health of LGBTQ youth is in crisis. LGBTQ youth are more likely to engage in sex at a younger age than heterosexual youth, and are more likely to have more partners and less likely use birth control or condoms, especially with their primary dating partners. The current fastest growing demographic of all new HIV infections is in gay and bisexual men and transgender women who have sex with men, especially those who are 13 to 24 years old. Also, students who receive LGBTQ education within their sexual education programs report less bullying among their peers based on sexual orientation or gender expression and feel safer at school. The evidence is clear: LGBTQ youth suffer from a lack of sexual education which puts them at a disadvantage. But the a Yon federal government atel yB b o t has begun to take Pho action to correct this.
The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, a bill proposed to Congress in March of 2015, would provide grants for “comprehensive sex education” for adolescents and in higher education, as well as training for faculty and staff of elementary and secondary schools. Under the bill, comprehensive sex education is required to be medically accurate and ethical, inclusive of LGBTQ youth, and trauma informed for victims of sexual assault, and domestic and dating violence. The bill would also cut restrictions on state funded HIV/AIDS education, and will not support any programs that “deliberately withhold health-promoting or lifesaving information about sexuality-related topics, including HIV.” On February 9, President Obama released his proposed budget for the 2017 fiscal year, in which all funding for abstinenceonly education in public schools was cut and reallocated to programs such as the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program and to the Center for Disease Control’s Division of Adolescent and School Health. On the state level, in 2015, California became the first state to mandate LGBTQ inclusive sex and sexuality education in all public high schools. In the health and civil rights communities, inclusive sexual health education is not up for debate. It has been backed by the Society for Adolescent Medicine and Health (SAHM) and the American Public Health Association, as well as Planned Parenthood; the Human Rights Campaign; the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN); and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS). We need to mandate that sexual health education incorporates information about sexuality and gender identity for all students. Cutting funding for abstinence-only education and the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act may be a start, but until these systems are in place, it is up to us. As college sudents who have received sex education secondhand, we need to educate our peers on LGBTQ resources and information in a way that recognizes diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. 29
Sex Work as a Choice Disclosure From An Advocate, Sex Worker & Student
LENNY PAQUETTE Understanding the difference between the two is crucial. Equating the two activities can further harm sex workers, as one’s mind might instantly think that they were coerced into selling sex and are in need of “rescuing.” This removes the agency of a sex worker because their work is their choice. These individuals choose sex work to earn money for their families or simply because they know sex work is the job that best suits them. While still a choice, albeit illegal in most U.S. jurisdictions, sex work remains a dangerous profession where workers constantly face violence from both clients and non-clients. Workers face stigma from every level, from systematic discrimination to hate from their partners. The streets of D.C. are no exception from crime, as sex workers are often abused while on their strolls. If sex workers do report violence they could be jailed, so many
Photo by Mazin Harb
When strolling through Washington D.C., one might be enamored with the monuments, the essence of political power, or by the sleek, newly-built apartment towers. You never stop to think that the same pavement you are walking on might be the same pavement where, during the late hours of the night, a sex worker might be trying to pick up a date for the evening. Why would we? The thought of sex work, more commonly referred to as prostitution, is still incredibly taboo in contemporary American society. Unfortunately, it is common for most people to equate sex work with sex trafficking — a dangerous comparison. Ms. Jes Richardson, a former sex worker, explains how the two differ: “Simply stated, trafficking is individuals who did not choose to be in the sex industry and/or cannot leave because of force, fraud or coercion. For a wide variety of reasons, sex workers have chosen to be in the sex industry.”
individuals avoid reporting their bad dates out of fear. Consequently, police often brutalize and abuse many workers who come to them looking for help. Prejudice against sex workers that has been ingrained within society, whether it’s by means of government, or entertainment and the media. There is not much visibility on rights and protections for sex workers, and their lives are endangered even more if a sex worker identifies as trans or as a person of color. Their plights intersect with transphobia and racism. If a sex worker identifies within the LGBTQ community, they are at a much higher risk to be victimized. The Sex Work Outreach Project USA (SWOP USA) found that in the United States during 2015, one-third of sex work-related homicide victims were trans sex workers. While in 2012, 23 percent of LGBTQ homicides were related to sex work, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). It is through explicit and implicit actions that people and organizations strip away the humanity and rights of a sex worker. In fact, trans workers are four times more likely to be incarcerated than trans people who never engage in sex work, according to SWOP USA. Trans people engage in sex work 10 times more than cisgender women, often due to the harsh prejudice and minimum protections for gender identity in the workforce. There is barely any form of help from local, state, or federal governments for queer sex workers. If anything, these agencies are more likely to harm than assist queer sex workers. The intersection of stigma against LGBTQ people with stigma against sex workers is deeply embedded, deadly force working against health and human rights for sex workers, queer or non-queer. HIV is another concern for many sex workers. The United Nations Program for HIV and AIDS lists sex workers as one of the populations who are at higher risk for contracting HIV. Since many sex workers are trans or identify as MSM (men who have sex with men), their work carries a staggering risk for HIV infection. It is key that sex workers be provided with tools to empower themselves for safe sex, such as HIV tests, condoms, and lubricants. However, these supplies may not be accessible due to cost or other factors. Luckily, various nonprofits and agencies in states become that point of access for sex workers, providing these materials for free in order to reduce the risk of harm. As someone who has engaged in sex work in the past, I want to state I was neither coerced nor trafficked. I recognize that I carry more privilege in certain ways than other sex workers. I received money for sex in order to get by financially. To me, it was a necessity at the time. This is a reality for sex workers throughout the globe. But, the stigma is a continual burden for me. I’m always plagued by fear that those I share this information which will dehumanize me. Somehow, to them, I’ll be less of a person. They’re not prostitutes and they’re not whores. Sex workers are individuals and sex workers are human beings.
Photo by ThinkStockPhotos
It is estimated that 26% of LGBTQ youth are forced into homelessness after being rejected by their families. It is therefore not surprising that these particular adolescents account for 40 percent of America’s runaway and homeless youth population. Unbeknownst to most of the U.S. population, however, is the fact that vulnerable LGBTQ street youth are at an especially high risk for human trafficking. Those who are forced into sex work can be cruelly and relentlessly tortured by their pimps and purchasers with rapes, beatings, brandings and mutilation. Some LGBTQ individuals who are not overtly forced into prostitution might choose sex work as a means to survive. A report released by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reveals that homeless LGBTQ youth are three times more likely to engage in sex work for survival than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. Food, shelter and clothing can be exchanged for sex, as well as cash which in some instances, can be used to buy the hormones and surgical procedures necessary for transition. Janet Mock, an American transgender activist who was able to afford her transition through prostitution, describes the circumstances that led her to sex work in her memoir, Redefining Realness: “I had been groomed to do it. I had been isolated as a child, raised by absent parents, sexually abused, trained to pleasure men over myself, led to feel a sense of detachment from my body, and haunted by a reality of economic powerlessness.”
Surviving under that sense of economic powerlessness is a nearimpossible battle, especially with the societal stigma against both transgender people and sex workers. Across America, transgender women who work in the streets are subjected to vulgar disrespect and assault by the police. The majority of these women do not file complaints as they fear being further abused. While some people argue that sex work is choice, including a choice for marginalized groups, Brazilian transgender model and actress Carol Marra begs to differ: “You are shamelessly pushed towards prostitution. People do not see you any other way. So they don’t give you any other career opportunities.” Trafficking of and sex work by LGBTQ individuals is a worldwide phenomenon. LGBTQ people often face violence and ostracization from their communities worldwide. Across continents, human traffickers prey on the desperation of LGBTQ youth. For example, in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, trafficked gay and bisexual Kenyan men — who were lured into the trade by promises of a better job and a promising future — work as sex slaves for the wealthy. Incidents such as these make the severity of this problem clear. The human trafficking crisis across the globe disproportionately impacts LGBTQ individuals and it must be addressed. Though the issue is complicated by many factors, the victims cannot wait.
Be Vigilant: Call 1-888-373-7888 or visit trafﬁckingresourcecenter.org to report a concern or request services. The National Human Trafﬁcking Resource Center serves as a hotline for victims and survivors of human trafﬁcking. 31
Global Affairs and Human Rights
CANADA + Justin Trudeau becomes first Canadian prime minister to attend a pride parade in Toronto. overnment promises to take in a + G substantial amount of gay refugees from Syria.
IN ALL BUT NAME: A global snapshot of LGBTQ rights and oppression
rom conversion camps to state sanctioned executions, the targeting of LGBTQ individuals worldwide is an ongoing and underreported problem. Every day, members of the LGBTQ community face threats of violence and oppression all around the world. Even in supposedly progressive countries like the United States, there still exists the real threat of persecution, through both legal and unsanctioned means. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Inter-sex, and Trans Association, there are 75 countries that punish same-sex activity with imprisonment. States that have the legal death penalty for same-sex activity as of 2015 are Mauritania, Sudan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other non state actors such as Daesh (ISIL/ISIS).
KEY: – Negative Development + Positive Development 32
JAMAICA – Punishes same-sex activity with up to 10 years of imprisonment and hard labor under Article 76 of the Offences Against the Person Act.
COLOMBIA onstitutional court rules 6-3 in favor of + C marriage equality, becoming the fourth Latin American country to win marriage equality after Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil.
ARGENTINA URUGUAY/CHILE + Join the Global Equality Fund, a U.S. initiative that seeks to promote LGBTQ rights around the world.
FRANCE – A French appeals court denied recognition to a third sex, overturning a previous decision that provided a separate designation for intersex individuals on official forms.
omophobic attacks increase in – H seemingly gay-friendly Brazil. Gay rights groups say that in 2014 the rate of homophobic or transphobic killings in Brazil was close to one per day.
– The European Union criticizes Hungary for blocking Europe-wide LGBTQ rights agreement draft. While the agreement was welcomed by most of the EU’s members it was vetoed by representatives for Hungary.
+ Government unveils memorial for gay and
+ Beruit’s Court of Appeals rules that a transgender man can legally change his sex to male in the nation’s registry, citing his health and wellbeing as the primary factors in this decision.
– Government leaders want to build on an existing broad ‘gay propaganda’ law, which bans the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality anywhere children can see to include “demonstration of one’s distorted sexual preferences in public places.” This announcement follows a radio interview in which President Putin claimed that the intention of Russia is not to criminalize sexuality or to persecute any Russian citizen.
lesbian victims of holocaust in Tel Aviv.
EGYPT – Police reportedly use dating apps such as Grindr to entrap and arrest gay men. Activists and groups in Egypt warn that this has occurred since October 2013.
BANGLADESH + Government approves use of hijra (South Asian feminine identity) as a third gender marker/option on official documents.
TAIWAN + Taipei hosts the region’s largest LGBTQ pride conference and event, attracting 78,000+ participants on October 31, 2015.
SAMOA + Arykah Fonoti crowned Miss SOFIAS 2015 in Fa’afafine (Samoan third gender) pageant.
– Same-sex activity continues to be punished with imprisonment under Penal Code Section 377, though police would rather pretend that the ‘problem’ does not exist.
– Prime minister Frank Bainimarama says in press conference that gays in Fiji should go to Iceland and stay and that gay marriage will not happen in Fiji in his lifetime.
– Despite constitutional protections, corrective rape and murder of LGBTQ individuals remains prevalent and threats are widely reported.
– Despite the annulment of 2014 Anti-
+ Current government promises to hold a referendum on marriage equality if they win a majority in the 2016 election cycle, attorney-general Brandis has confirmed.
– Cardinal Théodore Adrien Sarr,
+ Court rules that banning of pro-LGBTQ organization Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) is illegal, though homosexuality remains outlawed under the penal code of 1965.
– Punishes homosexual acts involving either men or women with whipping and up to a 20-year prison sentence under both colonial era penal code 377 and Sharia law.
Archbishop Emeritus of Dakar, argues at church conference that acceptance of gays is a western construct that Africans should not feel pressured to accept.
Homosexual Act of Uganda, nation-wide homophobia persists. Activists worry that a new anti-LGBTQ law is in the making.
Seeking to escape from persecution in their home countries and build a better life for their families, refugees already face deep uncertainty regarding their future and suffer from socioeconomic stress and personal trauma. A new home in the West can truly mean life or death for asylum seekers, especially those belonging to the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ asylum seekers fleeing violence and discrimination often find that the journey to refuge can actually compound the dangers faced back home. Shelters, which seek to provide a safe environment for asylum seekers as they navigate the legal process for establishing residence and acquiring employment, can instead put LGBTQ individuals directly in the path of harassment and sexual violence. According to research and refugee interviews conducted by Vocativ, the fact that homosexuality is still illegal under Syrian law reinforces homophobic attitudes and exposes LGBTQ individuals to an even greater risk of experiencing violence. In addition, LGBTQ refugees often face discrimination and violence from security personnel and translators in shelters who are ostensibly there to help. According to a Slate report, some translators hired to assist in the complicated process of obtaining refugee status have quit immediately upon discovering they will be translating for a member of the LGBTQ community. As a result, Berlin has committed to opening a
shelter specifically for LGBTQ refugees. In an interview by the Associated Press from 2016, Syrian asylum seeker Alaa Ammar gave an account of his experience as a gay man in refugee shelters in the Netherlands. Along with other migrants belonging to the LGBTQ community, Ammar faced discrimination from those in the shelter harboring homophobic sentiments. “You could see from their eyes that they wanted to hurt me,” said Ammar, who experienced altercations with other migrants in multiple refugee shelters. During one incident, he and another man were attacked by three fellow refugees and left with knife wounds. After being transferred to a private host in Amsterdam, Ammar finally escaped the imminent threat of violence and discrimination; however, this is often not the case for other LGBTQ asylum seekers. Unlike Ammar, who reported the homophobic violence he faced, most cases of abuse toward LGBTQ refugees in shelters go undocumented. Many refugees fear having their asylum applications rejected if they report abuse to the police, and thus the violence persists. Last year, the Obama administration identified LGBTQ victims as a priority group for asylum, deeming them as one of the most vulnerable groups of Syrian refugees. However, the Trump administration has further imperiled people seeking asylum in the United States by signing a set of executive orders on January 27, 2017, that restrict travel from seven
predominantly-Muslim nations and indefinitely suspends America’s acceptance of Syrian refugees. LGBTQ activists have railed against the order and spontaneous protests broke out across the country to support immigrants and refugees in the days following Trump’s controversial executive actions. In a statement, Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign, said, “[Trump’s]...executive orders make life more dangerous for countless LGBTQ people, and could equal a death sentence for those trying to escape violence and persecution from places such as Syria”. As illustrated by Ammar’s story, LGBTQ refugees face unique challenges at home and in shelters. Compounded by Trump’s immigration ban, these asylum seekers will continue to face discrimination and persecution and a longer, potentially dangerous wait for refuge. Protests in defense of refugees and immigrants are populating federal and state government buildings around the United States, and even public school systems and private industry, such as student walkouts and the D.C. city-wide “Day Without Immigrants” restaurant closures on February 16, 2017 in solidarity with immigrant rights. Throughout the Trump administration, the constitutionality of executive branch refugee and immigration restrictions may continue to be scrutinized by the judiciary, but readers are encouraged to do their part voicing your opinion to your representative and senators.
Photo by ThinkStockPhotos
Reparation of the
Two Spirit Identity Preserving Native Culture Amid Western Gender Discourse DOMINIC FIEDTKOU-LEONARD
Area American Indian Two Spirit (BAAITS) is one example of this multidimensional identity assertion. BAAITS recently hosted their 5th annual Pow Wow at Fort Mason in San Francisco. The Bay Area is the fifth largest urban center for Native Americans and is traditionally known for its acceptance of LGBTQ individuals. In spite of these facts, the two-spirit community is still vastly underrepresented. Performers at the BAAITS Pow Wow suspend the gendered associations related to clothing, decoration, song, and dance. Through these traditional modes of cultural expression, BAAITS attempts to unite modern Native American communities and to preserve the respect for the two-spirit which was afforded by their ancestors. Moreover, the event receives significant attention from the local media — an important vector for introducing outsiders to the two-spirit identity. The interaction between two-spirit and other aspects of identity can be challenging, particularly for young adults. In an interview for Westender Magazine, Vancouver-based fashion designer Tyler-Alan Jacobs spoke on the difficulties of coming out as a two-spirit individual, both within the Squamish Nation and to those outside of his reservation. Shortly after coming out, Jacobs was brutally attacked,
leaving his right eye dislodged and the side of his face caved in. According to the National Aboriginal Health Organization, two-spirit people are more likely to experience violence than heterosexual Native Americans, and they are twice as likely to experience assault over LGBTQ people in the general population. The threat of aggression is real for twospirit individuals. In Western society, they are bound by the limitations of a language which does not make allowances for the transgressions of the spirit. Separating the essence of what it means to be male or female from outward expressions is, for some, counterintuitive, and as a result, provokes aversion. Jacobs’ descriptions are a testament to the prevailing ignorance which surrounds the two-spirit identity. The enduring legacy of colonization and historical erasure continues to plague members of the two-spirit community in modern society. As it stands, viewing this lived experience through a Eurocentric lens does not fully encapsulate the magnitude of its role in Native American life. Ideally, twospirit can be incorporated into the modern discussions of queer identities while retaining the distinguishing features outlined by the indigenous communities who were the first to express it.
Photo by ThinkStockPhotos
It was through the massive upheaval of colonization by European settlers that the notion of a totally dichotomous gender binary was implemented in Native American society. Rigid notions concerning the respective roles of men and women were propagated throughout the Americas whilst also reinforcing similar boundaries that were already in place among cisgender Native Americans. It would seem at this stage the Western male/female paradigm simply did not account for the presence of third and even fourth genders that were common in indigenous societies. Throughout history, a number of Native American communities have recognized the existence of gender variant people. A linguistic marker for individuals belonging to “third” categories of gender appears within as many as 155 tribes including: the Sioux, Navajo, and various Puebloan peoples. Twospirit is an umbrella term which emerged from this history of recognized variation amongst indigenous peoples. Generally, the term describes an individual who experiences a combination of male and female gender attributes. Visibility for two-spirit individuals is a twofold struggle. They must navigate the social space of the tribe as well as that of the LGBTQ populace. The work conducted by the Bay
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