Pride Month Blogathon: Day 14 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon
by Weezie Wood
I woke up the morning of June 12, 2016, to a text from my cousin asking me if I had seen the news. I was already running late for brunch with my dad and I typed out a quick “No, what’s up?” before heading out the door.
I should have heard the news in the car. By that point in the day, there wasn’t a news or radio station that wasn’t blasting what had happened around 2 am that morning in Orlando, but I wouldn’t learn about the Pulse nightclub shooting until I was standing in my dad’s living room, CNN announcing the climbing death toll as tears streamed down my face.
“I’m so sorry,” my dad kept repeating. “I’m so sorry.”
Later that day, as stories poured from survivors and names and pictures were released of the ones who didn’t survive, I came out to my family. I was only out to my dad, two cousins, and a handful of close friends. I hadn’t even planned on coming out that day but after posting dozens of things on Facebook about the Pulse shooting, queer rights, and the community, one of my cousins messaged me and said “You are dangerously close to outing yourself.” So, I did.
The very next weekend, I went to my first Pride parade. I wore a SOME PEOPLE ARE GAY, GET OVER IT shirt, carried the big rainbow flag, and plastered a smile on my face in order to hide my absolute terror. There was a crackle of fear everywhere I turned, that unnerving thought that what happened in Orlando could easily happen in a small town in Alabama. Added to my already raw nerves from suddenly being the topic of family conversation (I had transformed from the tattooed cousin to the tattooed and gay cousin overnight) and the fact that I didn’t feel like I belonged with any group at Pride, I was a literal mess waiting to happen.
And of course, it happened. His name was Vincent Rutherford (although I wouldn’t know that until a week later when he popped up on my Facebook feed) and he was unremarkable. That’s an important thing to know about Vincent. He wasn’t flashy, he wasn’t over the top… he was a normal middle-aged white guy in a white t-shirt, black shorts, and a blue baseball cap. He passed by me once, flashed a quick smile, and then backtracked to where I was sitting.
“Are you having a good time? You doing ok?”
I started crying. Was I having a good time? Yes. I was outside in the sunshine, I was alive and surrounded by people who were like me in the sense that we all belonged to the same community. Was I ok? Absolutely not. I was still a baby queer who was terrified at being so publicly out and queer when there were cameras around, when my family would see me on the news and make fun of my sexuality, when my dad’s congregation would see me on the same news and say an extra pray for their poor preacher cursed with a homosexual child.
I didn’t say any of that. Between the tears and the anxiety, I couldn’t. But Vincent must have known because he wrapped his arms around me and said, “You don’t have to be scared. You don’t. We’re here.”
That was my first and last time meeting Vincent. On April 3, 2017, Vincent passed away after a short, hard battle with cancer. Even though I only knew him for that one single moment in time, Vincent became the face of the LGBTQAI+ community to me. He was everything I wanted the community to be—brave, selfless, cheery, and always ready to push forward to ensure a better tomorrow.
Now that he’s gone, the person I saw as the embodiment of the community, I’m worried about what’s going to happen to us.
As the older generation of the Queer community dies out, I see our bonds getting looser. Every day on Twitter, Tumblr, and other social media sites, I see Queer people trying to define what “Queer” actually means for other people. The younger community seems more interested in labels and gatekeeping than the community itself. We are rapidly losing what it means to be a cohesive, caring group and that’s terrifying when we step back and look at what’s happening around us.
The United States is under an administration that is set on stripping Queer people of their rights. Across the globe we’re hearing reports of Queer people being rounded up and put in jails, in concentration camps for simply being Queer. In 2016, 27 trans people were murdered in the US. Those were just the reported ones. How many more were killed and not reported or were misgendered so their deaths wouldn’t be considered a hate crime? How many were killed worldwide? How many were brutalized?
My generation seems so caught up in trying to label what is Queer and what isn’t that we’ve lost sight of the larger picture of the community. I see this at every LGBTQAIP+ event I go to. Lesbians in one group, cis white gay men in another, and the rest of us struggling to feel like we belong in a community that is supposed to be our safe space.
The first LGBTQAI+ event I went to after Pride was a Queer women’s group called We Are One. The organizers are two older lesbian women who worked tirelessly to make sure everyone felt included and told me more than once that everyone was welcome into their group—women and femme nonbinaries alike. I was unsure of my presence there since it seemed to actually be a lesbian event and I’m neither a lesbian nor do I identify as a woman. My friend, who is also nonbinary, went with me and while they use they pronouns and identify as femme, they are not comfortable dressing as such in public. While the older women there were welcoming and open to both of us, the women our age actively shunned us. We both tried to engage them in conversation and without any kind of lead in, several of them asked us, “So what are you?” We were made to feel like we were invading their space when this was supposed to be a space for all of us. Because my friend didn’t fit their label of ‘femme’ and because I identify as bisexual, we were pushed to the outskirts of their group. That same night, a trans woman was honored for her work in the community and I overheard that same group of young lesbians both misgender her and question why she was being honored “at a women’s meeting”.
At some point, that will tear the community apart. Safe spaces for Queer people should include all Queer people without policing identities. We have to move past thinking that Queer spaces are only available, only need for cis gays and lesbians. It was trans women and bisexual women who led the initial marches for our freedom.
It feels like cis gays and lesbians had one thing on their minds and that was “gay marriage” and when the US granted those rights, they felt the fight was over. It’s not. I’m not even talking about the fact that we have an administration set on dismantling those rights. The fight has never been over for those of us with different gender IDs and sexualities. I shouldn’t have to fight my own community for a space to exist as a Two-Spirit bisexual ace. There is more than enough room at the table for all us, so why are we still fighting each other for crumbs?
We have an entire generation of Queer kids coming up after us that deserve the same hard work and fight from us that we were blessed to have received from the generations before us. That hard work is going to include creating spaces that are teen friendly and alcohol-free. I have yet to attend a Queer event outside of Pride that wasn’t at a bar or a club. Not only does that exclude people who don’t drink (whether they abstain or are recovering) but it also excludes teens.
Pride should not be the only place where the older generation interacts with the younger. I believe strongly in having Queer teen only meetings and spaces but I also believe that there needs to be a place where we have more face to face interaction with each other. Not only so that we get to know each other and build that sense of community, but also because Queer teens need to know that we’re here for them. That we survived coming out, that we’re thriving and leading full lives, and the same can and will happen for them. It’s important for them to have access to adults who have had the same questions and fears that they are having now—adults who can assure them that things actually do get better.
This isn’t something that will happen overnight. I feel it will be a slow process in waking people enough for them to see that labels and gatekeeping is not important. The next generation should be our focus and we should put aside everything else and keep marching the march other generations started for us. We should all strive to be Vincent Rutherford for someone—a compassionate embrace and caring words when they need it the most.
Pride Month Blogathon: Day 13 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon
by EC King
Depression and anxiety have always run deeply in my veins. These issues are hereditary in my case and, though they are not my constant companions, they are definitely frequent visitors. Even though I was a privileged, seemingly happy and rambunctious child, I remember clearly the days or weeks when I felt a malaise that I didn’t know how to describe. I called it “being bored”, as I lay in bed staring listlessly out the window without even a book to keep me company, or as I ditched elementary school for a time to hang out in an empty house where no one could find me.
These visitors stayed with me intermittently throughout my teens, 20s, and 30s, and are even now standing outside that figurative door with suitcases in hand, hoping to be let in. But, you see, I have a particular coping mechanism called “reading” (with a side helping of “listening to music”) that has been instrumental in saving my life over the years.
I was one of those annoyingly precocious kids that started reading at a very young age. My parents, happy with me being such an early and avid reader, didn’t pay all that much attention to what books I was actually consuming. I read everything I could get my hands on for fun, including the dictionary and encyclopedias (look it up, young’uns!), and even old school sex manuals like The Joy of Sex that I found while snooping. If it was something way over my age range, all the better! I wanted to know everything there was to know about everything.
I, of course, read the usual kid’s books by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, but my favorite was Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. I probably read that book at least 50 times when I was little, and even tried to start my own (very short lived) spy route because of it. I really should have known something was up when I immediately felt a kinship with such a brutally honest and individualistically butch curmudgeon. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.
As I got a bit older, I segued into horror and fantasy, with a sprinkling of romance. While other 10-12-year-olds were reading Sweet Valley High and Flowers in the Attic, I reveled in scaring the crap out of myself on a regular basis. Stephen King was my go to at that age, but I felt a homecoming when I happened upon Clive Barker’s extremely dark, kinky and grotesque worlds.
Clive and Stephen often employed a mixture of fantasy and horror, but I looked elsewhere when I needed a hit of that high fantasy goodness. Authors like Piers Anthony, C.S. Lewis, Orson Scott Card, Guy Gavriel Kay and David Eddings took me out of myself on epic journeys of derring-do. Suffice it to say that the more recent personal revelations from some of those authors really threw me for a loop (Bigotry and racism galore? Aslan was an allegory for God?? What?? Why couldn’t he have just been a very talkative lion?).
In the ‘80s, novels in these genres were often written by (and chock full of) cis white males, so imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon the unapologetically queer characters in Mercedes Lackey’s work. These books opened up an entirely new world for this incipient queer. I had been struggling with the fact that I liked boys very much even though I also had strong crushes on girls. We didn’t really talk about “those types of things” all the way back in the olden days, and especially not in Central America.
I ended up devouring these books and internalizing Lackey’s message of “it’s perfectly normal to be anything other than straight.” Thinking back, I realize that her books (and a few others) were partly catalysts for my decision to come out in the early ‘90s. I mean, if her gay characters could emerge victorious from all those trials and tribulations, why couldn’t I?
I was in my early 20s and living in San Diego, CA when I came out. The queer scene there was vibrant, but primarily consisted of gay men and lesbians. I came out as a lesbian because I felt that was the only identity available to me at the time. Much of the community was of the strong mindset that bisexuality was just a short stop on the voyage to full on gayness. If pushed on that subject they became very stubborn and often ostracized people who challenged that viewpoint. I even lost touch with a best friend I’d had since I was 12 over this issue. As a proud lesbian, she was firmly in the “bisexuals are just misguided” camp. Sadly she died in the early 2000s, and I never got the chance to try to resolve our friendship.
During this time I continued to use books as my escape from real life. In the ‘90s, the SFF and horror genres were still extremely lacking in LGBT rep, and I found most gay fiction to be too depressing. Luckily, I happened to stumble upon Anne Rice’s kink filled Sleeping Beauty Trilogy (written under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure) in a used bookstore and they became my gateway drug into queer erotica. I was amazed by, and drawn to, the author’s depictions of endless acts of bisexual and gay BDSM, and went on to read whatever I could get my hands on in the genre.
Depression, Anxiety and I became BFFs throughout those years, with a long sojourn after my friend’s death in the early 2000s. Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that I identify as non-binary and pansexual instead of bisexual and cis. I’d like to think that if my friend were alive today, she would eventually grow to understand that gender identity and sexual orientation can change or become more actualized as we go through life, and that these changes are all valid.
I’m in my 40s now, and my Frequent Unwanted Callers still come to visit from time to time, sometimes longer than others. I’ve been primarily into LGBTQ+ romances for a long while, and am absolutely loving that there’s so many authors writing about different aspects of the queer spectrum these days. It’s been an incredible experience to finally see parts of myself within the pages of a book.
So yes: when I mentioned above that reading has saved my life, I meant it. I’ve received so much enjoyment and peace of mind from allowing my imagination to propel me to fictional worlds. Good books have broadened my perspective and vocabulary, and helped me to unearth and express my sexuality and gender expression. They’ve helped me to deal with (but never completely overcome) my depression and anxiety in productive ways. They’ve been the best kind of constant companion, and I thank them profusely for their service.
EC King is a non-binary Afro-Latinx writer who hails from a tiny and unnecessarily hot country in Central America. She currently resides in Florida (also unnecessarily hot) where she reads a lot and considers writing a book but never quite gets around to it. EC blogs about beauty and has, in the past, fangirled extensively over kpop and fashion for her own blog and others. You can find her many tweets under @OverlySarcasmic.
Pride Month Blogathon: Day 12 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon
If I’m being honest with myself, I never thought of myself as “straight.”
Growing up, I never labeled myself that way and instead thought along the lines of “I’ll love who I love, no matter their gender.” That’s not to say that I never struggled to discover my gender and romantic and sexual orientations or that I never had a coming out experience – it’s definitely been a rocky ride. But when it came down to it, I was always fortunate enough to have been sure that my family wouldn’t disown me. I also knew, though, that they wouldn’t understand me, no matter how hard they tried.
Being out publicly as a nonbinary biromantic asexual teen is not easy, to say the least – especially not in the time we live in. I’ve definitely had it easy in a way so many others have not, but I’ve still faced my fair share of struggles because of who I am. The one thing that got me through those struggles, and the struggles that are still ongoing, is having a community. Even though I have known that I’m not straight for the majority of my life, it was always something I kept to myself. I didn’t even come out to my best friend until high school – which is okay, of course, but I could’ve used his support. When I started high school, the group I met somehow started talking about sexuality and all the identities that fall under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. Now, I have no idea why I randomly came out to a group of nerdy 14 year olds I had met less than an hour ago, but I did. This experience taught me the importance of having a community.
Before I knew it, I was in my school’s GSC, out to my closest friends, and, soon enough, building an online community. Having a group of people who not only accept me for who I am, but who can understand who I am, has been one of the most important aspects of me coming to terms with my identity. I always thought I was comfortable being part of the LGBTQIA+ community, but I wasn’t, not until I was actually part of it. I needed to meet people who had already faced what I was facing or who were currently facing what I was facing – I wouldn’t have even known I’m nonbinary if I hadn’t joined my school’s GSC.
Finding a community has in no way diminished all the struggles I face to this day, especially in terms of the recent U.S. election, but now I know that there are other people out there like me. I know that there are other people out there who feel the way I do and who truly understand what I’m going through. There are some struggles I’ll never be able to overcome – I’m never going to stop experiencing gender dysphoria, for example, but I’m not alone anymore. I’m not alone in experiencing gender dysphoria. Others have found some ways to help cope with it and maybe, one day, I’ll find a way to help someone else cope. I was never really comfortable with being part of the LGBTQIA+ community until I was actually part of the LGBTQIA+ community, but I’m finally not alone anymore.
And neither are you.
Kav is a 15 year old nonbinary, biromatic, asexual, South Indian teen who loves fashion, books, and social justice. They are frequently active on Twitter and YouTube talking about a combination of book-related and social justice-related topics. You can often find them active here: https://www.youtube.com/c/xreadingsolacex
Pride Month Blogathon: Day 11 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon
When I’m asked what it’s like being a queer teen in today’s age I kind of want to counter with: “Well, what’s it like having two eyes and a nose?” You know, something snarky and light-hearted that makes it clear queerness is perfectly normal without having to go too much into my own experience. It’s something I’ve always shied away from; sometimes I can’t find any words and other times there aren’t enough words in the world for me to even begin to explain. But, hey, here goes nothing.
Unfortunately, we’re pretty much all familiar with varying degrees of homophobia and often when it surfaces people’s first instinct is to say something along the lines of ‘It’s 2017.’ Which is supposed to mean blatant homophobia is a thing of the past and perhaps to the average, young, privileged, white American it is. A lot of them can, at least, have some small shred of hope that their loved ones won’t disown them if they ever knew the truth. That their grandmas could knit them pride sweaters and rainbow blankets. That they could truly be free.
But I’m not that average, young, privileged, white American.
My culture is very homophobic, my parents are as anti-gay as you can get, and I was raised with an extremely conservative interpretation of Islam. You couldn’t even imagine the amount of ingrained homophobia I had to battle growing up, and still grapple with today; it’s the reason why my instant reaction to queer couples kissing is to look away and I almost always hesitate when picking up queer books. In discussions about queerness, the impact of race, ethnicity, and (non-Christian) faith is often ignored as most people only look at queer identity through a white and/or Christian lens. This alienates the significant portion of the gay community that – like me – exist outside of that bubble and only serves to further marginalise us within our marginalisation as our experiences aren’t reflected anywhere and so we have no one to relate to.
I felt like I had nowhere to turn to and the weight of my own self-loathing was almost unbearable at times (and would completely demolish any tall, dark, and handsome brooding YA hero’s, can I just say) but the journey of self-acceptance is a long and torturous one. At least, for me it is. There aren’t just bumps – God, what I would’ve given for simple bumps – there are gaping pot holes you feel like you’ll never get past and quick-sand that damn near swallows you whole before you manage to escape its grasp. And at each turn and every pot hole, you have to choose yourself and force your legs to push on.
It’s a lot harder than it sounds, believe me.
I think I’m doing good now, though. I started university last September and almost mustered the courage to sign up for the LGBT society, albeit I took three steps in the general direction of their stand before making a giant U-turn back in the direction I came, it’s still progress to me. That’s three steps more than I would’ve taken a few months before that. I know I’m nowhere near done with my personal journey (I have eighteen years of Sodom and Gomorrah lectures and divine smiting of the wicked imagery to thank for that) but I’ve developed my own interpretation of my faith with a kinder, loving God and He’s with me every step of the way. I can now say that I’m bisexual with a new-found confidence and that’s progress. It’s okay to take a little longer than others when it comes to accepting who you are.
We all have our own struggles.
If you’d have asked me two years ago about my sexuality, I would’ve lied. Default-straightness was all I knew back then. It was my shield, protecting me from having to accept a part of myself I wasn’t ready for while poisoning me slowly with every lie I had to tell to keep it up. It was only until I found the online YA community and saw all the wonderful queer people who were open and educational that I understood that not being straight wasn’t something to be ashamed of. I’m grateful to so many people who’ll never know how much they did for me simply by existing. Living an openly queer life is a revolutionary act and, my God, am I thankful there are so many that dare to do so.
I learn new things about myself and others all the time because of all these amazing people and I’m better for it. I’ve known for a while that I exist in the intersection of a Venn diagram with many rings: my sexuality, romantic orientation, race, religion, gender, and mental illnesses. It hasn’t gone unnoticed that if there were ever a character like me in a book, she’d be called check-box diversity by a certain loud minority within the community and that sucks. While I’m well aware that every single one of my rings is despised by someone somewhere in the world and they bleed so much into one another it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins – they’re mine and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
There’s a poem I like to read often when I feel my foundations beginning to crumble called Invictus by William Ernest Henley; Nelson Mandela once said it helped get him through his twenty-seven-year prison sentence in the movie about his life, also called Invictus. I watched it years ago and the poem has stuck with me ever since. It reads:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
The last two lines are my personal favourites and I repeat them to myself when my anxiety is too loud to handle and my depression is too heavy to bear. That’s the thing about words, you see. Within their array of curved letters and strings of soft and plosive syllables, they hold the power to destroy as well as the power to fortify and strengthen. I think it’s an almost poetic juxtaposition.
Sometimes it feels as though all the different parts that make me who I am are at war and I have to decide where I stand and pledge allegiance to one or the other. Other times, I feel like a fraud, that I’m not and will never be enough to lay claim to any of my identities, and what I thought were sturdy cogs and screws keeping me together become paper-thin and feather-light, I swear I try my hardest to keep it together, but it doesn’t always work. That’s okay, I realise. You don’t always have to be strong and keep a stiff upper lip when everything is on fire and there’s no water or extinguisher in sight. We all have our own ways of dealing with things and mine is this poem, it keeps me afloat on my worst of days and for that I’m thankful.
I guess my hope for the future with regards to books is that YA writers use their words to fortify and strengthen rather than to – knowingly or unknowingly – destroy. Saying things like a character is ‘too diverse’ or that there is ‘forced diversity’ in a book is one of the most destructive things an author can say as regardless of what your personal opinion is, intersections are real and vital in understanding who we are as people, and while you may have none or only a few, there are others who have so many they lose count and they are equally deserving of representation. I also hope that YA writers keep the kids they’re writing for at the forefront of their minds when doing so since a lot of people seem to be forgetting who their audience is nowadays. We make up the bulk of your readership and to see some of you sneering at us from the insurmountable walls of your own self-importance and arrogance isn’t doing you any favours. We see you.
To my fellow teens out there who are afraid and questioning their identities, I would say that whatever the label that fits you, or even if no label fits you, it’s okay. You’re perfectly fine just the way you are and I hope you get every single good thing life has to offer you because you deserve every star in the freaking cosmos.
You are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.