In the following piece, I refer to my oldest child as my daughter. My child has since come out to me as trans, and we use only male pronouns. I’m leaving the piece as-is, at his request, but I didn’t want any new readers to come away with an impression that participates in his erasure, either. Thanks.
This town to which I recently returned, the shithole where I spent the first twenty-five years of my life, is a hotbed of ignorance and bigotry. I know, I know, I live in the south, blahblahwhatever. Even compared to the rest of the state, this town is about as bass-ackwards as you can get. Just a few current county demographics to help you out, and some anecdotal stuff from my younger years:
- 92.8% white
- per capita income: $16,109
- 8 public elementary schools, 2 public middle schools, 1 high school, yet…
- FOUR private christian schools, all administered by baptist churches
- Completely dry county until 1984, when wine, beer, and liquor sales were finally allowed. “Liquor by the drink,” and beer/wine served in restaurants were not voted in until 2008.
- City water wasn’t flouridated until 2004.
- The book, “A Separate Peace” was challenged in a school board meeting, here, in 1996. (I was a junior in high school, here, then.)
- Only 9% of the over-25 population has at least a bachelor’s degree (vs. 31%, nationwide), and less than 70% have a high school diploma (vs. 88%, nationwide).
- There is one church for every 38 people or 10 households.
- There is one Baptist church for every 93 people, or 25 households.
- I was the first female outed as non-heterosexual at my school, ever, in 1996. There were two males who had been, during their attendance there, and no transpeople.
I was sixteen years old when I was outed at school. I’d made the classic mistake of coming out to my three closest friends, who were sworn to secrecy.
Of course, they told their other closest friends. And swore them to secrecy. And so on, and so forth. In less than a week, it seemed, everyone knew. And every single day was suddenly a gauntlet.
People didn’t seem to understand the distinction between bisexual and lesbian, and I was suddenly the resident “dyke.” And that was one of the nicer words.
I was bullied in the hallways, from straight-up assault and battery, to being “accidentally” shoved against lockers by other students passing by, to large groups waiting for me around corners, to shout slurs and other sexual insults, to groups of just guys waiting to tell me how quickly they’d fuck me straight again, given the chance. Or even given a half hour alone with me in a locked room, whether I gave them the chance or not.
I was bullied in the classroom, with teachers sitting idly by, or sometimes even laughing along. My junior year, I was in two different choral classes with the same group of girls. They taunted me every day, telling me how much God hated me, how I was going to burn in hell, how I’d better not even look at them, or they’d be sure to get me there early. The teacher ignored the whole thing, except to invite me to attend her church with her (soul-saving at its finest), and reporting all of us, me and my tormentors, to the administration for disturbing her class.
The guidance counselor told me that I shouldn’t be “rubbing my sexual preference in everybody’s faces.” I should just be keeping it to myself. As if I had been running around, pounding my chest, screaming out, HEY, EVERYBODY! LOOK AT ME! I’M NOT STRAIGHT, instead of mostly keeping my head down, and defending myself only as necessary.
After that, I stopped trying so hard to be liked. I had this friend, one really amazing friend who was an awesome ally. She was straight, but didn’t care at all if the assholes who were making my life miserable thought otherwise. She came up with this idea. She would walk me to class, holding my hand, or carrying my books, and kiss me on the cheek at the classroom door. We figured, they were going to make my life miserable, anyway, so we may as well just put it out there, and I should stop acting like it bothered me. And I did. And it still bothered the hell out of me, and the bullying never got any better, while I was there, but I did the best I could with it. I avoided being alone in the hallway when I could help it, especially while classes were in session and they were mostly empty. I ate lunch in a classroom, most days, where I was a proctor. I walked down the middle of the hall during class changes, to avoid being shoved against the lockers. I kept a towel and a change of clothes in my backpack, in case someone dumped a surprise can of tuna on me.
I lost a lot of friends, but solidified a few other friendships, after answering some really awkward and personal questions. My one awesome friend introduced me to her cousin, who was gay, and introduced me to the half-dozen or so semi-out people in the county. At first, I was really happy about that. I thought I’d found a safe space to be me, to be accepted, to stop having to hide, or be careful about what I said, or to have my defenses always on high alert. After a couple of months, not so much.
I was playing pool with them, one day, when my friend’s cousin said, So, have you made up your mind, yet?
I just stared at him, eyebrow raised, confused.
What was the question, again? I was waiting on the punchline, when it came like a punch in the gut.
Well, are you gay or not?
Um… I was struggling. I hadn’t expected the question, and didn’t know what the hell to do with it. Um…neither? Both? I’m bi.
Oh, honey. Nobody’s really bi. People just say that until they figure things out. So which is it gonna be?
Um…no. I… already figured things out. I’m bi. End of story.
It was the first of several conversations I had that went basically the same way. Finally, I just stopped hanging out with them, because they would never ever let it drop. They insisted I had to choose.
When I was 17, I came out to my dad. I’d gone to a rally with a friend who was questioning his sexuality, and had found myself in a heated argument with a scripture-shouting bigot, just as the TV news cameras showed up. The cameras belonged to the only station that shows news for our county. Dad was a pretty hardcore baptist, and an unapologetic, all-around bigot. Racist. Homophobe. Misogynist. You name it, if it ended in -ism, he was probably a poster boy.
I went home and packed my bags, stashed them under the bed, and chewed my nails down into the quick while I waited on him to get home.
He didn’t throw me out, but he berated me for “the bad choices I was making,” and for the “impact on the family this decision of yours is going to have.” A few days later, he came back to me to let me know he’d “talked to his gay friends,” who’d told him that there was no such thing as bisexuality. That people claiming to be bisexual were actually just sluts or sex addicts, trying to get their rocks off in as many ways as possible. He told me he was ashamed of me, but that he still loved me.
I moved out, for the second time, a couple months later. (The first time had been a year and a half before, and my friend’s parents didn’t want to get into a fight with my dad, so they sent me home.)
The people I was living with, at first, kicked me out when their mother found out I was bi.
My first girlfriend cheated on me with her ex, then dumped me, claiming it was because I wasn’t a “real lesbian.”
The next guy I dated dumped me when he found out.
The next guy was to be my future husband. An abusive asshole who looked at my sexuality (because I refused to lie about it, or hide it, from the people closest to me, even then) as a prize he’d won. He badgered me about having a threesome for the first two years of our relationship. The one time I caved in, just to make it stop, I ended up being so disgusted by the whole thing that I nearly vomited before it could even get started. He kept badgering me, but I never caved in again, so he spent the rest of our seven year relationship using my bisexuality as an insult, as a weapon. When I left him, he threatened me with the specter of him bringing it up in custody court. I’d seen people in this town lose kids because of things like that, and I was terrified.
I left him. I moved to another place, one of the seven counties out of the hundred in the state to vote against amendment 1, several years later. Things were pretty awesome. I got involved in the lifestyle. I became a long term substitute teacher in the next county over. When the GSA lost their sponsor, and no one else would step up, I did. I immediately made an enemy out of the principal of the school. I later learned that the reason they lost their sponsor was because of him. There were ostensibly other reasons I was fired, but that was where it started. He made me cry five times over the course of my employment, there. Three of those were about the GSA.
I made good friends in the lifestyle, people who I soon considered my chosen family. I learned the term, “pansexual,” and identified with it.
I had four relationships I would consider at least somewhat long term, two with men, two with women, and four short flings, one with a man, the rest with women. The last one was abusive, and tore my world apart. My kids, mostly to get away from him, decided to move in with their father. Back in that town. I refused to be so far from them, so I began making preparations to move, too.
In the week leading up to my leaving, some of my friends had a farewell karaoke thing. It was an event I started, and had handed over to the woman who hosted that night. Her partner went on a tirade about how I didn’t know shit. I wasn’t in the armed forces before DADT, or on a police force in the 80s, so I didn’t get to have a voice.
It was a hell of a sendoff.
Now, I’m back in that shitpot town. Things have improved, some. I’m very, very glad for the improvements. I make sure to remind myself of them frequently, because I’d not survive the next eight years, otherwise. I try to remind others, too, because it points to progress, to hope, to things not always being as hellish as they were for me.
But it’s no cakewalk.
Mini-me, that brave and wonderful young woman, came out to her father. With predictable results. He dismissed it as a phase, when he wasn’t busy telling her how awful and wrong it was. His whole family started preaching at her. His mother brings up how she doesn’t want to “get lumped in with those lesbians,” in every damned conversation they have, while still pretending that she hasn’t been told about the coming out. Then she tries to badger her into going to church (mini-me is an atheist, btw.).
She team-wrote some fanfic, when she was living there, with her tumblr friends. It had, as do many fanfics, some guy-on-guy romance. They found it, and flipped shit, and grounded her from the internet, phone, and pretty much everydamnedthing else. That was before Christmas. She still can’t use the internet, there, nine months later. Not even to do her homework, which is ALL online, at least, so far.
They didn’t tell me about her being grounded, and neither did she, for over three months. When I found out about it, they told me it was because she was “having that cybersex with grown adults.” Which, you know, she wasn’t.
They accused her of stealing things, because, well, you know how those queer people are. They bullied her constantly.
She had a girlfriend. She introduced us. We hung out, on one of her weekends here. She was sweet, and they were adorable together, and I was so happy for my girl.
While she was gone to her dad’s for a couple of weeks, over the summer, she visited her grandmother, who let her get online for a few minutes.
The girlfriend got scared. She was too afraid of being outed to her mother, or at school. She had broken up with mini-me, via tumblr, five days before.
Mini-me called me, crying. I had to move mountains, and endure a great deal of verbal abuse, just to get her dad to let her come and stay the night. See, she couldn’t even mourn her breakup, there. She couldn’t cry. She couldn’t ask anyone for a hug. She couldn’t even admit she’d had a girlfriend in the first place, let alone seek comfort or consolation from anyone, for her first real breakup, ever.
She lives here, now. And she’s happy. But she has to go back there every other weekend. This was one of those weekends.
She was gone less than four hours, last night, when she called me, crying. She was at her grandmother’s. They had all been ganging up on her, bullying her, again. Even my son (who I’m worrying is being brainwashed into bigotry). Her grandmother had been there to see it, and took mini-me back to her place. And then brought her back home, here.
I provided what comfort I could, and she went to bed. Then I got online. On my other blog. And found some bullshit about my “passing privilege.”
Now. Let’s talk about “passing.”
Fuck the whole fucking concept. What passing means to me is going back in the fucking closet. I’m NOT INTERESTED. Everyone I know in this town already knows that I’m bi. Small towns (under 8,000 people in the city limits) don’t just forget such abnormalities, or the people who display them. And everybody knows everybody else, and their business.
But even if I could somehow make them forget my past, I wouldn’t. I despised hiding who I was from everyone. It is a horrible feeling. It’s even more lonely than losing an entire community for standing up for your beliefs about something important, like consent. And I should know, because I’ve done both.
Do you know what actually happens, when someone sees me with my kid, and/or my partner? The whispers start.
Oh. I thought she was Gay.
I guess she’ll just fuck anything. Whore.
You know how I know that? Because even though I don’t get out much, this shitstill gets back to me. Or I see it on the Topix discussion boards. My name among a bunch of slurs.
What most people who accuse someone of passing seem to be saying is, Hey, you! You must be getting the best of BOTH worlds, and I don’t like you/you’re not really a part of my community/you’re only an honorary member/you don’t know what it’s really like/I think you’ve got it better than I do and that’s not fair and I’m going to lash out at you for it whether you are trying to pass or not/you’re with a guy, so your LGBT card has been suspended until you’re out making huge displays of PDA with a female, preferably butch.
Well, maybe not. I don’t know what they’re actually trying to say, but that’s how it feels, and it’s BULLSHIT.
I don’t get “the best of both worlds.” More often than not, I get the worst. Some straight people think I’m too queer. Some queer people think I’m too straight. I can’t really be LGBT, as long as I’m with someone who has a penis, or as long as I’m presenting as femme, or as long as I am out in public with a guy and my kid.But I’m still that chick. The one everyone here knows is “a dyke.” The one who is going to hell. The one who is a slut, and ought to be ashamed of herself. And now, I’m watching my daughter going through THE SAME FUCKING BULLSHIT. I’m fighting the battles all over again, at her side, or as her shield, when I’m able.
So. That thing my high school guidance counselor accused me of? I’m going to do that, now.
I’M. NOT. STRAIGHT.
You know what else I’m not? A lesbian.
I self-identify as pansexual, because the gender of a person has precisely dick (pardon the pun) to do with whether or not I’m attracted to them. I’m okay with being called bisexual, too, though. I was that for a long time, first, and there’s a lot of overlap between those identities. (Because this has become necessary, I’m clarifying a point, here. I in no way believe that bisexuality is some “larval stage,” from which people “evolve,” into more enlightened pansexuals. They are separate, yet overlapping identities, both of which are valid and should not need to be defended from one another. I switched from identifying as bisexual to identifying as pansexual as soon as I heard the term for the first time, in my thirties, and had no idea how many people believe that, in itself, was biphobic, because of my reasoning listed above. I’ve been shown that, since at least 1990, at least some bisexual people have been defining bisexuality as attraction to one’s own gender, and genders other than their own. That’s news to me. It still doesn’t change my identity, but I felt some clarification was in order. Bisexual is not code for less enlightened than pansexual. I am leaving my above statement, because I don’t believe in hiding the stumbles we make as we learned to walk. That is all)
And I don’t care if you’re het, cis, genderqueer, gay, trans, lesbian, or a goddamned cerulean polka-dotted purple plaid rhinoceros. You do NOT get to make assumptions about whether or not I belong in the community. You do NOTget to minimize the lifetime of fighting I’ve had to do just to be me, and continue to do so that others, including my own child, get to be themselves.
I’m not just “an ally.”
Ally: Typically any non-LGBTQIA person who supports and stands up for the rights of LGBTQIA people.
There’s a “B” in there. See it? Loud and proud, and been there for years. You don’t get to tell me that my struggles don’t count, that I’m not a “real” member of that club, that I can only ever be an ally. I fought for that shit. I earned it.
AFTER I was born with it. I fought to be able to have the basic human dignity of being me. I’ve done it for nineteen years, and will keep doing it as long as that is being denied to anyone.
You do not get to marginalize me by talking about a thing I’ve never been able to do. So what if I could pass, if I were traveling. I don’t get to travel. I’m lucky to be able to visit another town, let alone another country. This is where I am, and this is what it’s like being me, being here, being pansexual.
If that’s not good enough for you, if my queer credentials aren’t strong enough for you, then that’s not my fucking problem. Perhaps you should examine yourassumptions, because I’m not assuming shit.
I’m still too busy fighting.