[music] Every coming out story is unique. Some people come out to their parents multiple times. You can email or text your mom and tell her your story and tell her your identity every day and even then she’ll introduce- And you can even introduce her to your boyfriend and she’ll still call to tell you about some nice girl that she met at church. “Wouldn’t you like to meet her?” and then we have parents who start asking suspicious questions after glancing at the best female friend, Mack, not Mackenzie. And parents, huh, they aren’t the end all in the coming out journey. You come out to your family, your friends, your coworkers, your teachers, your school, your pets and to yourself. And with that here we go. [music] Let’s call the person “Blinky”. It was the first time I’d seen my mentor in 3 years. Mark is a professor of Philosophy at Mt Angel Seminary, the Catholic seminary for aspiring priests, and had just come back from working on his Ph.D. in Belgium. I was excited, scared and anxious to see him. I met him on “The Hill” and needed to explain him, update him on my life. “I met someone,” I started. “Oh! What’s her – what’s their name?” I wasn’t ready to give that pronoun away and Mark could tell. I paused and stammered. He assisted with his every present sense of humor intact, “Let’s call the person Blinky.” I shared that in the last year of college, I went to a student group on campus where folks played a game where you stood up and moved around the room if you identified with someone in the room. I think we call it Train Wreck today. I stood up and moved across the room when the statement was, “I want to meet all my friends and neighbors who think someone in here of the same sex is cute.” Did I mention that that was my very first Triangle Alliance meeting ever? I wasn’t even- it wasn’t even called TA yet. It was actually still called “After 9”, after the 1992 Ballot Measure. But in January of 1994 I had been questioning my sexual orientation more seriously and went to a meeting with my friend Todd. I was afraid everyone would see me and assume that if you went into the Willamette Room which is now the 1st floor computer lab, that it was “gay by association.” So in the middle of the game, do I cross the room? I do think that that one girl is cute. I decided to move. My heart was racing, my face was feeling warm. I felt all of the eyes on me and it completely exposed as I crossed the room in a hurry, hoping no one would notice. But not everyone had stood up [laugh] which meant that my movement signaled my non-hetero leading- leaning. I didn’t want anyone looking at me. I was so self-conscious during the rest of the meeting. Had others noticed? What would that mean? I did think she was cute. Uh, I was so afraid. After the meeting folks went out together and I was asked, “So… we saw you stand up and move during that question. Are you …?” God, it was too soon. I wasn’t sure. Now was 9 months later as I’m telling Mark about “Blinky.” [clears throat] How was this going to go? Mark was the ONE person I cared about the most in the world, and knowing we were at Catholic priest ground zero when I was telling him all this. [audience laughter] Would he tow the Catholic party line? I jetted from their belief system years earlier. Mark never ever preached to me, but, this was different and I had no idea how he would respond. When I was 15, my home life was so bad with a bipolar mom who was physically abusive and I approached Mark who listened and encouraged me to make a bold move to live with my dad and that forever and decidedly changed the course of my life. I didn’t want to lose Mark, and if I came out to him, I wasn’t sure what the outcome of that would be. I continued to tell him about “Blinky”, that for the last several months I had crushed hard on this person and when I finished my story, I revealed, “and…Blinky’s name is… Melissa.” Based on my careful pronoun-free construction of the story, he knew. His immediate reply was, “Oh that’s great!” Turns out, Mark had long been an ally, that while he hadn’t yet been in a Pride parade, he’d long had gay and lesbian friends. And of course, he was hanging around priests…and so obviously he had gaydar. [audience laughter] I’m going to now introduce our next monologist. This is “Coming Out to King’s Way” by Michael Albert read by Zachary Warner. [music] So the last place I expected to find myself was in the middle of an Evangelical Christian church in rural Ohio. After all, I’m Jewish. And Gay. And back then, I was an avowed agnostic, though I would later “come out” as an atheist. But walking by “King’s Way” one day, I was struck by the sign — “Deaf Ministry,” it said. I was intrigued. One Sunday, I threw on some nice clothes and ventured over to the church to see what there was to see. The “Deaf Ministry” was comprised of one boy somewhere around 10 years old with a disability the nature of which never became known to me. I only knew he used a wheelchair. In front of him sat a woman desperately trying to keep up with the church proceedings. It was a struggle for her, and painful to watch. Though I had yet to see the inside of an ITP classroom, I was able to feed her some of the many signs she was missing. By the end of the service, I had replaced her in time to interpret the sermon. And that began my 9 months of service as a volunteer Sign Language interpreter for the King’s Way Evangelical Christian Church. I wanted the practice. It was a short time later that I was “outed” to the church as Jewish. [audience laughter] But I didn’t know it yet. This was a church where they passed communion through the rows in a tray, followed by another tray of tiny little thimbles of wine. Obviously, I passed on consuming the cookies and juice. My “client” asked me why. “I’m Jewish,” I signed back. “Jews don’t take communion.” And that was all he needed to know. But his father, an elder on the leadership council of the church, saw the exchange. Apparently, he shared his knowledge with others. But I was oblivious. Then came the day. I made a speech to the Student Government Association, televised on the campus closed circuit TV system. It was in support of removing the military ROTC from our college. We had passed a non-discrimination policy for the Bowling Green State University that included sexual orientation. It was fair to wonder aloud if an institution which blatantly excluded gay men and lesbians operating on campus would be in conflict with that policy. Many eyes saw that speech that night. Some of those eyes attended King Way. One of them was a college mathematics professor, also an elder in the church. As openly gay as I was, it didn’t occur to me that my sexual orientation would be a surprise to anyone. But a surprise it was. About that time, the church was preparing for their Christmas concert with some neighboring churches, and I was preparing to interpret that concert. And then the minister asked me to step into his office. He informed me that my services were no longer welcome at the church, though [laugh] he was magnanimous enough not to kick me out if I wanted to sit quietly in the pews and listen. He explained that, being in a “leadership position,” which I guess meant sitting at the front and flapping my arms, would cause confusion for anyone coming to the church who knew about my “lifestyle choice” and saw me leading the worship. Whatever would they think? My thoughts raced. I figured, wouldn’t they just assume I was there interpreting for a Deaf child? I figured, in fact, they probably wouldn’t think much of anything at all. I really didn’t understand what he was talking about. And I couldn’t really comprehend how I could be fired from something I was never hired for in the first place. [audience laughter] The pastor decided to hold a meeting between me and the church elders. But I didn’t face the elders completely alone. I had an ally. I had asked Todd to come with me. Todd, you see, was the head honcho for the BGSU Campus Crusade for Christ. He was an odd bedfellow, to be sure. I befriended him when his organization signed on to a petition in support of sexual orientation being added to the University’s non-discrimination policies. He explained to a surprised Lesbian and Gay Alliance that, as Christians, they supported equality, even if they didn’t support “the homosexual lifestyle.” Eh, we could live with that. [audience laughter] And we did even do a couple of joint programs with them on the topic of spirituality and sexuality. And Todd agreed to come with me to the meeting to help me navigate the righteous justice of King’s Way. I thought he could help. After all, he spoke fluent Christian [laugh]. [audience laughter] Maybe he could make them understand. They didn’t. One of the elders, I recall, refused to even look at me. The young boy’s dad was there. I asked him how a father could let his son miss out on communication on the basis of a prejudice. There was no reply, though I had the sense that church harmony was winning out over linguistic access. I asked the church how they could let me stay in my “leadership position” for nine months when they knew I was Jewish, but then allow my being gay to be the last straw? “We thought that, by hearing the gospel, you would come to know the love of Christ,” was the answer. Apparently being gay meant that, made that hope now futile. I left the room. Todd remained to meet them, with them privately. After about a half hour, he came out, and quietly but firmly suggested I let this one go. I still love interpreting in religious settings. I find that most people of faith are sincere and open, and loving and accepting. Religious themes are amazing in Sign Language. The ceremonies are beautiful. The environment is usually joyful and reverent. The music is, is pretty. The congregation is there to share a wonderful communal experience. But King’s Way did teach me one lesson. I will never again make a contract to interpret for a church without letting them know, in advance, that I am gay and Jewish and an atheist. If it’s going to be an issue, it will be an issue up front, or it will never be brought up again. That’s an indignity I will not repeat. [audience applause] [music] Fifty years ago, during the start of my high school years, I will admit that I had very little to no idea what the LGBTQ community was. At that time, I suspected that it was generally not something that was openly discussed because of a frequent societal stigma associated with the topic. I think the closest I got to broaching the topic was when someone called another person a “fag” in derogatory jest and I remember being clueless. Was it a British cigarette I wondered? [audience laughter] I was raised in a strict religious home. Now you know which religion. [audience laughter] Matters sexual, conventual- conventional or not, were simply not discussed – ever! When I went to college, my education expanded beyond the classroom. As a freshman, I remember being approached by two young men on separate occasions. Frankly, I think I understood what they wanted and it scared me. In my second year, I joined a fraternity house. The cook, who had been with the house for decades, was named Desmond and cared proudly and deeply for the fraternity brothers. He was an elderly, married, black, bisexual as he explained, and he DID need to explain what at least a part of that meant. [audience laughter] He became a friend and we sometimes drank milk and scotch back in the kitchen. [audience laughter] I also befriended his close friend, Carl. Carl was a delightful and honest and respectable individual who liked a good, uh, time of any kind – this was 1969. Carl, a few years younger than Desmond was a forklift operator. He dressed flamboyantly and left no doubt that he was clearly happy and proud to be gay. Over the next few years I learned much about perspectives I never even knew existed. [baby in audience crying] When I started dating my now wife, Meg, [audience laughter] Carl [audience laughter] Carl invited Meg and I, uh, to his house for an afternoon party or a party that began in the afternoon in Sayreville, New Jersey. [audience laughter] But it lasted long into the night. We attended and met gay men and women, bisexuals, crossdressers, and I wonder if we were the only straight- so-called straight guests there. It hardly mattered and a good time was had by all. While I believe I never really had- eh, while I believe I never had any real prejudices toward the LGBTQ community, these few years helped me to appreciate the diversity of individuals that were different than me. Fast forward fifty years. I work in a community where I can make an impact by reaffirming the rights of us all. On a personnel level, I hope I’ve been able to provide some support to a few young people here tonight whose parents have had challenges accepting who they are. Thank you for this opportunity to tell my short story. [audience applause] [music] Let’s talk about sex. [audience laughter, yelling, clapping] Or the lack of an interest in it for me. I identify as asexual, and yes, it is a real orientation. [laughs] What it basically means is that I don’t experience sexual attraction. I’ve had people ask me what it’s like, after expressing their sympathies of course. I’m not joking. I’ve actually had someone say that they felt bad for me because I’m asexual. It happened to me my first year here. Somehow, my hall mates found out that I was ace, a shorthand way to say asexual, and were asking me questions about it. I don’t remember what lead up to this happening, but I ended up hearing one of my favorite responses on asexuality. After saying that I wasn’t interested in sex, this one girl turns to me and says “I feel really bad for you now.” I just want to say to that person, “Thank you. You just improved my life by reminding me of how much I don’t fit in sometimes.” I think I realized that I felt this way around the age of 13. Something like that. The girls in my class were talking about what boys they liked and how cute so and so was. I, on the other hand, was concerned with more important matters. Like keeping up with some TV show or finally understandling- understanding algebra. Which never happened [laughs]. [audience laughter] Anyway, romance was not the top priority. Still, I knew that I was, it was actually a bit unusual to feel this way. So I think I typed into Google ‘not attracted to anyone’. And the result that caught my eye was a word, “asexual.” It made me so happy to finally find a term to describe me and to know that I was not the only one in the world to feel this way. However, the elation was fleeting. Different worries started filling me head. Am I going to be alone forever? Am I freak for feeling like this? All these questions, plus the extra hormones due to puberty, caused me to have a small breakdown. My friend and my mother, in an attempt to comfort me, asked what me was going on. In between my sobs, I was able to say the words “I think I’m asexual.” Instead of being met with acceptance, my answer received laughter instead. This was the complete opposite of what I needed. Instead of being given a hug or comforting words, I was laughed at. I had completely exposed myself to their judgement, and that is what I got. I was told that, “Asexuality was not an orientation and that it means you reproduce, reproduce with yourself,” and “That’s for sponges, Sam.” [audience laughter] Apparently, I’m a sponge that’s evolved quite a bit. [audience laughter] After this experience, I decided that I was wrong about myself and that it was best just to ignore what I’ve been feeling. Just carry on and believe that I was going to be normal someday, that something would just “click” and that everything would be alright. I went through high school keeping quiet, hoping that everyone would just leave me alone. The only time that I ever heard anyone say the word “asexual” was when my religion teacher Mrs. Parosa, who actually was an English teacher as the old religion teacher had been previously fired for reasons I don’t want to go into, [audience laughter] talked about how she actually knew people who identified this way. That was almost like my wake-up call to show that this identity was present in the real world. Someone else besides some random stranger on the internet was talking about this. I almost wanted to write a note thanking her for her talk. But, that would involve outing myself, and I was not ready to do that at all. I think an aspect that re- that plays into this reluctance is the fact I went to a small, private Catholic school. We didn’t have anything like a GSA, so there were no resources for anyone who identified as anything except straight and cis. Needless to say, I stayed pretty quiet. Speaking of Catholic school, allow me to go on a tirade on what it was like to be raised Catholic and come to realize that you’re not straight [laughs]. [audience laughter] You would think that I would be like the perfect Catholic, right [laughs]? The celibacy of religious life would be a breeze! [audience laughter and clapping] However, that is not necessarily the case, as I experienced in Theology of the Body, my own personal hell. Trust me, Catholic Hell’s only competitor in being horrible and pain-filled is the experience of being queer and in that class. [audience laughter] Basically, they were saying that sex is a beautiful thing, as long as it was between a man and a woman and within the confines of marriage. There are so many things I kinda disagree with that statement, but one aspect I want to know is what they thought about asexuals? Are they making the angles cry by not copulating [laughs]? [audience laughter] Is this experience so mind-blowing that they are unfortunate to miss it? Like one thing I saw that made me laugh was one Christian magazine that said asexuals can’t exist because God made sexuality, so those who claim to be asexual are repressing something that God gave them. But how can I reject something I was never given? Basically, what I’ve learned over the years is that either nobody cares or they just don’t believe in asexuals. Some people claim that aces don’t belong in the queer movement. For example, to some, heteroromantic aces, which are asexuals who experience heteroromantic attraction, are basically straight. Others claim that aces are not oppressed at all, so they should stop their complaining. I actually find that a bit ironic, as those people are becoming kind of oppressors themselves. Whatever I guess… There are still arguments over what the “A” stands for in LGBTQIA. Most of the time it stands for Allies. So I like to think it stands for Asexuals. Or both, you know? Both is good! Some people say being ace must be great, thinking it would solve all their relationship problems. This, being kinda offensive, is a major misunderstanding as asexuality has its own set of problems. Instead of improving relationships, being ace more likely hurts my chances of having one. Another reason it actually kinda sucks is that there is no community I can be part of. It, the asexual community mainly exists online, so that human element is gone. There’s nobody on campus who I can really talk to who is experiencing the exact same feelings as I am. [clears throat] Also, because the movement is so young, there is no asexual culture. There are no icons for me to look up to. You know there are great queer icons like Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, and Laverne Cox. You know what the aces have? Spongebob Squarepants. [audience laughter] I’m not joking. He is apparently asexual. Yes, my one role model is apparently a talking sea sponge who everyone thinks is annoying. Not really a confidence booster, is it? Some people say their queer identity is one of the great- greater blessings in their life. For me, it actually kinda feels more like a curse. It makes me not really fit in with either straight or queer society, I constantly have to check to see if the queer community is going to accept me. I’m missing out on an experience that society says is amazing and is what makes you human, and it severely limits my dating pool. I guess the A doesn’t stand for either Asexual or Ally. It stands for “Alone.” [audience applause] [music] I’ve spent my whole life waiting for you, fearful of you, scared you’re going to come after me. Been scared since I was sixteen, seventeen—something like that. Wasn’t sure if you’d be alone, but scared there’d be five or eight of you, like that time in the park when your lot chased Melea and me for a couple blocks. Throwing bottles at us while we were dosed. Not cool. I’ve prepared for you. I’ve got so many ways of burying you, you don’t know. Cause you never bothered to stay for long. I’m glad you never stayed cause, I never actually had to taste my own blood. Or yours. If you do show, here’s how I will bury you. I’m gonna tell you some of the ways I’m gonna bury you. I’m gonna bury you. Since I was young, I’ve seen you war on my people. Gay people. What we do, be too smart for you? Have too much fun? Smile too much? [audience laughter] That’s it, I think. Jealous cause we’re gay. Gay’s much better than being scared—tell you that from experience. First way I bury you, I overwhelm you. Pulled this off when I was 21. It was easy. Do lots of acid, drop out of school, and tell my parents I’m bi. Sure, you sent some skinheads round my way, but they didn’t touch me, now did they? No, they didn’t. My hyperbole won: overwhelming force. It was a trifecta. Force was so overwhelming that my parents didn’t even meet my man til we’d been together for ten years. Truth. Like Gulf War 1. When I found D, I was in heaven. I had my own Mack Bolan. That man’s Alpha Butch, [audience laughter] and I’m his. No one touches me. He’s a silverback. Silverbacks dominate. Any veteran will tell you: you don’t mess with aging vets. Leave them alone. They do not play fair. So, I’ve had my own personal bodyguard for over two decades. He’s more wily than ever. You’ve had no chance to hurt me since then, except maybe when I lived in Lubbock—fuck Texas!—for eight months. [audience laughter and applause] Who’s gonna touch me when my man’s a combat vet who worked with military intelligence and special ops in Viet Nam? Harm me and you’re buried. Now? Now I don’t really know what to do with you. Seriously. Past fifteen years, you’ve been easy. Kept on hoping, in a way, that you’d show up so that I could rhetorically moonstomp you, just like Nazi skins do fags. We’ve had skirmishes, but I shut you down. Every time. D and my tenth anniversary shut you down. You’re like, “Wow, gay people? Relationship? Ten years? Most straights can’t touch this.” [audience laughter] Now its 22 years, but the response is the same. Few people get it; I know you don’t. LBTQ, straight, whatever. Keeper love, that’s what we have. We’re keepers. Over two decades, working on our third. What you got? But now? Now what do I do? I spent the past 25 years making ready for your war. My fear of you defined who and what I am. So, thanks. I guess. I was so scared of you beating me down, of killing me like in Torchsong, of raping and humiliating me, that I’ve built the safest, most loving environment possible. But I’m done with this shit-fear of you. I am the victor. You’re buried. [music] I’m now 37, I came out when I was 16. I came out to my mother and her family. [Laughter] Thanks. I came out to my mother and my mother’s side of the family and my parents, my immediate family and everything was fine. No problems ensued. Friends, that I’d heard their situations, where there was a lot of difficulty upon coming out. But for me, I was fortunate. Many years later I met my partner who I’m with now, Heather. At that time we’d been together for a few years. And my father, now he’s Greek and he has very strong Greek roots. He always told me about the Greek culture and how proud he was to be a part of that. And I felt like I identified strongly with being Greek but I hadn’t really connected with my Greek roots. A part of me felt missing. I realized that it was time, it was overdue, I needed to get in touch with my Greek family who lived in Chicago. My father’s sister, my aunt. At that point I’d been with Heather for a few years. And I reached out to my aunt and she said “Sure, by all means, pay us a visit.” Now keep in mind I hadn’t come out to my father’s side of the family. I wasn’t particularly close to them growing up. I’d visit them on occasion but we weren’t particularly close. So the day came when we visited Chicago and visited my aunt’s home. She was thrilled to have us. She called all of the relatives and extended family, my cousins, my great aunt who was 94 at the time. Everyone came to my aunt’s house. We shared a meal. We caught up with one another. People who I hadn’t seen since I was a very very small child. I was introducing Heather and when I introduced her, I introduced her as “Heather.” Just to play it safe. I didn’t know how accepting they were. So I didn’t come out necessarily to them right away. I, we had dinner and they, many of the family members spoke Greek only and very little English so I have an aunt who was interpreting from Greek to English. And then Heather, my partner, was interpreting for me, English to American Sign Language. So we had quite the interpreting circuit going there. It was a little hellish but we managed. [audience laughter] And I believed it started with my great aunt but the main topic of conversation turned to whether or not I had a boyfriend. I said “No I don’t have a boyfriend actually”. Heather was interpreting this mind you. [audience laughter] I said, “No I don’t have a boyfriend.” Well matchmaker began. “Well dear are you interested in Greek men?” “Who do we know? Who do we know that we can set you up with?” I…. they… the ladies particularly took off. “Who, now, who do we know?” “What available men are there that we know that we can set you up with?” “Well he’s a little too old, he’s a little too young.” [audience laughter] Meanwhile I’m making eye contact with Heather and thinking, “I’m so sorry you are having to interpret this!” [audience laughter] At the end of the evening we made our ways upstairs after saying our goodbyes. We stayed at our aunt’s house in the guest bedroom. My aunt’s house. And there were two twin beds that were in a V shape that were touching at the feet. [audience laughter] And we told my aunt good night. We closed the door behind us and we just hugged. And I said, “I’m so so sorry. I’m so sorry that I put you through his. That is so awkward.” She said, “It’s okay.” We just hugged and then we got into our respective beds and held hands [audience laughter] across the gulf between the two of them. We couldn’t even sleep together but we managed, we got through the night and um, greeted the next morning and then left. A few years later fast forward to last summer. Well, and just to say, my aunt, I know, suspected. Um, you know, Heather and other family members, as we communicated, started to give them hints. So they then knew about us. But last summer we reached out again and we were going to be in the area and asked if we could come and pay them a visit again. My aunt was very enthusiastic she said, “Yes! fantastic!” We pulled up and we had our two children in tow who my aunt had not met. We showed up at the door and she said, “Hi! And who are these children??? And we said, “Well these are OUR children!” [audience laughter] [Music.] I’m not even 30 years old, and yet I’ve “come out” so many times, I wonder if there are any doors left to open in my life. Of course I know there are more; there are more ways I will grow and understand my intersecting identities, more barriers within myself that need to be broken down, and still more pieces of myself that I have left to share. I first came out as a bisexual woman, then as a lesbian, and now, finally, I am out as queer – and that’s only about my sexual orientation [laughs]. I came out as a gender nonconforming butch, then genderqueer, and now I am out as a proud transguy. Interjected throughout my gender and sexual orientation journey have been other “outings” – converting and coming out as Jewish, gaining comfort and appreciation for my introvert tendencies, coming out as a lawyer (which doesn’t always generate the best reaction), [audience laughter] and so much more. Each piece of my identity, both past and present, is an important part- piece of me. Just because I sought to medically transition, for example, doesn’t invalidate the piece of me that is still very tied to my genderqueer and gender nonconforming identities. Those are layers of my gender identity, and although you may not always see those pieces, they are still there, like a gem hidden in the earth: treasured and beautiful. So I guess I want to come out today as layered. I am a queer, Jewish, transguy, and introvert. I have bat- battled anxiety and depression. I have overcome challenges with family, health, and identity. I am happily married to the woman I started dating when I was 18 years old. I am an activist, a progressive, a geek, a lawyer, and a skeptic. I am a suicide survivor. I am a lover and a fighter. And I am still learning. [music] The nightmare is always the same. I open my eyes to find that I’ve been engulfed in a wooden shipping container, just big enough to hold the bed that my husband and I share with our 3 small children. Claustrophobic and terrified, I spring to my knees and pound on the wall with my open palms. “It’s WOOD!!” that I wail…”IT’S FUCKING WOOD!!”. Striking the wall again and again until my hands burn and throb, I lie back down and moan, “My hands hurt so bad! Why do my hands hurt so bad?” My husband consoles me as he explains, “It’s another night terror, Breana. You’re ok. You’re safe.” I feel anything but. At 28, an unbroken chain of boyfriends culminated in a marriage to, inarguably, the best one of them all. At which time I quit my fulltime interpreting job and had 2 babies in one year. I thought I had finally gotten the life of my dreams. But then, 4 years later, the nightmares started. Looking back now, it’s almost comical to me that the imagery could be so symbolically cliché, but, welll, there I was, trapped in a box, struggling to beat my way out. That’s when I met Lola. I probably should tell you that, from the time I discovered myself as a sexual being, I harbored secret fantasies about my girl friends. In college I agonized endlessly over whether or not I was gay, but no matter how angst ridden I was, I could never quite figure out how to cross the threshold into actually dating any of the girls I crushed on. I grilled my fril- friends who were lucky enough to have made the mysterious leap successfully. “How do you do it? How do you flirt with girls?” “Just like you would flirt with anyone else!” And so 10, finally, 10 years later at 32, I found myself falling: helplessly, madly, head-over-heels in love. With a woman. This is the part of the story that you might think is the ‘conflict’. I’m sitting here, nursing my two toddlers, married to a man, in love with a woman. But you see, my husband and I had an open marriage. We believed in nonmonogamy and specifically polyamory. Falling in love with another person, in and of itself, was not a deal breaker. The deal breaker was how I fell. It was as if the walls of that box that contained my marriage suddenly fell away. All of the rules about who I, as a woman, should be in relationship to a man, no longer applied with Lola. And I was suddenly free to just be me. My complete organic whole self. Showing up in a relationship with another complete organic whole human being. It wasn’t that I no longer loved my husband, it was that I did not know how to show up with him in this way. Didn’t know how to undo the script that seemed to be coded into my DNA for the way a woman should be with a man. As I uncovered these truths about myself I started to feel a pull to make the changes visible. But after years of carefully constructing my image to exlude anything that might be perceived as undesirable, coming out, allowing myself to be seen so fully seemed impossible. Until the day when it was more painful to hide than it was to risk being seen. I was spending time with my parents at their house in Portland on a warm spring day, wearing a sweater to hide the bruises covering my arms from my newfound love affair not only with Lola, but with rough sex. [audience laughter] After sharing a meal, my parents retired to the living room and I removed my long sleeves to wash the dishes. A few minutes later, my dad called me into the living room, and without a thought I grabbed a towel to dry my hands and headed toward him. I wasn’t halfway across the living room when he noticed, and immediately demanded, “Where did you get those bruises?!” “Did Rich do that to you?!” Now if you know my husband, you know he would not hurt a fly. He is a gentle, peaceful, Libra of a man. Through my head flashed the alternate universe where I let my dad believe that my husband gave me these fingertip and fist sized bruises that lined my arms. I would never be able to live with myself. In an instant I committed. I crossed the second half of the distance toward him and sat beside him on the couch. Looking squarely in his eyes, I told him the unapologetic, honest truth: “Dad, my girlfriend made these bruises. And it was consensual.” I shut my mouth and let it sink in, as he stared straight ahead, through his big screen tv and a million miles beyond. I never intended to come out to my parents as gay AND kinky all in the same breath [audience laughter] but there I was, doing it. My mom wrung her hands. She worried. The daughter she thought was finally safe and settled down had just broken free of the corral. Security is so precarious. “But HOW can you hurt someone you LOVE?” she begged of the marks. My dad, still staring straight ahead, scoffed, “I watch Real Sex…I know about that stuff.” [audience laughter] He turned to me, he turned to me and with as much honesty and self-awareness as I had ever seen him possess he said, “I need time. I don’t want to meet your girlfriend right now. I don’t want to talk about it for a while. But I will come around. I just need time.” And that was that. It was done. As I pulled away from their house, I felt a burden lift that I hadn’t realized I was carrying. I felt light. I felt FREE! It was no longer my secret to keep. It was in their hands. Whatever their reaction, it was theirs no longer mine. In that instant I realized the beauty and freedom of living life by following my own heart and letting others have their experience. That is heaven. Then in mid-November, 6 months later, I got a call. It was my dad. My dad never, ever, maybe not once in my entire life, called me. Keeping in touch was my Mom’s job. So, cell phone ringing, I click talk. “Hello?” I say. “Hey.” He responds. “I was just calling to invite you and Lola to Thanksgiving dinner.” …….Tears……. From that day on, my dad has been my biggest supporter. And besides my relationship with myself, the connection that was clarified, rebuilt, and strenghtened the most from my coming out, was my relationship with him. Tonight, I’m here with my partner. Who has a penis. I’m navigating my way through coming out again. This time coming out as a queer woman who has fallen in love with a cis man. The space and the healing of the last 5 years spent in relationship with women has allowed me to find my voice, my perspective, my way of f- showing up fully in relationship with another person. Something that I felt sure I could never do with a man. And here I am, falling more in love with myself everyday as I journey into this new territory of being completely true to myself while sharing my life with him. And those night terrors? They’re a distant memory. [music] I grew up in Baltimore in the 1950’s, in the “Leave it to Beaver Generation” thinking that women were meant to find a good husband and have children, and men were meant to go out and earn a living to support the family. My parents had dreams of me marrying a nice Jewish professional man, a dentist perhaps, have children, and ride off into the sunset. [audience laughter] The closest I came to this was a marriage proposal from a very nice Catholic guy who had studied to become a priest, offering to convert to Judaism for me. But I just couldn’t cozy up to the idea of marrying anyone, much less a guy who was, was about to become a priest. So, I went running from that scene and never again dated any man. Jewish or not. In my high school and college years, my mother was always trying to get me to dress up, have my curly hair styled, and put on some bright colored lipstick. She wanted me ready for some potential “Mr. Wonderful”. But I rebelled, and headed in the opposite direction, more to my liking. Dating was never a big part of my teen years. It just didn’t interest me. The little dating I did felt unnatural and forced. Just going through the motions without any heart or excitement to it. I much preferred being in the company of my girlfriends. Always more fun than a boring date with some guy. Through the years, I had crushes on some of my friends, but I never really thought about it, or what it meant. It just never dawned on me to think of myself as one thing or another, lesbian or straight. It just wasn’t part of my vocabulary at the time. The “L’ word was never uttered, not in high school, and not in college. That conversation didn’t happen until after I left Maryland and came to Oregon in 1970. It wasn’t until 1971 that everything broke loose and opened up. My move to Oregon came on the heels of the Viet Nam War protests, hippie caravans, love-ins, and the beginnings of the Women’s Liberation Movement and sexual freedom. The time was ripe for a change of all kinds, and I was lucky enough to be there, a part of the great “cultural revolution,” where people were encouraged to, to speak their minds and be themselves, and that included coming out of the closet. “Gay Pride” was here. My move to Oregon was the beginning of a new life for me, and there was no going back to my previous life in Maryland. I didn’t know that in 1971 I was about to meet my life partner, 44 years and counting, at a Women’s Consciousness Raising Group in Salem, and that together we would “come out of the closet” to these women, to our friends and our family, that we would speak at schools and come out, saying the words, “I am gay, I am a lesbian.”. We dressed ourselves in our lesbian/hippie uniforms of overalls, plaid shirts, and boots, and went out to tell our story. [audience laughter] We were received well, and sometimes applauded by those who heard our message. Coming out to friends and co-workers was the easy part. They rallied around us, and seemed to love us even more for being brave enough to be ourselves. My brother and sister were fine about it too…they were not surprised. [audience laughter] But it was telling my mother that concerned me. I knew she wouldn’t be applauding this news. Regretfully, I came out to my mother by phone, probably not the best way to do it, but I was in Oregon and she was in Maryland. She didn’t say much in response to the awkward words, “I love women.”, that I blurted out over the phone. [audience laughter] I just couldn’t say the word “lesbian” to her. I don’t think it mattered. She didn’t like it. But she accepted it because she had to. We rarely spoke about it, and there was always that missing piece in our relationship. She still loved me, and nev- but never got to know my Oregon family very well, my partner and our children. That is the saddest part to me. I think if we had lived closer, she would have gotten to know us as a real family. I wish I had done more to make that happen. Together, we would go on to raise two children, have four grand-children and yes, one great-grand-child….so far. We were just living our lives, benefiting from the ground work that was laid early on in the late 60’s and early 70’s. [music] It happened in the fourth grade: Boys noticing girls, Girls noticing boys, I noticed her. Dark coiled coal locks, pale skin with freckles on her nose. Sasha was my- new from Ukraine, my new friend. It was my junior year in high school. After a wrestling tournament, dinner seemed off. We were all so silent. The argument with my dad didn’t help. After having tacos con papa y queso
my mum cleared the table, sisters watching cartoons on the T.V., while my dad and I sat opposite heads of the table. Dad took a swig from his Corona, forehead shining from his uh, his forehead shining from sweat. My heart at my throat, I didn’t know what to expect. Dad’s lips disappeared behind his mustache, with a swift motion he got up and grabbed me by the throat, I was winded as my lungs struggled to breathe. [speaking Spanish] “Why did you hug her?” he yelled. Tears blurred my vision, burned my cheeks, drowning me. She was my cheer captain. It was just a hug. I feared my own life. My mind burned with his voice echoing [speaking Spanish] “I won’t have a dyke for a daughter!” I never even came out. Grounded by my Mexican roots, I couldn’t win this argument. No one could help me. I could never be out. I don’t just like boys, I don’t just like girls, The binary doesn’t bind me or others for that matter, I still don’t know me. I had boyfriends, never girlfriends. Maybe I am straight? This closet seems nice but no outfit suits me.
Straight doesn’t suit me. Finding the identity that looks and fits well on me. Meeting others along the way. I’m finding my footing. Support all around. [deep breath] I can finally breathe. I know I’m not straight. I don’t just like boys and I don’t just like girls, I’m pansexual. [music] My brother stole my secret! He took my oh-so exciting secret. Leaning toward, um. I’m sorry I’m having trouble seeing. Ok. [laughs] Leaning towards my…what? [in ASL: Move the microphone closer] Can you hear me? OK. Thank you. This helps. Leaning forward close to my mother’s face, my brother said to her, “Your daughter, that you raised, is a lesbian.” Those words thundered in my head. I can still remember the feeling of blood draining from my body, how my body felt, my nerves shaking. My hands gripping, gripping the uh, the pillar of my mother’s newly opened candy store. Mom was standing at the cash register where my brother was just opposite of her. At first my mother was just standing there calling my brother a liar and telling him to get out of the candy store. “How could you!” escaped my lips with fire blazing in my eyes. I can just barely remember the shock of my mother’s face when she whispered to me, “Is this true?” The next thing I knew, I chased the son of a bitch out of the store calling him a fucking coward. I made it to the front door with tears streaming down my face. Two ladies were just walking across the street turned around to look at me bewildered. My brother was gone. Breathing hard with clenched fists, my insides still shaking, I turned to face my mother. She said to me, “Now I won’t be able to see my grandchildren again, thanks a lot!” Devastated, I ran to the back of the store, pulled my knees to the chest, to my chest and just bawled, thinking, “I wasn’t ready.” “My parents aren’t ready for this.” I had just only kissed a girl just a month before. Mom eventually came to the back of the store. She said to me, “Call work, you’re in no shape to go in, I’ll take you home.” All I could do was go through the motions. I picked up the phone and called in, but they said, said they needed me and so I went to work. I felt nothing, flat, drained and distant. The shrieking beeps from the fryer that once annoyed the hell out of me were muffled, the faces blurred together while taking orders. I can’t tell you how many times I lost count of the Coke that I just kept dropping I couldn’t hand them off to customers. For once, mopping duty was welcomed. I always, I always hated getting stuck with that duty, but today, no arguments. I took the mop and bin and slowly, quietly mopped the lobby. All day, all I could think, “I wasn’t ready for this.” He stole my identity and crushed it into a million pieces. The identity I wanted to explore before telling my judgmental parents. None of my girlfriends were welcomed to my home. Honestly, I wouldn’t dare bring them home, not to my loving but dysfunctional family. [laughs] Each time I spoke about a friend, a girl, an eyebrow would shoot up and I would have to emphasize, “No mom, no dad, she’s straight, I’m not fucking the girl.” I’m not sure which is worse to be asked: “Is he black or is she queer?” It seems like my parents have a long way to go; after all, it is 2015. My brother stole my secret and crammed it down my mother’s throat. Who does that? Last Christmas, my brother genuinely apologized to me, twenty years later. I forgave him, not for his benefit but for mine. Regardless, that day is still a part of me. You can put together, you can put together a broken plate, a glass, or vase. But you can still see the cracks. [audience applause] I just to clarify something. My name is Jenny Lynn Dietrich and I am pansexual. [audience applause]. [music] Gender is weird, and I don’t like it. [audience laughter] I’ve always better identified with women, and I think that if I had the freedom as a child I would have grown up happier as a woman. I remember having a talk with my parents about wanting to be a girl after they caught me dressing like Sandy from the last scene of “Grease”. [audience laughter] I told them I wanted to be a girl, because girls were prettier. My parents didn’t condemn this idea, but they discouraged it by telling me that as a boy I could do whatever a woman can. I remember still feeling defeated. Nonetheless in every video game, I would choose to be a girl. I used to wear these blue gym shorts on my head and put the excess material in a ponytail while I ran around playing imagin- imaginary games with my little friends. I still love when my hair gets long. And I love makeup, but whenever I try to wear eyeliner or eyeshadow I get really upset because I don’t think I can pull it off. Growing up when people called me a girl it would upset me, because I wasn’t masculine and I was being punished for that. It always felt wrong to me when classes would have us split up guys and girls. In high school they had us split up by gender one day in health class. The girls were allowed to ask questions about the way men think, and the men could do the same. I felt like I should be on the other side. I was constantly reminded that I was a lesser person for being feminine or a “girl”, and I have memories of my friends reminding me that I was a boy. Most of my friends are girls and when I tried to relate to their experiences I’m often discredited for being a boy. Like wanting to be my current best friend’s maid of honor, and being told I can’t because I’m a boy. To be rejected like this by the people that showed me the most acceptance is very confusing. So, I have a weird relationship with pronouns. I feel warm and happy when people use feminine pronouns in a positive way, but the second it’s negative I jump to the defensive. If I ask everyone to use femin- feminine pronouns it would be so painful to hear the discomfort in their voices. And I would worry about being challenged for wanting to identify as a woman. People would ask about my appearance, how I feel about my body, and why I “don’t want to be a man” blah, blah, blah complications. I wish there was a “Pronoun Switch” on my wall that I could flip and everyone would start using “she” and “her”. I still battle with femininity because it is more apparent than my masculinity. But I like that my masculinity and my femininity are present and visible in my personality. I know in my heart that I identify as a woman but I’m still fig- figuring out what that means for me. If there were a way I could go into a machine and come out with a fully functioning functional body of a woman, I would. [music] It was my friend’s “coming out trip.” We went on an erotic lesbian reading, a certified gay dance, met up with another college friend who had shared these struggles of self discovery and ate and shopped and ate and shopped. Now, the “other” friend, the ally who came along for the trip, I had met twice before on visits to Alaska. She was hoping re- to retire in the next year or two and move to Portland, perfect opportunity for her to get the lay of the neighborhoods and see what she might like. By day two, the “other” friend and I were flirting like crazy although I did not, at the time, identify it as such. There seemed to be a magnet pulling me to her. On day five, she borrowed my bike and managed a spill that hurt her back so we kept her on ice and rest while “Coming Out” friend and I had a dance party in my living room. My husband sat in s corner, on his computer, fairly un-phased by any and all events. I went to take a new ice pack to the “other” friend and as I went to place it behind her back, I came VERY close to her face. I jumped back, she called me a “tease” and I ran back to the living room to keep dancing and figure out what the hell had just happened. Had I wanted to kiss her? Oh no, I couldn’t have! I had never been attracted to a woman and believe me, I had asked myself a hundred times if I could be. I was fine being married to a man and if it wasn’t to my particular husband, I was pretty sure it would be to some other man. I thought, “Oh, I’m sure I’m just caught up in the fun with my friends and when they go back to Alaska, I will go back to “normal.” That evening, in Portland, “Coming Out” friend had an appointment, the “other” friend and I were left alone. We sat on separate beds and decided we needed a nap. The 2-4 hours of sleep a night had not been serving us well. But, I couldn’t sleep. I turned to her and said, “Can we talk?” and she immediately replied, “Yes, please!” I tried to explain how I had never been attracted to a woman before and I didn’t understand what, what was going on and then I said, “But I want to kiss you.” And she, she looked at me and said, “Get over here.” [audience laughter] For a moment I hesitated, but then I moved to her bed where she gave me a big hug but I said, “I can’t kiss you. I’m married and I don’t know what all of this means but I can’t act on it right now.” When I got home I was grouchy and exhausted and I went straight to bed. I woke up, rolled over, looked at my husband, who seemed to be long awake, and blurted out, “I’m in love with Tina!” A brief silence followed by a choked up voice when he asked if I told her, and I replied, “Yes.” He asked what she said and I told him that she felt the same way. The first tear rolled down his cheek, I had only seen a few of those in our 11 years together. By now I was crying, too, and I told him that we couldn’t be together. We continued to cry and talk for a couple of hours, and it was all very tender. In response to my confusion about my feelings, he just said, “Well, age and ethnicity have never been deciding factors for you, why would gender be?” At this I was just amazed, in silent awe of his understanding. I called Tina and told her what I had done and she called me “brave.” I wasn’t so sure; I couldn’t put my feelings around “brave.” But less than three months later, with the help of my soon to be ex-husband, I moved to Alaska and began my new life with Tina. Those three months were filled with excruciating one on ones and “interventions” with my family. Were they more upset by my divorce or a same sex partner? I’m not sure I’ll ever know. But the point is this, I found myself, I found my person, I found happiness I had not known before, and I looked forward to life. I’m finding my tribe and while it‘s sometimes painful that my tribe is not always, or much of, my biological family, I’m grateful for every member. I’m humbled by the light and the support that so many do offer and, I am beyond ecstatic to marry Tina this summer and finally be able to call her my wife. [audience applause] [music] Klamath Falls: a place defined by Urban Dictionary as, “The Anus of Oregon.” [audience laughter] With a title like that would’t it seem like it would be any gay man’s paradise? [audience laughter] [laughter] Unfortunately, Klamath Falls didn’t live up to Urban Dic- to the expectations of what the Urban Dictionary said. Instead of being a big gay Shangri La, Klamath Falls reenacted the Seventh Circle of Hell to people identifying within the queer community. You see, I’ve known that I was gay since I was twelve: my friends and I were goofing off on a trampoline. One of my guy friends fell on top of me, and, well, something suddenly came up. [audience laughter] You know what it is [laugh]. Even though I’ve known about my sexuality since middle school, I didn’t come out until I came here, to Western. You see, the vast majority of peop- the vast majority of people in Klamath Falls have conservative views, with the same beliefs and debate tact- debate tactics as Bill O’Reilly: if you thought human rights were more important than the second amendment, you were immediately seen as a threat. And needless to say, if I had come out back then I might not be here today. Though the citizens of Klamath Falls were already unbearable, the high school I attended made the entire experience of being a closeted gay youth into an inescapable nightmare. Henley High School, nicknamed “Cow Pie High,” a rather suitable name for a school located in the anus of Oregon, [audience laughter] was a special blend of anti-queer ide- ideology. Populated by boon-dock hicks, conservative Christians, and the general highschool assholes (not the kind coveted by those gays though), [audience laughter] Henley became the place of my nightmares. Especially the nightmares of losing the few friends I had. In a school as small Henley, that lacked any form of GSA or even mentioning of one, closeted kids like me had to take whom we could get. Hence, almost all of my friends were some sort of conservative religious person, which made my situation even more terrifying. I could handle the thought of people I didn’t even care about rejecting me for being gay, but I couldn’t stomach the idea of losing the few people I held dear to me. This epiphany hit me during the fall of my junior year, the year when I would start reaching my hand out to the closet door, wanting nothing more than to burst out covered in glitter and make myself known to the world. [audience laughter] In 2010, the world observed the first Spirit Day: a day of solidarity for those lives lost dor- due to LGBTQ bullying, bullying in schools. For Spirit Day, people are supposed to wear purple to show their solidarity. Because purple stands for “spirit” in the Pride flag. Unfortunately, I didn’t own anything purple because, you know, colors gendered and that sucks, but I wanted to show in some way that I cared even in the hell hole that was Henley. So, in French class that day, I asked my friend Krichele if I could borrow her purple marker. When she asked why, I just started talking to her about what Spirit Day and what it represented, to which she immediately, and cattily, replied, “You know I’m against that, RIGHT?” As soon as she said those words, my heart jumped. What would she have thought if she had known I was gay? Even though she wasn’t one of my closest friends and she never did accept my friend request on Facebook by the way, not a good friend. [laugh] [audience laughter] I still couldn’t bear the thought of losing one of the few people I had at that school. Because of what she had- because of what she said, I had to pull my hand away from the closet door, leaving me trapped in a state of self-hatred and despair. After I’ve come to Western, a lot of people have asked me, “How the hell did you survive Klamath Falls?” “Better yet, how the fuck did you survive Henley High School?” And the answer to that is actually really simple. My parents. When it comes to parents, I won the freaking lottery. My parents have known that I was some sort of queer since I was about two years old. When I was two I told my mom that I don’t think that I’m supposed to be a boy, I think I’m supposed to be a girl. And so my original coming out story was when I was two years old. And ever since then my parents have shown me nothing but the utmost support. Showing, like opening- openly discussing queer identities with me and encouraging me to watch queer and trans related shows just so I could get a grasp on who I was. And since then I have changed from my two year old perspective of being a trans woman, now I identify as a gay man. [1 clap from audience] Um, I’m not done yet, don’t clap yet. [laugh] [audience laughter] And they were fantastic parents and for Klamath Falls they are the most amazing people ever. But even though I had that strong support system at home I just couldn’t bear the thought of coming out in, in Klamath Falls. So I didn’t come out until I came here to Western, which has given me the best queer environment I could have asked for, which I’m very thankful for. Growing up in a small, bible-thumping town is one of the hardest things for a closeted youth to go through. For myself, the threat of losing my friends and being tortured at school paralyzed me from realizing that there were people who would accept me for who I am no matter what. I never understood that I could have come out to my family back then, and that I could have had one area of that town where I felt safe. I let my fear take con- take control of me, and I lost the opportunity to give myself the haven that I desperately needed. If I could give any advice to young people who are going through similar situations to what I went through, I would tell them to find that person, find that person who was like my parents. Someone who is going to understand who they are, and someone who won’t turn away from them. Because even if you don’t come out to them, they’re still going- they’re still going to save your life because my parents saved mine. [music] I figured out I was gay in 1995 when I fell in love with my neighbor in the dorms my freshman year of college. For several months, I didn’t tell anyone about my new discovery, but as the summer wore on, I decided to confide in my younger brother. When I finally told him, his response was, “Oh you’re gay, that’s all?” [audience laughter] “I was worried it was something bad like cancer, or worse, that you were pregnant!” [audience laughter] He went on to say that now the wallet in the back pocket, the Doc Marten boots, the watch the size of my head, all made sense. [audience laughter] Near Christmas of 1999, my whole family packed up and went to see the Seattle Men’s Chorus. Each year we did something special around the holidays as a family, usually in Seattle. This year my mom chose our event – why she picked the Seattle Men’s Chorus – an all gay, 200 man musical extravaganza – I have no idea. [audience laughter] But we all jumped in the car and drove up to Seattle for the concert. My first clue that this would be a notable evening should have been that my dad experienced men in lace-up leather pants and mesh shirts for probably the first time ever. [audience laughter] Also, the women in the audience tended to come in sensibly shod pairs. The concert ended with Baby New year wearing a light-up diaper swiveling his hips suggestively on stage as all the auditorium lights blacked out to mimic Y2K. [audience laughter] As we drove home, the car was unusually quiet, [audience laughter] with the exception of my mom, who could not get over what a fantastic event we had just witnessed. [audience laughter] She exclaimed, “They were so musical, and so handsome, [audience laughter] and had such showmanship, and just think, they’re ALL GAY! They look so normal!” Then she announced, “Well, it just goes to show, you never know who’s going to be gay!” [audience laughter] The car fell totally silent. [audience laughter] My brother gave me a death stare from the backseat [audience laughter] as if to say, “The shit is about to hit the fan, and we are all going to drive off the road in a fiery crash, and it’s going to be YOUR fault”! [audience laughter] In response to my mother’s pronouncement, all I said was, “Yup”. [audience laughter] To which my brother said, “Yup.” and my dad went along with the crowd I guess, and also said, “Yup.” [audience laughter] We agreed, you just never know who’s going to be gay. [audience laughter] Shortly after the Christmas near miss, I decided that I should find an adult confidant in whom I could entrust my story. I chose my piano teacher, since I knew she had gay male friends, and after all, if she was even remotely connected to show business she must be open minded. [audience laughter] However, I learned that timing and location are everything – I chose to come out to her at the roller rink. We were there with her two young daughters whom I had babysat for several years and as they shot ahead of us, she and I wobbled around the corner on our four square skates, and I said, “So, I’m gay”. [audience laughter] She turned her head and looked at me in surprise and said, “What?!” just before she forcefully fell over backwards. [audience laughter] They had to clear the rink while they helped her off to the seating area [audience laughter] with a suspected mild concussion. [audience laughter] I felt terrible! But to her credit, she was very supportive, smiling and nodding and promising not to tell my parents. [audience laughter] By summer of 2000, I realized it was time to tell my parents. I was in graduate school, about 5 hours away from home, and my mom was down for a visit. I looked at her in earnest and said, “I have something to tell you”. She looked back at me and immediately realized I was very serious and so we sat down on the couch and I said, “You know how you’re always asking if I’ve met any nice boys? Well the thing is, I’m not into boys.” and I burst into tears. My mom was fantastic! She consoled me and said that she was surprised, but in hind sight, perhaps the clues had been there. After a long talk, I sent her on the drive home with a book called Now That You Know, [audience laughter] and a card with information about joining PFLAG. I knew she had made it home when my dad called and said, “So, your mom told me your news, [audience laughter] and I just want to say that I love you very much and I haven’t lost a daughter, I’ve gained one.” Over the next few days, I started receiving letters and phone calls from relatives, family friends, [audience laughter] even our church pastor, all along the lines of, “We heard you’re gay! [audience laughter] Congratulations!” [audience laughter] I think my mom had taken it upon herself to spread the word and make it clear that if you weren’t with her in being supportive, she would disown you! [audience laughter] My parents (and friends and extended family) have continued to be extremely supportive – so much so that my parents are now on the board of their local PFLAG chapter and openly advocate for LGBT visibility and support. They help parents and friends of those coming out to work through shock, surprise, denial, and misunderstanding. Not everyone has as much support as I did coming out, and it can help to direct family members to support groups. I did finally find where my family draws the line of tolerance when I came home one summer and had gone off caffeine – [audience laughter] my mom said, “Now look here, if you are a lesbian, fine; if you are gluten-free, fine; but people in this family drink coffee dammit!” [audience laughter] I am currently very comfortable in my life, surrounded by support, drinking coffee (albeit decaf). [audience applause] [music] So, my mother and I were always very close. We had a great relationship growing up. So I decided, I had to tell her. Because I felt like I couldn’t keep this secret from my mother, I HAD to tell her. So I decided it was the time. I was looking for her and I found her in the kitchen. She was cutting up some celery and onions, ah, I noticed she was making spaghetti, my favorite meal. So I decided that I would stand next to my mother while she was chopping up these vegetables. We were standing next to each other just chatting with her. Shoulder to should was how we typically would chat. And I decided, ok, I’m going to go for it. I was a little nervous and she’s just chopping away at the vegetables. And mom was like, “What is it?” and I was like, “Um, mom…I have something to tell you.” She was just chopping away, “Yeah? What is it? What do you have to tell me?” “Um…I think I might be bisexual, yeah.” [audience laughter] What does my mother do? She’s chopping away the vegetables, she stops- “No honey, you’re gay.” [audience laughter and clapping] That was not the reaction I was expecting. I was like, “Wow, uh, okay. Gay? What do you mean gay? I’m not gay, no I’m bisexual.” My mom said, “Honey, we’ve known you were gay since you were little.” [audience laughter] “Seriously mom? Uh, okay…well…” My mother has always expected us- always accepted us the way we were. And then my sister actually ended up coming out as well. And she just loves both of us unconditionally and really enjoys her grandchildren. Now I have two children and she loves being with them as well. She’s a very accepting mother. And I look back on that experience and the only one thing I would probably change was- the way I came out to my mother. I probably wouldn’t have done it when she had a knife in her hand. [audience laughter] [music] The words I’d like to share with you this evening begin with my brother Jere who is about one year older than me and is gay. I’m a believer in love and human rights and legal rights and equality. When I was four years old Jere and I were walking along the hedge of a logging road near our house. The dirt broke away and in the ensuing landslide we were both buried alive. Jere managed to dig himself out and then me. For years after I had the same dark scary dream that would be like the aperture of a camera opening slowly to reveal my brother’s face. We have always been close. I would love him even if he joined the Republican Party. [audience laughter] Um, after high school Jere paid for my first year of college, which I wasted. [audience laughter] Uh, actually I ditched class and got wasted with some buddies most of that year. [audience laughter] I got married to the love of my life on June 1, 1968. Um, and she’s with me tonight. Her name is Sue. [audience applause] Thank you. Then Jere and I did two years in the Army from 1969 to 1971. He married Marcia while he was still in the Army and then moved to Portland. I stayed in Coos Bay and started working in the logging industry then later, teaching. Uh, we began raising a family and except for a couple of visits, Jere and I didn’t have much contact. Jere came out in um, March of 1973 in the form of a letter sent to our immediate family. My dad came over to my house to talk about it and wondered what he had done to cause- caused Jere to be gay. I learned later apparently both of our parents thought that our father was the cause. [audience laughter] Um, it was no big deal for me. It had no direct effect on my life. Uh, Sue and I were, talked about it but we were busy with three kids, and work, and church so the topic didn’t come up very often. Over the next 20 years, Jere lived in Hawaii, uh, New York City and finally settled in West Haven, CT. The next big and bad news regarding Jere came in May of 1989 when he was diagnosed HIV positive. I felt the ground shift under my feet. The idea of losing my brother to a disease that seemed like a sure death sentence was painful to think about. I wanted to do something but felt helpless due to the greatness of the distance and the meager resources at my disposal. Sue and I visited Jere the following year in October of 1990 about a month after he had started taking his first HIV drug. We never spoke about it but we all acted like it would the last time we would see each other. I know Jere has witnessed the um, I’m sorry, lost my place. Uh, I know Jere had witnessed the deaths of scores of his friends and loved ones. I think he is somehow managed, has somehow managed to cope with the grief while living a full and meaningful life. He is currently doing well, medically speaking. Due to constant monitoring and healthy living and I’m thankful for that. But I have never told him what a gift his life is to me. He owns and operates a home organization and cleaning service and is married to Allen and they live in Connecticut with their dog Flash. I’m here tonight to tell you that I’m coming out 100% support of all human and legal rights. Which I believe are overdue, owed to and deserved by all LBGTQA and every other letter you can think of. [audience laughter] Finally I have arrived at this conviction after reading a lot and listening to the struggles of loved ones, like CM and my brother Jere and les- many of my former students. There was a time when my words were opposed to my heart. I was raised in, lived in, and worked in an environment that gave little or no thought to the use of racist, bigoted or demeaning jokes or comments. I, it was the social currency I traded with friends, family, co-workers, and fellow Catholics. However, I have, as I have gained a greater understanding of love and our human family, such rhetoric and thoughts are not possible for me. My last two words for you are: Compassion and Love. I pray compassion is woven into every thought and action and love is more important than anything. LOVE is more important than ANYTHING. [audience applause] [music] The summer after fifth grade my mom took my brother and me on a road trip to San Francisco. Driving up and down the hilly streets of the city, I sat with my brother in the back seat of our minivan. We both were wearing cargo shorts, t-shirts and baseball hats; people used to think we were brothers [laugh]. It was there in our minivan, driving though San Francisco that my mom explained to us what homosexuality was. The exact words she used, I don’t remember, but I was terrified. What if that was me? What if I was homosexual? What if I was different? I remember telling myself, that, as I looked across the Bay, tightly holding my baseball hat, that I was not going to be different. I started sixth grade that fall at a new school. I stood out, I was the new kid and I didn’t dress or act like the rest of the girls in the class. The first day of school I wore my favorite baggy orange t-shirt and cargo shorts, and I was the only girl playing soccer with the boys at recess. One girl spent the first few days trying, of school trying to figure out whether I was a boy or a girl. I wanted to fit in, I didn’t want to be different, so I changed. I stopped shopping in the boys section of the department store. I pierced my ears, and started wearing dresses and make-up. For the next fifteen years of my life I tried not to be “different” and just fit in. But then I met Jess. I was head over heels in love with a woman. I was embarrassed and ashamed, but now I ask myself, “Why?” When I finally came out to my close friends and family, they continued to love me. I was frightened by those who harassed me. The two individuals in the grocery store who remarked, “ Fucking homosexual.” under their breath or the guy in the parking lot who formed a gun with his hand and pointed it at me. I was annoyed by those who stared at my partner and I holding hands in a restaurant— but in those moments I just held her hand tighter. These were NOT the people I was hiding from. So who was I hiding from? One day when I was driving home, loudly singing aloud to a love song and thinking about girls, I [laugh] jokingly said to myself, “You are SO gay.” [laugh] [audience laughter] Those words kept repeating in my head, “You are soooo gay, you are so gay.” I remember starting to laugh and saying out loud to myself, “Yeah you ARE gay [laugh] and what is wrong with that?” I felt relieved, exhilarated and free. It was in that moment I discovered that the only person I was hiding my sexuality from – was me. I was the one struggling most to accept and love me for me. I was the hardest person to come out to. [audience applause] [music] Coming out to the cousin that touched me. I didn’t. I cried. Mom telling me and my sister we had a lesbian aunt. We cried. Coming out to the church elder. “Let’s put you into therapy.” I went. I cried. Coming out to my best friend. “It’s what you didn’t say. It’s okay.” I cried. Coming out to my lesbian aunt. “Okay.” I cried. Coming out to my straight aunt. “You’re too militant.” She cried. Coming out to my Mom. A little back-story: “You want to meet a guy from Portland?” asks a brand new stranger friend. “Sure,” I say. I got drunk and performed my best Madonna impersonation of Like a Virgin from the Blonde Ambition tour on the bed. He wasn’t impressed. [audience laughter] I cried. Called my Mom to tell her I fucked up and that I am gay. She cried in Indiana. Coming out to my Grandma. I didn’t. The church grapevine took care of this for me, through my best friend’s mom. I cried as I drove home to Southern Oregon, drunk. She cried. Coming out to my Grandpa. “So be it.” I miss him. No one cried. Coming out to the bio dad. I didn’t. The bio half-sister’s boyfriend took care of this one for me. No more contact. Good-bye, bio brothers. I cried. Coming out to my Dad — my adoptive Dad. “Dad, I’m gay.” He replied, “Okay.” [laugh] We were drunk, sitting on the couch in Indiana. No crying… he’s actually pretty cool. [audience laughter] Coming out to my sister. I didn’t. She already knew. Although she did freak out when I told her I slept with a guy in the guest bedroom in Indiana. [audience laughter] We laughed. [music] So it’s sometime early in 2000 and it’s snowing in Salt Lake City, Utah. Tracy and I are grad school friends and she has picked me up so we can go work on a research project. We’re chatting in the car about who knows what… and the windows, windows are all frosty from the cold. And she says something about us “straight women”. I don’t even remember what the comment was, I just remember thinking: “Should I correct her? Does it matter that I identify as bisexual?” I’m in a committed, heterosexual relationship and I constantly benefit from heterosexual privilege. Though living in Utah has certainly heightened my awareness of marital privilege. My sexual identity is complicated. It’s confusing. Yet I’m always already perceived as straight. I stop her mid-sentence and hedge in that way I’ve read is common in women’s discourse. “So, uh, this is going to seem weird because I know I am perceived as straight but I identify as bisexual.” And, only to myself, I said, “So that’s what ‘coming out’ feels like.” It was the exhalation of a deep breath. It was the lifting of a heavy curtain. Just having Tracy know made it visible, palpable. She may have been the only person in Utah, besides Jackson, who knew. Unless others had paid attention to those off-hand comments I made about Salma Hayek or knew that I loved watching the L-Word. [audience laughter] I had been in love with a woman in the past, and attracted to many others. I am in love with a cisgendered, allosexual, straight-identified man I met in the fall of 1995. Heterosexual privilege is acute to me because of the way in which it has been present in my life. Perceptions of bisexuality and a loving, supportive community of friends shielded me from anti-lesbian sentiment, homophobia, and straight supremacy when I was with women. My appearance also helps me pass, except for the leg and armpit hair. My students in Utah couldn’t decide if I was a lesbian or European. [audience laughter] In the fall of 2008, my partner of 18 years and I married. Because we could. Had he been the she I loved before I met him and had she loved me as he does, we would’ve had to wait that long. When he proposed to me late in 2000, shortly after I “came out” to Tracy, I said I wanted to wait for federal marriage equality to get married. I never thought it would be so long of a wait. And I certainly never thought the feds – and the state of Utah, for Christ’s sake – would get there before Oregon. Waiting did two things. It energized my activism as a lobbyist for marriage equality. From signature gathering and fundraising to having 13 years of conversations with people about “Why we’re domestic partners.” I found places to stand on the movement for the LGBTQ justice and equality. And it helped me connect – on an emotional, personal level – with the injustice of a system which would deny marriage to gay and lesbian couples. I don’t think it’s morally wrong for people who are heterosexual to have been married under straight supremacist marriage laws. I just know it would’ve been morally wrong for me to do so. [audience applause] [music] I’ve never been the conventional masculine kind of guy—from my tod- toddler years all the way to adulthood. My parents divorced when I was two and until she remarried when I was five, it was mostly Mom and me during my formative years. Dad 2500 miles away in Tennessee. To this day, she is still one of my heroes, and I identify with women role models more often than men. It was in the second grade that I suddenly became “the girly boy”. I was perplexed when my class of forty-five started avoiding me- treating me differently. There was a specific group of kids who ran the show, and the words I started hearing daily were “girly boy”, “weirdo”, and “gross”. The ring leader of this group was named Jessie. And no matter how many times I tried to be her friend, Jessie wouldn’t accept, and would continuously make scenes to ensure that I was left out, and that the class followed suit. The most vivid day in my memory was a sunny afternoon when I attempted yet again to join my “friends” to play wall ball. My requests to play were ignored as if I wasn’t there, other than the looks of disgust on the bullies’ faces. I sighed, dejected, and decided that I didn’t feel like playing after all, laying down in the shade of a tree. Jessie came down and looked at me, “Ewww! Why are you laying like that? It’s just like a girl does.”, she said. “Don’t you get it? It isn’t right how girly you are, it’s just weird and gross; that’s why nobody likes you. Why don’t you just do us all a favor and just leave us alone and stop trying to be our friend?” I couldn’t say anything. As Jessie walked back and the- to the now sniggering group, all I could do was sit under that tree, and feel horrible. Mom moved me to another school because the bullying had gotten so bad. I had also become one of the more obese students in my class. Although I had new friends at my school, I was constantly afraid that I was, that what was perceived as my girlishness would haunt me again. I became aware of something else that was different about me as third grade progressed. I never saw my first crush coming. Rather than noticing girls, I was really beginning to notice boys, and one boy in particular. His name was Jaysen. I couldn’t understand why I stared at him in class and at recess, why I couldn’t stop thinking about him. And I finally learned what the word “gay” meant, and, of course, the definition given by my friends was less-than-positive. It also was included with the qualifier of being “girly” to define a guy as gay. I suddenly understood both my feelings for Jayden and why Jessie and the rest of my class that year hated, that year before hated me. “What is wrong with me?” I asked. I felt hot guilt and shame licking my insides as I wondered what would happen should my family or new friends find out. I thought I already knew the answer. With the twisted knot of my stomach, I told myself that as long as I lived, not one soul would learn about my being gay because I couldn’t afford to lose anyone else. The proceeding years were wrought with a severe depression that I simply couldn’t shake. I had god-awful anxiety as well, and could never seem to get myself to calm down and enjoy my elementary years. I was constantly afraid that people would find out my secret. And it got to the extent that I really hated who I was, and that I couldn’t change it. I started considering suicide. During one of the worst nights of my life, I couldn’t sleep. I walked into the kitchen, eyes on the knife that was on the counter. I picked it up and pointed it at my abdomen, holding it ready to strike. Despite my inner want and need for the pain to end, I couldn’t bring myself to cause the physical pain, to actually die. With a clatter, I dropped the knife and half walked, half ran to my room ready to cry. I was only 10 years old. My depression continued through the hormone-saturated hell hole that we all know as middle school, and my secret never got out. I tried changing my attraction, thinking that if I “give it a shot” dating my female friends, that it would be successful. And as I look back, I can only smile at the irony of the situation. My “girlfriends” during middle school consisted of a friend who moved away and who I conveniently asked out on her last day to be my email girlfriend, yeah, that didn’t last very long, and another who lasted a whole 3 hours. Sounds like middle school doesn’t it? [audience laughter] I could barely muster only mildly awkward hugs with my “girlfriends”, let alone cuddle with them, and god forbid, KISS them like they had hoped. High school came ‘round quickly, and in my first year I began to finally process the feelings I spent so long holding down. After one more attempt at a girlfriend, who is now my best friend and we can only giggle at the fact that we actually “dated”. I decided that I would be done with trying to force myself to like women. I noticed “out” LGB- identifying individuals in my school, and I noticed that they hadn’t lost all of their loved ones and seemed completely happy. The world hadn’t ended. My suicidal thoughts were still there, but by then I had built some self- acceptance and worth. I told myself that I was gay, silently expressing, “Oh he’s cute.”, when I felt my eyes following someone particularly good looking. I was still terrified to tell anyone, however. It was near the end of my sophomore year that I told the first person. Tasha, who was already out as bisexual, and I knew that she was safe. All I could muster, excuse me, all I could muster was texting her the words with trembling hands. She accepted me and understood my fear about telling every- everyone else. And by my junior year I started to come into my own– realizing my leadership potential, and successfully running for student body vice president. This was also the year that I had my first boyfriend, and my first kiss. On Mother’s Day, no less, I took Alex on a date to see the first new Star Trek. In a whirlwind of the moment, I outed myself to strangers for the first time when Alex asked me, asked me out and kissed me during the credits afterward. It felt right for the first time ever in my life to be dating somebody– although scary still to deal with the stares of being a visibly gay, biracial couple for the first time. Now that I had a boyfriend, I decided to come out to my closest friends and family. Although some of them were surprised, most had previously suspected, and to my utmost relief they all accepted me with open arms. That’s right, including my dad and step-dad or as my mom likes to put it, her “first and second Catholic husbands.” [audience laughter] All of my fears leading up to then had been proven wrong. It felt eerie to include my loved ones in on something that was so private, but liberating. I truly loved who I was for the first time. While Alex and I ultimately didn’t work out, my life didn’t slow down. At the beginning of senior year it was my turn to run for president, and I was at a loss at what to write my speech about. I read a book based on a true story about a closeted star high-school quarterback who was for- forcefully outed into the world, and how he navigated the situation. I was inspired and decided that I was going to do something fucking crazy. [audience laughter] And I was going to take coming out into my own hands. On the Election Day I walked onto that stage, hands and voice trembling. And I faced my entire high school to come out to the auditorium in my election speech. I was very surprised to be met with a standing ovation from 200 people in the room. Not only was I met with the utmost enthusiasm and support of my community, but I won the election that day. [audience laughter] Five and a half years have passed since, and I still consider it to be the single most terrifying, yet most liberating and brilliant thing I could have done for myself. I have been able to tackle college, have it fully paid for and now a career that means something to me. And with the confidence that whatever life has to throw at me, I can handle it. [audience applause] So these stories that you’ve heard tonight are ultimately about courage, compassion, and connection. They are about resilience, authenticity, fear, curiosity, and as our friend Hank says, “Love. Love IS more important than anything.” All of these individuals and countless more share a common thread here tonight, that of having been connected at one point in time to Western Oregon University. And hopefully this empowers more individuals, whatever your age or status, to share your story with someone. Whether you identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Pan, Queer, Questioning, Trans, CIS, Asexual, or yes, I know among you there are many Allies to one or more of these identities. And we know that when we share our stories we open hearts and minds and folks move towards compassion and understanding and love. And I love all of you for coming out tonight. [laugh] Please join me as the cast of the Coming Out Monologues moves forward. Please join me in thanking the cast uh, for their performances tonight. [audience applause] [music]