What The Hell Am I?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the LGBTQ+ acronym, and the reasons why I think expanding the acronym serves to blur differences amongst identities that are actually quite vital and important. Since then, I’ve been thinking about a story I wish I’d told when I wrote that piece.

You may have noticed, if you read me regularly, that I talk an awful lot about dating men. I have written about at least a couple of ex-boyfriends, and I possess quite a few more than that. And yet, when I identify myself in these pages (and out in the world), I always call myself a “lesbian.” I rarely say “queer,” I occasionally say “gay.” I have never identified as bisexual. Even in the days when I’d begun tentatively dating women, I never once uttered the word “bi”. And the reasons were conscious and important. So I’ve realized that when I talked about identities and acronyms, I failed to address a crucial point – that identities are vital precisely because of what they say about our lives and our histories – and I’m living proof of that.

My early dating years were spent dating men exclusively – because that’s what you did as a girl in my home town. It’s what was available. It’s what the model was. Our lives and stories and televisions were filled with young women dating young men. Our houses were filled with mothers and grandmothers and cousins and aunts who had married men. Our churches and sex ed classes both spoke in exclusively straight terms. I called myself “straight” if I called myself anything at all, because “straight” was literally all I knew. Continue reading “What The Hell Am I?”

Finding Faith in “Unreal”

It’s no secret that there isn’t a lot of “gay” media out there. It’s why, if you’ve ever hung around lesbians or bisexual women, you’ll hear a lot about The L Word and Orange Is the New Black. Or you’ll hear us talk about shows that aren’t gay per se, but that made us feel better about being weird or different back before we knew why we were weird or different. In other words, we cobble together our own media history as best we can, looking for something – anythingthat looks like us.

And that’s why I was surprised to find myself in tears over my own reflection on a show that by all accounts is the most straight.

Last week I was looking for a new show to watch at the gym, and the writers on my favorite tv site, previously.tv, had been talking up a show called Unreal on – of all things – the Lifetime Network. Unreal is a scripted, fictional show about two women who produce a reality program called Everlastinga not-very-covert stand-in for The Bachelor. If you’re familiar at all with old reality staple The Bachelor, you’ll know the rumors that the program is heavily produced, that the women on the show are sometimes manipulated into saying and doing things they might not otherwise do at will. You know that they’re pumped full of alcohol at every opportunity. You’ll know that one is always picked to be “the villain” and another “the wife”. In short, if you’re familiar at all with the program, you’ll know that it might be hard to work as a producer while maintaining any semblance of self-respect.

That’s the battle that the two lead characters, Quinn and Rachel, fight each episode. Rachel in particular has a feminist past; she mentions all her friends from school who work for public television; she sometimes wears a shirt that says “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like”. A portion of her wants to believe that she’s painting the women on the show in a positive light. But she is constantly undermining her own dreams of purity by putting the ladies in situations she knows, deep down, are manipulative or unfair.

I knew the basic plot of the show when I began watching. I expected to see women portrayed in a way that was complex and interesting. I craved the complexity offered by a show where women could be strong, but not always right. I wanted to see Quinn and Rachel struggle with real, complex life decisions. I wanted to see them make mistakes. And I was not disappointed. the show contained all that and more. What I didn’t expect, though, was for the show to gift me with a gay woman whose story felt just enough like home to make me cry and punch me in the stomach. Continue reading “Finding Faith in “Unreal””

The Other Closet

My journey to accept feminism has been, perhaps rather predictably, deeply influenced by the women I’ve looked up to in my life.

My small-town upbringing showed more in the feminism department than many others, probably because I’d never cared enough to research feminism for myself. If I had researched it earlier, I would have realized that it was really about equality for all gender identities. Instead, I thought that to call yourself a feminist meant that you were also a misandrist, and I often ignorantly equated the term with women who verbally or physically attacked men.

Now that I call myself a feminist, I find these admissions shameful and upsetting. However, I think it’s important to be honest about it, because I know I’m not the only one who has walked a similar path.

From mid-2013 through to the summer of 2015, I worked as a receptionist and sales person in Edmonton, Alberta. I grew up a lot during my time in that job, although that’s hardly surprising since I was only eighteen when I started there. It just so happens that Mo (yes, that one) was my coworker at that job.

One day, feminism came up in the workplace. Myself, Mo, and our manager Barb were discussing the term. I honestly don’t remember the contents of the conversation, but I do remember saying my then go-to line when someone talked to me about feminism: “I’m not a feminist. I don’t like any sort of -ism. I want everybody to support each other. One gender isn’t better than the other…” and so on, and so forth. I’m sure you’ve heard this kind of response before.

I remember that Mo seemed pretty affronted, and I think that my declaration ended the conversation. It didn’t come up again in the workplace, but because I had always looked up to Mo and appreciated her opinions, I started to second-guess myself. Was I wrong about feminism?

I knew I had been wrong about feminism when I watched Emma Watson’s 2014 speech to the United Nations in support of the HeforShe campaign. I am very much a product of the Harry Potter generation, and I grew up worshiping Hermione. When Emma Watson left the franchise and set herself apart as an activist and talented actor, my admiration followed. Hearing the true definition of feminism from Ms. Watson led to a deep shift in my life. I remember crying when I watched her speech, both because of my awe at her strength, and because of the shame I felt for my own ignorance prior to that moment.

By the time I started university this past September, I was already identifying as a feminist. I didn’t know very much about the theory’s history, or its different branches, but I knew that I believed in equal rights and intersectionality. I hadn’t met anyone who had openly identified themselves as a feminist to me, aside from Mo, so Tumblr and Facebook were really my only outlets to explore feminism.

And then I started school, and the flood gates opened up. As I learned more and more about feminism, I realized that more and more of my friends were identifying themselves as feminists, and I was less and less inclined to keep myself in the feminist closet. In particular, two amazing professors helped me to embrace my feminism: Dr. Andrea Cuellar and Natasha Fairweather.

Dr. Cuellar covered women & gender studies for a significant portion of her semester-long class on Anthropological Archaeology. Her approach was one of ruthless honesty and critical thinking, regardless of the gender or theoretical standing of the authors we were studying. It’s no exaggeration to say that by the end of that semester, Dr. Cuellar had razed my ideas of gender in history to the ground, and then completely rebuilt them.

For example, my idyllic view of the glorious “Mother Goddess” who had supposedly presided over most of human history was destroyed. It was largely replaced with an understanding that humans have always been flawed and confused when it comes to the idea of gender identity. Even in cultures where sex/gender dichotomies (themselves questionable sometimes) seem not to have been important, there were usually other ways of dividing the population and subjugating the many in support of the few. Dr. Cuellar showed me that feminist theory is an excellent middle ground for archaeologists and anthropologists to take – and I could also see that it served as an excellent standpoint for me to take in the rest of life, too.

Likewise, Natasha Fairweather often used feminist theory as a more well-rounded alternative to the often polarizing extremes of Sociological thought. She was my professor for my first Sociology class, in the same semester as Dr. Cuellar’s Anthro/Arky class, and I could probably sing her praises for an entire article. It was Natasha who gave me a proper timeline of the waves of feminism, and introduced me to the various identifiers that feminists use (ie. Liberal, social, radical, etc.). It was also Natasha that showed me how one could actively integrate feminism into their life, both personally and professionally, without becoming a misandrist.

During this very formative semester, I posted something on Facebook about being a feminist. Shortly thereafter, Mo sent me a text that said she was happy to see that I was identifying myself as such. She told me about how shocked she’d been when I had actively denied being a feminist, back in Edmonton, because everything she’d known about me prior to that moment had indicated that I was a feminist. I felt intensely gratified that my friend had recognized this change in my thought.

My feminism is something I wear on my sleeve, now. I talk about it regularly. I do my best to educate my friends and family when they have questions, and I also shut up and listen in the more common event that they know a lot more than me. Hell, it’s even become a significant part of how I choose what TV shows to watch (Jessica Jones or The Ascent of Woman, anyone?). My feminism is central to my identity, right up there with my sexuality and spirituality. I am intensely grateful for the many amazing women who have guided me to this place, from friends, to coworkers, to professors. Because of them, I’ve learned that the patriarchy hurts all of us, regardless of our gender identity, and that we all need to actively work to eradicate it.

I’m proud to say that I’ve come a heck of a long way from the naïve girl who moved to Edmonton back in 2013, and I’m very excited to see where I go next. I want you to know that if you’re questioning your identity as a feminist, it gets better. Go ahead and come out of that other closet. We’re waiting to welcome you with open arms.


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Telling Mom

(Originally posted on May 11, 2012 at I Dig Your Girlfriend.)

I love my mother.

I came out to her eight years ago, in an email, with practically the whole nation of Canada between us. I had only come out to a few people by then; people whose reactions I could more or less predict with confidence. But telling Mom was proving to be a challenge. Months earlier I had tried to do it in person but chickened out.

I was genuinely unsure of what she would say. She grew up Catholic in a tiny east coast community where gays might as well have been mythical creatures. It’s only now that I can look back and realize that I grew up that way, too.

There was nothing special about the day I decided to tell her. I guess I just felt ready. But I wasn’t brave enough for a phone conversation, so I laid it all out in an email. I reread it a few times, and then I hit “send.” I tried (unsuccessfully) to get a good night’s sleep. Continue reading “Telling Mom”

The Ties That Bind

Guest post by Conar.

All right, friends. Today, we spin our queering wheel and turn our vehicle toward that most frustrating of topics: the homophobic relative.

*dramatic music*

We’ve all got one. Sometimes several. They rear their ugly heads at Thanksgiving and Easter alike, extracting cringes from all assembled with such oft-heard phrases as: “Well, I don’t hate them, I just disagree with them,” “Are you sure you’re gay?”, “You can’t like men AND women, that doesn’t make sense,” and my favourite: “Well, your lifestyle is your choice, I suppose.”

These phrases are usually (though not always) preceded or followed by casual racism, or sexist jokes, or both. My least favourite uncle is a walking stereotype of the bigoted redneck, and I am very grateful I only have to see him once or twice a year.

However, today we are discussing a different type of person, and often a much more difficult one to deal with. I like to call this person the Backhanded Bigot. This is someone who is not obviously homophobic or transphobic, who doesn’t say anything actively hateful, but can be dismissive, insensitive, and otherwise harmful, often without even realizing it. Continue reading “The Ties That Bind”

Reloading the Label Gun

Guest post by Conar.

Coming out of the closet. Almost universally part of the LGBTQ+ experience. Whether it’s your entire collection of Facebook friends, your immediate family, or just one trusted confidant, most of us have had that experience of finally opening up to someone about an important part of our identity. And it’s usually a rather harrowing experience, at that. Even if those you are confiding in react well, building up the nerve to reveal something about yourself that is still often looked down on, even hated, and for many of us, not even considered to be a “real” orientation or identity, can be a nigh-on Herculean task. Continue reading “Reloading the Label Gun”

#MLU – The Town That I Come From

I come from the land of Duck Dynasty.

Not the same city, exactly, but the same idea – the same roots. I grew up in South Louisiana, but my mother’s roots were planted in the same ground as Miss Kay Robertson, the matriarch of the bearded boys who rake in dollars for A&E. Miss Kay’s family ran a store in the tiny town where my grandparents’ parents ran farms and (*sigh*) plantations. My mother went to college in Monroe, LA and my grandparents taught in the North Louisiana school system their entire lives.

I have the stamp of the Deep White Shameful South all over me, is what I’m saying. And while I have never shaken the hand of a Robertson, I might as well be a family member. My mom’s cousins (whom I call my aunts, because it’s the South and everyone’s your aunt) are all big breasted laughing crying praying women who love their children and rule their kitchens. My cousins fish the lakes, grow out their scraggly beards, and run just short of trouble most of the time. They hunt with Robertson duck calls. They have babies and take those babies to church. They tease me for being the egghead with the academic father who moved us to the city and forgot how to fish. They pray faithfully to the pastel Jesus in the paintings, the one from Sunday school, the one who expects you to show up to service two days a week with your shoes shined and the dirt washed off your mouth.

The one who would turn me out of his heart and his house for being gay. That pastel Jesus. Continue reading “#MLU – The Town That I Come From”

Flowers at Work

I used to work at a sign shop. I spent nearly five years there before deciding to walk away. For the bulk of that time, I worked with a woman named Barb.

I was single during my first two years with the company. I wasn’t closeted in my personal life, but my gayness hadn’t really come up at work, because why would it? I had told a person or two, but most of my coworkers weren’t aware of my orientation – not for certain, anyway. Barb was no exception.

Kate and I started dating in late 2013. Because she’s the wooing sort, she used to send little treats to me at work now and then. She was sly about it, too. The very first time she brought me something, she slipped out before I even knew she’d been there. Our new receptionist brought a cup of Tim Horton’s hot chocolate to my desk. With it, she delivered one of Kate’s business cards, with the command “Enjoy!” neatly printed on it. Continue reading “Flowers at Work”

Copycat Queer

Fifteen years ago, I became a vegetarian.

I’d never really liked meat, unless it was a neatly trimmed chicken breast or the hyper processed junk you get at McDonald’s or other fast food places. Juicy homemade burgers made me gag. I had little interest in steak. I hated pork, and would nip tiny bites into the back of my mouth, swallowing them whole just to avoid tasting it or feeling its texture.

We had family stay with us during summer when I was young – aunt, uncle, and cousin. For medical reasons, they had adopted a vegetarian diet, so we provided as much vegetarian fare as possible. Before this, I had no idea you could opt out of eating meat. I learned a few years later from my cousin that my mother had taken her aside to ask her not to encourage me towards vegetarianism. But the desire not to eat meat was already strong in me. I became vegetarian shortly after their visit, to my parents’ dismay. Continue reading “Copycat Queer”