"My girlfriend and I had both planned to go to pride in Orlando... she's still dead set on it, but I'm scared. I just graduated and she's just gotten into medschool... I love my community and am proud, but with everything that's happening I'm scared."
-Question Submitted by Anonymous
Hi there, Anonymous.
A few days ago, a friend of mine reached out to see if Everyone Is Gay had any specific resources that she might offer to people who were trying to navigate through the days after Orlando… and I couldn’t find anything that I felt would connect us properly. How could I find something that would connect us properly? As a community – as communities – so much of this is uncharted territory.
In the past week, my thoughts have been wrapped tightly around my own sadness and fear, the sadness and fear of the LGBTQ community as a whole, and the devastation faced by the LGBTQ Latinx community, specifically. I’ve been more silent than usual here on Everyone Is Gay and across my personal social media accounts, because I haven’t known how to speak, what to say, how to engage.
Today, though, I am going to start talking a bit more – and I am beginning with your question because it is one that I am also wrestling with, directly.
First: There is nothing wrong with feeling scared.
I want to repeat this, Anonymous: There is nothing wrong with feeling scared.
I have always struggled with my own personal fears of being in large groups; a fear that was compounded when a vendor was shot just about five feet away from the booth that Dannielle and I worked at San Francisco Pride in 2013. After that incident, it was months before I could go to music shows or other large gatherings without having my back against a wall and knowing where the exits were. I also lived in NYC when 9/11 happened, which forever altered my own feeling of safety riding mass transit, working in city buildings, and honestly, just living. There were events I didn’t go to in the aftermath of both of those experiences because I was afraid; there were times when I had to get off the subway and take a walk before getting back on and completing my ride.
I don’t mean to conflate any of these experiences, because they are distinct in so many ways; but the one thing they share in common is that they made me feel unsafe in spaces where large groups gathered. That is a part of how I am feeling after Orlando, too, just like you. That fear is weighted differently this year as it intersects with my identity as a bisexual, queer woman who has always aimed to speak as loud as possible about my identity.
I will be working at NYC Pride this year. I will have a booth down where the parade empties out in the West Village where my interns and I will let people know about the resources that Everyone Is Gay has to offer, where people will come to buy themselves hats and shirts that say Everyone Is Gay, and where – as happens each year – many people will come to say hi to me, personally, and tell me how our work helped them get through a break-up, tackle a coming out experience, or find a better understanding of their identity. It’s always a powerful experience, and an important one, and one of many powerful ways that pride celebrations allow us to come together.
I will also be feeling scared while I am down there. I am not sure how scared I will feel or how it will manifest, and I won’t really know until I am there this Sunday, surrounded by so many of your beautiful faces. I also know that many of you will be feeling similar things, and that some of you won’t feel safe enough to attend. That is a sad reality, because LGBTQ people deserve to have spaces where they do not have to feel scared to be who they are… and those spaces are few and far between.
I have had many conversations with those close to me, and with myself, about my own relationship to this year’s pride celebrations, and to gauge my own needs around self-care and wellbeing. I’ve spent that time doing that work so that I could figure out my personal best path forward. For me, that path leads to standing next to those I love, and celebrating who I am amidst the power of that shared space and presence. But that is my path, Anonymous, and the only way to find yours is to have those conversations with those you love, and with yourself. It is okay if you can’t make it out this year. It is okay if you want to talk through things that will make you feel more safe if you do make it out this year.
One thing I can promise is to stand that much taller for you this Sunday – and for (and with) all of you who are also feeling scared and unsure.
I said this the day after Orlando, and I will repeat it here again: If you’re out there, also shakily trying to put one foot in front of the other, you’re not alone. We wobble together.
We can only take these things one moment at a time. We will all continue working to hold each other up, and that includes compassion and understanding for how you, personally, navigate your grief and your fear.
“I am the president of the GSA at my high school and I’d like to do some volunteer work with the club related to LGBT issues. We live in a small, rural area and we can’t really travel to a larger city. I’m having a hard time finding much. What kind of stuff can we do?”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Firstly, nice job landing president of your GSA! Now lets get into it.
You don’t have to travel to a larger city in order to do LGBT related volunteer work because there are volunteer opportunities all around you– you just have to think a bit further out of the box. For example, you could collaborate on projects with other school GSAs in the school district. Most schools have their own websites that detail all the aspects of the school’s academics, athletics, and extracurriculars, so perhaps search up a few schools around you, browse their sites, see if any LGBT related clubs are in their club listings, and then figure out how to get in contact with any GSAs you come across. Then, discuss with the student leader(s) how you’d want to volunteer or start a project together.
Now, I understand that when someone says they want to do volunteer work, they usually mean that they physically want to do something (i.e. volunteering at a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, etc). However, I’ve learned that volunteering doesn’t always need to be 100% hands on; raising awareness and support goes a long way. A school in my area holds an annual “Café Night” to raise awareness and money for LGBT issues and organizations. The whole event is basically dinner and a show; the members of the GSA and any volunteers cook food, bring drinks, decorate the gym, the whole sha-bang. Then, there are signups for performers to showcase whatever talent they have, be it slam poetry or avocado juggling. During the week leading up to the night until the night itself, there are ticket sales, and all the proceeds go towards whichever organization they choose. It’s pretty damn cool honestly and I think it works really well in most schools. BUT if you’re having doubts about whether it will work for your school in particular (because of the GSA size or school size or tolerance level), let me wrench out some more ideas for you.
Day. Of. Silence. The Day of Silence is definitely something that will raise a TON of awareness at your school. If you don’t know already, the Day of Silence is an annual event created by GLSEN in which people (mostly adolescents) take a daylong vow of silence to bring attention to LGBT youth who have been silenced due to bullying and harassment. Having your GSA partake in the Day of Silence is definitely a great form of LGBT volunteer work. I currently run a GSA and have been doing so for the last two years, and we also did the Day of Silence. It started out with only the club members taking the vow of silence, but as the day progressed, more and more people wanted to take the vow as well (there were also some bandwagoners but oh well what can ya do).
Pictured: me holding up a “What will You do to end the silence?” poster, also holding a sharpie and roll of duct tape in my right hand for people who wanted to participate last minute, and also sweating profusely because it was a lot of damn people.
Another great thing you could do is help out (and of course, raise awareness for) LGBT homeless youth. Life is hard, man. Parents disown, kick out, and cut off their children all the time simply because they are queer and/or trans, and that’s not okay. This is where LGBT homeless youth centers come into play. They’re really helpful in providing a safe place for youth to sleep and eat, but a lot of the time they could use an extra hand, and that’s where you come in. Have a bake sale (rainbow cupcakes are a must, I’d assume) or some other kind of food sale to raise money for a particular LGBT homeless youth center! Rather than just donating the money to the center, use it to purchase ample supplies for the kids living there like school supplies, warm clothes (if you live in a cooler area), gloves, socks (these are really overlooked when it comes to necessary clothing) etc, all in which can be shipped/ brought to the center of your choosing on your GSA’s behalf.
Last thing (I swear): Put your heads together. Whether there are five people or fifty people in your GSA, brainstorming volunteer ideas is always a good way to really understand what the club’s limits are in reference to what you can and cannot do. I bet you guys have great potential and you seem like a pretty rad leader, so I wish you all the best. Good luck!
“I feel a connection to the term butch, but it has a lot of history and specific significance for a lot of people and I’m not sure how well I fit the mold, so I’m hesitant to use it. I know I can identify however I want, but are there many people who identify as butch who aren’t stone and don’t bind?”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
I think you can and I think it’s amazing that you know enough to be hesitant. A lot of people adopt terms and don’t know what they mean or the history and just tout around like they own the thing. You are in a fucking dope position.
It’s really cool that you’re unsure because you have the opportunity to understand the term even more and then figure out exactly why you’re so connected to it.
I feel like what you’re really getting at here is, “I identify with this term, but if people question me and tell me I’m an asshole for using it, I won’t know what to say.” SO HERE IS WHAT I SUGGEST.
Learn a lot. Figure out where the term comes from and what it means to the people who originated that term. Learn why and how it has changed over the decades and find pieces of yourself all along the way. You don’t have to be the one perfect example of that term, but you do have to respect the term and know how to talk about it. So that when someone says, “whoa i thought butch was THIS SPECIFIC THINGY,” you have the ability to say “yea!! that is a huge part of why i feel connected to the movement, I’m shedding these blahblah standards, I don’t agree with the way society does yadda, etcetc” – BUT FILL IT IN WITH YOUR REAL FEELINGS.
"I'm 14 years old, gay, and my dad is in the military so we move around a lot. How do I deal with having to come out over and over again?”
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Shane Billings as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
The coming out process has actually been on my mind quite a bit recently. I’ve noticed that, even ten years after I started coming out myself, it can still be a challenging task. You’re not alone.
The sort-of-bad news is that coming out is rarely a one-stop shop. And by “rarely” I mean sometimes Olympians like Tom Daley date Oscar-winners, then come out with a viral video, so…. if you can pull it off, there’s that option.
But, silver lining! The coming outs can be whatever you want them to be, and can happen however you want them to happen. You have the added challenge of moving around military-family style, which can be exhausting every time you have to rehash your personal intro. But if you add a little creativity to coming out, it can alleviate the anxiety that usually goes hand in hand with being vulnerable around new people.
For example, you could set up a Secrets Booth, where people come to trade secrets with you. That way, you level the playing field when it comes to disclosing personal information. There’s also the right-off-the-bat approach, which goes something like…
“Bonjour, I’m Shane and also gay, smell ya later!”
If you’re inclined towards the written word, some of my closest friends have had positive experiences in writing coming out e-mails. You can preface with something like, “I’m figuring out the best way to do this, so here goes….” Writing letters, e-mails, or private messages gives you the literary freedom and control to articulate yourself the precise way you want.
You’re also totally justified in saying, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about it,” if your sexuality comes up, or you’d rather come out after you get to know people a tad better.
If you let it, coming out can become an ongoing skill and a helpful tool, rather than a burden. My big picture advice: within safety and reason, come out as often as you can. Say it to the mirror, sing it underwater, write it on a bathroom stall. Make prank calls and say, “Hello, I’m gay. Have a wonderful day, sir or ma’am.”
Don’t pass up an opportunity to be courageous, even by yourself. You are an extremely important figure in the big gay narrative. Stories like yours, that demonstrate continuous courage, those are the stories that inspire others to do the same, to be themselves.
It’s an enormous responsibility and a fabulous privilege. Your coming out helps build a safer community, by outnumbering the fears that keep us in the closet. It doesn’t have to be HIGH KICKS and GLITTER every time. But every time a gay kid comes out, a drag queen gets her wigs. Let that comforting thought be the wind beneath your wings.