GingerSass

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A ramble in response to being asked to give advice

I usually just do my own thang when it comes to blogging, but I had a new experience last week. I had someone request a topic for me to blog about. I’ve been asked my opinion on things before, but I’ve never been asked to blog on a specific topic. This topic, however, woke up something inside of me.

After getting retweeted a few times by The Fosters and AfterEllen, I’ve gained a following of fan of the show. One of these fans asked me if I have any advice for teenagers questioning their own sexuality.

My immediate reaction? “Just be yourself!”

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve wanted to retract that advice.

When I was 14 or 15, I started noticing girls. I saw what mainstream society told me, and I figured I could go on a couple of dates with girls in college to “get it out of my system.” The older I got, however, the more sure I was that I wasn’t attracted to boys like most girls my age.

When I was 16, my only source of comfort in my own journey to find out who I was was the internet. I remember chatting in MySpace groups and making secret Xanga blogs to process my teenage drama. I would clear the internet history every night to hide any traces of my sexuality from my family (we only had the ol’ desktop family computer, and you can forget about separate accounts on the computer!).  I found comfort and a community on AfterEllen.com, and I secretly spent my paycheck from the local grocery store on itunes giftcards so I could purchase Seasons 3 & 4 of The L Word to secretly watch on my ipod. I worked in the school library, and I would borrow—but not check out—poems about lgbt youth. My entire life was an emotional, chaotic, teenage angst filled time, and I felt like the biggest disappointment in the world to both myself and my family. I couldn’t even begin to fathom being happy and gay, despite the words being synonyms.

I spent a lot of grocery store money on itunes giftcards. Clearly I didn't understand how YouTube worked.

I spent a lot of grocery store money on itunes giftcards. Clearly I didn’t understand how YouTube worked.

I remember the first person I came out to was my 11th grade English teacher.  I was trying to remember how this felt when I remembered a wonderful thing—my username and password from my Xanga all those years ago!

 

So, from November 26th, 2006, here are some words from 16 year old me.

I was running late getting to school early this morning, so I ended up having about 3 mins before the hmrm bell to talk to my teacher. I must have looked upset or something (it sounds silly, but I felt like I was almost on the verge of crying) because as soon as I said “Can I talk to you?” she said “What’s wrong?” in a really concerned voice. I gave her a small smile and said “Actually, I wanted to say thank you.” She gave me the funniest look ever that was obviously saying “WTH for?” Then I said, “Yea, I know it’s silly, but I wanted to say thanks for the lesson on Tuesday and Wednesday. It really got me thinking, and it helped me realize some things about me and my life that I wasn’t 100% sure about before. So thanks…” Needless to say, my teacher was pretty cool. She was pretty touched that I took the time to tell her thanks, and she told me that she’s happy she helped me somehow. She really looked like she was about to hug me, or at least like she was thinking about it. Then she said, “I’m always here for you if you ever need to talk about anything.” I think I said “Thanks, I appreciate it” before I ran off to hmrm… Then I saw her again during English 1st period. When I 1st walked in, she was looking at me, obviously thinking…After class, when I was handing in a poem for some poetry contest, she started to talk about it again. She said “I just wanted to say thank you for before, it meant a lot that you came to say thank you…” and she seemed like she was going to say more, but I was kind of rude. I cut her off and started asking her a question about the poetry contest or whatever… I guess I was afraid that she was going to address what I realized right then and there and honestly, a few of my friends were around and I was scared that they might hear. That sounds so stupid, but its the truth…

You have no idea what a relief it is to have someone I can talk to. I know she wont go blabbing to anyone, so it is a relief. I think I might thank her tomorrow before school again and say “Man I’m saying thank you a lot lately! I wanted to say thanks for saying you’re here for me if I need to talk, I really appreciate it. There are certain things about me even my best friends like ____________ wouldn’t understand, and I don’t know how you feel about them either, but it’s nice to know that I have someone to talk to if I need it….” Then again, I might not. Two days in a row seems a little much…But bottomline, it is such a relief to know that she’s there if I need to talk to her. My friends and family  definitely not understand my sexuality, and while she might now either, at least I know I have someone to talk to who wont take sides or anything. Thanks again Ms.______, I really appreciate it!

(A week later)

December 8th, 2006

I told someone today, to an extent.

I had asked my English teacher earlier this week if she was going to tell my Mom anything about what I’ve kind-of-but-not-really told her at conferences last night, and she said since i haven’t said anything officially, she wouldn’t say anything. She also said that conferences are academic, and she wouldnt say anything since she officially didn’t know anything.

Fast-forward to today…I saw my English teacher after school, and I apologized. I felt bad about getting her involved with my personal drama but not officially explaining what was going on. I said, “I just wanted to apologize I guess. I know that I’ve kind of strung you along, kind-of talking to you and having you kind-of listen. I’m just trying to come to terms with my…” And then I couldn’t say anything more. Although I’ve acknowledged my sexuality here, and in my head, saying it outloud was something different. My teacher looked at me and gave me a reassuring look. She kind of pushed me to say it, but in a gentle say-it-if-you-can kind of way. She said, “Your…?” I swear, I’ve never stumbled so much saying a damn sentence before. “My…my…my sexuality,” I managed to say. Those few words took almost a minute to come out. My teacher said “It’s alright…” and gave me a look of reassurance as i was trying to say it… After I said it I felt kind of upset, like “Wow. I said it outloud, to a person.” She must’ve figured that, she said “You know, it’s ok to be scared. I kind of figured it was that because of how you were acting when you were ‘kind-of’ talking. It’s a hard process to go through, and it’s going to take a while. But you will be ok, and I’m here if you ever need anyone to listen while you’re figuring things out.” Then I told her something else, clarifying something she had misunderstood and told my Mom about at conferences. After that, another girl walked in, wanting to say hey to my teacher. I took that as my chance to leave, and I can’t remember what my teacher said exactly, but it was something really sweet and uplifting. I think it was along the lines of “Be free! Have fun! And don’t be scared! Everything will work out.” There was something else too, something sweeter, but i can’t remember what exactly. I keep replaying that moment when I told her over and over in my head. It felt so good to have someone push me to say it, for someone to say it was ok and that it’s ok to be scared. It’s funny– I’ve only been in school for 3 months, and usually at this time, I feel like I’m still getting to know my teachers. Now, I’m telling my English teacher something I can’t even bring myself to tell my best friends or family. I’m telling my deepest secret to a virtual stranger, and yet I feel completely comfortable with her knowing, but appalled at the idea of any of my loved ones finding out.

I don’t think there’s ever a clear cookie-cutter moment when someone knows he or she is gay/bi/straight/queer/pan/asexual/etc. For some people, there may be an exact moment, but for me it was a process. I’m proud to say, almost 8 years later, I’m an open, out, femme-identified lesbian. I’ve gone through my fair share of labels while trying to find one that fit, and I realized the best one was two letters: ME. Our society forces us to try to label ourselves, and sometimes that is a difficult, nearly impossible thing to do. I didn’t feel comfortable with labels until I was in my very early twenties. And you know what? Even though it was a process, my extended and immediate family members are extremely supportive of me, my sexuality, and are even helping me plan my wedding!

Trying to be a baby dyke my freshman year of college! Note the tie.

Trying to be a stereotype my freshman year of college! Note the tie.

If you are struggling with who you are, know that you don’t have to pinpoint yourself in a set amount of time. Some people find out who they are very easily, and others may not realize for years! It sounds almost ridiculous, especially if you’re in a situation where you need to rely on others for support, but you need to worry about being you. Find a way to process who you are—join a club or group if you’re able to, write your feelings down, read books or blogs about identity, Google the internet, (carefully and safely) join message boards or Tweet/ Facebook/ whatever else is popular others, find a trusted individual to talk to, or even call a hotline. There are myriads of support  systems in the world, but you may just have to do a little digging to find them.

Here are some I recommend:

Books on LGBTQQIAetc. Identity:

http://www.alexsanchez.com/gay_teen_books.htm

http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2013/08/06/a-guide-to-ya-novels-with-lgbtq-characters/

Personally, I recommend:

The Hours by Michael Cunningham (there’s a really wonderful movie version as well!)

Ash- Malinda Lo (really beautifully written Cinderella-themed story with a lesbian twist)

Any Mark Doty poetry

Keeping You a Secret- Julie Anne Peters (first book I read when I was coming out)

Luna- Julie Anne Peters (trans-oriented)

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit- Jeanette Winterson (slow read, but good)

Fun Home (A Family Tragicomic)- Alison Bechdel (first graphic novel/memoir by creator of Dykes to Watch Out for, a famous lesbian comic)

Anything by Audre Lorde or Staceyann Chin

 

Websites:

www.AfterEllen.com

www.AfterElton.com

www.shewired.com

www.autostraddle.com

www.TheTrevorProject.org

www.glsen.org

www.gsanetwork.org

www.itgetsbetter.org

www.pridecenter.org (NJ Pride Center)

www.villageq.com

http://www.lambdalegal.org/sites/default/files/publications/downloads/fs_resources-for-lgbtq-youth-by-state_1.pdf (list of LGBTQ resources by state)

www.asexuality.org

www.tumblr.com (pretty much any blogging website, but this one offers a bunch of resources at once! Just search for what you need to look up.)

 

This has turned into a long, rambling post, but I promised I’d post this today. I’m going to be working on creating a better go to guide and list of resources for teens. Just know that you are NOT alone, and it’s okay to be different.

Also, I’m always totally just a tweet away.

Same Sex Marriage Equality Expo

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Today I attended the Same Sex Marriage Equality Expo in NJ, put together by American Bridal Shows. It was the first time that a same sex wedding expo has been in the state since same sex marriage in New Jersey became legal.

V was supposed to come with me, but she had a bit of a set back in her recovery from surgery and needed to rest up at home so I was flying solo. I was a bit worried about flying solo, as I’m usually judged in predominantly gay settings because I “look like a straight girl.” I struggled with whether or not I should dress a bit more casual than girly during the expo, and in the end I ended up wearing my usual girly gear. I noticed that a lot of vendors gave me more attention than couples walking around, and that couples were sort of giving me the is-she-straight and why-is-she-here looks. Eh. It is what it is.

Overall, the Expo was a bit overwhelming. V had said we should go in with a game plan, but when I realized she was staying home my game plan became “walk around aimlessly and hope for the best.” I met a lot of interesting vendors today, and I even found a few that might be a good match up for our wedding! There were some fun things going on, like a dance party and entertainment demo, and a wedding fashion show. I wish the fashion show had been more diverse in offering a wider variety of options of clothing, but I also realize there were only 60 vendors at the Expo.

I’m getting a little tired so I’ll list my top favorite things and my top suggestions.

3 Favorites Things:

  1. I really liked how friendly all of the vendors were. Even if they seemed a little unsure of how to approach same sex couples, they were all excited about being there.
  2. The expo was small and intimate. It was definitely possible to see all of the vendors, although I didn’t. There was a wide variety of vendors, from venues and catering to realtors and financial planners. The expo wasn’t just about planning a wedding– it was about planning a life. That was really nice.
  3. It was free! This sounds kind of cheap, but the expo being free was a definite plus, especially since nobody knew what they were getting into this first year. That definitely drew more people in.

3 Suggestions:

  1. Please have a hashtag next year! This sounds a little silly, and maybe it’s the blogger in me coming out, but the consistency of a hashtag is much appreciated in the social media age. It also connects vendors and expo attendees a lot easier.
  2. I wish that more of the vendors had catered to the same sex couples at the expo. Even though everyone was all “YAY CONGRATS!!”, a large number of the vendors showed off their skills with pictures and videos of all of the happy heterosexual couples they’ve worked with. There were also a lot of forms that only said “Bride and Groom.” It would have felt a lot more welcoming if the forms said “Bride or Groom” and “Bride or Groom,” with the option to circle what was applicable.
  3. Have more vendors and a bigger area! The Expo center was being shared with a pet expo, and the same sex wedding crowd only got 3 rooms, probably the equivalent of a high school gym in total length. It was a little crowded, and more space would’ve been wonderful… It also would have been great if the vendors were clumped together a little more logistically. At first it seemed like they were clumped by category, but I think that was just coincidence.

All in all, I had a really nice time at the Same Sex Marriage Equality Expo (dang that’s a mouthful!). This 2015 bride looks forward to returning next year and seeing it grow into something bigger and even better.

Note: This post was NOT sponsored. I just felt like blogging about this one-of-a-kind event!

 

Shame

Today I felt more shame than I have ever felt before in my life. I felt like a failure to my lesbian and educator identities.

While on last period bathroom duty today, I was drained, sick, and ready to go home. (Bathroom duty involves collecting bathroom passes, being wary of students cutting class, and making sure students don’t try to go in the other gender’s bathroom to get into trouble.) My colleague and I had just finished dealing with rambunctious students, and I was looking down at an assignment a student had handed me. A student came up to me, gave me their bathroom pass, and started to walk towards the women’s room. I had barely glanced at the student, and I pointed in the direction of the men’s room.

“I’m a she.”

I looked up and took a second look at the student, apologizing profusely. She continued into the bathroom, and I felt a wave of shame wash over me.

I regularly defend and comfort my own fiancée when she is mistreated in the women’s room when we go out in public. I spent my years of undergrad and grad school purposefully using unisex bathrooms and educating myself on trans* issues. I’ve gotten into arguments with complete strangers over people going into the “right” bathroom, and what that means.

So what the heck caused me to become as ignorant as those I have argued against so many times? Was it the fact that my activist roots have remained closeted in my sometimes closed-minded work setting? Was it my femme lesbian privilege? Was it my place of power as a teacher in a school setting?

While the student used the bathroom, I questioned these things, as well as tried to gather my thoughts on how I could sufficiently apologize– or assuage my guilt– for doing the exact opposite of what I stand for.

When the student came out of the restroom, I called her over and said, “I’m really, truly sorry. I always get upset when people give my fiancée problems in the bathroom and mistake her for a guy, and I feel awful. I’ve been trying to think of how I could possibly apologize to you for the past 5 minutes, and nothing is sufficient. I feel like an asshole. I’m so sorry.”

The student’s entire demeanor changed, and she said, “It’s okay. Wait, your fiancée…? You’re gay…?” I pulled up a pic of V & I at her sorority formal, her in her tux and I in my gown, and the student started telling me her life story. I learned how she had been disowned by her family after coming out, and how she couldn’t get over how others at our school couldn’t express their true selves or be out.

I will never be mistaken for a man going into the women's bathroom. I wish I could say the same for V.

I will never be mistaken for a man going into the women’s bathroom. I wish I could say the same for V.

“I don’t get upset or angry when people start to yell at me I’m going to the wrong bathroom. I choose to dress this way. I cut my hair. I wear boy clothes. But I can’t choose who I am. All that matters is I know who I am,” she told me.

She then started asking me questions, trying to dispel rumors from the truth.

“Is it true girls can’t go to prom with a girl? And that girls have to dress like girls, in dresses? My friend said that (somebody with power) said so.”

I felt an inexplicable anger flowing through me, and I gave the girl my name, email address, and the day and classroom I stay after in. “I don’t know you, but if ANYONE gives you trouble, I will stand up for you and fight for you. None of what you’re saying is legal. You stay in touch with me.”

The girl thanked me, and said she was going to email me after school today. I wrote her a pass back to class, and we went our separate ways. I’m sure we were both thinking about our conversation when we said goodbye, a conversation that would not have had happened if I hadn’t made an ignorant, shameful mistake.

I am a white, middle-class, feminine woman. I have received a college and graduate school education. I have a lot of privileges that I am aware of, and I have some, like my gender-identity, that I sometimes take for granted. Compared to society as a whole, my lesbianism makes me a minority. Yet, I am able to hide my differences. I put on makeup. I wear feminine clothing and jewelry. If you saw me on the street, you would probably assume that I am an average, heterosexual white girl. Unlike my “butch” counterparts, nobody would assume that I am gay and “different.” I have faced little discrimination in my life. I cannot imagine being judged for my sexuality solely based on my appearance, and I cannot even fathom how the intersection of race and gender-identity would come into play if I were a African-American teenage butch-or-androgynous-appearing lesbian.

I am so incredibly grateful for reality checks that remind me of how fortunate I am, and reality checks that make me feel shame for making assumptions or taking things for granted. I am so continuously amazed and in awe of all of the gender non-conforming, atypical, defying-the-stereotypes individuals in my life, particularly my more masculine, “butch” fiancée, friends, and loved ones. Thank you for always being strong, and thank you for being unafraid to be who you are. You show me what it means to be a better person and woman.