Lesbian or Queer?

We’ve had discussions on the blog about what to call ourselves, which can be particularly daunting when you are first coming out. A label might not sound right to you or you may even have some negative stereotypes associated with it that you’re unaware of consciously. Below is a good post on the difference between using “Lesbian” or the more umbrella term of “Queer” as an identifier.

I like what one person said about the label “Queer” transcending stereotypes, which they felt as empowering. There can be much “to do” about identity politics, which some believe is just over-intellectualizing a non-hetero experience, when at the root of it all, it’s simply about who we are attracted to and who we love.

What are your thoughts about labels? Let us know what you think even if it’s “What’s the big deal?”

http://feministing.com/2010/06/16/whats-the-difference-between-lesbian-and-queer/

Rainbow hugs,
Jan

The Marriage Naysayers

The stats are in and just look at that huge spike in the number of people who are coming out on FB since the Supreme Court marriage decision in June of 2015! [See graph] I’ve been fighting for marriage equality since the early days when HRC wasn’t even on board. They felt it was pushing for “too much, too soon” and it was better to fight for civil unions. Fortunately for all of us they were eventually persuaded by grass roots organizations like Marriage Equality USA and Marriage Equality New York.

I had conversations with many people in our community who didn’t want marriage equality because they believed it was entering into a “heterosexist institution.” All I can say is, look at what this has done for people’s pride in standing up for who they are. We are no longer riding at the back of the bus. Perhaps we always knew our love was equal, but now it’s legal.

Some queer folk say we will use our unique gay culture as we become more and more accepted in society. I think some unique elements will remain since we will always enjoy those moments when we can steal away from mainstream society to be with one another. Will our numbers grow as we become more accepted? Will gay culture be not 10% but 20% of society some day, simply because people won’t be afraid to embrace it? Or does nature balance us out around 10% just enough to keep the population under control. (Um, memo to nature, with the gay baby boom this isn’t exactly working.)

What do you think, dear reader? Does the legalization of marriage help with coming out? Do you feel we will lose our queer culture? Post your thoughts below.

Coming to Terms : Part 2

We are complex beings and fall into many different “categories,” one of which is our sexuality. This is Emily’s story with labels…

“While many of the people in my coming out group have a hard time with the term, I claim “lesbian” as a sexy word. It is also my preferred word when coming out to others [over gay, queer and certainly homosexual]. Yet, most people respond back to me with gay or homosexual, which I find interesting. I think it says more about their culture and the words they are used to hearing in that culture. My mother barely squeaked out the word lesbian after I repeatedly used it the night I came out to my parents.

For many to whom I have come out, gay is associated with a negative connotation. Perhaps I preference lesbian precisely because it isn’t A) spoken and B) used negatively. I am free of the baggage because I am introducing a “new” word; I get to define/model/teach what that word means rather than one putting me into a box that’s already full of their ideas].

I also had a very positive introduction to the word lesbian. A dear friend came out to me by saying she is lesbian. She and I are both deeply influenced by 2nd wave feminism and call things as they are: lesbian. vagina. breast. etc. For centuries society silenced anything remotely close to female sexuality. So we ended up with a psyche that couldn’t name our own body parts without sounding and feeling dirty. I don’t want that for the next generation. By using lesbian or vagina, I normalize it. I also think my choice to use lesbian is where I am at right now: I am not interested in men.”

~ Emily

Thanks for guest blogging Emily!

Emily is the co-facilitator of our coming out group, and in the process of coming out herself, she is able to share real-time experiences with the group in a supportive framework. Have you had any specific people in your life that have had positive or negative influences on the terms that you choose to use? If you do have a negative connotation with a term, how might you reclaim it?

Coming Out Day: When in doubt, validate…?

Hey everyone,

Yes, it is coming out day here in the land of the free, home of the brave. If anyone reading this decides to tell someone today, know that your lesbian sisters are here for you. If the fear and reasons not to tell someone feel too great, we are also here for you. NO JUDGEMENT. This stuff is not for sissies and you are loved either way.

I liked Anu’s concept of “assuming the best” as a powerful context from which to react. But what does it take I wonder to mentally make that leap and assume that someone will be a supportive parent, sibling, friend…? (To do “the right thing”)  If they are not supportive, how will you respond to them in a powerful way that protects yourself, yet doesn’t make them wrong?

Sometimes making someone else wrong and being angry may feel like the most powerful stance at the time. (We’ve all felt how good self-righteous anger can feel.) Go there in the moment if you must — sometimes it’s all we can do. But remember the high road, which is the knowledge that we have all had time to adjust to our new identity. Shouldn’t we offer someone else the same courtesy? This doesn’t mean we lose our center of power. In fact, when genuinely embodied there is no more powerful place from which to speak.

What has worked for me in tough situations like this is validation.  You can validate the person without agreeing with them, “Yes, I know how hard it can be to see someone you love in a new light. You may feel as if you don’t know me. I struggled with this myself in the beginning, but I assure you I’m the same person. This is just one aspect of me and it feels good and right… and I want you to know that I’m happy.” (Or something along those lines…)

Of course if they could be happy for you, that would just be the icing on the cake, but give them some space and time.  If there’s a religious reason you might say that you had to do a lot of soul searching yourself, but you realized (for example) Jesus actually never spoke out against homosexuals… (but I digress!)  I have found that engaging in a debate (religious or otherwise) with the person at this time will not be productive in any way.  Simply tell them that they are entitled to their beliefs as you are to yours, and that you will pray for them. (Sorry I couldn’t resist that last prayer bit, say what feels authentic to you!)  The most important thing is to stay within your power center which comes from a place of unconditional love, not a place of shame or blame.

Rainbow hugs,
Jan

“Gender preference does not define you. Your spirit defines you!”

Coming to Terms : Part 1

It can be difficult to pin down something as complex as sexuality in just a single term. “Gay, bi, lesbian, pansexual, demisexual…” We are fluid beings (some of us more than others) and our labels may reflect that and change from time to time. This is Jenn’s story with labels…

“With every ounce of shame, guilt, and dependence on my former self that I shed, I am constantly bumping into newer versions of myself, and, consequently, the labels become easier to navigate.

When my coming out process first began in June of 2014, I was adamant about not wanting to be labeled, for I was certain it was not fair to compartmentalize my sexual orientation into one box or another. I was against “labeling,” because, and I say this retrospectively now, I was still struggling with coming out and revealing my truth. While in the throes of disclosing this recently raw, authentic self, naming my sexuality was the least of my problems.

A 60+ year old radical mentor of my ginger girlfriend claimed that it took her many years of clearly annunciating the word “lesbian” in a mirror before she became truly at ease with connecting her sexuality to that term. She knew she liked girls, but calling herself a lesbian was too daunting a task because of the legal, political, social, and emotional implications the term implied, particularly when she came out over forty years ago.

I came out at 38 years old while I was in a (dwindling) straight 13 year-long marriage, including two amazing daughters, an exceptionally hyper dog, a tabby kitty, and even a multi-colored Betta! So, you, my imagined reader, may correctly assume it is an understatement to say that people in my life were not only outraged and shocked at my reveal, but, instantly, they implored me to name my sexuality:

“Well, then, what are you?!”
“So, now you’re a lesbian? All of a sudden? Just like that?”
“Are you bi? You must be bi because you were married, right?”
“Are you straight but you just like to fool around with girls?”
“Wait. You’re gay? You’re not gay. You’re bi. Are you bi? Wait. What are you?”
“Tell me.”
“Tell me.”
“Tell me!!”

No.

To their probing I often replied, “No clue” or “I don’t know WHAT I am” as though I was considered a mere, filthy spec of some outrageous life form though not quite human at all.

Or, at times, when my mother or cousin or best friend asked what I “was,” I’d breathe deeply and simply respond, “Jenn.”

After being out for over a year now, the struggle to name my sexuality exists, though the debilitating anxiety I experience every time I am asked to put my love in a box and stamp some word on it has greatly lessened. I play around with terminology, though presently I prefer “dyke” (for its grunge, in your face-fuck you!, and, in my mind, relation to the “type” of women I’m into), “queer” (an umbrella term that’s a bit radical and covers all sexualities), “gay” (though this term has historically been used negatively and in connection with queer males), and, yes, sometimes “lesbian.”

The more sexually and emotionally secure I become, the clearer I am able to envision what term suits me best and what I feel comfortable with. I am beginning to recognize my ability to identify what feels right to me, and that recognition is exhilarating!”

~ Jenn

Thanks for guest blogging Jenn!

What terms do you the reader feel comfortable with? Are there any terms still make you want to run for the hills? What is it about them that makes you feel that way? What do you associate with that term and where did that association come from?

Should We Assume the Best? A Coming Out Strategy

Coming out is a process. We may find it’s easy with some and harder with others. This is Anu’s new strategy to assist her state of mind when coming out…

“I, for one, can get caught up in the whirlwind of fears and assumptions when I think about coming out. It’s easy to do. And time-consuming. And not all that productive. So then I got to thinking…

We are conditioned to assume the worst of people. When we assume the worst of others, we are stopped in our tracks by fear. And it’s this fear that keeps us from embracing our most authentic selves. So what would happen, I thought, if instead we assumed the best?

I pondered whether making a good assumption about someone is the same as having expectations. We know how dangerous expectations can be, right? As a general rule, expectations lead to disappointment. And disappointment is hard to bounce back from. So couldn’t making a good assumption about a family member’s response to your sexual identity also lead to disappointment? Indeed. Except for one very important power shift.

When we assume the best of someone, and they prove us wrong, we are no longer the victim of that disappointment. Now we are the person who knows they could have done better, and we are disappointed with them, not by them.”

~ Anu Day

Thanks for the guest post Anu!

Hey everyone, do you think that assuming the best response from someone when you tell them you are gay might put you in the “drivers seat” or help the outcome? (If you are in a dependent situation you might want to find an ally before you try this.) Please respond in the comments below.

~ Jan

With over 50 genders to choose from, why are you being so boring?

In the interest of raising our collective “gender awarenesses,” did you know there are over 50 genders to choose from? If you thought that gender was as cut and dried as checking off “male” or “female” on a form, read on.

Though I may want to rebel, I’m personally not confused what box to check off on a form that asks whether I am male or female. I assume the form is asking for my cis-gender (biological sex), and for me, that’s also how I happen to show up in the world (well, generally.) There are some people who are born intersex, or a combination of male and female, so their cis-gender might more accurately be reflected by checking off a third box that reads “both.” In the old days when forms were paper, one could simply confound the form-takers and check off both boxes, allaying the need for a third. In the digital age, it won’t allow both to be checked, so we need another option.

Cis-gender aside, there are many of us who challenge the idea of choosing between sexual binaries regardless if that is how our bodies read. Our gender may appear more as the opposite sex or something in between. It may even fluctuate over time. A box reading “androgynous” might work best for us.

Some folks may choose to permanently live as a gender/sex other than the one they were born with, so a fourth box called “transgender” might be most appropriate – that is, if they want a separate category than “male” and “female,” which might work just fine for many. Form-makers of the world could simply add a third box labeled “other” for those who don’t fit neatly into the male/female binary model. Or take a tip from Facebook regarding relationships and add a box that simply reads “It’s complicated.”

As we go through life, things may indeed get more complicated when it comes to choosing how to express our gender. When we are children, we naturally express our true nature, if our parents allow it. As we grow older things are often shunned that we could “get away with” as children. I was talking with a gay man the other day about transgender, as we made plans to create a new program for an organization in which we both belong. He mentioned not wanting to turn off the “vanilla gays and lesbians,” who might not relate to the concept of gender being fluid. It made me smile a little that we now live in a world where being gay can be called “vanilla.” He was not saying he didn’t want a program that worked great for the gender fluid and trans people in our community. He is very dedicated to that mission. He was merely saying he didn’t want to exclude those who are not fluid or trans. Being gay does not necessarily mean we are “gender-fluid” people, after all, and I almost heard a tinge of “am I boring?” when he used the term vanilla.

There are many of us (gay and straight, if the term “straight” even really applies here) who may find we feel more comfortable living with a gender that does not match our biological sex, because in reality gender and sex are too very different things. Sex is just our physical body and gender is more about how we show up in the world. As Judith Butler said “Gender is performative” and is based on many complex factors. While Facebook may have taken a somewhat “easy-way-out” approach on the relationship front with the “it’s complicated” label. It has not done so with gender, and I applaud their efforts on this front!

Facebook currently offer 56 variations of gender to choose from in your profile. In case you are having trouble deciding, they allow you to pick up to 10. With so many flavors to choose from, I asked the tongue-in-cheek question in the title of this piece of “Why are you being so boring?” In reality, “vanilla” is a perfectly valid flavor, as it pairs with so many delicious other flavors after all. And while gender expression is not a fad (or for that matter a flavor,) it can be fluid in my opinion, and we may try something on for size only to discard it later for something that is a better fit. Some people know from a very early age which gender they want to express and it may be more fixed for them. For more androgynous folks like myself, we may play among the margins for awhile before we find ourselves settling there, or somewhere on either side of the imaginary gender dotted line. If it hasn’t become clear yet, like the Kinsey scale of sexual attraction, gender performance runs along a continuum.

Fifty-six may sound like a lot of options, but many actually are variations on a theme such as “cisgender woman” and “cisgender female,” as well as “cis woman” and “cis female.” In terms of broad categories, according to Peter Weber, there just under 20. Here is his high level listing of what they mean:

1. Agender/Neutrois — These terms are used by people who don’t identify with any gender at all—they tend to either feel they have no gender or a neutral gender. Some use surgery and/or hormones to make their bodies conform to this gender neutrality.

2. Androgyne/Androgynous — Androgynes have both male and female gender characteristics and identify as a separate, third gender.

3. Bigender — Someone who is bigender identifies as male and female at different times. Whereas an androgyne has a single gender blending male and female, a bigender switches between the two.

4. Cis/Cisgender — Cisgender is essentially the opposite of transgender (cis- being Latin for “on this side of” versus trans-, “on the other side”). People who identify as cisgender are males or females whose gender aligns with their birth sex.

5. Female to Male/FTM — Someone who is transitioning from female to male, either physically (transsexual) or in terms of gender identity.

6. Gender Fluid — Like bigender people, the gender-fluid feel free to express both masculine and feminine characteristics at different times.

7. Gender Nonconforming/Variant — This is a broad category for people who don’t act or behave according to the societal expectation for their sex. It includes cross-dressers and tomboys as well as the transgender.

8. Gender Questioning — This category is for people who are still trying to figure out where they fit on the axes of sex and gender.

9. Genderqueer — This is an umbrella term for all nonconforming gender identities. Most of the other identities in this list fall into the genderqueer category.

10. Intersex — This term refers to a person who was born with sexual anatomy, organs, or chromosomes that aren’t entirely male or female. Intersex has largely replaced the term “hermaphrodite” for humans.

11. Male to Female/MTF — Someone who is transitioning from male to female, either physically (transsexual) or in terms of gender identity.

12. Neither — You understand this one: “I don’t feel like I’m fully male or fully female. ‘Nuff said.”

13. Non-binary — People who identify as non-binary disregard the idea of a male and female dichotomy, or even a male-to-female continuum with androgyny in the middle. For them, gender is a complex idea that might fit better on a three-dimensional chart, or a multidimensional web.

14. Other — Like “neither,” this is pretty self-explanatory. It can cover everything from “I’d prefer not to specify how I don’t fit in the gender dichotomy” to “My gender is none of your damn business, Facebook.”

15. Pangender — Pangender is similar to androgyny, in that the person identifies as a third gender with some combination of both male and female aspects, but it’s a little more fluid. It can also be used as an inclusive term to signify “all genders.”

16. Trans/Transgender — Transgender is a broad category that encompasses people who feel their gender is different than their birth sex—sometimes known as gender dysphoria. They may or may not choose to physically transition from their birth sex to their experienced gender.

17. Transsexual — Transsexual refers to transgender people who outwardly identify as their experienced gender rather than their birth sex. Many, but not all, transsexuals are transitioning (or have transitioned) from male to female or female to male through hormone therapy and/or gender reassignment surgery.

18. Two-spirit — This term refers to gender-variant Native Americans. In more than 150 Native American tribes, people with “two spirits”—a term coined in the 1990s to replace the term “berdache”—were part of a widely accepted, often respected, category of gender-ambiguous men and women.

Preparing for your “Leap of Faith”

Most of us are divided on the issue of being “special.”  On the one hand, we want to be unique, and on the other hand we want to fit in with the rest of the crowd.  The need to fit in dates back to our early tribal ancestors and is not to be taken lightly; if you were an outcast in those times you would not have survived. When we take the risk to come out, we are rubbing up against our primordial need to be loved and accepted by our clan.  We are risking exclusion.  Logically we know as adults that we have the means to survive without our families if needed, but it is nevertheless a scary step to take.  If we are still a youth, we may risk being kicked out of our homes, or bullied.  Even as adults we may be dependent on a husband or other caretaker that we now risk losing, particularly if we have been staying at home and watching the children for years. We may feel we won’t be able to provide for ourselves or our children sufficiently.

What can you do to develop multiple streams of support and take steps to grow your network of allies?

  • Reach out to gay people who you know and respect.  Ask if you can speak confidentially with them about your situation and ask what resources they found helpful when coming out.
  • You will likely be able to find a gay-friendly therapist in your area.  Social workers these days are trained specifically on issues of diversity and inclusion, which includes the LGBTQ community.
  • Find a support group.  In New York, Identity House offers coming out groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.   There is nothing as healing as being with other people who are going through the same thing as you.  You can laugh, cry and share your mutual struggles. I have also found internalized homophobia dissolves in the presence of a group of women whom you love and respect that are also coming out.
  • As a coach, I am here to talk if you need additional support.  I host an inexpensive and completely confidential Coming Out Group that meets in Brooklyn, New York, and am putting together a group via phone so women from anywhere in the United States can call in. Contact me at Jan@lifeaftertherapy.com if interested.

We do have to make a leap of faith to come out, but rather than rely on total trust that we “leap and the net will appear,” we can take steps to build a web of information, skills and support to make our landing pad soft.  Realize that just taking a few steps means you’re already on your journey–be proud of yourself for your bravery.

What is the antidote to the fear of being different?  Sharing your story with others who can relate. Relishing in the very differences that make you unique.  There is no one like you.  Share below what makes you unique and tell us your story!

In closing, I had a mixture of difficult times and great support when I came out. I was bullied in high school for it and the thing that kept me strong was knowing that I was helping to change the world.  By bravely stepping forward and claiming who I am, I was showing others that they could do the same. Teegan and Sara have released a new song on bullying, which I thought I would share. How will your coming out make things right?  How will it change the world?

Enjoy building your net!

Teegan and Sara

Oh Come all Ye Faithful: Grappling with Religion and Coming Out

Pope Francis made headlines and waves soon after he took office when he made the statement “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized.”  (The “they” he is referring to is of course homosexuals.)

It can be particularly challenging to come out if we have been raised in a religion that does not accept our sexual orientation.  In fact, it causes many of us to leave the religion in which we were raised as we no longer feel supported, accepted and nourished by it.  Even if we were not raised in a particularly religious family we cannot have lived in this world without being influenced in some way by religious belief.  We take heart however, that many (if not most) of the worlds religions seem to be evolving away from hatred and exclusivity into a more welcoming stance of love and inclusivity when it comes to sexual identity and orientation, as witnessed by Pope Francis and numerous churches now allowing gay marriages and even pastors.

The religions that are desperately trying to cling to the old way of thinking are afraid of change, and (IMHO) it is better to be understanding of this than angry.  Change can be very frightening for us all, and yet it is a necessity of life and is one of the most beautiful things about the world we live in; Imagine a world of caterpillars with no butterflies. Metamorphosis and growth are basic laws of the universe; it is built into our DNA.  For those drawn to fundamentalist religion, the world can be a tricky place to navigate since they must face many contradictions within their religious texts and explain many outdated (sinful) sounding passages that propose things like taking people from neighboring countries as our slaves and stoning a girl to death if she lives with her father and is not a virgin.  But for the fundamentalist, change is too scary to face, and we may just be the biggest lesson staring them in the face. Sometimes if human beings are not forced to change, we stay within our comfort zone.  Life within that comfort zone does not allow us to stretch and grow as we were meant to do.  We are here to explore, play and expand!

How does understanding all of this really help us if a relative or someone we are close to insists on using religion as a reason to condemn our lifestyle?  If we approach them with the attitude of wanting to change their belief system we will surely end up with much ramming of horns. The first question we must ask ourselves is “Do I accept myself completely?”  If we do not accept ourselves, then we cannot expect others to accept us, and so we must practice self-love before all else.  Next, we must practice allowing the other person to evolve at their own pace, and accept where they are in their journey.  By accepting our religious zealot friends and family we may find that they will eventually become less judgmental of us.

I would love to hear your stories of how you have dealt with religious oppression.  (Please respond below.)

In closing, from the spiritual perspective I often turn to Abraham Hicks as a resource.  This is amazingly powerful if you watch it through until the end (9 mins): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_c7NWWiUnk

Peace and joy to all this holiday season!

Jan