HOW THE INTERSECTION OF RACE, GENDER, AND SEXUALITY INFLUENCES STEPHANIE BEATRIZ AS ROSA DIAZ ON BROOKLYN NINE-NINE

By Katie Swartwood
Katie graduated from the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College in May, 2019.

A Latina woman named Rosa Diaz stands before a Pictionary drawing pad; her card says “wedding.” Her black marker hits the paper, drawing two feminine stick figures holding hands. Her mother calls out a guess, “friends.” Rosa keeps drawing, adding a heart above the women’s heads. She yells out, “sisters.” Rosa frantically scribbles hearts all over the paper while her mother guesses, “business partners” and “co-owners of a chocolate shop.” Rosa frustratingly cuts her mother off to exclaim that it’s a wedding. She takes a deep breath before addressing her parents. She explains that she could either end up marrying a man, like her parents want, or a woman, because she is not simply going through a phase. She is bisexual. Her dad interrupts, “There’s no such thing.” Rosa assures them that bisexuality does exist because she identifies as such.

This scene if from Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s episode, “Game Night.” Over the years, this sitcom has proven itself to be a progressive comedy focused on highlighting social issues. Its diverse cast, which includes the Jewish main character, two Latina detectives, two African American men in positions of power, one of which is gay, an Italian assistant, and three white male detectives, has discussed topics like LGBT issues and police bias against African Americans. Despite its comedic center, Brooklyn Nine-Nine does not shy away from sensitive issues. In “Game Night,” the show combats a number of stereotypes and misunderstandings surrounding bisexuality.

When Rosa, played by Stephanie Beatriz, comes out to her parents it is in a turbulent scene in which her parents allude to the fact that they would be happier if she was a mistress in a heterosexual relationship rather than be in a romantic relationship with a woman. Before storming out, Rosa tells her parents that their worst fears have come true. She is in a relationship with a woman. Despite this conflict, her parents still invite her to family game night, giving Rosa hope that they will be accepted. However, her parents do not hesitate to bring up her sexuality. Her mother explains, “…No matter what you call yourself you still like men. So you can still get married and have a child.” When Rosa defends her sexuality, saying that she can do the same  with a woman, her father proclaims that she will do it with man because she is only going through a “phase.”

This scene is significant in a number of ways. For one, the show does not rely on a token LGBT character. Brooklyn Nine-Nine depicts multiple ethnic/gender/sexual identities. The fact that Rosa is in a female queer relationship is worth note. Historically, women’s homosexual relationships have often been overlooked. Judith Bennett in “The L Word in Women’s History” explains that as historians, “Most still see the past in heteronormative terms, closeting our thinking by failing to consider that the dead women we study might have been other than heterosexuals, other than wives, mothers, and lovers of men.” (1) Her article presents two critical mistakes historians tend to make when writing about the histories of women. The first is that historians often frame women in the context of their heterosexual relationships, instead of the lives of the women. 

The other issue historians face is interpreting subtleties that could indicated women participated in homosexual relationships. This is also influenced by cultural and societal understandings of women’s homosexual relationships. Although Bennett’s focus is on medieval women’s same sex relationships, she helps trace a historical ignorance towards such relationships. As she explains, since women’s homosexual relationships could not disturb bloodlines, i.e., result in a child, and if no phallic props were used, it was seen by some medieval writers and priests as less sexual and, thus, less sinful than other sexual relationships. (2) While she examines ideas that are several centuries old, I do not believe they are completely left in the past. For instance, sex is popularly defined in terms of men penetrating women Many people understand how heterosexual couples and male homosexual couples have sex, but when two women engage in sexual intercourse they are met with questions like “How do you have sex?” or “How do you lose your virginity?” 

This phallocentrism is important to recognizing the significance of depicting Rosa, a woman character engaged in a homosexual relationship, on mainstream television. While television has made great progress in creating dynamic LGBT characters, the focus has been on male gay characters. In their 2016-2017 “Where We Are On TV” report, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) found that gay men make up 49% of the LGBT regular or recurring characters on broadcast television alone, while lesbians make up only 17%, and bisexual characters rose 10 percentage points to 30%, with the majority of these characters presenting as female. (3) Additionally, their report helps illustrate how queer female characters struggle to remain in the story once they have been introduced. They found that more than 25 queer female characters were killed off since the beginning of 2016, often for no other reason than to further the story of the usually cisgendered, straight main character. (4) These statistics show the continued emphasis on male queerness while queer women are often overlooked.

Furthermore, it is important to look at Rosa’s representation as a Latina LBGT character on television. GLAAD reports that only 26% of women of color characters are Latina and only 6% are LGBT characters across five main broadcasting networks. (5) Rosa’s character is statistically uncommon, making her significant addition to the small screen. She has the ability to show queer Latina women that their stories are worth telling. Moreover, Rosa’s character does not sit on the sidelines on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Her involvement is important to plot lines since she serves as one of the main characters. Furthermore, alongside her other Latina co-star, she highlights that Latina women serves as more than maids or sex symbols. 

It is also worth noting that the actress who portrays Rosa, Stephanie Beatriz, identifies as bisexual herself. This is critical because while LGBT characters account for a minority of overall characters, the actors that play them are often cisgendered or straight. This fact that straight actors continually win awards for their portrayal of LGBT characters, while LGBT actors are not awarded for any roles. For example, no openly gay actor has been awarded an Oscar for Best Actor, while straight or cisgendered actors have won Oscars for playing queer characters. Having a bisexual actor portraying a bisexual character is essential because it allows for not only authenticity, but it also provides LBGT actors and actresses the opportunity to broadcast their talents. 

Stephanie Beatriz has spent six seasons on a popular show, playing a character that resembles herself. Something she explains as noticeably absent while she grew up. (6) This is not only in terms of race and gender, but also her sexuality. Beatriz actively engages with the media to discuss her struggles. She raised awareness for several issues she has experienced, such as diversity, disordered eating, and her sexuality. She came out via twitter, apparently before even telling her parents, who she explained were not as thrilled about her sexuality as the general public was. (7) This is a similar reaction that her character, Rosa, faced. Beatriz allowed her own experiences to direct her character, adding depth and credibility to Rosa on screen. 

Recently Stephanie Beatriz had the opportunity to portray another lesbian women of color on the small screen when she guest starred on Netflix’s One Day at a Time as Pilar. Pilar was a married, lesbian relative of the Alvarez family, the main focus of the show. On this episode Pilar served a role model for the young Elena, a Cuban-American who identifies as lesbian and dates her non-binary partner, Syd. In this episode, Elena clings to Beatriz’s character since she serves as a representation of someone similar to herself. This is why authentic representations of queer women on screen is essential. It allows young women to realize they are not alone, that other women like them exist, too. 


End Notes:

  1. Judith M. Bennett. “The L-Word in Women’s History.” In History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism. (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.), 109. 
  2. Judith M. Bennett. “The L-Word in Women’s History.”, 111. 
  3. “Where We Are on TV: GLAAD’s Annual Report on LGBTQ Inclusion ’16-’17,” GLAAD, 6. https://glaad.org/files/WWAT/WWAT_GLAAD_2016-2017.pdf 
  4. “Where We Are on TV,” 3.
  5. “Where We Are on TV,” 12, 18.
  6. Stephanie Beatriz, “On My Radar.” 
  7. Trish Bendix, “Stephanie Beatriz on Coming Out as Bisexual and Her Celebrity Crushes.” AfterEllen.com, August 10, 2016. http://www.afterellen.com/tv/498435-stephanie-beatriz-coming-bisexual-celebrity-crushes#1HAX6AxBiF3X42bU.99 

Bibliography:

Beatriz, Stephanie. “On My Radar: Stephanie Beatriz Shares Why Diversity On TV is Important.” Latina.com, August 6, 2016. http://www.latina.com/blogs/stephanie-beatriz/diversity-on-tv-latina-roles

Bendix, Trish. “Stephanie Beatriz on Coming Out as Bisexual and Her Celebrity Crushes.” AfterEllen.com, August 10, 2016. http://www.afterellen.com/tv/498435-stephanie-beatriz-coming-bisexual-celebrity-crushes#1HAX6AxBiF3X42bU.99

Bennett, Judith M. “The L-Word in Women’s History.” In History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

“Where We Are on TV: GLAAD’s Annual Report on LGBTQ Inclusion ’16-’17,” GLAAD. https://glaad.org/files/WWAT/WWAT_GLAAD_2016-2017.pdf

 

A Love Letter to Michelle Obama

By Hannah McCandless
Hannah is a second year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program at Sarah Lawrence College. 

Dear Michelle Obama, 

You’re a great writer. (I mean really, really good.) I think a lot of people ready your book and it filled them up in a way they didn’t know they needed. It did the same for me and sometimes I still go back to read a random chapter or two just because of the comfort of it. Though titled a love letter, this is more of an extremely positive book review of Becoming. (Now that I’ve written it, I can say this is less of a book review and more of a wow-what-a-great-book-I-am-still-processing review.) Don’t get me wrong, I totally love you, Michelle Obama. I am so very thankful that you are a person in this world. But folks gotta know about this book because at its core, it creates strength and hope in others. 

Becoming was a beautifully written reflection on a life, though nowhere near done, was well lived. Splitting the book into three sections, she captured her life development with herself, her life development with a partner and young children, and her life development with the country. This book, the first I have read for pleasure in a long time, I found refreshing, often reading chapters in between readings for class. 

The beginning of her life could be characterized as light. The love she had for her family, her family for her, and the memories she shared were all full of joy. Her mother, stern but understanding, was a driving force throughout. Her father, a man who dealt with MS and various other related health issues, was a mentor and role model she spoke of with high esteem. Her brother, her best friend and fiercest cheerleader from day one, was one of my favorite characters. His name was Craig and he was in so many ways the person who pushed Michelle to be a planner, but also someone who was highly ambitious. Her memories of her childhood neighborhood in Chicago make you miss home. 

Her childhood and young adulthood shaped her to be a woman who was well rounded, strong, determined, loving, ambitious, and so much more. Her education at Princeton and Harvard were shaped by her class and race in major ways which gave her a lens to view the world she did not have when she attended school in a relatively diverse elementary, middle, and high school. She was able to have a complex understanding of class at a young age and that understanding clearly followed her into the work she took on later. 

I remember the love story she described between her and Barack. Their first kiss after an ice cream date made me feel giddy, like I had just heard the story of a friend in middle school having her first kiss. Sometimes I wonder what love means, and I think, among other things, moments where everything melts away are moments of love. Feeling the affection and love of another and feeling like you can find a way to make anything work. As described by Michelle Obama, the love between her and Barack melted away any anxieties either of them had which helped them both become fuller versions of themselves. 

Michelle and Barack found a way to make their love work, much of their lives shaped by his own ambition. Their lives and loves overlapped in a way that allowed them to share values that supported social equity, but different enough that each of them found a sense of self in their own work. Their children brought great joy to them. Michelle’s story about having a miscarriage was powerful, showing women through the written word that it does happen, it is painful, and it is not your fault. Her reflections on motherhood were also meaningful, making me wonder and think about what I might someday be facing as a mother. I think her balance between work and parenting was realistic, and it was something that helped me see that life as something that could work and be meaningful for me as well. 

What ended up sticking out to me about the final set of chapters was how Michelle brought up events that I remembered. Listening to her reflect, I too was able to look back on various times in our country’s recent history where I felt broken and moved, joyous and inspired. Her reflections on these moments were meaningful and often brought me on the verge of tears. For her, I am thankful, because those reflections helped me to feel once again more connected and thankful to my country after feeling very disillusioned after the last election. This was a wonderful book and I am so glad I was able to find the time to read it. 

Please read it. It will hit you right in the feels (in a good way).

Matilda Hamilton Fee: Abolitionist Educator

By Hannah McCandless
Hannah is a second year graduate student in the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College. 

Having just returned from a period of exile in Ohio, Matilda Hamilton Fee was putting together the frame of a bed in her home when she heard the firing of cannons. Subjected to nearly four years without a house, moving from place to place in Ohio with her family, Matilda finally came home. The decision, spurred by Matilda and her husband John’s ongoing religious passion for building a coeducational and integrated school, was fraught with danger. In the heart of Eastern Kentucky, Berea College sat in a utopian settlement existing inside a donation of land from Cassius M. Clay. This land became the foundation of what is now a bustling college and small town. Situated in the hills of Madison County, Berea was just far enough away from any big cities to feel rural, but close enough to Lexington, Kentucky to hear the battles of the Civil War as they moved south. 

Matilda and her family fled Madison County in 1860 when her husband, Rev. John G. Fee, had been chased by a mob of 62 men out of Kentucky. A non-denominational Christian family with abolitionist values, the Fees started the long process of building Berea College from the ground up in 1853. By 1855, a small church building was raised and would be used for church services and school lessons. Initially opened as a school for primary through postsecondary education, the small schoolhouse was packed with a small and newly flourishing community. Today, the school stands as a haven for liberal arts education in Kentucky that is both high quality and free to those who attend the school. It’s history and founding are of great significance as it was the first college in the state of Kentucky, as well as the first college in the regional south, to allow black and white, female and male students to be educated together. 

Though Matilda Hamilton Fee was one half of the couple and team that took Berea College from a dream to a reality, she is wildly under written about in the school’s history and the town’s history. Born to the Hamiltons, a historically Quaker family, in 1824 in Bracken County, Kentucky, Matilda was grew up to convert to Christianity. Her religious convictions were the foundation for everything she did and believed. Her commitment to building community was seen in everything she did. From active involvement in the church and Women’s Temperance Union, to her organization of the community to clean up the cemetery and to shut down the local saloon, to her role as both a teacher and administrator within the school, Matilda was a powerhouse of a woman. Her work as the President of the first Ladies Board of Care, for example.  stands out as one contribution to the schooling of women which was likely used by other schools moving forward. 

Though often open about her opinions, she was soft spoken and feminine – many spoke highly of her kindness, gentle demeanor, and her flower garden as indicators of her femininity after her passing. Unfortunately, this correct but limited perception of her leaves much of Matilda’s courageous side in the dark. On one occasion, John was approached and surrounded by men on horseback with the intention of harming him. Matilda, a skillful rider, mounted a horse and blocked the men from hurting her husband numerous times before a rock was thrown at John. Though no major injuries came of this, and a judge ordered in the favor of John Fee on the grounds of free speech, the experience is one of many where Matilda pulls herself out of a traditionally feminine role and puts herself in harm’s way in order to protect her husband, family, and mission. 

In another instance, Matilda was forced to flee with her family over the Ohio River in the middle of winter, during which time she lost one of her sons to illness brought on by the cold. Later, when she was finally able to return to Berea, she came with just her and one of her sons. They returned while the Civil War raged on and Matilda ended up being separated from her husband and in Confederate occupied land for ten weeks. When challenged on her views about education and integration by a Confederate soldier, she responded with, “…as for politics, we are for the Union, and believe slavery is wrong, and that the rebels are fighting for a lost cause.” This is merely a glimpse into one instance of her bravery because these instances for her were more common than not. 

Matilda’s bravery is remembered most by her husband and is especially documented in his autobiography. Matilda did not leave much written word behind, forcing this historian to rely heavily on the words of her peers, which often painted a picture of a doting wife. Matilda was a wonderful wife and mother, and those roles were clearly important to her, but her role as a teacher and activist and rebel are overshadowed by a skewed history. A common saying I heard growing up was some variation of, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” I would argue that in the case of the Fees, and in countless other families, next to every great man stands an equally great woman. Matilda and John were a team. I encourage you to stop looking for the shadow of a man who has done great things and start looking for the partner standing next to him, because strength in the Fee home and mission laid within the strength of a team.

Set in a Bathroom: “Purity,’’ Race, Gender, and Sexual Prejudice in Bathrooms from 1887-Today

The distressed eyes of a young white woman pierce through the camera lens and into the hearts of thousands of North Carolinians. “It’s about privacy. It’s about safety,” she assures them. It is 2016. They are watching an advertisement generated by The Institute of Faith and Family in support of Governor Pat Cory’s Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act commonly known as HB2. The bill proposed that people be legally required to use the restroom that corresponds to their sex assigned at birth, rather than being allowed to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity. What the young actress may not know, though the sponsors are likely all too aware, is that the ladies’ bathroom is a space that was engineered for her privacy and her safety alone. It has served her and subjugated her simultaneously. For, wafting from inside the stalls, there lies a strange, sexist history of how and why they first slapped signs on bathroom doors reading “Ladies” and “Gents.” From that odorous origin story, there follows an even messier one. One in which these sex-segregated bathrooms have become battlegrounds through which the “purity” of cis-white women’s bodies are “protected.” All the while justifying and perpetuating fears of Black, gay, trans and non-binary people through the rhetoric of contamination and threats of sexual danger. This is a very abridged history of that bullshit.

In 1870, plumbing evolved enough for the idea of multi-stall indoor restrooms to become a reality. Bathroom segregation in the United States started soon after. In 1887, Massachusetts passed the first law titled Massachusetts Act 668 requiring factories to provide separate restrooms for women, leading the charge for forty other states to follow suit by 1920. (1) Two major shifts were underway. First, young, single, working-class women were beginning to flock to textile mills to enter the workforce. Second, middle- and upper-class women were beginning to organize for their rights. Both these entries into public space were a disruption to separate spheres ideology. Separate spheres ideology heralded the idea that a white woman’s natural purity and virtue was upheld and protected in the home, while a man’s masculinity was to be found in the workplace. (2) While stringent notions of gender roles were once loose philosophy, they became “scientific fact” once women began claiming a place in the workforce, on the podium, and at the polls. Darwin and other scientists began “proving” that gender differences were based in biology, and that women were “naturally” weaker. (3) The Massachusetts bathroom law was part of a larger set of labor laws meant to protect women’s “fragile” bodies through shorter work days, mandated rest periods, and laws that prohibited women from taking certain jobs that were deemed as dangerous. (4) Nancy Cott explains in her article, “Passionlessness, An Interpretation of Victorian Sexual Ideology,” that in addition to being viewed as ‘fragile,’ women were also seen as “passionless” and “morally superior” to men. This idea satisfied both men and women because it afforded women a place in the workforce while allowing men to maintain their dominance. Men viewed women’s purity as something to be protected. (5) 

It was this ideology that ushered the concept of “the ladies room” into public space. The bathroom was only one of many lady specific spaces that emerged in the middle to late 19th century that re-inscribed differences in gender. These spaces were largely middle-class inventions that helped women ensure their protection and respectability as they ventured into metropolises. (6) They included ladies reading rooms, photography studios, hotel parlors, and railroad cars. (7) 

 Not all women, however, were considered “ladies” or welcome in these spaces. In 1884, famed journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells was kicked off a ladies’ railroad car because being Black disqualified her from the definition of “lady.” (8) As historian Eileen Borris argues, historically, definitions of “womanhood” and “manhood” have not been race neutral. Mythological stereotypes have pointed to Black women’s innate impurity and immorality such as the “uncleanly” or “lascivious” Black woman. (9) The myth of the “Black male rapist” is a particularly violent construction that was used to justify the widespread lynching of Black men during reconstruction. (10) While white women used the idea that they were “pure” to claim access to the workplace and public space, they wielded these racialized, gendered stereotypes to position Black people as a threat to their bodily virtue.  

  Fast forward half a century to when the job market was racially integrating during World War II. White women used sharing toilets with Black women to attempt to keep them out of the workforce. In 1943, Atlanta segregationists tried to prevent the opening of regional offices for the Fair Employment Practices Committee by refusing office space to the bi-racial staff members who would be using the building bathrooms that were shared with other federal agencies. Later that year, two hundred workers participated in a strike at the Baltimore Electrical Plant over toilet integration, citing that sharing toilets with Black women would make them vulnerable to venereal diseases, which they claimed Black women were more likely to carry. In 1944, Chevrolet Motors hired four Black women. Six white women protested using the same script. 

These gendered, racialized stereotypes seep again from the septic tanks during Jim Crow segregation in the late 1950s and 1960s. Parents used similar arguments to resist the integration of Central High School, stirring fears about the intimate proximity of children’s black and white bodies. In the 1970s, in what was known as “the Potty Parable” arguments against the Equal Rights Amendment were formed from fears that it would allow Black men access to women’s bathrooms. But anti-ERA advocates did not just rest on their resistance to the bill on racist rhetoric. They upheld notions of sexual difference and separate spheres ideology citing the dirt and defilement women would be vulnerable to if forced to share bathrooms with men.  Integration of the sexes, integration of the races, and threats of homosexuality all got spun up into the tornado of immorality they claimed would inevitably destroy the American family. (11)

Sheila Cavanagh argues in Queering Restrooms that “gender impurity” is the discord between gender identity and how the body is interpreted that is policed as profane in order to keep a conception of “gender purity” intact. Bodies that don’t fit our conception of what a “pure” gendered-body looks like – Black bodies, queer bodies, non-binary bodies, trans bodies – have been positioned as threats. Today, anti-trans rhetoric spouts that if people are allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender, or if we do away with gender-segregated bathrooms that enforce a binary, women will be more vulnerable to sexual assault. These are statistically unsupported claims. Instead, trans and non-binary people, especially those of color, are at much greater risk of violence and harassment in bathrooms. (12) But people continue to place stock in the idea that cis-white women are at risk because it supports a narrative that has existed in various permutations for a long time. It is a narrative that has been architected into the bathroom. Dismantling that architecture means breaking down this narrative tile by tile and examining how these claims to protection form the grout which upholds structural dominance and continues to justify discrimination. 


 

  1. Terry S. Kogan, “How did public bathrooms get to be separated by gender in the First Place?” The Conversation, March 21, 2016. https://theconversation.com/how-did-public-bathrooms-get-to-be-separated-by-sex-in-the-first-place-59575
  2. Ibid. 
  3. Jerry Bergman, “Darwin’s Teaching of Inferiority” Institute for Creation Research, March 1, 1994. https://www.icr.org/article/darwins-teaching-womens-inferiority/
  4. Terry Kogan, “Sex Separation in Public Restrooms: Law, Architecture and Gender” Michigan Journal of Gender and Law. 14, no. 1 (2007). 
  5. Nancy Cott, “Passionlessness: An Interpretation of Victorian Sexual Ideology, 1790-1850” Signs 4, no. 2 (Winter, 1978): 232, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3173022. 
  6. Lynne Walker, Vistas of Pleasure: Women consumers of urban space in the West End of London 1850-1900, in WOMEN IN THE VICTORIAN ART WORLD 79 (Clarissa Campbell Orr, ed. 1995) , 86 as cited by Kogan, Sex Separation, 29.
  7. Kogan, Sex Separation, 28.
  8. James West Davidson, They Say: Ida B. Wells and the Reconstruction of Race. (Oxford: Oxford University Press,  2007), 67. 
  9. Eileen Boris, “You Wouldn’t Want one of ‘Em Dancing with Your Wife: Racialized Bodies on the Job in World War II” American Quarterly, Vol.50, No.1 (March,1998), 81 https://www.jstor.org/stable/30041600. 
  10. Angela Y. Davis “Rape, Racism and the Myth of the Black Male Rapist.” in Women Race & Class (New York: First Vintage Books, 1983), 185. 
  11. Donald Matthews and Jane Sharon DeHart, Sex, Gender, and the Politics of the ERA:A State and the Nation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 166. 
  12. Toilet Training: law and order (in the bathroom) directed by Tara Matai (Sylva Rivera Law Project, 2003). 

 

On Queer Love

Written by Mia Jiménez (they/them/theirs)
Mia is a Sarah Lawrence College undergraduate student and will graduate in May, 2020 with a focus in Writing and Literature. 

I was a gawky-bodied sixth grader when my friend told me I should have a crush on a boy named Quinton. I saw him in the hallway with his big freckled smile and a mop of brown curls on his head. He seemed normal to me. I continued my crushes on mean boys named Will or Justin. In eighth grade, I had a handful of classes with Quinton, and this is when I actually began talking to him. He was super sweet, he was funny, and was one of those popular kids who was kind to everyone without needing a reason to be. I remember sitting next to him in a bunch of classes and the comfort in so easily finding a friend in him. I was so used to boys needing some reason to even give you attention at all. By that time, they were already asking me for nudes, or wanted to keep me up at night on Aim trying to guess who they had a crush on. (Instant messenger, anyone?) All of a sudden, there was this nice, really cute boy, who would joke with me about how ridiculous a group of girls were acting or help me on the math homework during study hall or pretend to look over my shoulder when I was doodling. When I think about these things now it’s so clear to me that my liking/longing was in having a male friend who was just sincerely a nice person.

Quinton made fun of how obsessed I was with Justin Bieber and drew mustaches on the pictures I’d tape all over my folder. I was really into writing long notes to my friends and once – after I probably annoyed him very much into doing so – he wrote me a full page-long note! (Literally, a sweetheart!!!) Now when I think about it, I had friends at the time who really did the exact same, but they were girls. I held girls to the standard of being nice while I didn’t expect the same from male counterparts. A girl could have kissed me on the cheek and I would’ve thought it was them being nice. But if a boy so much as said hi to me in the hallway, I would daydream about them. Would they be okay with the fact that my family wasn’t a family reunion-having/lake house-owning kind of family? Did their last name make my first name sound better? (A racial/socioeconomic lens for a whole other essay.) So of course young me, raised on Taylor Swift and suburbia, thought this meant I was head over heels for this guy.

The crush on him was the crush I had on the pretty girls who played traveling soccer and had perfectly curled hair – I so badly wanted to be friends with them. I wanted them to want me around! I saw it as approval. If they wanted to be around me or laugh at my jokes, it meant that I was good or interesting or worth someone’s time. 

Fast forward a bit, and teenage me made my feelings known on many embarrassing and obvious occasions through the years (YEARS, oh my god) which he always handled so kindly, and knowing how sensitive I was, I retroactively thank him for letting me down easy. There’s a reason why I’m digging through my middle school closet: I’m in my third year of college and in the past year especially, I’ve learned so much about the complexities of my queer identity, and how my crush on Quinton, specifically, informed my understanding of my own identity. 

I identify as queer; I’m a genderqueer person who has crushes on everyone, but I can pretty much visualize myself in a serious relationship with anyone but a cis-man. 

In the past year, I met a girl who changed everything I thought I knew about love. As soon as I saw her, I knew this crush was different. I still can’t really explain how I felt it from the beginning. I just knew that I didn’t want to mess this up, whatever “this” was. The more our relationship grew from texting, flirting, and eventually hooking up, to actually telling each other things that were under the surface, I got really scared and retreated into myself more than a few times. I have a few people in my life who I refer to as ex-es, but none in retrospect were given what they needed to be secure relationships. They were on-again, off-again flings that made me feel awful about asking for love. Whether it was time or distance or being open, I realized that being with Sarina was the first time I was experiencing a relationship that I could share and was allowed to feel safe in. I was (am) an equal.

It would dawn on me when I was flying to her city instead of my own with not even the slightest fear that she’d flake on me. When we were going out and her friends had already heard about me, I wasn’t surprised. I was more concerned with wanting to be liked by them. This wasn’t even nearly something I’d dealt with before, and here I was, anxiety meds in my overnight bag, putting more faith in someone than I ever had before and not only coming out unscathed, but really happy. Besides the obvious difference of feeling a whole new feeling in my tummy when we kissed, there were so many other reasons I realized that this safe feeling of love was something I was searching for all before. She makes fun of the way I peel a grapefruit, and I make fun of her for wearing one pair of pants. She also buys my favorite snacks when I’m staying at her place for the weekend, and I pack her favorite baseball hat when she forgot to throw it in her suitcase. Love is many things, and the one I fall for every time is simply paying attention. 

I didn’t know it was possible to be with someone and not have an anxiety attack before every time you were going to see them. To be able to voice my fears, to talk and not worry about being boring, to ask her to wake me up with a FaceTime call and never feel like I was asking for too much, to tell her about the time I cried while walking alone at night and not making it a big deal. Through queer love, I am no longer hunting for the permission to be myself.  

I guess this is all to say that I probably went through more heartache than necessary in trying to call things “love” for people who made it seem so difficult to reciprocate. The security and warmth I feel from Sarina echoes back to a crush I had when I was thirteen, and a sweet boy who was probably the only crush I had on a boy that made me feel this specific way. A lover isn’t just cute. They take you with your rambles and confusions and weird obsessions, they tease but listen, and like my imaginary friend Carly Rae Jepsen says, they “make time for you.” 

My Racing Stripes Are Rainbows

Written by Emma Coakley
Emma graduated from the University of Louisville in 2016 with degrees in Anthropology, Political Science & Sustainable Agriculture. Emma is now working at Scheller’s Fitness & Cycling in Louisville, Kentucky.

I will never forget the first time someone called me a lesbian to bully me in middle school. A few boys would ask me why I never had a boyfriend and would scoff at me, my unshaven legs, unibrow, plaid shorts, and loudly exclaim, “Emma is a lesbian. Have you even kissed a boy?” Truth be told, I had not, but I was determined to never be the “lesbian” they thought I was. It became a dirty word. Throughout middle and high school I tried my hardest to like only boys. I put myself through abusive relationships with boys to show my middle school bullies I was not the masculine “dyke” I now take pride in sometimes presenting as. Ignoring the feelings I had for more than one woman I knew in both high school and college, I put myself through hell so I could perpetuate the perfect student-athlete-straight-A’s-straight-girl lifestyle. I did not want to be at the table where the queer kids sat in high school. People were ruthless to them. I convinced myself that was not me. I stuck in my identity as ‘athlete’ and their jabs wore off over time.

I have always been and will always be an athlete. Competition is in my bones and fire is in my heart. You cannot let stray thoughts about gender identity and who you are attracted to get in the way of athletic goals. In today’s society, getting lost in figuring yourself out can suck you away from the sport(s) you love. So I pretended. I pretended some more, I pretended through a successful high school swimming career and partially through a collegiate swimming career. I know I am not the only one who was pretending, but it was not quite acceptable to like girls in such an intimate setting as sports in a state like Kentucky. I was lucky to have a few teammates let me know that not being straight was okay. I finally outed myself to many people I knew my last year in college after nearly a decade of knowing and cowering from the truth.

Fast-forward a few years into adulthood. I now compete as a triathlete and cyclist. It is an exciting new challenge. This year I had the opportunity to represent Team USA at the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Triathlon Championships in Pontevedra, Spain. At the start of the year, the ITU decided to add in its bylaws that flags depicting “sexual orientation” were not allowed at any ITU race. I was happy to see many athletes criticizing this ban, but severely underprepared for the amount of fellow triathletes agreeing with the ban. In my queer eyes, the ITU wanted to rid the competition of rainbow flags. Our identities were being erased as queer athletes. If we had a rainbow flag at a race, we would risk disqualification. In my bags packed for Spain, I made sure to include a Philly pride flag. If my community was at risk of being erased at an international level, I would make sure that we would still be seen.

Fortunately the ITU reversed their decision on a ban of flags depicting orientation at ITU events mere days after first releasing it. However, their decision and reversal still set a dangerous precedent. I do not want to speak on behalf of all athletes identifying as LGBTQ+, but attempting to ban rainbow flags feels like an absolute attack on us. We do not feel welcome or celebrated. Because of this, I brought my flag anyway. I planned to run across the finish line of my first Cross Triathlon World Championships shrouded in rainbows. Representation is ridiculously important for marginalized communities. If I did not have teammates in college and coworkers to look up to and feel safe with, I could still be unhappy and ashamed to be queer. There would be countless cases of people ashamed and closeted because they saw no representation, no people like themselves. Maybe some way, somehow a triathlete somewhere would see a rainbow flag running across an ITU finish line and realize that loving who they love is okay.

In 2019, there are A LOT of “out” athletes that are paving the way for the rest of us amateurs. Of these athletes, most are white and most are cis-gender. Our society still upholds whiteness and cis-genderness as the epitome of the American athlete. We have such a long, uphill battle ahead of us in not only leveling the playing field but getting the fear-based hate out of people’s hearts. It is more integral than ever to make safe spaces for queer athletes, trans athletes, and LGBTQ+ athletes of color. They must know they are loved and accepted. They must know that so many people look up to them. They must know so many people see them. Our voices must be elevated, and those of us with greater privilege must elevate those voices with less. As Pride month winds down and the glitter stops falling, we must still continue to rise up against hate and educate as best as we can. We do not stop being queer at the end of June. We are queer all year round. This is such a pivotal point in history that it is imperative we choose the right side. Love is the right side. Love is love, after all.

Dismantling Internalized Homophobia

Written by Logan Adams
Logan graduated from Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Kentucky in 2018 with a degree in Human Services and Counseling. Logan is currently serving at a local non-profit in Louisville, KY.  

“Hey, do you want to march in the Louisville Pride parade with me?” After reading this text a few weeks ago, panic and shame ensued. My friend who works at a local coffee shop was marching the parade and stated she was allowed to bring a friend. This thought of openly and proudly proclaiming my LGBTQ+ identity made my internalized homophobia spike to an all time high.

Growing up in the Bible Belt, it was instilled in me that any identity outside of straight and cisgendered was something to feel shame for due to it ultimately not lining up with my family’s deep-seated belief in God. This ideology consistently permeated all spheres of my life as my family attended a very devout Southern Baptist church and I was enrolled in a private Christian school. Around my high school years, I began to notice my pastor stating all sins were equal, but I noticed him spending more time exhorting those who were homosexual and engaging in premarital sex. I knew that I was homosexual around the age of 14, but I knew that I could not say anything due to fear of being kicked out of my house, retaliation from my private high school (as they had previously kicked out students who openly identified LGBTQ+), and social isolation. Since I was not able to confide in anyone and having poor coping mechanisms, I began to internalize the feelings of shame and hatred for my truest self. I played out many scenarios in my head of how “perfect” my life would be if I could openly state that I was homosexual, date other men, and enjoy learning and participating in my culture. I longed for those scenarios to materialize so that my I could let all facets of myself flow freely and without fear of judgment.

Looking back now, I remember how I yearned for time to pass so that I could openly proclaim something I knew to be true. Even though I longed for a feeling of authenticity, I knew that I could not continue living in a state of taking for who I am. The shame I internalized through being so deeply entrenched in the cycle of attending church and negativity regarding the LGBTQ+ community in my social spheres. This shame started to take root in my mental space. This feeling took hold in the form of changing the pitch of my voice when around certain people, not wearing the types of clothes I wanted to due to fear of social judgement, and not speaking up in conversations regarding LGBTQ+ rights. I began to sort through this overwhelming sense of shame through journaling. I journaled about how I felt, why I felt, and how my upbringing ultimately played an incalculable factor in my ignominy. I vividly recall a conversation with a professional mentor where we were talking about our upbringing not defining who we are currently. She stated that the only way one can truly do this is through comparing and contrasting our beliefs versus the beliefs we were raised see as true. She stated, “If you say, ‘I believe this just because I do,’ it’s not a real belief.” After that meeting, I really began to contemplate if what I believed, regarding sexuality, was true for me or just true because that is all I had known. I eventually landed in the mental space that there is no shame needed. No shame automatically attached. No shame inherently given. While there is some amount of societal shame in identifying as LGBTQ+, how much we internalize, perpetuate, and permit it to inhibit us is within ourselves.

I have slowly and painstakingly been attempting to rid myself of the shackles known as internalized homophobia. By no means has this sense of shame been completely vacated from my mind and heart, but it is just not as loud. When one is continually fed information about who they are fundamentally is wrong for nearly 20 years, that sense of shame and self-hatred does not go away overnight. I equate it to playing an instrument. You start off slowly; learning techniques and fundamentals. You start to implement these skills to improve performance. You soon enough to get to a point where you master the simple steps and it’s no longer a thought and your muscle memory comes ones. I suggest you look at it through this lens. To pick up small skills to decrease this sense of shame and work to strengthen them so that inner voice of self-doubt slowly diminishes until it’s a mere whisper. It has not come easy, but it has proved to be more useful than anything else. It has been long nights of quiet contemplation, intense conversations with family, or simply journaling. If you are reading this and finding this is your struggle, too, I implore you to rid yourself of internalized shame through positive self-talk, motivation, and connecting to fellow LGBTQ+ folks.

Happy Pride Month!