Gay, not lesbian

Lindsey Norris, Louisville, Kentucky

What does the word queer mean to you?

To me, it’s an umbrella for anyone who does not identify as heterosexual.

How do you identify? Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything at all?

I identify as gay, just because that describes that I am interested in people of the same sex, but I could also identify as lesbian or queer. I am most comfortable with gay because it’s what I’ve always identified as. When I was growing up, people just said we were “gay,” I didn’t hear lesbian very often. Sometimes people are like “you’re not gay, you’re a lesbian” and I’m like “no, I can identify however the fuck I want to.”

I am fine with being called a lesbian, but I hate being told that I’m not gay, I feel like that’s an identity that I can, and do, claim. At first I said I was bisexual because I was still trying to figure it out and I felt like other people might be more comfortable with the idea of me being bisexual than me being gay. I think being bi-curious/bi-sexual was more accepted because it was, and still is, sometimes, more fetishized and objectified.

What matters most to me about how I identify is that people realize I’m
exclusively attracted to women, and they aren’t using a derogatory term. Like dyke, I would not want a straight person to call me that, but I’d be okay if another queer person called me that jokingly.

It really depends on who’s saying it and how words like “dyke” and “homo” can be
friendly or they can be meant to hurt.

Where are you originally from? What has been your experience growing up and/or living in Kentucky?

I am from Louisville, Kentucky. For the most part my experience has been good. I am a white, privileged female who grew up in the South. But, as a gay female growing up in Catholic schools, that wasn’t the easiest but it also wasn’t the hardest. When I said I was a bisexual, some people took that negatively. A lot of people just didn’t accept it. So I chose to conceal it. But, when I came out in college, most people accepted it. I felt free to be myself.

When I was 19 or 20 I started to get more involved in the LGBT community and realized that there are lots of people like me. Which there were in high school too, at least some, but they were ostracized or not out. I grew up in Fern Creek and felt more able to come out to my friends in my neighborhood than in my school. I told my parents I didn’t want to go to Catholic school, they said I could go to Male, but there was a waiting list, so I couldn’t go. I was popular at Catholic school. I had a lot of friends, but if I’d have gone to public school, I know I’d feel a lot more comfortable being myself sooner.

I still feel some prejudice because of my identity, here in Louisville. I work with kids and a parent said that they didn’t want me working with their child because I’m gay. I definitely feel prejudice here. Not that often, but it’s still there. I feel it less than I thought I would when I was a teenager. I was a little scared of how I’d be treated, but my family, especially my mom, really worried how people would view me and that scared me even more.

Me coming out to other people helped me, and my parents, see that most people don’t care. I am a therapist, and so there are boundaries with my clients, but I’ve chosen to share my queer identity with people no matter what their beliefs are, no matter what they’ll think of me. I don’t share tons about my personal life but I do share that I’m gay, because if I choose to hide it, that’s telling myself that it’s something that needs to be hidden.

What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity?

No matter who you are, no matter who you identify as (not just sexuality, but all aspects of your identity), there will be people who support you and people who hate you. Depending on your community, it could be harder or easier. Hopefully every person can find at least one support person or community, whether it’s online or whatever. With that support, each person should figure out for themselves what they need to do. It’s my hope that everyone can choose to not hide their identity, but I also recognize the importance of hiding or not disclosing your identity for safety reasons or because you don’t want to or don’t feel ready.

How does your own identity affect how you carry yourself? Or does it?

For the most part it doesn’t, but in some ways I feel like I carry myself with more pride because I’m gay. For anyone who has a marginalized identity, they face some discrimination. With that, I think comes a heightened sense of pride. Pride for an entire community really. I’ve learned to be proud of who I am. Sometimes I feel like I need to prove myself. Like I am gay, but I do great work, as a therapist and with kids. I’m proud of myself, and so I want even the people who don’t like me or approve of me to like me and recognize my good work.

It’s hard because I am conscious that people sometimes see me differently, but that makes me even more proud of myself. I know I don’t have to prove anything, but I still want to.

What issues do you see in the queer community? What do you think would solve those issues?

The whole “gay vs. lesbian” terminology is problematic. We need to accept each others

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
I don’t feel excluded, but I happen to have made friends with people who are heterosexual. Out of my close friends, probably two-thirds happen to be straight. Not that there’s anything wrong with seeking friends who are in the queer community, but I just haven’t really done that. It probably is harder to meet women if I’m hanging out with mostly straight people, and sometimes I feel like I’m missing out.

A lot of my straight friends will come to events like Pride with me, which feels
good because I have support and I’m not alone.

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)?

With my friends and family. And at work, actually, we have a great community that feels like family. Sometimes I go into work on the weekends, just because I feel comfortable being there.

Who influenced the life you live now?

This might sound like an annoying answer, but everyone. I think everyone around me has influenced me, whether I knew them for a long time or not so much. Teachers, fellow students, people who have supported me, people who were just jackasses and showed me who I didn’t want to be, random acquaintances. Everyone I’ve met has influenced who I am now.

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