A strong crowd of about forty gathered in the Multi-Cultural Center last Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m for Ask a Queer! Night. This event was put on by the University of Redlands Pride Center interns Crystal Marshall ’17, Tommy Thomsen ‘17, Chandler Talbott ‘18, Anna Rusignuolo ’19, Komz Muthyalu ‘20, and Joshua Martinez ‘20.
The purpose of the event was for people to come and ask a panel of University of Redlands students that identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, etc. (LGBTQ+) questions that they might be afraid to ask in a different setting. The environment was meant to be a safe and non-judgmental space to have these questions asked, answered and respected. The people who attended the event wrote questions and placed them in a box to ensure anonymity in case someone felt uncomfortable asking questions.
Marshall conceptualized this event when she was discussing ways to bring something new and controversial to campus with her mom.
“I ran with it,” Marshall said.
The panel consisted of six people. They each shared their identities and coming out stories.
Talbott, a Pride Center intern, comes from a religious background and identifies as lesbian, fluid or queer and uses the gender pronouns she, her, and hers. She started figuring out her identity as she first noticed that she found girls attractive in middle school, but realized that she was attracted to them in high school. She received a lot of hate from her family. While she identifies as a lesbian, she shared that she would not mind having sexual relations with men.
Dominic Ravina, ‘18, identifies as trans-masculine, queer, and intersex and uses the gender pronouns he, him, and his. He first felt as if he was queer in middle school, but was not completely sure until high school. This was hard for him because he went to an all girls’ Catholic school. He shared that his parents do not accept him.
Erika Ruiz, ‘17, identifies as an agender girl, demi-romantic, demi-sexual, poly-sexual, but is not interested in men and uses the gender pronouns she, her, and hers and they, them, and theirs. Their coming out process happened over time. Ruiz went to a Catholic school and did not feel they had a space to explore their identity. They came to terms with their identity in high school and explained that it was a continuous process.
Julie Donohue, ‘18, is the co-president of the campus club Listening and Understanding Sexuality Together (LUST). Donohue identifies as bisexual and uses the gender pronouns she, her, and hers. When she first realized she was attracted to women, it was hard because she was in a relationship with an unsupportive boyfriend. Since then, she has had supportive partners. When she first told her family she was interested in women, they believed she was a lesbian. Later, when she was in a relationship with a man, her family dismissed her interest in women as a “phase.” The concept of her being attracted to both men and women was hard for them to understand.
Denger, ‘20, shared that they struggle with depression and anxiety and identifies as bisexual and gender-flux and uses the gender pronouns they, them, and theirs. Denger did not question their sexual identity until their last year of high school. They were a regular at a Starbucks, where they began to take notice of a barista. They did not realize their attraction to the barista until they dressed up one day, only to be disappointed and find that the barista was not there. They figured out their gender identity about a month ago when they realized they sometimes like and sometimes hate having breasts.
Sketch Mead, ’17, also shared they have mental illnesses and autism, which affects how they conceptualize gender. They identify as non-binary, gender-fluid, trans, asexual, aromantic, and bisexual and use any gender-neutral gender pronouns. They described realizing their sexuality as: “Arriving fifteen minutes late with Starbucks.” They did not identify any terms with their identity before high school because they had none; they just knew they felt uncomfortable with the terms given to them. When their friend came out to them in high school, they realized there is more to the gender and sexual identity than the binary.
The night began with the panel explaining their definitions of specific gender and sexuality based terms. Denger explained that to them, gender-queer was more like switching between masculine and feminine. Mead chimed in, saying that gender-fluid is like the color picker in Photoshop. There are a variety of colors that blend together; there is not just one solid color, much like gender.
Ravina was asked what intersex meant, and he explained that while some have ambiguous genitalia, in his individual experience he was assigned female at birth but felt his identity differed. When he started taking hormones, the doctors required Ravina to have a blood test and determined that he has a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. This occurred because his body was producing more testosterone than a biological female does.
Ruiz described their demi-sexual experience as, “Sorta.” They expanded, telling the audience they only feel sexual attraction when they form a strong bond with a person. Mead explained that identifying as asexual meant they did not experience sexual attraction to anyone.
They each defined what queer actually meant to them. Everyone on the panel shared that to them, being queer meant their gender identity or sexuality did not fit in with the gender binary. Mead explained that the term has been used as hate toward the LGBTQ+ community before, and it was important to them to reclaim it and use it as a way to self-define, as a way of of active empowerment.
When asked if any of them had ever felt unaccepted in the LGBTQ+ community, many of them said yes. Donohue said that being bisexual, she received judgment from her gay uncle for being attracted to both boys and girls. Denger agreed, saying there is pressure from some in the community to “pick a side.” Mead explained that when they came out as asexual and bisexual, they received online hate telling them they could not be both. Talbott said that society is trained to label everything, and when those labels are broken, some are made to feel uncomfortable about it.
The night ended with the question, “How can I be a good ally?” Talbott said to not discriminate and do not voice any negative opinions. Dominic said be open-minded. Ruiz told the audience to not take center stage, let the LGBTQ+ community shine and stand-up to people that are being bullies. Denger said to come into conversations looking to understand, not to argue. Mead shared a saying they heard in elementary school: “We have two ears and one mouth.” They want allies to listen more than talk. In the end there was one thing agreed upon among all panelists: do not be afraid to get educated.
[photos courtesy of Blair Newman]