14 - Kelley MacDonald
Colorado Springs, CO
Social worker. Activist. Dreamer. Idealist.
Where do you identify in the LGBT community?
“You know, for a lot of my life - probably since I was in high school - I considered myself bisexual. I’ve had relationships with both women and men. But as I’ve grown and changed, I feel like I fall under Pan[sexual]. I would consider and/or be open to someone who is transgender MTF, FTM or a man who is bisexual. I would be open to anything at this point and I’m open and accepting of any…it’s more about the person than it is about the box. That’s how it always was. I think I really wasn’t aware of the term transgender when I was in high school, so I was just like, ‘I like both’. I call myself a ‘halfie’ sometimes when people ask. So Pan right now, but Bi in the past.”
With the infinite possibilities of gender identity and expression, when did you know?
“I was a child, maybe 5. I don’t know if it was a realization…I don’t know if I spent a lot of time thinking about it. I have an aunt who is a Lesbian and I remember my mom telling me... because I asked my mom ‘Why does Aunt Kathy not have a husband?’ and she said “Well she’s a lesbian...” and I was holding a bunch of pears in a grocery store and was like ‘Ahhhh!’ and it connected... I’m like her. I think I was probably maybe 10 or 11. So I had attraction and feelings for women and for men, for both sexes/genders at that point. It really dawned on me that it’s ok and accepted. So my family has always been very good and understanding and open. “Well, she’s a lesbian...” and then we just moved on. I was like, ‘Oh duh, that’s why Mary-Anne is there. That’s why they live together.’ It made everything connect.”
How old were you when you came out?
“17. I had a friend in high school who was out. She was bisexual at the time, and is now a lesbian. We went to PrideFest in high school. I was always an ally and considering, and I fell in love with her. I was afraid to tell her, and she emailed me. This was way back with black screen email. I was in college... I went to college early, and she was still in high school, she was a year younger. And she emailed me and said, ‘If you weren’t straight I would date you’. And it went off in my head, ‘I like you and I have feelings for you!” I called my mom from a payphone to tell her that I told [my friend] that I cared about her and have these feelings, and my mom was like ‘Well that’s wonderful!’ and was totally supportive of it. So, I dated that girl, Sara, for about a year into college. The relationship wasn’t super functional, so we ended up breaking up. The first person I wanted to tell was my mom because I knew she would be supportive. After the thing with my aunt and holding the pears at the grocery store, I knew it was OK. Grappling with, and I think that was the first time I was really attached to a person and had feelings for a person... rather than being attached to the female body or male body. You’re 17, you have all of these emotions, you’re becoming an adult... It was independence... and I had overwhelming feelings for her, but I didn’t know if she liked me. So when she told me she liked me, I was like ‘YAY!!’”
Any first crush that made you question your sexuality?
“Not really… When I was in high school, there was Lilith Fair with Sarah McLachlan, and Ani DiFranco, and Tori Amos and some other artists that were either identifying, had leanings, or were open with their sexuality... That really gave me a lot of energy, support and affirmation that what I was going to do and what I felt was ok. So when Sara and I spent time together we listened to the Fumbling Toward Ecstasy album, and it was very personal to us. And Indigo Girls... I guess the point is, there was a lot of music that was open and accepting and that was a part of the movement - the mid to late 90s movement. So, we went to Lilith Fair, and went to see the Indigo Girls…. we had all their albums. That was just a very big part of my life. K.D. Lang, Melissa Etheridge, Ellen even... Kind of knowing it’s there and being proud that they could come out and say it. Their music was about loving a woman... Their music was about those relationships and that connection, and it being ok. So, there was a lot of comfort in that, especially at that time.”
On fears or concerns about coming out…
“I wasn’t necessarily out at school. I had a friend that wore pride rings to school in high school. In college I was, because I was with Sara. I picked a roommate that I knew would be accepting so I wouldn’t have to deal with problems over Sara staying over, or me being on the phone with her and expressing affection towards her. I lived in Madison, WI, which was a super liberal town, so we could walk down the street holding hands. We went to PrideFest which was one of the few places I felt like I could be out, and who I was, and have affection. Sometimes you’d forget and do it anyway and think, ‘Oh who saw us?’
I think I told my dad after my mom, and they were like ‘We knew... we already knew…’. I’m really lucky that way, that I didn’t have a negative experience. Most of my friends knew and were accepting of who I was and what relationship I was in at that time. Even into college, I went to the 10% Dance... Which was the gay/lesbian dance that they had in Madison, and Sara would come. I think they did it 3 times a year. I’m lucky. I went somewhere that wasn’t super religious, and wasn’t super conservative... people were accepting. It’s obviously way more accepting now, so I can’t imagine the difference, if you were me… marriage and acceptance is so different. I think people sneered, and people made comments, and people probably said things behind my back but never anything to my face.”
Frustrations within the community?
“I think what’s hard for me is that I have had several relationships with women in my life, it hasn’t been in a long time though... So I don’t know that I feel as much of the community as I should because my last few relationships have been with men. When I was developing the curriculum [for LGBT therapy support/group] with a coworker, we really wanted people to be active, and say ‘This is who I am... I want you to accept me’ and feel empowered to do that. I feel like - especially in the trans community - it’s very hard for them to be out, and be who they are, and dress how they want because they don’t ‘look like a woman or man’, and they struggle with the pronouns and how people treat them... We were talking about Terf Lesbians, they are critical of allowing transwomen to be a part of the community. So, pretty much “Women Only” spaces, not allowing men who are transitioning to be women to be in those spaces because they’re not ‘truly women’... It’s called a Terf Lesbian. That’s going with the exclusivity within the community. We are a small community with people trying to be who they are, and we’re judging and excluding each other. That’s terrible. And I didn’t really know about that until I started doing the research. Why would people do that? We’re all somewhat in the same boat, but ‘You’re not enough…’ or ‘You’re too much…’ There’s a lot in the trans community, there’s a lot in the lesbian community.... And some even in the older part of the community… they are not accepting some of the non-binary, and the gender non-conforming and the switching and changing and depending on the day... and not being able to wrap their mind around that. And then there’s, ‘I’m not gay enough, because I’m not in a lesbian relationship…’ or ‘I’m not with a Trans Man…’ or whatever. So that’s a struggle. Not that I’ve really felt that from people in general, but that’s not part of what I lead with. I don’t lead with, I’m a proud Pansexual. I don’t lead with that because people are like, ‘Well what does that really mean?! You don’t get to choose. You’re either one or the other!’ And I’m not.... For me it’s always the person. And the relationship I’ve had with the person... and the physical attraction... You’re not attracted to every woman you see... And I’m not attracted to every man or woman I see... It’s more of, do I feel that attraction... that electricity.... romantically... sexually... and emotionally.... So, I’ve been all about the curriculum, and being activists, and attending events, and supporting the cause, but people are like ‘Well, what are you?’ And I’m like ‘Well... I’m kind of a halfie, in and out, back and forth…’ And to some people, that makes sense. You kind of have to make a stand though. It shouldn’t be like that, but I think it gets coupled with that each part of the spectrum is trying to figure out where they fit, and what everybody else is. Honestly, there are so many new words and labels and identifiers, and it’s hard to keep track of... So, if you’re an older lesbian, in a solid relationship, with a solid group of friends, and you go to PrideFest and there’s this newness, and you’re trying to be good and understand... but it’s foreign. They’re 19 and non-binary and gender non-conforming... There’re so many pieces to it, I feel like it gets lost. ‘Why can’t you just be a lesbian or a gay man? Why go in between?’
I think part of that is, the older part of the community is holding on to the historical struggle they’ve lived through... Before the dawn of time, let’s go back to the 60s when Gay and Lesbian rights started, and that movement had momentum. They’re like, ‘We were the ones saying ‘I’m gay… I love women!’ and all of a sudden there’s all of these people that are joining our struggle that don’t really get the struggle... Are you able to choose something one day, and something different a different day and jumping labels and boxes or whatever?’ ...There’s some of that. But there are people who don’t know who they are, and there are people who are going to figure it out and are going to change... and they’re allowed to. So, I think it’s that historical struggle. ‘Why can’t you just pick one?!’ And that’s an older person idea, and, I think, a learning curve for everybody. People aren’t as open minded despite being a Lesbian or Gay Man... that you can be Trans, and still be Gay…. It’s convoluted sometimes and I think people just want you to make a decision. That you don’t understand where ‘we’ came from. That’s a part of the lesbian community I would say…”
Advice for younger you, or for anyone who feels like they can’t come out?
“What I’d tell younger me... I guess just reaffirming that you can love who you want to love. I think at the point in time when I was a teenager, it was pick between men or women, or you can do both. What was hard was one of the women I dated was a Lesbian - no men, never wanted or had been with a man. There was a lot of ‘You’re going to leave me for a man...’. And I was like, ‘I love you, dude…’ (and not dude in a gender identity day). I’ve dated men since, who once I shared my past relationship history with, and it’s like the threesome thing comes up… eye roll. This isn’t about you.. this was about the love I had for somebody else, and it has nothing to do with a sexual act. So, I think being more strong about that. It’s ok to not have to choose. And maybe I felt like I needed to choose at different points and I couldn’t deny how I felt...
To others... There’s so much out there now. The Trevor Project... the internet... blogs... things to read... groups on Facebook. Don’t be afraid to reach out. We talk in our group, about the coming out process, and how you have the feeling inside (the one everyone knows) ‘I know that I’m different and this is what I like…’ Or ‘Feeling attracted to my best friend when I was a kid... or other little girls.’ Just know that there are people out there that are ready to wrap their arms around you, and talk to you, and support you, and affirm who you are. The whole environment is so different than it was 24 years ago. There’s so many opportunities, and I feel like people’s eyes are open enough... if you see enough about the mom’s supporting their trans kids and letting them dress how they want, all of it... Activism and Support. You can go out and Google what you want to know about... and there are lists and lifelines to call... places to be. You might have to wait until you’re 18, and leave them. We talk about finding a safe space in your house. So maybe you can go in your closet and you can look at things, or have things that speak to you and support you. If that means, if you’re trans, and you go in your room and there’s women’s clothing or men’s pants that you put on when you’re by yourself... There’re little ways to be who you are even if you aren’t able to be out with your family. There are resources, and I feel like kids need that. The Trevor Project is great if you’re questioning... Here in Colorado Springs, it’s Inside/Out Youth Services, and they have that drop in Rainbow Alley, in Denver. You can just come in and be... and they don’t tell your parents where you are. I would just seek out support... put feelers out... start looking at some of the things that are available. That strengthens you. You get one or two friends, or someone to talk to, and then you feel more solid and affirmed, and you can go out and do more things. I really want people to be active and activated ,and get out there and be part of the fight. Be a face, go to Chick-Fil-A and make out with your girlfriend, and then eat your chicken nuggets. Or protest and be vocal about why you’re protesting them. Go to the AIDS walk, go to Pride. Do something, be active. We need as many as can be out there.”
What in your life are you most proud of?
“That I have chosen a life and a helping profession, in general. I’ve had several youth that were out when I was a foster care worker... Supporting them and taking them to the LGBTQ resource center, and one went on a retreat... I’ve tried to do that throughout my life, because I really want to see terrible things go away. I want people to feel comfortable with who they are. I protest, I support. I think that’s the big part of my life that I’m proud of. Being able to do that at my job now. I helped with the curriculum of the LGBTQ+ support group. I wasn’t about to do the group because it turned into more processing because there’s so much trauma and things related to people’s story, so it had to go to a clinician, sadly, and it was really hard for me to give it up... But I know that it’s out there and I know that my coworker is making connections, and people are connecting to each other… and making relationships, and feeling supported, and feeling safe. I’m proud to have my LGBTQ+ safe space... I have a client who asked for it to be put in her chart that she only wants to work with people who are accepting. And I’m like ‘See my sign? Welcome!!’ So I feel like that’s been impactful.”
With the current state of the nation and the world, what’s one thing you would change if you had the power to?
“I would pull Trump out of office... Some kind of systemic change... The whole bathroom deal and taking away rights from…what’s the recent story? …the removing visas from same-sex diplomatic couples... The fact that he deleted the LGBTQ+ Whitehouse committee... I know it’s going to be that way for the next two years, but I would really want that to not be receded. It’s terrible... I can’t even imagine to look at my wife, if I had a wife, that our marriage would be illegal. After so far we’ve come. I feel like what will happen is, we’ll have another two years of terrible... and then hopefully we’ll come back with someone super liberal and super amazing... hopefully it will be a woman, and it will take some time to get it back! I can’t even watch the news or look at my Facebook feed... It’s terrible things every day... environmental, LGBTQ+, trying to get rid of healthcare... All my clients are on Medicaid, every single one of them, and they all have terrible health problems. I can’t imagine trying to face cancer without money, without insurance... They can’t even afford their $1 Co-Pays. HIV medication that is 7000% more than it was last year... Insulin... All of those terrible things. So, I would change him because that would help. Have him impeached. I thought that was going to happen, but I think that would change the world back a little bit. Two steps back. We took a lot of steps forward, like 20-30 steps forward [with Obama] and we’ve taken 60 back. It’s here every day... it’s guttural... its like pouring salt on an open wound. Rights are being eroded every day.... I see clients, straight or gay or whatever, having rights taken away... It’s real, you can touch it. If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention...”