Meet: Karen

Welcome to another Facebook conversation. Meet Karen–a lesbian, the creator and editor-in-chief of Rebellious Magazine for Women, a daughter (not mine), and a friend (mine). She is many things…and, apparently, she has more fun than I do.

Jessica

Thanks again for doing this! You can decide after if you want to use your real name–I’d rather it not be a hindrance (not sure how “out” you are about all your opinions, etc.)

Karen

I’m fine using my real name now, actually. It’s part of my liberation.

Jessica

When did you first realize you were a lesbian?

Karen

I had my first inkling in high school, but I kinda shrugged it off, frankly. I convinced myself that all girls thought of other girls that way. Umm, yeah. I managed to keep on shruggin’ through college, and I didn’t fully come out until after college.

Jessica

So, do you think you were “born that way” so to speak?

Karen

Absolutely. This isn’t a choice I made. To me, the only choice was embracing who I really am.

Jessica

Do you remember the moment when you decided you couldn’t keep shrugging it off?

Karen

For me, personally, that moment came after a particularly disastrous date with a man, and I thought, “Who am I kidding here?” I think I viewed dating men as doing some kind of due diligence to rule them out. I didn’t date men much at all before coming out, and I felt obligated to give them a fair shot. Check.

I came out to my closest friends first, and they all had pretty much the same reaction: Duh. For months, I wasn’t out to anyone in my family, except my brother, or to my coworkers.  

Then I went to a convention for black gays and lesbians and I had a blast. It felt great to be out, open and surrounded by people who looked like me and understood me. The convention was at McCormick Place, which is MASSIVE, and on the last day, a local black gay journalism group met right across the hall from us. My cousin was a member of the group, and I was petrified that she’d see me. I hightailed it into a ballroom and hid. Then a friend came and found me, and she looked so confused/disappointed in me that I made a decision that I never wanted to hide again. I never ran into my cousin that weekend, but I started telling everyone and their momma I was gay.

Jessica

Oh, I’m so glad for you.

Karen

Thanks! I’ve been incredibly lucky to have so many supportive/open-minded people in my life.

I’m not ashamed of who I am, and I think it’s important to let people know that being gay isn’t something to be ashamed of.

Jessica

What’s the best reaction you received?

Karen

Probably from two of my best friends from college, who are both lesbians. They were really funny about it, saying — basically — “Yay! Finally!”

It was great to have that kind of community. I know so many people who came out and felt completely alone.

Jessica

Did you know throughout college your two best friends were also lesbians?

Karen

I knew. They were both out in college. I really was the Last Lesbian Standing (in the closet).

Jessica

Ha! Okay, what was the worst reaction to your coming out?

Karen

Honestly, I don’t have a “worst” story. I had a very, VERY small group of people who were surprised, but they were all supportive once they got used to the idea. My mom falls into that category, and she’s probably the most supportive straight person in my life. She advocates for GLBT issues in her church and is very vocal in her social circles.

Jessica

Do you feel you have to wear armor out in the world? Are there things you do or don’t do specifically because you’re a lesbian?

As a related question–have you had negative experiences with strangers or acquaintances?

Karen

I wear armor only in certain situations. Living in Chicago means being able to surround myself with like-minded people almost all of the time. I realize what a luxury that is. The only recent bad experience I had was at a black beauty salon on the South Side where my stylist and several other men had a spirited, homophobic discussion about an out bisexual rapper. It was infuriating because I didn’t want to leave/say anything until my hair was done! But I did tell my stylist afterward that I’d never be back.

Jessica

Good for you.

Karen

The only places I really avoid are social spaces where I feel like men are really aggressive toward women, like straight dance clubs and parties.

Jessica

Ah, THAT is interesting.

Karen

Men in certain places have an incredibly entitled view toward women, as if we “owe” them a dance or our phone numbers.

Jessica

God, that’s true. Especially with some drink in them.

Karen

Yep.

Jessica

So what do/would you say to people who disapprove of homosexuality?

Karen

In the words of Margaret Cho, “Well, f*ck you then.”  I kid, I kid.

I’d ask if they’ve ever actually interacted with a gay person. If anyone they love happens to be gay. If they really think that they deserve more rights than me because of who they love.

I really could go on & on. I have zero tolerance for homophobic people, it’s not something I really invest much time thinking about because there are so many other issues that feel more pressing. And I realize that’s part of the luxury of living where I live.

Jessica

There seems to be more tolerance these days, though that’s not saying all that much. And I also think there’s this weird inclination to sort of make a caricature of gay people–you know, how white women actresses will say “my gays” and play on the word in various ways “Gay of honor” etc. What’s your take?

btw – don’t know why I said “white” except that I can’t think of any black actresses I’ve heard say it. 🙂

Karen

The black women on Real Housewives of Atlanta say it, too. Not that I watch that show, ahem…

Jessica

Caught you!

Karen

So busted…

What’s heartening to me is how we’ve moved beyond tolerance in so many ways. The push for gay marriage is an example. It isn’t just “oh, we’ll tolerate that you have relationships,” it’s “your relationships should have the same legal and social standing as everyone else’s.”

I think the best we can hope for in American mainstream media is a measured/diverse portrayal of GLBT people. Don’t just portray straight women’s “boys.” Show gay cowboys, and people of different races, gender expressions, bisexual people. I think the problem is that one stereotype seems to dominate at a time. We are an incredibly diverse group of folks.

There are zillions of different ways to fit into the GLBT community — those four letters cover a LOT of different kinds of people.

Jessica

There are gay cowboys?

Karen

Yes – there are gay cowboys!

Jessica

It is interesting, this inclination to label. We all do it–to be able to say, “Oh, you’re THAT. Okay, THAT means THIS. I understand it now.” So gay means one thing. Being from, say, New York means another. Labels are all over the place; I was just writing about this as it pertains to books–everyone wants it to fit into a nice little genre and sub-genre and sub-sub-genre.

Karen

Precisely! It’s definitely this need to simplify. Nuances are too confusing.

Jessica

Speaking of categories, you have quite a load on your hands. Lesbian. Woman. Black. Is it a blessing or a burden?

Karen

A blessing, no question. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love looking at the world the way I do.

Besides, straight people are boring. No offense. 🙂

I’m totally kidding. Mostly.

Jessica

I know you’re not.

Karen

I saw gay cowboys dance on the street in Andersonville, and there’s nothing like it.

😉

Jessica

I bet. …

What do/would you say to kids right now who know or have an inkling that they are gay and feel alone. And to those kids who are out and have to endure bullying?

Do you feel a responsibility toward them?

Karen

For the past 6 years, I’ve been a mentor for the student project at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, and it’s one of the best things I do all year. (NLGJA.org). We have a range of “kids,” students from schools big and small, from big cities and rural places and even a Christian college one year. To the kids who are struggling with their sexuality and their identities, it’s empowering beyond measure to see and interact with GLBT people. To know that there isn’t anything wrong with them. That we are smart, flawed and fabulous. That we look out for each other.

So I guess that’s what I’d say: You aren’t alone. There isn’t a damn thing wrong with you. And yes, while it gets better, there are things you can do in the meantime like find organizations to support you–like Chely Wright’s Like Me organization.

Wright was a popular country singer who came out and basically lost her career. She’s committed herself to helping isolated, questioning kids.

Well, she lost her mainstream country career. She’s a gay community darling.

Jessica

Which is far more fun, I hear.

Finally, I know this is somewhat trite but I can’t help it. If you could write the title of your biography, what would it be?

Karen

hmmm.

I think I’d just call it “Rebellious.” I know that’s super obvious, but it fits.

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6 thoughts on “Meet: Karen

  1. No one should have to hide from being gay, hiding from yourself, your sexuality is one of the most insidious (and natural) reactions to homophobia. I couldn’t be happier for you, Karen, that you were able to stare it in the face and get back out there! Thank-you so much, Jessica, for sharing this with us, it’s truly inspiring.

  2. “Men in certain places have an incredibly entitled view toward women, as if we “owe” them a dance or our phone numbers.”
    Karen hit it on the nose with that one.

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