by Sarah Rutledge Fischer | images courtesy of Jill Fredenburg
Jill Fredenburg thinks there is a lot left to be said about LGBTQ+ identities. As a young queer person, looking around at the predominantly cis- and White representation of LGBTQ+ individuals in our culture, our media, and in the stories we tell, Jill saw a lack of not only racial and gender identities, but also of the very complexity and nuance that shapes the identities of so many of the people who fall under the LGBTQ+ banner. What’s more, in the stories she could find in the mainstream media, the LGBTQ+ characters were more often than not constantly portrayed in turmoil and trauma. In her new book, LGBTQ+ Revolution 2.0, Jill shares the stories that are all too often left out—the stories of transwomen, asexuals, Black lesbians, bisexuals in hetero- presenting relationships, and more—and she shares not only their hardships but their beauty, their belonging, and their wholeness.
Jill didn’t start out so aware of the breadth and variety of the LGBTQ+ rainbow. As a teenager, Jill knew she wasn’t straight but also couldn’t find a model for her feelings of attraction to people regardless of gender. Her gay and lesbian friends didn’t have language for it either. To their eyes, if she wasn’t 100% gay, then she wasn’t on their team. She had higher hopes for college but almost immediately met the man she would fall in love with and eventually marry—a love story, sure, but one that left her struggling with feelings of bi/ pan-invisibility. And those feelings led her to self-exclude from the campus queer community that she so desperately needed. It was only later that Jill realized that her particular LGBTQ+ identity was valid and worthy of celebrating. That realization became the impetus for finding and sharing the stories of so many others.
“I wanted to have a book that teenage Jill could have found and felt celebrated,” Jill says. “So much of the book was this selfish desire to hear stories like mine, because I had been lacking that for my whole life.”
Imagining contemporary versions of her teenage and even adult self reading LGBTQ+ Revolution 2.0, Jill hopes the book will give them the language and context to feel like a valid part of the LGBTQ+ community, no matter what the contours of their individual identity.
But getting her book into the hands of that audience was an entirely different challenge. As a first-time author with non- traditional credentials covering a subject matter that is definitively outside of the mainstream cultural context, Jill did not see a clear path to putting the book out through a traditional publishing house. Instead she decided to fund her publication through an Indiegogo campaign. Though crowdfunding meant that she had to directly ask people to invest in her book, which put Jill way outside her comfort zone, once she pushed through yet another surge of impostor syndrome, she found that what she was offering (not only a copy of the book, but also early release pdfs, input in cover design, and access to additional materials and communication) had a real value to the people she was reaching.
By the time Jill’s campaign was in full swing, people from all over were reaching out to ask if their particular identity was included, and, if not, whether she planned to include it in a second volume. Despite the unexpected hiccup of a global pandemic, Jill was able to meet her initial publication goal. As this article goes to print, she is moving forward with the final edits and details that will put her book into the hands of its wide and varied reader base by July.
Stories about identity and coming out are different for everyone. Here are excerpts from LGBTQ+ Revolution 2.0:
Ari (she/her) had been terrified of jumping into taking hormones, but the beneficial mental health impacts came so quickly for her that she now feels that her current personality is the one she’d been hoping to have her entire life. “It was a genuinely effective treatment for gender dysphoria for me. And it made my life so much easier. With dysphoria, a lot of times you can’t really realize how it’s affecting you every day until it’s gone. So much of my personality before had really been a series of coping mechanisms. I was so introverted before.”
Before hormones, Ari felt joy and self-expression in painting her nails and shaving her legs. While she still enjoys these things, she no longer needs to do them to mitigate her dysphoria.
“I could be running around the woods filthy, like I haven’t shaved in a week, and I would still feel like myself now in a way that I never was able to before.”
Transitioning and coming out and any other steps in these processes is a journey that will likely look and feel different for every individual. It is vital to remember that it is a journey that will not be simple and that will take reflection, check-ins, acknowledgments, and hard work. “It’s not like you’re flipping a switch,” said Ari. “I know people who figure out their gender identity as they figure out their sexual identity. I know others who have tried on a bunch of different labels and that’s okay. It’s okay to not get it 100 percent right the first time. If all you know is you’re not cis or you’re not straight, that is a more than fine place to start.”
It is crucial to feel at home in your body and brain. “I don’t look in the mirror and see an unrealistic image of myself. I look in the mirror and see what other people see. Often people who are anti-trans will compare being trans to having body dysmorphia, and they’ll say that you don’t treat dysmorphia by indulging people but by telling them that they’re wrong about what they look like. This is different. This is dysphoria.” Misunderstandings like these are often what prevent cisgender people, even within the LGBTQ+ community, from understanding the particular needs and challenges faced by trans people. As allies, we need to do more than simply follow trans people on social media and serve as internet-warriors for them (though, in some cases, this is helpful). Allies need to hire trans people. Listen to trans people. Hang out with trans people. With passion and determination in her voice, Ari told me simply, “We just need the room to succeed and be supported and loved.” Let’s make that room.
Alexis’s journey has definitely been one of hardship and constant self- assurance and reflection. Her story depicts some of the tough parts of figuring out the boundaries of identity. Oftentimes, it can be really hard to understand what sexuality is and how important or unimportant it can be to somebody, especially because these things can often shift in multiple directions.
“One weekend, when I went home to Memphis, I was thinking about coming out to my family. And then, I don’t remember the exact conversation, but my parents shamed someone for being gay.” This is painful. I have had people make homophobic comments in front of me and have not always had the energy to fight them on these views while also being careful enough not to damage the relationship. Sometimes remaining quiet seems like the best option, even when it hurts.
After the hateful remarks, Alexis went up to her room and immediately drew an image of her internal feelings, her heart broken after having been so hopeful about the idea of finally being able to fully be herself with her family. But she was not able to feel safe in that environment, and that was devastating.
She described the drawing to me, scribbled in her notebook—a ball that mirrored the way she herself had curled upon her bed. It shook me, realizing that the people who raised Alexis had unknowingly sent her out of their space. She did not just need to escape them physically in that moment, but needed to stay away in order to handpick the people with whom she could feel safe.
Instead of completely removing herself from her family, a group of people she loves so dearly, she is gifting them with her own boundaries. Alexis can now confidently speak to them about LGBTQ+ issues and is taking her time in deciding how much of her own experience to share. “I do a little bit of conceptual work with them. I speak up about homophobic and transphobic incidents, but I do not allow them the space to know that their comments and actions also apply to and harm me. It is currently the safest way I know to support myself in those hard spaces.”
Part of boundary-setting and people-finding is knowing what you need and from where you can receive these needs. While Alexis’s family is not LGBTQ+ affirming, they provide a space for her to enjoy and learn about her Trinidadian culture. Removing herself from this opportunity in favor of LGBTQ+ spaces would likely make her feel safe in her sexuality, but significantly underrepresented in her culture. “My family affirms my culture and ethnicity so wholly, and when I am with non-Black or non-Trinidadian friends, I don’t receive that same type of love.” No particular culture, space, religion, group, or even individual is inherently safe or inherently harmful. Alexis has learned that gifting herself with boundaries and appreciating the different kinds of love and support she can receive from the people in her life is what is most important.
“I promised myself if I had to be on this Earth, I was no longer going to allow my identities to be split between groups, because I am a whole Black, Mexican, queer, poly, disabled, married slut, and either you are okay with that or you aren’t.”
Like many other people in the LGBTQ+ community, Valerie sometimes uses the context of conversation to steer her identifying information, “I might, if somebody were to ask me my sexual orientation for some reason, be more specific in some situations. I may say, ‘Well, I’m pansexual.’ But when I say that, I’m really only talking about what kind of person I am attracted to, not what kind of person I am. So, I find a queer more of an accurate descriptor to explain my whole being.” The signs we use only tell us so much.
This multi-layer, intersectional identity encompassed at least in part by “queer” is important to describe, because one can be part of the LGBTQ+ community and not necessarily be sexually active. On the other hand, they can also be romantically attracted to some people, but physically attracted to others. Not everything lines up in a predictable way for everyone. So, while Valerie uses “pansexual” to mean that her attraction is not enhanced or hindered by someone’s gender presentation, the nonsexual aspect of the community to which she relates is not explained by her pan-ness.
When asked about her journey to the term “queer,” Valerie explained, “When I was younger, I identified as bisexual. I don’t even know if I heard the term pansexual. But, at the time, ‘bisexual’ had that binary associated with it.” Pansexual seems less restrictive to many people, and for Valerie this word seemed more appropriate. Lately, identifying as bisexual has not been used to assert the binary (just man versus woman), but Valerie didn’t want to constantly have to extend the conversation unnecessarily. The term pansexual was a fairly clear way to describe herself to others. People seem to understand pan as meaning that attraction can come regardless of a person’s gender. “That suited me. Then, ‘queer’ started to sit with me more when I started to register how much happier using that term made me feel. I found myself
in polyamorous (poly) communities, for example, that speak to my sexuality but aren’t orientation-based.” Around the same time, Valerie started realizing new things about herself and what she wanted from her relationships. “I started identifying as queer because it spoke to both my sexual orientation, but also just my style of love and romanticism.”
Valerie is in what is sometimes called a “straight-presenting marriage,” where the assumption is that because a couple looks like a heterosexual, cisgender pair, they aren’t part of the LGBTQ+ community. She did assume she would be in a relationship like this (straight-appearing) growing up because of the context in which she was raised, but this did not keep her from recognizing the ways both her identity and the vocabulary she used around it changed over time.