Monday Roundtable: The First Gay and Trans People We Knew

Not every queer or trans person has a Ring of Keys moment where they spot another queer or trans person out in the wild for the first time and are transformed, but nearly all queer and trans people remember the first queer or trans person we knew (and the first queer or trans person we saw on TV, or in movies, or in books or comic books or web series or fan fiction). This week our staff is opening up about the first queer and trans people we came in contact with in our own lives, and how they changed our perceptions of ourselves, and sometimes even our perceptions of the world.


Laneia, Executive Editor

The first queer person I knew was a super dykey high school girl whose name I can’t recall and who never knew I existed, probably because I was a 5th grader. Seeing her [through the lens of a patriarchal heterocentric beauty and gender standard!!] helped shape my misunderstanding of my sexual orientation. She had a boy’s haircut, wore oversized t-shirts and cargo shorts (it was the 90s, so the fact they were cargo shorts wasn’t the issue, it was that they clearly came from the men’s section) and acted — at least through my very limited exposure to her — like a run of the mill dude, so my sheltered 11 year old self just thought that being a gay woman meant wanting to be as much like a straight guy as possible, which wasn’t something I wanted, and therefore I was not and could not be gay.

Whoops!

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Rachel, Managing Editor

Stephanie was (and still is) one of my mom’s friends; she was (and is) expansive and funny and warm and eccentric. One day when I was maybe 11, my mom asked if I wanted to go to Lilith Fair (that really carbon dates this story a bit) because Stephanie had had tickets to go with her girlfriend but they had broken up and she didn’t want to use them anymore. I didn’t comment on it out loud, trying to play it cool, but I rolled the word “girlfriend” around in my head like a marble. It wasn’t that I didn’t know women could have girlfriends, I did, but I didn’t know you were allowed to just SAY it like that, or let other people know about it. I couldn’t believe my mom just knew about this, this whole secret underlayer to the world where women wanted to have girlfriends, and just casually dropped it in conversation one day. I don’t think I would have been able to articulate at that time that that was something I also wanted for myself, but it blew my mind that being with girls was something you were allowed to just HAVE — and while I didn’t connect the dots, I think the casual presence of Stephanie in our lives made it possible for me to later make my small, meaningless-to-everyone-but-me forays into outness, like telling my middle school friends that “well, if I ever LIKE LIKED a girl, of course I would go out with her, why wouldn’t I?” Bless it.

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Riese, Editor-in-Chief

I knew that this girl in my younger brother’s class had two Moms. They lived a few blocks from us, but I feel like I was told they were sisters at some point, or it was otherwise explained away. As a child, I remember feeling like they looked vaguely alike. It feels like there were always rumors about our female gym teachers and soccer and basketball coaches, but I don’t know if any of them were true. I did theater growing up and must have known some gay people there, although 9th grade is the first distinct memory I have of working with out gay boys. There may have even been a lesbian, but I might be confusing that girl’s actual sexual orientation with her role in “No Exit.” That same year, I think, there was a big scandal at my high school for letting a bisexual guy speak at Diversity Week and also this guy Justin (or Jason?) starting a Gay-Straight Alliance with the teacher who’d become my 10th grade Earth Science teacher and wanting to bring a boy to prom. I lived in an uber-liberal college town, so the fact that all this was still a thing probably shaped me in a million messed up ways.

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Heather Hogan, Senior Editor

The first gay person I ever knew in real life is the first girl I fell for, and that’s also true for the second gay person I knew in real life. Or at least the first and second openly gay people I knew. They were both just beautiful, brilliant women with whom I formed instant and deep emotional connections — and next thing I knew, I was making out with them. The first gay, she didn’t stay gay; she got conversion therapied into marrying a man who works for a very conservative Christian group. Her main influence on my life was helping me finally fucking admit what I’d always known. The second gay, well, she was radical in her politics and unabashed in her queerness and she helped me see that I was wasting my life crunching numbers in a cube in small-town Georgia when I had a gift and passion for writing and a heart full of rage and pain at the patriarchy. She taught me the word patriarchy!

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Abeni, Staff Writer

Jess was my co-worker at my second ever “real” job, which wasn’t a real job, because it was with Americorps, so technically it was volunteering. And my first “real” job was also volunteering, with “Lutheran Volunteer Corps,” so… well, whatever.

Anyway, Jess was a cute thick white co-worker who had an undercut and a facial piercing if I rememer correctly (and this was back in, like, 2010! When only the queers did it) and wore American Apparel and was an activist and I thought she was so cool. She introduced me to Nicki Minaj. And during the first week of working together I asked her if she liked girls, and she gave me a weird, frightened look, but I meant the BAND Girls, because she had said she was into low-fi music, and I explained, and she seemed relieved, but I KNEW. She told me she was queer not too long after that, but I bet I put her in a tough spot that day, on accident.

Jess was my best friend for many years. She sat with me as I drunkenly cried in a hotel hallway and said out loud, for the first time ever, “I think I might be queer.” And she was there for me when I broke up with my girlfriend of over three years, who I lived with at the time and thought I was going to marry, because I had to figure out what the fuck was going on with my gender and sexuality. She introduced me to the first non-binary and trans people I ever met, and told me that queer meant being against the building of the new youth jail and being anti-racist as much as it meant fucking different types of people, and that being trans was not only OK but beautiful. Imagine if the first “queer” friend I’d ever made was some masc4masc cis gay assimilationist or something? Where the fuck would I be now? I owe so much to Jess.

I haven’t talked to her in years. We’re facebook friends; I think I need to tell her how much her friendship meant to me. Thanks Autostraddle Roundtable!

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Sarah, Marketing & Design Director

I had been attending a small college-prep school for a year when Thom arrived. At the time there were no “out” gay people at my school and because it was such a small student body (less than 120 people), he definitely stood out. After graduation, several of us poked our heads out of the closet on social media, but Thom never had to. Despite having parents who didn’t accept his sexuality, he was never shy or apologetic about who he was. In fact, he celebrated it! He used to write me notes on beautiful stationary in perfect, elegant cursive about all the boys he’d like to date and which teachers had the hottest butts. Tom was my first gay friend — and the first person I tentatively came out to. I remember asking him to meet me underneath the library stairwell, quite literally the lowest and most hidden location at school, to tell him I “kinda liked girls too”. I remember his reaction was perfect — without a beat he said “Uh… OF COURSE YOU DO!” I think Thom made me realize that I wasn’t alone, and that feeling was momentous during a time where I felt so very isolated from my straight friends and their experiences.

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Creatrix Tiara, Staff Writer

I feel like this would have to be someone I knew online, since being out as queer in Malaysia would have been precarious due to the criminalisation of homosexuality (especially circa 1997 when accusations of sodomy were used as an excuse for political repression). The first person that comes to mind was someone I met most likely on Kiwibox, an online social network structured like Facebook but with Myspace’s aesthetics — a young woman in either Canada or the US who would have been a year or two older than my teenage self. She was really into me and we were “girlfriends” for like a day before I freaked out! (I claimed that this is because I don’t know how relationships worked, but it was mainly because I was dealing with a massive crush on someone else at the time but couldn’t handle it and for some reason thought this would be “cheating” on the crush or something. I was a mess.)

The Internet generally was my only exposure to queer or trans people; I know that’s how I heard about Mx for the first time (early 2000s) and developed a sense of self as “androgynous” (if I knew the word “genderqueer” or “non-binary” then I’d have used that). I’m not sure how specifically that Kiwibox chick or anyone else I met only shaped my sexuality or gender, just because it was still at a distance, mediated by words and sometimes images. But at least it gave me some datapoints that such people EXISTED.

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Laura M, Staff Writer

My high school Spanish teacher, Mr. Cook, was gay. It wasn’t a secret, exactly, but it definitely wasn’t something he talked about with the class. He would talk about his boyfriend sometimes after school, when his favorite students were around. I wasn’t one of them, and I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it at the time. I think the first time I heard this information I said something like “OH, that’s why he has such nice shoes.” Not the best reaction, but also not the worst!

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Staff Writer

I’m going to keep this short, because the first out gay person I ever knew is no longer with us. He was loud and proud and so goddamn gay that for Halloween one year he went as a “straight guy” and it was the funniest shit in the world and made it into our high school yearbook. He was kind of the human embodiment of moveimgay.gif. I never got the chance to come out to him, and that sucks.

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Archie, Cartoonist

My bisexual friend Emma in high school who brought me along to all the GSA meetings. Which prompted my mom to ask if I was gay over a meatloaf dinner. Which horrified me (I was a strict baptist christian, thank u very much). Anyways, she was WILD and she was REALLY FUCKING PISSED OFF all the time at everything and everyone and yah, that did influence me.

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Alyssa, Comic Artist

The first and probably most influential out queer person I ever knew was my best friend throughout high school, Bob. He was always so sure of himself, and so willing to be himself despite being really isolated in his queerness in our town.

I don’t know that he necessarily shaped my understanding of my own orientation or identity, but he definitely was the comfort in feeling okay about it. Seeing him so confident and unapologetic, really was the green light in my feeling like it was perfectly fine for me to not only be queer but to feel GOOD about being queer. I could get very tender and go on and on but ultimately all that matters is that Bob’s the best and I love him. Very much.

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Molly Priddy, Staff Writer

When I was in middle school and getting a bit older, starting to get crushes but basically just experiencing hormones, my mom told me about her gay cousins. She had two from the same family, and the gay man had written a book about his mother. That was what I knew about him, that basically his redeeming quality was that he wrote a book DESPITE of his gayness.

Then she told me about her childhood friend who ended up being a lesbian, which my mom was convinced was because her friend had been sexually abused by a man when she was a child. So those two things – sexual abuse = lesbian, gay man only ok because he made something – really shaped how I saw LGTBQ people as a young kid and a budding queer.

It was very scary, until this newspaper feature about a local basketball player in my town talked about how she was gay and in high school and how that was a tough thing. I was floored, and suddenly furious the whole town didn’t also know I was gay. I figured if she could do it, I could do it, too.

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Erin, Staff Writer

The first out gay person I knew was my uncle! He lived out of state and only visited occasionally, but when he was around he was always very open about his life and would occasionally bring his then-partner home for holidays. This may not seem like a huge deal now, but this was in the late 80s/early 90s in the American South! Because he was so transparent and so seemingly enthusiastic about being a big ol’ mo, along with an immediate and extended family that seemed very unaffected by it all, being gay was very normalized for me from a very young age.

This was a huge advantage for me when I would come out a decade or so later, not just for how quickly I was able to embrace it, but for my coming out process. He is the reason I am as gay as I am today. I realize how rare a presence like that is even now, so I feel very lucky to have a Oscar to my Dorothy!!!!

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Alexis, Staff Writer

The first out person I knew definitely were upperclassmen at my high school. They were black and wore a tux to prom and I was trying v hard to figure out how to follow that same path but I failed at step number one which was play sports not go do theatre but it all worked out I guess. Another I’d say is my cousin. We embrace it now and they were so happy when he found out they weren’t the only gay in the family but I didn’t know for sure for a long time and I thought it’d be really rude to ask and didn’t want to out them. Now 99% of the conversations we have in front of family are about our gayness and it’s truly beautiful.

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Valerie Anne, Staff Writer

I’m sure I knew people before this, but the earliest I can think of is a girl I was friends with in high school. She was bisexual and not afraid to talk about it, despite it being very taboo in our Catholic high school. I remember wondering if she was really bisexual or if she was just being defiant, which wasn’t fair of me in retrospect, but I was young and dumb. But her confidence gave me hope; I was nowhere near ready to come out, but seeing her have/keep/make friends even after she admitted she liked kissing girls gave me that little spark of hope that maybe, just maybe, the adults were wrong. And even if they were right, if hell was full of people like her — people like us — maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

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Yvonne Marquez, Senior Editor

I was racking my brain and trying to figure out who was the first “official” out queer person I knew and it was really difficult for me to pinpoint. I surprisingly was surrounded by a lot of queer people in various states of outness while growing up and I didn’t realize that until I was an adult. But I think the first out queer people I knew were queer dudes I knew from band in high school. There were two out guys who were super loud, flamboyant and very gay. They were boyfriends and we were in band together but I didn’t really talk to them and to be honest, they informed my perception of “how gay people are” which I thought was bad. My little homophobic brain thought “why do they have to be like that.” I wondered why they had to flaunt their gayness and be so “girly” and my thought process about them really informed how I would later navigate my own queerness as a teen, which was to be super closeted and stewing in internalized homophobia and shame. Then there was my other band friend Alonso who was the first out bisexual I ever knew. We were closer because he and I were the best clarinets (LOL) so we were section leaders together and sat next to each other for all the band things. Alonso was very unapologetic about being bisexual and looking back now, I was super horrible to him! I would tell him that he was actually just gay and I would dismiss his crushes on girls and thought he was just lying. But he was always adamant about being bisexual and always told me so and I think I picked on him so much because I knew he could sniff the queer in me and I was trying to deflect him. Alonso ended up being my prom date and before we went to prom we went to Wal-Mart all dressed up because he forgot his eyeliner. I love him so much and wish I could go back in time and apologize for saying a bunch of biphobic shit to him!

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Vanessa Friedman, Community Editor

The first queer person I knew who I registered was queer was my friend K, in high school. We met when I was a freshman and K was a sophomore, and what I knew was that K was nothing like me. I didn’t know then that K was trans – I thought they were a dyke, because that’s what they told me – and I loved them, but also didn’t relate to them at all.

K was fat, and brave, and artsy, and made me my first mix CD featuring Le Tigre and Sleater Kinney. When I said I wanted to get “more into Ani DiFranco” K burnt me every CD in Ani’s discography which, if you’re an Ani fan, you know is KIND OF A LOT OF ALBUMS. K was dating a girl who broke K’s heart and I felt furious at this person, appalled that she would hurt K in such a way. I wanted to protect K. I wanted K to like me.

We went to an Ani DiFranco concert together later in high school – I think I was a junior, and K was a senior? – with another friend who, as far as I know, is straight and has always been straight. We took the T from our suburb outside of Boston into Harvard Square for the concert and we sung Ani songs the whole way, likely irritating all the other passengers. We mostly didn’t care. Except I remember, at one point, we got to the lyric MY CUNT IS BUILT LIKE A WOUND THAT WON’T HEAL and my straight friend and I got real quiet, we basically whispered that line, maybe we didn’t even say it, and K just belted it, just didn’t give a fuck who stopped and stared, and they did, everyone did, every person on that train stopped and stared, but K just really didn’t care at all, and it is that moment that is burned into my brain when I think DYKE, even though I know now that K isn’t one, because when I was 15 I just thought it was so brave, so cool, so fucking honest.

I was 15 and I thought I was straight and I thought K was a dyke, and K was so brave, and we were on the T and K yelled MY CUNT IS BUILT LIKE A WOUND THAT WON’T HEAL and everyone stared and K didn’t care and I remember thinking, wow, I remember thinking, that is what it means to be free.

I wondered if maybe I could be that brave, that free, one day. One day, maybe.

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Carmen, Staff Writer

I grew up with a lot of gay people in my life. My mom’s best friend, who helped raise me and is very much like a second mother to me, is a lesbian. So I guess technically she was the first gay person I ever knew? (She’s also white, which isn’t usually relevant, but will be in this story.) Her daughter, who’s been a sister to me since the day I was born, is also a lesbian. Being gay wasn’t a secret in how I was raised. It wasn’t necessarily talked about — because it was normalized, in the same way that straightness wasn’t talked about. It was a cultural norm of my childhood. It was absorbed.

And maybe that’s one of the reasons I didn’t realize that I was gay until after I left my family home. When I was eighteen I was one of those people who said things like, “If I was gay — I would be gay” or “My politics are queer, but I’m not.” Literally every person I know who used to say things like that is now out of the closet, but I digress. There was an image of “gayness” in my head that I internalized, and it didn’t match who I understood myself to be. I didn’t know how to be gay and black; I didn’t know how to be gay and super, ridiculously, proudly femme. I didn’t know how to be gay and love Beyoncé and high heels and tight dresses. None of those things lined up with what I thought gayness was. So, I defaulted that I must be straight.

I had a college mentor who changed all that. She ran our university multicultural center. She reminded me a bit of Jill Scott. She was proudly black and respected hip hop and loved 90s R&B. She taught me about Audre Lorde. Sometimes, she allowed me to stay at her and her wife’s house during school breaks. Sipping coffee in their sunny drenched kitchen was the first time I really saw myself. I could imagine it. I could see how I could be gay and still… be me. Like everything before that morning felt complicated and all of a sudden it was so simple. Like a lightbulb switched on in my head.


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29 Comments

  1. Oh I love this roundtable! My first ‘gay in the wild’ was a coworker of my mom’s when I was a tiny little thing. She was a butch lesbian named Chris and she wore big tshirts and baggy pants and had a short haircut. She was hilarious and played games with us in the parking lot and let us goof around in the PT room (my mom worked for a day habilitation program and spent many days hanging there). My mom never had the ‘hey Chris is a lesbian’ talk with us, but it clicked when Chris talked about her girlfriend. It was never a thing, though, and that was a great way to be introduced to gayness and lesbians. Then I met some queer kids in middle and high school and had an out teacher, but the other big gay people were some more of my mom’s friends (thanks mom!). They were these two cool ladies who lived around the corner from us, Sue and Terry. They had a teeny tiny scruffy dog and a giant Saint Bernard and their house was decorated with stuff from their travels and Terry was a rad social worker who was wicked smart and engaged me in conversations about academia and the world around me. The day gay marriage was legalized they rushed to the courthouse to legalize a relationship that was decades old, and then they invited all of us to their rooftop to cry and dance and celebrate. I’ve had other influential gays in my life, but those are my earliest, and they taught me that it’s okay to just live your life and be you and love who you want and don’t be scared. Guess I should go thank my mom for hanging around all these gays, so my tiny self got exposed real early 🙂

  2. I’m soo0000000ooo fucking old, this may require some G00gle action on your [the ‘royal’ you] part, but I’m hoping the institutional memory game is on.

    The answer is: my Mom, this is how I got there.

    So growing up in the 70’s, there was a good long while where I locked on to a ‘type’ that was VERY specific for a 4-9 year old boy. My first 3 pop-culture crushes were: Kristie MacNichol, Gerry Jewel, and Joan Jett. I could spend effort and come up with more names, but I think you catch my drift. My gaydar was dialed way up, and I KEPT FALLING IN LOVE! And somehow I already grasped they would rather never be in love with [arguably adorbs] 4-9 me. I just… understood. The words weren’t available to me yet, but I got warm fuzzy’s hoping they had a girl to go home to. [I was young, don’t judge too harshly.]

    Somewhere between 8-10 I started thinking the same thing about Mom. It wasn’t even a mystery. I just felt she’d be waaaay more happy. So when she started dating women 5-ish years later, my sister and I were all: “…annnnnd?” [uhhg, teens!]

    So I have always had someone near-by.

    Kittens and ale!

  3. There’s a scene in Everything Sucks, where Kate is at the concert and she sees two women kissing, and everything she thought was confirmed. It finally really clicked for her. I had a similar experience when I was in high school. One of my friends had some older guy friends that were gay. I went to a few parties at their place and they used to buy us alcohol. But one night, one of them got us into the gay bar that he worked at. I was 16. At one of the tables across from our table was a lesbian couple. They were holding hands and kissing during the show that was going on at the time. I couldn’t quit looking at them. I knew that was what I wanted. They just looked so natural and comfortable together. They didn’t look evil or lost. I had been around gay men but these were the first lesbians I had ever knowingly been around. It didn’t wipe out the whole I’m going to hell thing, but it did plant a seed of this could be ok.

  4. This was so cool and interesting! The first out queer person I knew – or knew OF, really – was my mum’s best friend from university, who was (and still is) married to her wife! They got married in 2005, when the UK only had civil partnerships for same-sex couples, but after marriage passed, they had a big wedding on their tenth civil partnership anniversary, which is super cute! I don’t think they were ever talked about as being gay though – I just knew that mum’s friend was married to a woman, and that was that. Somewhat irrationally, though, it didn’t make me any less nervous to come out to my mum. But I’m going to try and connect with mum’s friend this summer now I’m older and out and living not too far from her. Hooray for adult queers!

    Honourable mention for ‘Cousin Matthew’ – after I came out at 18, I asked my mum if there were any gay people in our family, other than me. She responded that “of course there is, Cousin Matthew!” I have never met Cousin Matthew, who is apparently the son of a cousin of my grandmother’s, and who lives in Australia. I am constantly bewildered by people who have loads of queer people in their family – it must be great! (Although I’m sure it has its pitfalls too.)

  5. When I graduated HS in 1987, I didn’t know anyone who was out (or out to me). That changed in college. I had a couple gay male friends. But the person with the biggest impact was my friend Jean, who was the first IRL bi person I met – I’m not sure if she ever said she was bi or queer, but she was very open about being attracted to (and sleeping with!) men and women. And (this is key) – she FLIRTED with me. A mutual friend made some comment to me about the sexual tension between Jean and I and I was all like NO WAY and then I thought about it more and that my friends is when I came out to myself.

  6. The first gay people I knew happened all at once about the time I was in 1st or 2nd grade. My cousin Cody had a mom and an “aunt” who lived with them (as it was explained to the children). Her mom had left my uncle to be with this woman, and after my uncle died suddenly they both came to all the family events together. I loved seeing them. I had a lot of questions for my mom about this. This is really interesting because this side of my family is very conservative and catholic and now very Trump. And maybe it wasn’t a pleasant experience for them to be there, but I didn’t know at the time and I don’t know if I ever will know.

    At this same time, my mom had a job cleaning a bank and one of the bank managers was a woman named Kate and her partner, Joel. It was the early 90s and a small town, but it was just something that everyone seemed to shrug about. Kate and Joel, of course. When I would go help my mom with the bank in the summer I would spend a lot of time in her office looking at her things on her desk and wondering what her life was like, living with Joel.

  7. It was Ellen. Even though she’s a celebrity, no other answer really works, and it would be years and years before anyone else in the periphery of my life said “I’m gay!” so explicitly, again. My parents had the Time magazine in which she comes out and I could casually browse it without arising any suspicion. On the night of the much watched “Puppy Episode” I some used gay sixth-sense to come downstairs and get a glass of water right as Ellen’s character leaned into a microphone and said “I’m gay” to a room full of people. There was no ambiguity and for awhile I was pretty sure we were the only two gay people in the world.

  8. The first out queer people I knew were all bisexual guys I met through online role playing games circa, 1997-1998. For some reason I attracted a lot of inappropriately older bisexual guys in my teens, who usually developed an unhealthy attachment.

    The one queer friend with a healthy, brotherly attachment actually sent me some gifts relating to our shared interest once, and my parents were super alarmed about this older guy that they clearly saw as some kind of stalker-predator… until they saw the card. In their minds, only a gay man could pick a fluffy baby cheetah in a pink bow, and thus their precious little girl was safe.

  9. I think I’ve shouted out the first gay person I ever knew about on AS before… a woman who was a politician, activist, and author in my hometown. I’d heard somehow that she was out and spent a stretch of time as a teenager hunting for all the news I could find about her (mostly through the city alt-weekly). Between her public work and the fact that it was a small town — made even smaller if you were part of the liberal minority — I crossed paths with her on a fairly regular basis. I gleaned that she had a partner, a dog, a home not too far from the one I was growing up in and I was absolutely floored that she could and would live so openly, and that there were no apparent repercussions for it… she was an elected official, even! She was the only out person I came across for years, to my memory, so I didn’t exactly feel I could take her example to mean that I, too, could live as an out queer person. But it was a sliver of hope until I reached college and a wider, more accepting world.

  10. Because the media has been fucked up for years with regards to trans representation I have probably meet a lot of trans people and just assumed they the trope of man in the dress. In the late 90s I’d watch Drew Carey and the guy who played his brother on the show was as far as I remember a cis-het guy who wore dresses and even had part of an episode focus on being discriminated while clothes shopping. Confused the life out of me, but also intrigued me That is until I searched the web(early 00s) & found drag queen/fetish porn and a weird forum.

    Around the same time frame there was rumours the 7th grade scientist teacher was lesbian. Kids thought because she’s an adult in her 30s with a full time job has no need for roommate; that’s something college students and elderly do. Never found out if she was in the community or not, but did years later come to realize there are many reasons why an adult with a job would have a roommate. Now the hs algebra teach on the other hand fit the description of a queer gal. It was the early 00s, but dressed like it was 93 in Seattle, drove a Volvo station wagon, always had a small piercings on her upper lip(it could almost be mistaken for a mole if it wasn’t so purple), and pretty much once told a kid “no need to be an inappropriate homophobe.” Another kid then asked what’s a homophobe, she replied “look it up in the dictionary” and the kid sitting at the desk next to me mumbled scared of guys who suck dick. It wasn’t until the L Word and finding out how Eddie Izzard IDs that it all changed for me.

  11. Ok, so this may be bad, but … the first “gay” person I knew/knew of was Jack Tripper (John Ritter) on Three’s Company. Now, I know much of the point of the show was that Jack was *NOT* gay, but almost everyone thought he was. And other than Mr Roper’s jokes … there wasn’t anything bad I could see about being gay. Yeah, Jack wasn’t gay but if everyone thought he was and they were still cool with him, then obviously being gay wasn’t a bad thing, right? Anyway, that’s how I got exposed to homosexuality, and learned that it’s not something bad … which in the late 70s/early 80s was a message in short supply.

  12. If I go with real life, I think the very first person was a gender-nonconforming person, JC, at my high school (I have no idea how they identify now). My friend, Z, who had an older brother told me know about this “gay guy” when we were still in junior high. Z and I moved to high school and probably kept each other informed of when we had a JC sighting- then they graduated.

    (Of course Z sorta comes out to me by the time we’re Sophomores)

  13. I knew I liked girls before I knew any other queers, and was never shy talking about it, so I was probably some people’s first!

    My first was Dave. He was the roommate of the 20-something girl I had a dreadful crush on when I was 15. They let me hang out at their apartment a lot, even though I was just such an awkward mess. Dave was funny and acerbic, had some terrible tattoos but good plans for cover-ups, and was happy to share music with me. He introduced me to Blondie! He was also willing to let me gush about my excruciating crush when she wasn’t around, which was very kind.

  14. First gay in the wild?
    I went to a theatre camp as a child that was run by people in the local theatre scene.

    That’s not quite “in the wild” but the stage manager. Teen me dressed a lot like her and teen me gave some people their Ring of Keys moment.

    Which is a hellava thing to hear in random dive bar nearly a decade after high school from someone you do not recognize at all but clearly recognizes you.

    Um the first trans person I ever met was a Charlene who named herself that cause she’d just always liked that name. It had nothing to do with her dead name thank yoooou. She was from Alabama and always dressed in shades of red with earth tone accents.

    Once she compared notes with a 3 time mother on recovery experiences healing from pelvic surgery.

    Studio classes full of fellow artists can become community spaces. That’s all I can say.

  15. my mother (and my father, via nonparticipatory but tacit approval) raised me in a unitarian universalist church. when i was about seven (~1992), a hetero couple with a daughter a year or two older than me told the congregation that they were divorcing, because j (the wife) was coming out as a lesbian. it was an amicable split; all three of them kept attending, and j even brought girlfriends a time or two.

    they presented it to the congregation, and thus to seven-year-old me, as… not a non-issue, but nothing scandalous or outré. it was just that their family was changing and they’d appreciate our love and support as they all moved toward being and becoming their best and happiest selves.

    it’s only since i’ve come out myself that i’ve started to appreciate having that as my first conscious knowledge of queerness. queerness as an opportunity, as an imperative to be both honest with and respectful of yourself and others. queerness not as something that ruins or destroys, but as a space where people can safely grow.

  16. mine was a friend’s mom. it was the 90s, and she’d just come out as a lesbian. she put up sarah mclachlan and melissa etheridge posters all over their house, tarot cards on the table–it was a really lovely safe space for my middle school friend group of little queer wiccan misfits. around christmas we made anatomically correct gingerbread people. she had a sporty shirt that said dyke instead of nike. she was dating the ice cream lady, who came around our school after the bell and gave us free popsicles. a super positive experience for me before i even knew about myself.

    a couple years later, after i was out, my friend kept gushing about her parents getting back together. we were all confused and asked, isn’t your mom a lesbian? and she looked at us weird and said no, that never happened. her mom and her dad got back together and the whole family started going to church and youth group and pretended the mom hadn’t been an incredible queer role model to a group of li’l outsiders. it really made me hate my town and feel like there was this sick poison running through it that spoiled everything special.

    i do still see bits of her in me and my friends (zero of whom settled in our hometown). i think the mom we knew would have really liked who we all became.

  17. My parents were super liberal hippies, and I knew my mom had lots of gay, lesbian, and trans friends when she lived in Miami. But by the time I came along she’d settled down in Mississippi with my dad, and I never met one single out person in my entire childhood. I knew I was queer when I hit puberty but I sure as hell didn’t want to be a lesbian in Mississippi in the 80s/90s, so I just locked down the gay part and went after guys.
    (We all know how well that works.)
    I glimpsed mythical lesbians occasionally, but I didn’t know anyone who was out until I was in the tail end of my 20s, when I became internet BFFs with an out, married, lesbian equestrian – we both had blogs about competing on the wrong breed of horse. Think “Clydesdale running in the Derby” and you’ll get the idea. She taught me so much about being an out, proud, butch dyke, but I’m not a lesbian and I wasn’t ready to deal with being a butch queer, much less an OUT butch queer. And then, several years later, she de-friended me. She never said why; she just really obviously faded out and quit responding to emails, so I just let it go. It fucked me up pretty good for a long time, though.
    Now I’ve escaped Mississippi, I’ve got a hella queer butch haircut, and I wander around living my life, just trying to be a Ring of Keys. I sure wish I’d seen even one happy queer when I was a kid, though.

  18. I think the first lesbian I ever met was a teacher in my high school, but it was one of those rumored things where everyone knew but never confirmed it.

    Funny story, apparently for a while I was the first lesbian everyone was meeting. We held a dorm rap in college and I had a few other people from the queer group with me, and I swear, every one of them was all “and Carly was the first lesbian I ever met”, which meant I then had to explain to a dorm of freshmen that I wasn’t a one woman welcoming committee and they couldn’t summon me by chanting “lesbian” three times in the mirror.

  19. the first gay person I ever knew was my 8th grade boyfriend. It took us 9 months to kiss, for now-obvious reasons. We were both underwhelmed by the experience and mutually decided to go back to watching A Walk to Remember.

    …middle school was a weird time.

  20. I guess it would have been the moms of some kids I went to school with? They weren’t together anymore by the time I knew them, so I’m not sure how well the idea took. Other than that there were a couple of semi-closeted teachers, and in high school there was one girl who was actually out as gay and several more who dated girls. Not many used labels or talked about it very publicly.

    In retrospect, most of my close friends turned out to be some flavor of queer, but the environment just wasn’t there yet for most of us to come out.

    I DO remember the first trans person I knew! I got to know them in my first year of college, then the next year they came out as transmasculine. I had a bit of a crush on them that first year that played a role in me figuring out I wasn’t straight, which I awkwardly told them about over Facebook messenger (and then felt kind of bad for when they came out).

    I think it took me a while to adjust to sexual orientation as an identity, because of the “no labels” thing I grew up with, but transness was this huge revelation that it took me years to figure out in relation to myself. Now I’m out and I’m friends with all sorts of awesome queer folks!

  21. “When I was eighteen I was one of those people who said things like, ‘If I was gay — I would be gay’ or ‘My politics are queer, but I’m not.’ Literally every person I know who used to say things like that is now out of the closet, but I digress.”

    So very true. Anyone else have a website in the early 2000s with a little banner you could download from somewhere with rainbow flags on it that said “Straight but not narrow”? I’d love to know if all of my internet friends from then have since come out

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