Aubrey (A): I’m Aubrey, I’m non-binary and I’m also a polyamorous pansexual
Kit (K): I’m Kit, I’m non-binary and bi.
Amelia (Am): Wait we forgot pronouns
A: Oh gosh we forgot about pronouns
K: Ah, fuck, do we need to start over… also, how do we feel about swearing on this podcast? Because if we swear we’re going to have to put it as explicit on iTunes.
A: Honestly, like, we’re going to have to put it as explicit on iTunes anyways because it’s about queers.
K: Yeah, because it’s about gay history.
A: The queers, we’re always filed next to pornography.
K: I hate everything about that.
Am: Can we please have that snippet in there?
(fade to intro music)
A: I’m Aubrey, I go by they/them/theirs, and I am a non-binary, polyamaorous, pansexual.
K: I’m Kit, I go by they/them/theirs as well, and I am bi and non-binary.
Am: Hi I’m Amelia, I use she/her/hers, and I am bisexual.
K: And we are QUILTBAG History. This is episode 1. We all attend a women’s college in New England, and we’re excited to be here today.
K: Alright, great, so, why are we here?
Aubrey: That’s a great question. So, I think the answer that I have figured out thus far is the fact that most people, even queer people, but like people in general, slightly less so queer people, don’t understand queer history at all. There’s almost no records, when they’re there, people can only get to them through independently searching for them on the internet –
K: Tumblr isn’t the best source of information –
A: It’s a whole issue.
Am: And I think there’s definitely this idea that queer history is niche, and that queer history isn’t a part of the broader scope of history when it totally is. I think that if you think about major figures in history: George Washington –
K: Alexander Hamilton!
Am: And his alleged affair with Lafayette and –
K: I did not know about that!
Am: Yeah, Washington and Lafayette were really close.
K: The way Hamilton and laurens were really close? And hamilton’s son actually blacked out portions of his letters, potentially because they were so explicitly queer?
Am: Let’s just say ‘I long to be by your side’ were words that came out of Lafayette’s mouth.
K: (laughs) Yeah, I think that’s a pretty good reason to be here…
I’m here because…this is my brainchild more or less. And I convinced these two to help me, and some other people – we’re going to have a rotating cast of recording people so you’ll probably meet some more people down the line.
I was pretty pissed off after Orlando. And I felt like, this is a mass shooting but it’s also a hate crime. And no body was talking about it as though it was a hate crime. (finger snapping) And I wanted to talk about it, and talk about history and queer history, because there isn’t a lot [being talked about]. And you cant find books about it in the bookstores, and there isn’t a big emphasis on who is, like, documenting the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s and getting the oral history from people who survived that. And I couldn’t find all the information that I wanted to, and I wanted to be able to have access to that info. And nobody else was doing it, so here we are.
So part of what we did for the episode this week, as an introductory episode, is we wanted to get a sense of how people that weren’t just the three of us felt about queer history, especially from outside of people that we knew. So we sent out a google survey. We got two whole responses, but they were really good responses, and we wanted to talk about those and what we feel our own engagement with history is as millenials and as part of this generation of people who are on this cusp of adulthood but a lot of us aren’t quite there yet…so yeah.
A: I’d also want to add on to the whole ‘documenting queer history.’ I feel like for racial groups and for women’s rights, there tends to be this, if someone from this …group of society that you are part of has done something great, you can visibly see that this person was these things, and they did this thing. However queer history is a lot easier to erase.
K: Yeah, I think it’s a lot easier to sweep under the rug because it wasn’t considered acceptable – and in a large number of cases still isn’t acceptable – and so it’s easier to pretend like these things weren’t happening. Like Laurens and Washington were not having an affair, er, Laurens and Hamilton and Washington and Lafayette, or that Baron von Steuben wasn’t expelled from the German army because he was gay, and Shakespeare was definitely straight.
Am: I think there’s this idea that queer history started with the Stonewall riots, which is obviously an incredibly important milestone in queer rights and the movement for our liberation, but I think to pretend that that was the beginning of it all would be to pretend that queer people haven’t always existed (indistinct agreement) and that is incredibly false.
K: Yeah, and to pretend that there’s no history before the stonewall riots and that Boston marriages didn’t exist and things like that.
I think I agree with Amelia. It’s completely false to pretend that history hasn’t always existed, and queer people haven’t always been in the background of it….One of the our goals for the podcast is to highlight the roles that queer people played before the stonewall riots and during and after. Because it’s not a recognition that the widestream historical community has really afforded us.
A: Alright so wonderful responses from the google form. Honestly, there were only two people filled this out but they’re just amazing humans and I love everything about them that I know so far, which is to say their responses to an anonymous google form.
Am: So if you’re listening, we love you.
K: And we appreciate your response, number two, which used the acronym QUILTBAG to refer to the queer community.
A: Which we may or may not have decided to make the title of this podcast –
K: Two minutes before we started recording!
Aubrey: So proud of us.
K: Yeah, so, QUILTBAG, for those of you unwilling – or who don’t really know what the acronym stands for and don’t really want to take the time to figure it out –
A: IE me, 10 minutes ago –
K: QUILTBAG is QU, which is queer and possibly unidentified or questioning, uh, intersex, lesbian, trans, bi, ace, and gay, and sometimes is followed by a plus and an asterisk.
A: It’s such a good acronym.
K: It is, and it actually means something and as Aubrey pointed out you cant transpose the letters so it doesn’t make sense because it’s an actual word.
So the general consensus seems to be that queer history as a queer person is really, really important but also as citizens of a society that generally isn’t queer.
Am: I think something that really struck me about these responses was the person that came out to their parents after seeing Billie Jean King come out on TV. And I think that is an illustration of how important it is for us to see ourselves in the media, and for us to see ourselves in history and to see ourselves in the world. And I think that’s definitely…we can’t ignore the importance of representation because it doesn’t exist. I think there’s this need to be our own role models? Because we don’t have role models to follow, I think once we have them we realize the importance of them. I think even the outrage over fictional characters y’know kind of the –
K: “It has been zero days since a queer woman died on TV.”
Am: The bury your gays trope is so…like I think it’s affecting so many more people than we even realize.
K: The amount of bitterness it induces every time it happens. I think its really indicative of how much we as a younger queer audience crave the kind of representation of not just like, a future, but a future where we get to be happy and accepted.
Am: And alive.
(Echoed by K and A)
K: And alive, that would generally be cool too.
Yeah, no I think that’s a really, really good point about the idea of representation. And for me, so I’m currently a junior, but when I was a first year, a freshman, at my school, I met a lot of people who were queer and juniors. And so having this person, who is, y’know two years older than me but has progressed a lot further in “being queer” than I have in terms of like, coming to accept their identity and coming to date in a “queer way” I guess, that’s been really important for me as a way to say “this is what I want my life to be like.” But that person’s only two years older than me, so at a certain point, I can only see two years in the future. And I think it’s important to have history and historical representation so that we can see that more than just two years in the future we’re alive and happy and have good things going.
Am: I don’t know if you two are out to your families, but if you are, how would you say that history and media and representation have influenced your decision to come out, if at all?
A: I’m out to my family about pretty much everything in my life; however, I’m not really sure about the extent to which my family understands. For example, my family refuses to use my pronouns, they just do not comprehend the idea of non binary people, and I think that if there were more media representation, like “what does being polyamorous mean?” “what is a non-binary person?” They might be able to get it more.
K (to Am): What about you?
Am: Well, I was outed to my parents, (K makes sympathetic noise) when I was in my senior year of high school. Which was a really rough period in my life (sympathetic noises) for many reasons. But it was like definitely there was just a, again a lack of understanding, and a lack of… “I don’t get it.” I remember my stepfather said to me “you know I just don’t understand why pretty girls like you have to be into girls” and I was like –
K: Cause girls are pretty!
Am: Cause girls are so beautiful! (finger snapping) But I think there’s definitely a disconnect between straight people and queer people. An incredible disconnect that um, could maybe be bridged by a better understanding of queer history and queer reality
K: And understanding that additionally, Sylvia Riviera was an important person in Stonewall, not some white dude. Like, queer history hasn’t been exclusively a product of white gay men, which has been what it’s portrayed as in some ways – especially with the Stonewall movie that focused around a white gay guy, which I still haven’t seen and don’t want to.
Am: Yeah I’m not seeing that movie
K: Why would I need to see that movie!? I see enough white gay men in the media! (pause)
It’s because they’re seen as acceptable in some ways. And that’s another thing, like, I feel like, I have a big bone to pick in some ways with the Born This Way movement because as one…the Born This Way movement in a large part to me indicates this idea that “you need to accept us an allow us to assimilate because we’re really just like you.” Whereas the original Stonewall movement was also not just the freedom to be accepted but the freedom to be different and the freedom to have that choice to be different. And I feel like that’s a big thing that feels important to me because I don’t wanna grow up to be, y’know, the suburban mom with two kids and a soccer game every weekend. Like that’s not something I want out of my life, but I think that’s something that the gay community has previously had to fight for, and as a result we’ve had to compromise in some ways on the ability to fight for not that life goal. So I wanna highlight both sides of the stories in some ways.
A: Agreed. Can we actually go back and elaborate a little bit more on like, what the Born This Way movement is, where that came from, and how it changed stuff?
K: Yeah! (to A) Do you want to talk about that? Do you feel comfortable?
Am: Uh, yeah, sure! Well, I know that there’s definitely, y’know, born this way comes from the Lady Gaga song um, and, there’s been a lot of weird controversy around Lady Gaga’s sexuality, uh…
K: She’s definitely bi.
Am: There’s been I think a lot of back and forth in the media about like “oh she’s bi, she’s not bi…”
K: She said she’s bi I’m pretty sure.
K: It’s on her Wikipedia page, which is where I get all my celebrity gossip. (laughter)
Am: Then I trust Wikipedia with my life. (more laughter). But I know that definitely there’s..I think Lady Gaga was trying to, I feel so ridiculous saying that name over and over again –
K: I mean her real name; her non-stage name, is Stefani Germanotta. She went to my nerd camp. Fun fact.
A: That’s quite a (inaudible)
Am: Kit has a connection to the Lady herself. (Kit snorts) But she, ah, I definitely think there was something good intention – all good intention – in that and definitely a message saying “let us be who we are because it’s, no one made us this way, it’s just who we are.” But I think that narrative can be problematic in a lot of ways. I think…especially concerning the fluidity of sexuality?
K: I think it can be really oversimplifying in some ways because, y’know, the idea of bisexuality is like “well, you’re half gay and you’re half straight” like, that’s not what it is. Purple isn’t half blue and half red it’s purple….(fingers snapping) That’s my favorite analogy.
Am: And purple is…the gay color.
Am: Um, I, I’m uncomfortable with a lot of language used in that song, if we’re just talking about the problematic aspects of, um…
K: The mainstream gay movement.
Am: Yeah well, I think the line ‘orient-made’ is a personal favorite mine in how horrible it is. As a person of color I think I definitely have not always identified with the mainstream queer movement in a lot of ways, and in many ways have been excluded, especially as a bisexual person of color, um, because I think just biphobia combined with racism doesn’t really fit into the Born This Way narrative in the way that white gay men do.
K: Definitely not. An I think there’s also a significant amount – and I’m just gonna close the LGBT response survey right now – there’s a significant amount I think of white gay men because they’re white and they’re male so they become much more easy to accept in a lot of ways because they hold those particular positions of privilege in society. And as a result they’ve been the ones who have been able to dictate their own agenda and their own goals as the goals of the entire queer movement. And I don’t know that that’s necessarily a bad thing, because there is absolutely merit to want to be able to have the two kids and a dog and soccer games every weekend and live in your like, nice suburban house with your very queer marriage. But I think it’s difficult to say that, like “this is all we want and this what we want.” And it’s not fair to put that sort of agenda on the entire queer community. Especially when that’s not necessarily acceptable to everyone because there are people who are queer and disabled or people who are queer and people of color. And
Am: There are queer people who are hard to swallow
Am: And we have been ignored.
K: That’s a really good way of putting it.
A: That’s just…that was a good line.
K: That was a really good line. We’re gonna keep that.
Am: Thank you. (laughing)
A: I’m really excited to like, have that exist.
K: And not to mention the fact that like, the trans community was incredibly important in starting the stonewall riots and then got pushed out by things like the Human Rights Campaign early on. And the gay movement, the mainstream gay movement, especially when it got taken over by white men um, they were one of the first people to be pushed out as a queer identity. And so I think it’s been really hard to negotiate that in some ways. Because like, coming to terms with the idea of being non binary and what that … what that grants me access to and denies me access to in a way. Because all of the sudden I feel much more excluded from the idea of the mainstream ideal. Because it’s like, how can somebody who is non binary and bi which are two really, two more marginalized identities in the queer community, like, how can I expect to have that ideal if I am not the target of that particular image..in the media, which has become more queer-friendly in advertising in some ways and that kind of thing.
A: I get that. I feel like polyamory too ends up aggressively not fitting into that like, soccer games and nice white picket fence lifestyle.
A: And all because it literally involves a different number of people. And I think the concept of , like there’s actually some queer identities that physically cannot in any way shape or form assimilate into that entire ideal without completely not existing anymore for the most part.
K: Yeah, or having to make serious compromises in some ways. Because like, you can’t, it would be – not that you can’t, you totally feasibly could – but it would be a, you would get a lot more looks if you showed up as like, three parents of a child to a parent-teacher conference
Am: Queer identities that are not just like, oddly shaped-puzzle piece but a whole different puzzle altogether. And the media doesn’t recognize that, and history doesn’t recognize that. And I definitely wonder, y’know, how many people throughout history… because it’s easy to go in and label Washington as gay. It’s easy to label Hamilton as gay.
K: And Shakespeare. And they’re all white men, surprisingly.
Am: (sarcastically) I’m shocked! (laughter) I always forget that Hamilton is white.
K: I know, ever since Hamilton the musical started I feel like I see Lin Manuel Miranda when I think of Hamilton. I think of him dressed as Hamilton and not Hamilton the white guy, who I’m pretty sure owned slaves.
Am: But I think at the same time we have to problematize that too and y’know, why are we … I think it’s a fascinating way to turn history on it’s head because it has so traditionally been whitewashed. We are, kind of brown-washing history, which is awesome, but I think too, like let’s talk about the people in history who were actually people of color, queer people of color, and let’s talk about how they have been hidden and pushed away and marginalized for years and years and years.
K: For sure.
Am: Um, and so, I think… I’m calling on you, Lin Manuel Miranda, to write a musical about actual brown people!
K: In the Heights.
Am: Were they queer?
K: I don’t know if they were all queer, I haven’t listened to the full soundtrack, but In the Heights is all about Washington Heights in New York City which is, I believe is in his story, like, the entire cast is all brown people.
Am: That’s so beautiful. I’ve heard of In the Heights but I never knew it was also queer.
K: Yeah, he wrote it when he was a sophomore at Wesleyan because he was in this theater major and he was like “there’s no roles for brown people here.” So he created an entire musical that’s explicitly roles for brown people. Which is super cool. And also the Get Down which takes place in the Bronx but I think they mention something about Washington Heights maybe, I’ve been watching it recently. But yeah no, I definitely agree with that. And especially in the sense of like, the queers who you said are a hard queer to swallow. It’s easier to push them under the bus because typically those are people who have twice marginalized identities or three or more. And so it’s harder to have a voice that is not only present in their lifetimes, but present afterward.
Am and A: (affirmative noises)
K: And I think that’s something we want to work on correcting. Or not, correcting but…what is the word for that…?
K: Addressing, yeah!
Am: And having intersectional narratives.
K: For sure.
Am: And not one-dimensional narratives, because no story is one-dimensional.
K: No. That’s one of the things I’ve definitely learned in college. Um, so yeah, part of our, part of the things we’ve discussed in further episodes would be, like, having a whole episode devoted to each of the major participants in the stonewall riots, who were primarily trans women of color, and highlighting their action there and also just, what happened to them afterward. Because at least one of them is still alive, I think Miss Major is still alive. And…it’s almost like she’s frozen in that moment in the sixties, that doesn’t… and her story stops after that.
Am: It would be really, really interesting if we could somehow speak to her.
K: (whispered) Oh my goodness.
Am: That would be incredible
K: That would be incredible
Am: So if there is some way that we could contact her that would be –
K: I have no idea, but we should look into it.
A: Exactly, I feel like that’s a goal, like, the bigger the podcast gets the more likely it is that someone hears it who somehow knows a person who knows a person who knows a person.
K: Yeah, that would be a goal.
Am: I think there’s so many people throughout history that are frozen in time in that way and that um, need to be reached out to, just to tell their stories. So many people that…their stories have been told by other people a thousand times but… who can tell their story best?
Am: It’s them.
K: And that’s something I’d really like to do with getting guests on the show who have survived the AIDS epidemic in the 70’s and 80’s and talking about what that was like and y’know, stories that they remember from that time and um….(pause). We also plan to have slightly lighter episodes! We wanna talk about queer style and the history of that as well. I know we have an episode planned about lesbian thumb rings
A: (softly) Yes! I am so excited.
K: But we want to talk about all of it too. Not just the good parts and not just the bad parts. But the interesting parts and the quirky parts too.
Am: The whole enchilada.
K: The whole quiltbag!
A: We’re keeping both of those lines.
A: I think we’ve got who we are and what we’re doing kind of under wraps. But do we want to get into today that weird generational divide that – more so you than us I think Kit because you, there’s even a one year line there – and people two or three years younger than us?
K: Yeah, oh yeah. I love talking about this. This is my favorite thing I’ve figured out. But also like, what…do we want to talk about what we personally know about queer history?
A: Oo, oh I like that. Mind if I start?
K: Yeah go ahead!
A: So mine’s probably the easiest one to explain because it’s ‘almost nothing’. Um, I’m remarkably ignorant about queer history. I wouldn’t have known what polyamorous people were were it not for the fact that I ended up dating one.
K: I feel like that’s how a lot of people figure out polyamory.
A: Exactly. It’s a problem it’s a really big problem. In terms of queer history I know borderline nothing. I know the fact that the Stonewall riots happened. I’m missing most of the details on that. I’m aware of the fact that most people who started it and were really important were not in fact straight white men, but I haven’t the slightest who they are. Um, yeah, it’s impressive; it’s an impressively bad quantity of knowledge.
K: I don’t know if it’s a bad quantity so much as it’s just like, that’s, I think that’s what a lot of people, that’s pretty much the extent of what a lot of people know. Because like, personally, I went to a public high school. I had AP US History. We never…we spent one day on the women’s rights movement. We never talked about the queer history movement. We barely talked about the civil rights movement and that was left after the sixties. I mean, not to mention the fact that we spent so much time on the Revolutionary and Civil wars that we didn’t have time to talk about the sixties before the test. I’m a little salty because we always talk about the Revolutionary war and we never get to talk about anything after the Second World War in US History classes in my experience. And I feel like that’s the history I want to know most about because I’ve heard the other stuff so many times.
Am: I think I am a little bit our resident queer history expert just because I’ve taken so many classes on it. (laughter) And by so many, I mean like three.
K: That’s more than I’ve taken.
Am: I’ve actually considered creating a queer major, like a queer studies major.
K: You should. Independent major?
Am: Yeah, because I’ve definitely sort of, there’s so many academic fields in which queer history plays into, which is shocking probably to people who have not taken queer history classes because it’s been so glossed over. But I think definitely um, my queer history education started when I got to college. It was not something that I got in high school. It was not something I even thought about in high school really. And so, there’s definitely a privilege to that. And there’s a class aspect and in there and an educational privilege aspect – the fact that I’m in college and able to take these classes. And there’s an aspect of the fact that I go to a liberal arts college.
K: And you have access to these classes instead of being shunted into a particular major and saying well “you have to spend the next four years studying only biology”
Am: Yeah, and the fact that they’re taught at all –
Am: – at this women’s college that we attend. And so, I have to recognize my own privilege in knowing all this queer history. And I think that’s part of the purpose of our podcast is to make history more accessible
K: Yeah, definitely, one thing that we’ve definitely decided that we’re doing is releasing transcripts of the episodes along with the episode itself because we want to make this accessible to people who are hard of hearing or deaf and want to access queer history because it’s…y’know. And maybe this comes from the perspective of having a marginalized identity but, I want this history to be accessible to everyone. And, y’know it’s been gate-kept for so long in some ways that part of this podcast is just, the goal of making everybody able to find out what it is that, y’know is the past that we come from. Find out who we are and what we have been throughout history as queer people. And so we have a, I think, personally, I have a really big interest in how to make this as accessible as possible. So if anyone has any feedback, we’ll have our website and Facebook and shit like that up soon so we would love for you to drop us comments if you have any. But yeah, I think it is a question of privilege as much as it is a question of identity.
Am: But also seeking it out. There’s no passive way to learn queer history. There are a lot of other passive ways to learn history, you just sit back and –
K: – Go to iTunes –
Am: Let the Revolutionary war wash over you.
K: Again, and again, and again.
Am: And again.
K: And again, for good measure!
Am: But, you know, no one’s like “well kids, come to your eighth grade history class and let me tell you about Emily Dickinson, my queer, mentally ill daughter.”
K: I did not know she was queer!
Am: Oh yeah, Emily Dickinson was very queer. She….her sister in law? Was, she wrote many impassioned letters to her. And I’m learning more every day just in my classes, I learned about Emily like, 4 days ago. And I’ve always been – like, it’s not even on her Wikipedia page.
Am: Yeah, you would not know Emily Dickinson was queer if people did not dig in and find these letters and say “there’s something a little suspect about the way she longs for Susie’s company here.”
(K snorts with laughter)
K: Honestly. Queer history and just the letters people have written to each other is honestly just, like, it’s an incredible research field in some ways because you just have these like, impassioned, flowery letters about how they long for someone else’s presence and…it’s fascinating how people insist that this is all like “very heterosexual.” There’s something I’ve seen with regards to I think, Chopin, and a friend of his and how when you translate it literally from the French it sounds, super gay and they’re like “oh but this isn’t gay, this is just how they spoke back then” and it’s like, realistically, how aggressively hard are you trying to make this heterosexual? Because, you’re still not succeeding in some ways. And I think there’s a difficulty [difference] in prescribing a queer identity on someone who is a historical figure and also just like, aggressively trying too hard to insist that they’re straight.
Am: Mhm, yeah. Well, I think to insist that everyone in history, ever, is straight is quite…ignorant in may ways. I think if you just look at like, the number of celebrities who are out –
K: And coming out every day, especially women.
Am: Historical celebrities are also not all straight!
K: And additionally like, maybe it’s a bit of a stereotype, but, I mean, if you think about what like is the stereotypical gay male: really artsy, into theater. Like, those didn’t come from nowhere in a sense, and y’know maybe it’s possible that a lot of the historical figures that we see as being not straight, it’s because they’re also artists and musicians and that happens to be a particularly queer field.
I mean, you think about spaces like our school, like, people are like “oh yeah, it’s a gay school, isn’t that where all the lesbians go? It’s like, well yeah, maybe, but because there are other lesbians there. And there have been. And that’s sometimes why people choose our school.
Aubrey: That’s exactly why I chose our school.
A: Also, future podcast thing when we get into talking about “this person from history was probably queer and that person from history was probably queer,” can there please be dramatic primary source readings?
Am: Of the letters?
A, K, Am: YES!
K: Can we keep that?
Am: Also can we write – can we read the letters from Eleanor Roosevelt to her journalist boo. Did you know Eleanor Roosevelt was…?
K; I knew, I knew she had a couple of, um, passionate friends, but I wasn’t sure who exactly it was. But like, she also, it wasn’t an arranged marriage to Teddy, but it was kind of an arranged marriage. Like, their families wanted them to marry, and also they were cousins. So, yeah, she never had to change her maiden name because it was always Roosevelt. Fun fact. It’s a little weird. I think they were, I don’t know if they were first cousins, I think they were second cousins, but yeah, fun fact, Eleanor Roosevelt married her cousin.
[Transcription Note: Eleanor did not marry Theodore Roosevelt, she married Franklin Roosevelt, the speaker regrets this error.]
A: Hmmm. Noted.
K: Yeah, no it’s this kind of, I definitely want to have dramatic readings from the letters….I guess I never really answered the question about like…what I was interested in, what I knew about queer history?
A: That’s alright. It was a long, but pleasant tangent.
K: Um, I feel like we’re gonna have a lot of those. But what do I know about queer history? Probably not that much. Probably in this seating arrangement is also the level of what we know about queer history. I probably know less than Amelia and more than Aubrey. I know about Stonewall. I know who the people were. I know that one of them is still alive, and I’ve…I guess I know about some of the historical figures but not as many as Amelia does. I know some more things about pop culture and pop culture history in some ways, talking about like queer style and there was a really good article I read a while ago about how Subaru started marketing its cars to lesbians and how that ultimately created the stereotype of the lesbaru. Which is probably my favorite article about cars I’ve ever read…and also the only article about cars I’ve ever read.
Am: I was about to ask.
K: When have I ever cared about using a gas-guzzling vehicle? Never.
Am: I was like, ‘wow Kit, that’s really gay’.
K: It is gay but it is not my variety of gay. Also, yeah, I definitely want to talk about the Glee/Gaga, the Born this Way generation, as I like to call them.
Am: I can share some of the more sordid bits of queer history that I know if you guys would like to –
K and A: (indistinct muttering of ascent)
Am: Um, well, Brokeback Mountain, they were not the only gay cowboys –
K: Oh yeah!
Am: Whole culture, super gay.
K: That I actually read about on tumblr! …. I’ve read most of my queer history on Tumblr…..
A: Oh tumblr.
Am: See I learned most of mine in class but that’s just, ah, circumstantial.
K: Yeah, no cowboys were super gay though.
Am: Yeah there’s like this whole poem about like, a lost partner.
K and A: (slow intake of break)
Am: I can bring it in and read it sometime if you guys would like
K: Please.Wwe should do short episodes of just, like, reading gay poetry.
Am: Walt Whitman.
K: Edna St. Vincent Millay. Openly bisexual, in an open marriage, and graduated from Vassar College back when it was a women’s college back in, like the 1920’s. Way ahead of her time. My fave.
A: And I think in general just like, spaces that tend to be most queer-friendly were all one gender, for example, cowboys, almost exclusively male from what I understand, tend to attract queer people.
K: There’s a much more homoerotic subculture in there
Am: Well, and just a homosocial, because you have a homogenous social environment.
K: Hello, welcome to our women’s college.
Am: (laughs) And um, you, I think people who may have never discovered their sexuality – I wouldn’t say that people “turn gay” at a women’s college – but I think people who may not have otherwise thought about it because they weren’t in a single-sex environment, especially for bisexual people because it’s very easy not to realize you’re queer because you’re like “I like men, what’s the problem.” And then you get to a single-sex environment where you’re surrounded by…women all the time and you say “wow, women are really, really awesome.”
K: Yeah, that’s actually largely my experience. Like, I knew I was bi, but I was dating a guy basically until the first year, until the end of my first year of college and I…So for a long time, during high school, I was kinda like “am I really bi? or am I just making this up?” And like, a lot of that is internalized biphobia and a product of like, all of that heterosexual society that we get. But I didn’t really have the space to kind of figure out that I was in fact incredibly queer and like, much more into women than men to begin with until I came to this, to college and realized, like, spending all of this time around other women and other feminine people that like, wow, they’re really attractive, I wanna kiss all of them.
Am: Every. Single. One.
K: (laughs) Only if they’re ok with it. But yeah, no, I definitely feel like that space to question comes from a homosocial environment in some ways too.
Am: And I’m sure, y’know, the same applied to men on the range (A: laughs) or whatever that word for cowboys is.
K: One of the things I wonder is like, what about boy’s prep schools? Like –
A: Oh it’s gotta be the same point
K: Like, I’m talking like really old, old boys club, stogy English prep schools like, Exeter, the English Exeter, not the one in New Hampshire um, and stuff like that, like, does that –
[Transcription Note: Exeter is actually a co-ed school, Eton is a better example here, the speaker again regrets this error.]
Am: You know there’s some dormitory fumbling going on.
K: That is…a great term. (pauses) Um, but yeah, definitely the homosocial environment, please tell us more sordid details.
Am: Oh gosh, um, well I can tell you about the word um, or how the term missionary sex came about.
Am: So the, there were missionaries to, I believe that it was um, the Americas, but I am not entirely sure. I know it was a place that had Native people of color, which is almost everywhere except Iceland and um, they saw these natives who were very queer native American people and just non-white people –
K: Didn’t have a westernized concept of sexuality and gender so of course it looked queer.
Am: Yeah, very wonderfully, beautifully queer, and um they looked at them and said “they are having sex much too creatively.” So they taught them to do it with the woman on her back and the man on top, and they called it missionary position. And that’s how the, um, ubiquitous straight people having quiet sex at 9 pm position came about
K: That is the ubiquitous “straight people having quiet sex at 9 pm” position.
K: Yeah, also, things we should point out about women’s colleges is that they’re definitely not gender-exclusive. We have a lot of non-binary people on campus besides Aubrey and I here, and trans people too, and we not have a policy that actually accepts trans women to our college um, we’re…there is a group on campus that works to make our school more gender inclusive. Is…the idea of a women’s college becoming a very…fraught…idea, a fraught topic, but yeah.
A: Sometimes I like to think that we’re sort of archaic and we don’t need to exist anymore. And that’s when I know I’ve been on campus for too long. And then I leave.
K: Then I go off campus, and I realize that men suck.
Am: Yeah, single sex is used very loosely to mean “not cis men.”
K: Yeah, pretty much. “Women’s college” is also used very loosely to mean “pretty much everyone but cis men.” Yeah, no, we are many more than just girls and women here.
Am: And I think that’s definitely…it creates a very unique environment.
K: For sure.
Am: And there’s like a miraculous openness to sexuality and gender here at a women’s college, “women” air quotes, um.
Am: And I think there’s definitely this aura of empowerment for women and queer people and non-binary people and trans people that couldn’t exist had our campus been populated by cis men for many years.
K: Yeah, I went to a field school over the summer which had 6 cis men in the class and like, honestly, even though there were like 30 “female” students, air quotes, because I’m not a female but I got stuck with all the girls. There’s definitely a sense of like “oh, I’m really glad I go to this women’s college” like, I don’t miss having men in the classroom. Which is a tangential discussion from queer history but I think it [women’s colleges] definitely creates that social atmosphere which allows for…
Am: Unapologetic queerness?
K: Yeah, that’s a good word for it.
A: And a lot less competitive too.
A: I, for the first time in my college experience have a cross-registered man in one of my classes and I feel like not everyone has gotten super competitive, but I at least have gotten super competitive.
K: With, like, him, in class?
K: Yeah, no I definitely feel that with like, looking back on it, I feel way less competitive in class than I did in high school, where y’know, half or most of the class in some cases was guys.
Am: Though a disclaimer I have met my share of very, very respectful men.
A: That’s also true.
K: Yeah, I mean, when I say ‘men suck’ I mean men as a concept in general being incredibly misogynistic, but like, one of my best friends is a straight cis white dude.
Am: Same here.
K: And I don’t know how it happened, but it did.
A: Currently dating a straight, cis, white dude. They don’t all suck, there’s like, some exceptions.
K: There’s some exceptions.
K: What was the other point I wanted to bring up?
Am: The millennial divide.
K: Oh, yeah! The Born This Way generation um, is my own, very non-academic term. But I also don’t like discounting the idea that it’s academic because I think it really does exist as a phenomenon of the divide between, y’know, myself, who is a junior in college and somebody who’s 4-5 years younger than me and still in high school. Because there’s a very significant change that I personally have noticed with my old high school (to A) and I think you with yours and I don’t know –
Am: And me with mine as well.
K: Yeah, where all of a sudden the GSA’s at our respective high schools have suddenly exploded. And more kids are out not just as gay but as bi, as ace, as trans or non-binary in some cases. And the fact that those kids are there in high school now, where they weren’t when I was in high school and being out as even just gay was like a very big deal…and made everybody like really hyper-focused on you including all the small queers who were not out of the closet yet. Like myself. That is a very significant divide that I feel correlates pretty strongly with the run of Glee and the release of things like Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and Katy Perry’s “Firework,” the Supreme Court case in 2012 that struck down part of DOMA and ultimately the legalization of gay marriage by the Supreme Court last year, so ultimately that kind of thing.
A: Absolutely, I think I see a major, major divide between like my own experience and sophomores in my high school and the way that my high school has completely changed even just this year. It’s so much better. When I was in high school I was the only lesbian, I didn’t know I was bi at the time. It actually took going to a women’s college to figure out that I missed men, like, no actually I kind of liked that.
But when I was in high school I was like, the lesbian, and I can definitely count on both hands all of the different kinds of queer people and what they identified as in a school of like 1,000 people.
A: Because I knew all of them, very personally, because we only had each other. And now that I’ve been gone for two years, our GSA has gone from like 2 or 3 people to be significantly better to the extent that when I went home and to the library over the summer, there was a sign in the library for the fact that they were continuing to run the GSA from the high school over the summer in our public library. Because it was that strong and that important. A community that existed now.
K: Yeah, definitely. (to Am) What do you remember from your high school that you know is different or think is different now?
Am: Um, I know that I was, like yourself the only out lesbian, I did not identify as bisexual at the time, in my grade. There were, even just the gap while I was in high school, there was me and a handful of other queer people in my grade in a school of 3500 people and then – I went to an enormous high school.
K: Yeah, I was gonna say, I was only 1200.
Am: Yeah, my graduating class was 700. Um, but the number of queer people increased exponentially depending on how far down in the grades you went, you know, there was many more juniors and there were many more sophomores and there were many more freshmen. And I know there’s definitely a recognition and a bigger, a better allyship since I left. My brother, who at this point identifies as straight, but I have my suspicions….
Am: – He started attending the GSA as a way to support his friends who are queer and as a way to support me even though I wasn’t at the school anymore. There’s definitely an increased visibility for queer people. (to K) But like you said, I remember being just mesmerized by queer people.
K: Yeah, especially if they were older than you, and in high grades. And you would just like stare at them as you walked past them at their locker. And part of it was just like “you are out and I, a small queer who does not know that they are queer, am sort of fascinated by that ability to be out and be happy and be acceptable in the spotlight in some ways.”
The one particular case I remember was a kid who came out as gay, started dating a guy in the grade above him..but he was like a big theater person so he was super used to being in the spotlight because he usually got a lot of leads in the school musicals and stuff and so I just remember having this like connection between “you are comfortable with this in some ways because you are used to the spotlight,” And, that this is not something I am comfortable with when I finally started realizing I was queer and coming out as queer because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself in that way. So I never came out publicly in high school. Which I am very bitter about in a lot of ways…
Am: I actually elected to come out on twitter which I, um, I had –
Am: At that point I was, um, at least for my school, doing well in the twittersphere.
K: Oh man, my high school’s twitter was a mess.
Am: And um, I elected to come out on twitter and got just this overwhelming outpouring of support that was totally amazing. But that’s actually how I got outed. Someone saw my twitter, someone from my family’s church stumbled upon my twitter –
K: Oh no.
Am: – and showed my parents. So, you win some you lose some.
Am: But I think there’s definitely um, that was like, a huge step. That was…there was a lot of fear. And I think there are ways, there are now, you can now be out without that level of fear.
K: Yeah, and without that level of sort of like having to make a big deal of coming out in some ways. I mean, I know my younger sibling did that, I know that was even a couple of years ago, but that was when he was in 8th grade…
Am: I would have never dreamed, I would have never, I didn’t even know I was queer in 8th grade.
K: Yeah! I barely knew queer people existed in the 8th grade and oh my god, my poor gay ass. I had a giant crush on my best friend and I didn’t know!
Am: I think something that we can talk about too with this podcast is our personal queer histories and the way that we build our own narratives and the way that every person has a story to tell whether they’re famous or not. Y’know my queer history is, ‘she sat behind me in science class and she was so beautiful.’
K: Was it chemistry class?
Am: It was not chemistry.
(K groans in mock anguish)
Am: It was earth science, but, boy, was I thinking about bedrock
K: That’s so good.
Am: Thank you.
K: Yeah, I just, and I’ve known this for a long time but I think, y’know, I was introduced to queer people in summer camp by a girl who became part of a very heavily Christian, kind of conservative youth group. And like, her description of queer people to me was “do you know there are like guys…who like to have sex with other guys??” Scandalous. And there was this sense of it being a little dirty and disgusting and like, yeah, we were like, 12, so sex was disgusting in general but, I’m still a little bitter because I feel like she kind of ruined it for me in some ways and I never got to like realize that I was queer until I was 16 and it still felt a little wrong.
And queerness felt like it was a wrong thing for so long because of that, so that when I was in 8th grade and I had this giant crush on my best friend, and somebody desperately needed to shake me at 14 and tell me “Kit, you are GAY” nobody did. And I never realized it myself because I never thought that was sort of an acceptable option and also I thought this other guy was cute, so clearly I had a real crush on him and I just really wanted to be her friend.
K: Like, really wanted to be her friend.
Am: Her BFF forever.
A: I think in my 8th grade me, my best friend came out to me as a lesbian.
A: He later turned out to me as trans but came out to me as a lesbian in the 8th grade and I had this shocking moment of “oh my gosh, this is such a foreign concept.” I …I was so not like, in the right headspace to comprehend anything. And it definitely shook our friendship briefly. Flash forward to my sophomore year, like 3 years later, and I was like “oh.” I was working in a theater, and I was so, so lucky to have that theater. We didn’t really have a functional GSA so instead we had the tech crew of our theater.
K: Oh my god.
A: Which was half queer. The actors were mostly straight but the tech crew was just so queer.
K: Fucking gay.
A: Fucking gay. And I realized my sophomore year, “oh, I am really into our sound tech.” And it was…yeah…it was a 3-year gap between “my best friend is queer and I don’t know how to handle it” to “whoops, guess I am too.”
Am: My first girlfriend was on the tech crew of my theater.
K: Oh my god.
Am: I think that’s that falls under the stereotypes.
K: My baby gay crush and I did basically glorified Shakespeare fanfiction. Um, and we were in that and gay and it was beautiful. We weren’t gay on stage, unfortunately, but it was, it was just a great reversal because all of the people who were actors there were at the time identified as girls, and of course Shakespeare is historically all the girls were played by men, suddenly, all the boys were played by girls. And it was pretty great.
Am: That’s beautiful.
Am: Theater, not just for gay men.
K: Yeah, no I think that’s kind of funny about how we all sort of have our formative gay experiences in the theater in some ways. I think that’s an interesting idea for an episode too. Like, how much does theater play a role in the queer experience?
A: Honestly I think that queers and theater should be way more than one episode. This is a multi-part…
Am: A story arc.
K: Yeah, we want to have a couple of multi-part episodes as well. Especially about really major events, the Stonewall riots is definitely going to be many episodes because we want to talk about the riots, what led up to them, the history and culture surrounding those. We want to do an episode for each super important figure in the riots, and just the aftermath as well. So that’s definitely going to be at least 5-10 episodes. I personally am really excited to research that because I have a book about it now! But yeah, does anyone have anything else they want to say before we wrap up?
Am: Do we have any other thoughts we wanted to discuss?
K: Um, I don’t think so? I think this was mostly just a “who are we, why are we here, what are we doing” kind of episode. I think we’ve mostly covered all of that.
A: Yeah, to wrap it up, we’re here because there’s no representation of queer history and we found all of our personal stories that the more representation there is, of queer people, queer history, of queer anything, the easier it is for people to come out and the easier it is for people to communicate and to be able to go “Hi I’m this thing” and for people to be able to understand what that thing is, and that it’s something that exists and that they can be ok with.
Am: We’re telling the stories that allow people to tell their stories.
K: We’re here because we want to preserve stories that won’t be around forever, and to preserve the names of those people so that someday other people can say “this person was here, and they saw this happen.” And we believe that that’s important to say for queer history.
A: I’m Aubrey.
K: I’m Kit.
Am: I’m Amelia.
(All together) And this has been QUILTBAG History!
Am: That was good, we did it.
A: That was good!
Am: Nos hicimos
(Outgoing music begins to play)
K: What does that mean?
Am: We did it
(Music continues to play)
A: We here at QUILTBAG History would like to thank Elise Brown for our wonderful intro and outro music which you’re hearing right now, Kit Mitchell as our creative mastermind and entire research team, and myself, Aubrey Simonson, as our editor.