Ashleigh Atwell

Ashleigh Atwell: We are family, let’s act like it

I didn’t come out to the world until I was 23 years old.

Prior to that, I was in a long-term heterosexual relationship that began when I was a 19-year-old college sophomore. The first few years of my young adulthood were spent living a lie and at a month shy of my 27th birthday, I’m still playing catch up.

When other LGBTQ people speak of their escapades and baby gay experiences, jealousy sweeps over me. I don’t have stories because I spent so much of my time hiding. I don’t feel like I have a true community despite not only living but being born in Atlanta, a supposed LGBTQ. I don’t know where I fit.

These feelings usually sit in the periphery of my mind but ATL’s impending Pride season have brought them to the forefront. Not to mention, this city doesn’t have the best social climate.
Atlanta is a segregated city and that extends to its LGBTQ populace. The white LGBTQ and black LGBTQ are separate to the point where the latter has its own Pride celebration. The lines go even deeper than that. Gay men and lesbians maintain separate spaces and it’s definitely a man’s world. Lesbian spaces are hard to come by especially if there isn’t a party involved. We don’t have well-known apps like Grindr and Jack’d. It gets worse for people who are transgender or bisexual. Despite trans issues being more visible than ever, transphobia and transmisogyny are rampant. Trans people are a spectacle or oddity and god forbid you tell a Midtown gay he isn’t allowed to say “tranny.”

Bisexual people are stuck in the middle of two communities that want to dictate their choices. Straight people believe women are just experimenting and men are just gay. Gay people have some sort of abandonment issue. In the lesbian groups I frequent, bisexual women are outcasts and regarded with vitriol.

This is a sad reality considering the history behind our Pride celebrations. Despite what Hollywood wants you to believe, an angry white twink with a brick didn’t start the Stonewall Riots. People like Marsha P. Johnson, a black transgender woman and Sylvia Rivera, a bisexual Latina, did the work that started it all. Rumor has it that Marsha was the one with the brick and Rivera was a seasoned activist before and after the riots. They dedicated their lives to this movement despite continuous disrespect and abuse. Rivera was famously booed during a Pride celebration less than five years later. Johnson’s cause of death is still unsolved 25 years after she was found floating in the Hudson River. History is repeating itself. Despite us gallivanting down the street in glitter and rainbow feathers, trans women are dying at an alarming rate and we’re ignoring these deaths. If anyone bring this or biphobia up, they’re considered a wet blanket.

It’s frustrating for someone like me: a late bloomer that may or may not be all the way lesbian. Where do I fit? Where is my community? Can I enjoy myself at both Prides with these questions floating around? I don’t know.

I just want us to be better to each other. We call ourselves a community, let’s act like it.