Lydia & Bethany- Still Processing Together
Bethany, our tall blue eyed goddess, & Lydia, our hazel eyed cutie rocking a nose ring, are simply extraordinary. Throughout our interview, they managed to simultaneously make me laugh while thoroughly and genuinely inspiring me as well. Bethany & Lydia are brilliant, compassionate, engaging, feminists with a passion for food, science, and social justice. Bethany & Lydia, you are absolute babes. Thank you for interviewing with us!
Hometown: Florence, AL
How do you identify? Lesbian
What do you do? Currently, I’m a recruiter for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest based in Portland, OR.
What are your favorite queer resources? I read a lot of books, especially on the road for my job, and my goal for 2019 was to read more books by queer women. So that’s been fun! My favorite podcast of all time (though I love all podcasts) is Still Processing. The podcasters are queer, people of color working for the NY Times. Representation really matters. I’ve loved seeing queer relationships be normalized in the media, in movies, in literature. I also love local resources and building community in them. Portland is such a queer hub.
Hometown: Enterprise, Alabama (population: 25,000. Closest big city: Montgomery, 90 miles away. Even though we lived in a neighborhood, I passed a cotton field driving into town every day. It was a weird place to grow up.)
How do you identify? When I first came out in 2014 I identified as bisexual. I had dealt with a lot of internalized homophobia and compulsive heterosexuality in my environment of the deep south. I had also had some limited success with romantic feelings towards men. I realized in mid-2018 that I was defining myself and my sexuality, something deeply personal to me, on the potential existence of some theoretically perfect man that I had no intention of pursuing even if he did exist. Long story short, I identify as a lesbian now.
What do you do? I am on staff at an HBCU as the coordinator of a biology tutoring center. I have a masters degree in Cell and Molecular Biology.
What are your favorite queer resources? Online: Autostraddle, 500 Queer Scientists, BLBW (see below). In person: queer coworkers and queer spaces - New Orleans has so many awesome queer events, bars, and celebrations.
Ok ladies, let’s start with your coming out stories. Walk me through your experiences.
B- Growing up, no one in my school was out. Even those who could not hide their orientation lived in a glass closet reinforced by denial and/or Southern sensibilities to not talk about anything “inappropriate”. It’s actually funny that my first “boyfriend” is now married to a man - I actually never suspected he was gay then, and I’m not sure what his coming out story was, but I’m so glad that BOTH of us are happy now.
When I went to college, I got to know gay friends and non-religious friends, and they were really an eye-opening beacon of hope for me. Here were people living the antithesis to the environment I grew up in, and they were happier and freer than I had EVER been.
It took me a long time to come out to myself. Detaching being gay from being bad or “going to hell” was a lot of the work. Then it was just being able to put the attraction I felt into words. As a person with anxiety coming from an oppressive environment, the idea of coming out was terrifying. But to paraphrase Anais Nin - it got to a point where it was more painful to stay in than it was to come out. I had to break free. And that’s the one word that always comes to mind when I talk about coming out and finding love - free.
My friends have always been supportive, and wanted me to be happy and find love. They loved Lyd from the first moment they met her. My family is another thing entirely.
It’s an incredibly painful part of my story, because while some of my family is supportive, some of them are still avoidant of the whole queer part of my identity. It’s sad because it’s a huge part of who I am. I plan to spend the rest of my life with Lyd and some of them have made every effort possible to push her away. BUT thanks to a lot of therapy and a lot of love from Lyd, I can say I have made my choices independently from their influence and I am so happy and hopeful with who I am as a person and where my life is going. It’s a shame on my family that they can’t also be happy for me.
I am so lucky to have chosen family in my dear friends and they are the support system I rely on. I think nearly all queer people can relate to that.
L- I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this timeline. And the honest answer is, I think a part of me always knew. In middle school/early high school I’d have day dreams of kissing girls I knew or cuddling in bed and some twisted part of my brain was like “Oh, this is normal. Female relationships are just more intimate than relationships with males.” HA. It was easy for me to dissociate from it. Looking back on it, I genuinely don’t feel I was in denial myself, I just didn’t know how to process the information in front of me. I remember feeling really out of my body during that time. Like I was so different from the people standing beside me and I was watching my life pass by through a glass door. I had a few failed relationships with men in high school and I remember feeling like, “This just isn’t my thing. I’m too focused on myself and my goals to try and make a relationship work.”
Ironically, my family has always been super supportive. And I grew up knowing they would be which made me go through multiple stages of guilt in college especially after meeting my partner and seeing what her dynamic was with her family. My mom’s best friend is a gay man. So I was definitely raised with the “love everybody” mentality. And I’m so thankful for that, but I also knew I was a minority that way especially growing up in the Deep South. In some ways I felt like I had hit the jackpot on coming out and family dynamics, but I didn’t feel like I deserved that. My parents and my siblings are all so supportive and they adore my partner.
All that being said, my coming out story was completely reactionary! My senior year of high school-freshman year of college I was dating a girl secretly from my hometown. Due to her own familial issues, she was actually living in our house with my parents and I. They were under the impression we were just best friends. It was happening all in the middle of transitioning into college, trying to figure out my sexuality, and trying to make new friends so you can say that was a rough year for me. Flash forward through an honestly unbelievable and ridiculously sad story, and I was in my second semester of college with like a 1.9 GPA and an inability to get out of bed. The girl had begun a relationship with my dorm RA—while we were still together. So yeah that was rough. During one of my MANY get-back-together with-her-maybe-trysts, I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt entirely out of control. So I called my mom at like 2:30 PM on a Tuesday in a parking lot and just sobbed. I told her everything. After that I slowly started telling friends and what not until it just became a piece of me that I could wear everywhere.
Bethany, BLBW provides members with a beautiful queer second family. What is BLBW & what is your role is?
B- BLBW is a Facebook group of which I am an admin and founding member. BLBW stands for Betches Loving Brunch and Women - a name with like 4 levels of backstory, but I’ll simplify by saying it’s a spin-off of a spin-off.
Starting back in 2014, I was a part of a Facebook group of advice for-20-something-women by-20-something-women. This group had its pros and cons, but ultimately it built a community of women at similar ages facing similar problems. The original group tended to be unfriendly towards WLW-specific questions, often making hurtful comments and derailing conversations. Myself and two WLW friends decided to found another Facebook group with the same mission - a safe space to ask for and give advice to women - with WLW-only membership. It is a relatively small group, which I think allows for better community and more authentic conversations. I hope it will continue to grow as we invite our WLW friends and find solidarity and kinship with each other.
What hope do you have for your future queers?
L- I hope there’s a future with acceptance, equity and peace for all of us. I want to marry the love of my life, I want to have a family with her, I want a career that fuels the fire inside of me and I want to live a life full of passion, adventure, fulfillment, and social justice work. I want my children to live in a world that is free of hatred, protective of our environment and promoting the pursuit of happiness for ALL. We all have to be an active member of the fight to make change. That requires supporting queer folks, standing alongside and with people of color, fighting the patriarchy, marching to end gun violence, centering ecological justice, acknowledging that we currently exist on stolen land, and lifting up those voices and stories. I hope young queers following in my footsteps have a passion for activism and deep gratitude for the people who have come before us and suffered or died for the cause. We have so much farther to go, but I believe in the power of collective action. And if that’s the only message I leave behind on this Earth after I leave it, I’m okay with that.
B- I hope to always live a life that makes myself and my partner proud of me. I hope to leave an impact on individual people, to be a source of positivity and encouragement for students, coworkers, and anyone with whom I come into contact. I hope to always think “I could never be happier than right now” and “I have never loved this woman more” and then be proved wrong over and over again.
For young queer people with my same experiences, I hope you get out of your small town of small-minded people and find your passions and pursue them doggedly. I hope you free yourself from the toxic patterns of behavior that raised you. I hope you find love even in the most unlikely of circumstances, just like I did, and that it changes and challenges you into always becoming a better person.
We should all recognize by now that coming out is a process. What has your experience been like coming out in your professional careers?
L- I graduated with a degree in Public Health from Spring Hill College in 2017. In August of that year, I moved to Portland, OR for my Jesuit Volunteer (JV) year with JVC Northwest, a post grad service organization. I’ve always been passionate about social justice and specifically the intersection of that with health and women. And doing a volunteer year after college gave me the opportunity to really dive into it, learn, and grow. I came out of it with immeasurable personal awareness and growth. After I finished the program, the opportunity to travel and recruit for the organization just kinda fell into my lap. I get to go all over the country for my job, seeing places I never thought I’d see. As far as careers, I’m still unsure who I want to be when I grow up. Grad school is definitely in the picture for me; I want to double major in social work and gender and women’s studies. But I’ve seen that map into a career a multitude of different ways and I honestly see myself doing multiple things across my professional career. My personality is a very determined and take charge type so my absolute dream would be to establish a center for women’s sexual/reproductive health and empowerment.
In college I was less vocal about it in professional spaces. I think a part of me felt like I didn’t want my identity to either be the reason I did or didn’t get a job. Yes, it’s a big part of who I am, but I have had amazing work experience, I worked hard in college, I’ve done a lot of leadership roles etc. I wanted the value of my employment to come from my abilities and not my sexual orientation. But I’ve since realized how important it is to own that in professional spaces (if safe for you to do so of course). My identities have mostly positively affected my professional life. Especially working for an organization based in Portland, it’s a really accepting, inclusive and intentional work environment. I think I’ve travelled to places that may not be as accepting, but overall it’s an asset. I’ve made strong connections with students on campuses while recruiting who are also queer. In my JV year, I was serving at a drop in/resource for youth experiencing homelessness and my identity made me relatable and trustworthy. My job is so relational and if being open and out helps a least one person feel comfortable or safe, that’s a definite win for me.
B- At my HBCU, our student population is 96% people of color and 70% women. I value working with college-age students and pouring my passion for science literacy and compassion for student success into everything I do. It is incredibly rewarding in every aspect.
I don’t know yet what my career end goal will be - maybe I’ll get my doctorate in higher education and stay in university administration/staff. Maybe I’ll take the skills I build here to working in a nonprofit. Lyd and I actually share the same kind of dream job in both capacities - becoming admin of a college/university with a commitment to social justice, or maybe becoming CEO of a nonprofit that serves women/LGBTQ+ people in a capacity we are passionate about. We’re still dreaming big and following the things we love and feel called to do.
I find being in the LGBTQ+ community helps me connect with my students on a deeper level. Being out and proud frees me from so much of the tip-toeing and constant vigilance that once ate away at me. I am more authentically myself, and that unquestionably allows me to do better work.
I recently left a position where it was unsafe for me to be out to my bosses - I still work with them occasionally, and yet they do not know that I am gay. I lived with a strain that I could be fired at any time that my conservative and highly religious bosses wanted. I knew how coming out could change how people saw me, and had a strong feeling that if I came out to them it would happen again.
I am so happy now to be in a small, private university atmosphere where differences are celebrated and minorities are the majority. We are living inside an everyday revolution here.
Finally, let’s talk about love. Tell me everything about you both and your relationship.
L- We’ll we met on Tinder, yes I know, but to be fair we found out after meeting we had quite a few mutual friends and those circles were starting to overlap. I really believe we would’ve met a little more organically relatively soon after we did, but technology just sped up the process. She messaged me and told me she thought I was beautiful and then finally asked me out a few days later. It took her a whole month to ask me to be her girlfriend though!
For me, being in a relationship with a loving, incredible, intelligent, funny, quirky and beautiful woman is all I’ve ever wanted. I came into this relationship HOT off the heels trying to get over my first real and deep, deep heartbreak. I had just made it to a place where I was feeling really confident in my identity, most of my friends knew and were supportive, and so I was looking to get back out there! She messaged me only my second night on the app. But given our circumstances as I was a sophomore and she was a senior looking to go off to grad school, I don’t think either of us saw the relationship lasting. I enjoyed being in her presence and she made me feel amazing, but I was trying to be guarded and casual for the sake of the timing just seeming off. I think my heart never had a chance. I told her I was in love with her only two months after we started dating. It was this peaceful surety that settled over me when I realized it.
B- Like Lyd said, we met “through mutual friends” (aka Tinder) in 2014. I was a senior at the University of South Alabama, and she was a sophomore at Spring Hill College just a mile down the road. I was in the middle of deciding where to apply to graduate school, and she had 2 more years of college still to go. I think Lyd will agree with me when I say that neither of us knew then if we would last in the long term. All I knew is that she was beautiful, smart, fascinating, electric, and someone I wanted to be around for as long as she, or the universe, would allow me to.
We’ve faced a lot of obstacles together in the last 4 years. We’ve been long-distance all but about 8 (non-consecutive) months of that time. Varying distances - we’ve been 2 hours by car apart, and also 7 hours of air travel apart. I chose to go to graduate school in New Orleans, Lyd chose to do a year of service with JVCNW/AmeriCorps in Portland, OR. I left graduate school and my lease ended, and we decided I would stay in New Orleans in our apartment instead of trying to join Lyd in Portland.
Actually, we still didn’t actually know if we would stay together in the long-term until about 2 years ago. There was a lot of uncertainty in what position Lyd would take with JVC: if she would go abroad, if we could make our relationship last cross-country. I was stressed to the absolute limit in graduate school, still struggling with my relationship with my parents and generalized anxiety. And like all couples, we have the usual disagreements and miscommunications, which can often be exacerbated by the long distance.
I think what has pulled us through every difficulty in our relationship is the great respect and admiration we have for each other, our ability to communicate well, and the fact that I wake up every single day and choose her. No matter what is happening between the two of us or between us and the world, she is the one I want and I keep that at the forefront of my mind and my thoughts. Not to mean that I sacrifice myself or my own wants and needs, but that every day I am actively and consciously recommitted to our relationship and its health and growth.
I really admire that so much of your relationship has been long distance. What has the looked like for you?
L- Long distance is hard. I mean, hard. I think any relationship requires the work to be put in, but add that to a car or plane ride between us and things just get complicated. One thing I’ve always been really proud of though is our commitment to ourselves and to the relationship. I believe a partnership should be a coming together of two people 100% supportive of one another and their own personal growths and journeys. I’ve never felt that was lacking in our relationship. We have this deep respect for one another and our dreams that really has made all the difference. There’s been uncertainty, fear, and miscommunication speckled about the last 4 years for sure, but I feel like the last 6 months of our relationship has been a new beginning. We both had a lot of personal growth in 2018 and it’s transformed how we communicate with one another, how we show love and appreciation for each other and how we value each other. It feels like the possibilities are endless. Sometimes she makes me feel like a lovesick teen even when we’ve been together so long. That’s how I know she’s the person I’m spending my life with. She makes me feel things so deeply and purely.
B- We are still long distance now, as Lyd got a great opportunity to stay on with JVCNW in a temporary position as a 9-month recruiter. Her position ends when April ends, and the plan is to stay in New Orleans for at least the last 9 months of our apartment lease.
What then? I don’t know exactly. We both have big dreams we want to make happen. I do know that I want to spend the rest of my life with Lyd, no question about it. She is my teammate, my favorite person on the planet, one of my best friends, and I am wholly in love with her. Whatever is next, I know we’ll go into it hand-in-hand.
You are both sincerely couple goals. What coming out advice would you offer queers looking to come out of the closet and start dating?
B- First, come out to yourself. Say it in the mirror. Write it down. Post it somewhere anonymously. Get a taste of freedom and let yourself love that feeling.
Then, find your safest friend or family member to tell. Start small. Go at your own pace. Let every single time make you braver, stronger, happier, freer. More yourself.
Know that coming out is a process that never ends. Also know that it is a huge accomplishment when you come out to ONE person. Know this duality of coming out and keep being brave enough to move forward anyways. It will only get easier.
You are loved, you matter, and you are free.
L- I’ve gone through multiple phases with my feelings about coming out since I did in April of 2014. I think it still bothers me that it’s even a thing. It feels so isolating to have to constantly be the “other.” To be the taboo that people feel they have the right to ask you all kinds of questions about your sexual life because it’s “different.” To have to go through an emotionally taxing experience countless times over your lifetime just to be honest about who you are. That’s what was hard for me coming out to my parents. I knew I would be accepted, but I was mourning for them letting go of the person they had just assumed I was all my life. It’s such a paradox too. Coming out was single-handedly the most terrified and the most liberated I’ve ever felt and I felt those things intensely at the same time.
But I think my advice would be to own it. Coming out is an experience that’s entirely your own. You get to name who, what, when, where and why. I think that control piece is important. It allows the reigns to be put back in your hands, even as your probably at your most vulnerable. Allow yourself to be proud of yourself even as you are making small steps. It’s a process, not a one time thing. And each time it will get easier as you gain confidence, acceptance in yourself, and ultimately liberation.