The Pride movement has raised visibility for humans’ right to love and identify in a way that is authentic with who they are. In this episode of Breaking the Bias, Consciously Unbiased founder Ashish Kaushal (virtually) sits down with Wen Stenger, a Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant, for an unplugged conversation about Wen’s journey of coming out in her 40s as the mom of three boys, and how growing up in a Christian family in the South influenced the way she raised her children.
They also cover the difference between gender identity and sexuality; the intersectionality of the Pride movement; and how LGBTQ+ peoples’ race, religion, and family upbringing may act as barriers for finding acceptance and reaching equality.
Read below for some key takeaways:
ASHISH: You’re the mom of 3 teenage boys, and came out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community last year in your 40s. Can you share your journey–what were some of the biggest barriers keeping you from sharing this part of yourself?
WEN: “I didn’t come out publicly until last year. I am in my forties. I spent most of my adulthood living and passing as a heterosexual person. I got married to a man, I had babies, I had a suburban life. I tried to do all of those things because I was raised by a family who told me that my job was to find a husband and have children. Through all of that, I struggled with happiness and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I thought, ‘I must be not doing this well because everybody else around me just loves this kind of life or at least they pretend they do for the most part.’ As early as my teenage years and early twenties, I knew that I liked women and men. People always told me it was a faze and that I would grow out of it. So, I just kept waiting to grow out of it. But, in my late thirties I knew that I had not grown out of it.
I started to come out to a few friends, but I really didn’t want to come out publicly until I told my three teenage boys. My biggest concern was that I was going to scare them and that they weren’t going to know how to deal with me. I worried that they wouldn’t accept having a gay mom or that it would cause them a lot of grief because of the possibility of discrimination that they would face within their circle of friends. But, when I finally came out to them last summer, I sat down with each of them individually, it really did not bother them. I told my oldest first and he said, ‘Yeah mom, it’s fine. It doesn’t change who you are. You’re still my mom. I just want you to be happy.’ I told my other two and they said, ‘Cool, okay, can we go play video games now?’ Their responses were very nonchalant.”
ASHISH: Why don’t you feel like you “fit in a box” when it comes to sexuality and gender identity?
WEN: “I don’t think anybody really’ fits in a box’ for sexuality and gender association. It really is a spectrum. One end is for gender identity, specifically for cis-gender people, meaning, you identify with the physical gender that you were born with. Transgender would most likely be the opposite of the spectrum, I don’t know. But, I just know that a lot of times I sit somewhere in the middle. Based on physical sex identity, I agree, I’m female. I’m a woman. I’m a mom. But, my gender expression or how I behave is different. Gender is a social construct created in the 50s to mean, as a society, this is how people will behave. I don’t assign myself to the female behavior persona. I’m a little bit masculine, but I’m also a little bit feminine. I’m somewhere in the middle. People would call that gender fluid or gender nonconforming. To me, that makes perfect sense.”
ASHISH: How did growing up in a Christian family in the South influence the way you raised your own children?
WEN: “I’m raising my kids to be the first generation to break the bias and the discrimination that has been passed down for hundreds of years in my family. When I was a young child, I was taught to say hateful things about people of color and people who are not straight, but I didn’t know any better. As I got older, one of the saving graces was that my mom remarried when I was about seven or eight. My stepdad has a very different view. He taught us a lot more about treating people equally and with respect. When I became a parent, I had the choice of, do I perpetuate what was taught to me or do I teach a new thing? I decided to teach a new thing. It sounds easy if that sounds simple, but it’s not. You raise your kids based on what you were taught. Because I had no example, I had to learn everything on my own. I had to do trial and error.”
ASHISH: Can you talk more about how individuals of the LGBTQ+ community face discirmination within their own group?
WEN: “For years, LGBTQ people of color were discriminated within the LGBTQ community because the gay community was predominantly white or the outplay community was predominantly white. We continue to see discrimination for transgender individuals because there are people within the gay community that don’t feel that transgender people are authentic, legitimate, and should be part of the community. And for decades, there has been a lack of support of the bisexual community. But recently, we’re starting to see more legitimacy and support of the bisexual community in the LGBTQ community. More celebrities are coming out to say that they are bisexual and are getting support from that. Here in Minnesota, there is a bisexual organization project focused on supporting, providing resources, networking and events for the whole spectrum of bisexuality, not just bisexuals.”
ASHISH: What advice can you offer on how we can better understand and start to become more aware of the different levels of sexuality and gender identity?
WEN: “It’s not hard to find information online. You can Google sex, sexuality, sexual spectrum, and it can be really beneficial. There is also a guide called the Transgender Education Resource. A couple of years ago they came up with an item called the gender unicorn. The gender unicorn is an illustration that shows the different variations of sex and sexuality. You can find it on transstudent.org/gender. It’s a great resource that talks about the various spectrums: gender identity spectrum, gender expression, how you present yourself, your sex assigned at birth, who are you physically attracted to, and who are you emotionally attracted to. National Resource Center for LGBTQ Aging Individuals is good if you are older or are friends with someone who is a later in life coming out and you want to learn how to support them. Children of Lesbians and Gays has some really good resources for parents of teenagers to help them understand what that means.”
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