Queer Voices

January 24th 2024 Queer Voices

January 24, 2024 Queer Voices
Queer Voices
January 24th 2024 Queer Voices
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Discover the transformative power of a life fully embraced as Leah Lax joins us to recount her incredible journey from Hasidic Judaism to living openly as a lesbian. Leah's narrative is a testament to authenticity, captured in her memoir ‘Uncovered’ and its subsequent adaptation into an opera. Her tale is not just about self-discovery, but also a profound look at the intersection of faith, sexuality, and identity, as she opens up about the structure and solace she initially found within the Hasidic community. Her latest literary work, "Not From Here," promises to be another deep dive into the heart of what it means to belong, highlighting the often unseen narratives of immigrants and refugees.

When art reflects life, the result can be both stunning and stirring. This episode peels back the curtain on how Leah Lax's journey inspired an opera, tackling subjects like a lesbian protagonist and abortion in a traditionally conservative art form. As Leah shares the personal milestones that steered her away from Hasidic tradition, we reflect on how our Texan backdrop and its political influences shape our stories. Meanwhile, Brian Levinca offers a candid look at the perpetual cycle of coming out, reminding us that each revelation is a new chapter in the larger narrative of a queer life.

Amidst ongoing legislative challenges to LGBTQIA+ rights, we explore the resilience and activism within our community. With Brian Levinca, we discuss the continuous revelations of coming out to family and colleagues, and how each encounter is part of a larger journey towards living authentically. We also examine the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision on transgender youth bathroom rights, and the troubling rise of anti-LGBTQ bills. This episode serves as a rallying cry for inclusivity, understanding, and the power of sharing stories that affirm the diverse tapestry of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Speaker 1:

Hello everybody. This is Queer Voices, a home-produced podcast that has grown out of a radio show that's been on the air in Houston, Texas, for several decades. This week, Brett Cullum talks with Leah Lacks about her memoir-turned opera and her new book Not From here.

Speaker 2:

There is a crisis point in the opera is an abortion. So I warned the composer that these two things that the protagonist is a lesbian and the crisis point is an abortion would have to be in the opera. She said well, of course, and so we did. It actually premiered in 2022 in New York City.

Speaker 1:

Then Deborah Montcrieve-Bell talks with Brian Levinca about a recent coming out experience at work.

Speaker 3:

For someone like me who's constantly being gay and public and just kind of living this life, that it's ironic that I have to come out at work, but it's a process that you always you'll have to go through the rest of your life, to co-workers or to people that you meet, and it's about living your true life and your authenticity.

Speaker 1:

And we have news wrap from this Way Out Queer Voices starts now.

Speaker 4:

You're listening to Queer Voices and I'm Brett Cullum Right now. I'm honored to be joined by Houston based author Leah Lacks, who published a memoir in 2015 called Uncovered how I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home. The book was a success and turned into a one act chamber opera in 2020 and premiered in performance in March of 2022. We wanted to catch up with Leah and see what she has planned for 2024. Leah Lacks, welcome to Queer Voices.

Speaker 2:

It's great to be here.

Speaker 4:

In your book you talk about how you converted to Hasidic Judaism as a teen. What made you want that at that time?

Speaker 2:

This is Queer Voices radio and because of it that makes me look at it in terms of the fact that I'm a lesbian. I mean, why do we make any of the decisions that we make as teens? It's usually idealism and very often wrongheaded. But I can say, when I look at it through a queer lens, it was a good place. But a very far right wing, very sort of insulated religious community was a great place to hide. I was on my own in the world, too young. I always felt different and pretty vulnerable. I felt safe there, backed right into the restrictions on my life because of the idealism that was offered me.

Speaker 4:

It gave you a lot of structure, didn't it? It gave you rules to kind of live by.

Speaker 2:

It not only gave me rules to live by, it gave me a bullet list that I needed about how to be a woman with a capital W, instead of looking around me at my adolescent peers and going why are you doing that? Why are you giggling and rolling your eyes in front of the boys and transforming into creatures? I don't really understand. I had all these rules that said this is how a woman lives, this is how a woman walks, this is how a woman dresses, this is how a woman behaves, this is your role. This is the choice that you don't know how to make, made for you. It was quite soothing early on. Backed right into that, as I say, I stayed among the Hasidim for 30 years of my life, the Jewish ultra-Orthodox which nobody was familiar with then. And now everybody thinks of the Netflix. Two or three different Netflix series that involved in a ranch marriage, a life always sort of in the background and without a public voice, where my creativity was my children. We were not allowed to use birth control. I have seven children. My life was a whirlwind. There was little time to think about what I wanted. That wasn't too relevant. I would say that the only time I confronted my sexuality was those really pesky erotic lesbian dreams. I developed insomnia, what I've written now. My new book is called Not From here, the Song of America, because when I finally fell in love, had to confront my sexuality and understand and accept that I was in an alien environment and really needed to leave. When I finally left, that life came out, lived openly as the person that I am, I started to pursue my love of writing. I completed a degree in creative writing at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program, a graduate program. It was a very interesting period of my life because I felt like an immigrant in my own society. I'd pretty much stepped aside from secular society for 30 years not 100%, but 85% to 95%. I was definitely out of step and I was like an immigrant in my own society, feeling like an other all over again, trying to adjust to the fact that I had stepped into a life in which we really are viewed as someone people who are a little bit different from mainstream. We still wonder and worry about our right to live openly and how reliable that will be in the future. At the time when I first came out and got out, we weren't allowed to marry and there were still restrictions in many places, as there are today, but it contributed to my sense of sort of being like a stranger who wouldn't go home. I'd arrived home, that wasn't home and I really had nowhere else to go. I was an immigrant who didn't speak any other language, but, yes, I felt like an immigrant.

Speaker 4:

We're talking with Layla Axe, Houston author, your new book Not From here. It comes out in March. It really is stories about immigrants. It's not necessarily your story, like the first book was. It's more other people's story.

Speaker 2:

It's all of the above. After I graduated it's a weird turn of events, but I was asked and offered a commission by Houston Grand Opera to write a major production based on the first person stories of immigrants and refugees that live in Houston. Today I can say I pounced on this because of the fact that I'm gay, because of the fact that I felt like an alien in my own society, because of the overlap with the effort that all the people I spoke to were making to find their niche and their place and feel truly like this is home. But I was a little bit unaware of that at the time. I just knew that this drew me, this offered drew me immensely. When they asked me, they just said write something based on immigrant stories. They didn't give me a format. I created the format. I knew that I was kind of like a female gay, rip Van Winkle in Houston. In order to capture the voice of the city, I had to know it first. I asked for high end recording equipment and I was armed with that. In a release statement. I started wandering, literally in areas of Houston I never even knew existed wandering, meeting people on the street or in restaurants or who knows where, and then networking with them from there, interviewing people from all over the world. I'd make these appointments with them and meet them. We met in everything from diners, people's cars, tiny little, barely furnished apartments to opulent high rises and everything in between. When people speaking this is a foreign language, the last thing they learned to do is summarize so they could speak for hours. Some of my interviews lasted four hours, some of them were stretched out over a couple of days. I know this today. I can tell you this. I was digging far beyond what I might need, those few quotes I might need to put into an opera, and I amassed over a thousand pages of transcripts and hundreds and hundreds of hours of testimony. As I did, I was seeing enormous overlap with the life of my family, of my grandparents, who were Jewish refugees, and seeing trends, seeing things were clicking into place Again to understand myself as an American, as a doubly hyphenated American, a gay American, a Jewish American and, in the aggregate, beginning to understand what my profile of this country is. So my book features the incredible seven of the most incredible stories interspersed with these pages where there are just pages and pages of one line, quotes that make you laugh and cry and go, fawn and blow you away. Again and again it's sort of the we can't make this up, interspersed with memoir type musing about my family, my life, everything clicking into place. It also inspired me to go and find my family's story, because when people are trying to find their place in a new country or even in their own society, they want a sense of home. They usually don't pass down their stories to their children. They don't want their children to feel that they belong. They don't want to hear stories of being othered, of difference, of difficulty, of bad treatment or persecution or migration or loss. People don't want their children to hear it because they want their children to feel safe. Over and over and over. When I listened to people talk, they would say I've never told anyone this story, and it was the men who tended to cry. And that's when I began to understand that the stories of my own family had been deeply repressed. Grandparents I grew up with I didn't know my grandmother's maiden name. I didn't know what towns my grandparents were from. These were people I knew, like my own parents. I didn't know what countries they were from. I didn't know who they left behind. And so I began to discover and it was horrifying and eye-opening and grounding in a way.

Speaker 4:

We are talking with Lea Lacks, a Houston-based author, about her most recent work, Not From here, which comes out this year. One of the things that I noticed is in the poll quotes for the upcoming work. Gloria Steinem talks about it a little bit and she said that one of the things that is particularly strong about you is your instinct to know that each person has a story and a secret. Is that kind of the central conceit of the book?

Speaker 2:

It's her insight into the book. I see people in terms of their stories. Story and past is formative, as is the story. The true past and the true story of our country is formative of our sense of ourselves as a group, as Americans. I think that's the true way to understand an individual and the true way to understand a society is to listen to individuals and talk about them as people and not as issues.

Speaker 4:

Lea, let's talk a little bit about this synchronicity with opera. Both of your works have some kind of operatic expressions of them. How did you get your first book, uncovered, developed into an opera?

Speaker 2:

When I first got that commission from Houston Grand Opera, under their guidance and with the composer Christopher Theophany, we produced a work for the main stage called the Refuge and it was a breakout for the opera company. It was for the common Houstonian, for the average person. They brought sections of it to areas of the city all over. It was Mayor Bill White at the time. He made a public service announcement. It was on television over and over and over again. He said Andrea and I are going to the opera and we want you to come too, because it was through real voices of real people. It formed a portrait of who we are and Houston was just beginning to get to know itself. The new information had just sort of broken out and Houston had become the most multicultural, multi-ethnic city in North America. Houston didn't have that sense of itself. We'd always been taught a history of this city as oil, wealth and straight white men of power and we didn't really understand what the city really was until that sort of broke out and the Refuge was a result of that new consciousness. When that opera premiered it was enormous. There was a half-page big, many-color photo, a gushing review in the New York Times that was read internationally. There was a national broadcast on NPR. I was on the front page of the Chronicle like three, four times with the opera. And then they repriced it at Miller Outdoor Theater for free and even dropped off information about it in every shelter homeless shelter in town and gave out food there. Something like I don't know many thousands of people came. It was just solid. I walked the hill that night and heard dozens of languages and English and I felt well. I guess I felt I was at home for the first time. I'm telling you this because the experience became very well known. It rocketed me into a musical world. I had musical training as a child, but it was one of the many things I'd left behind when I went into Hasidic life and it woke up something dormant in me. I always thought of languages, music. I always thought of people's voices and their individual style as their song. It was quite natural. I discovered by accident to write for music and one of the greatest joys of my life. Years later, after Uncovered, came out, a composer I didn't know, who lives in Baltimore in New York, a composer of art songs who's very beloved and well known in the opera world, named Lori Lateman, found my book and loved it and knew my background, and she decided she wanted to write an opera based on Uncovered. She asked me if I would do it and I did. I warned her because I said I'd never in my life seen an opera with a protagonist who's a lesbian and I've never seen an opera with an abortion in it. But the crisis point in my first book, my memoir, the turning point, the reason I'm here with you today, the reason I ultimately left was that I became pregnant a ninth time when I was living in that world and I knew I couldn't survive it, that it would crush my body or it would crush my soul. And in that world I became absolutely determined to have an abortion. And the story of how that happened, how I managed to make it happen and how that changed me is you'd have to read the memoir. But I can say here that it was me claiming complete ownership and responsibility from my physical self, from my body, from what happens in my body, what rules over my body and, in the same breath, with my desires and with who I truly am. It woke me up. I could never go back, and so the rest after that was my gradual way of finding my way out of that world. It's why I'm here. The crisis point in the opera is an abortion. So I warned the composer that these two things that the protagonist is a lesbian and the crisis point is an abortion would have to be in the opera. And she said well, of course, and so we did. It actually premiered in 2022 in New York City. That was the professional premiere. It's been in universities and there's a tremendous amount of interest in it right now on the university level.

Speaker 4:

We're talking with Leah Lacks, a Houston-based author, about her memoir Uncovered that was turned into an opera, and her upcoming book Not From here, which will also have some operatic connections as well. You are unique because you are from here in Houston. You're a story that was here, and I think that when people think about Hasidic, jews and lesbians and all of these different things, that it may be New York or something like that, but you're here in Texas. How does this location factor into your story? How does Houston play into your own journey, and especially with the politics in Texas right now?

Speaker 2:

Well, that's right. I'm a Texan by birth. I'm actually from Dallas originally, and anyone from Dallas can hear that in my voice it creeps in and my entire first minute. Both books take place in Houston. They are, in each and their own way, a portrait of Houston. I felt when I wrote the memoir that it was way ahead of its time. When. I said the word ultra-orthodox, I would have to define it for people and I don't have to do that anymore. In the same token, the book Not From here by the way, the first line of Not From here is this book began with an opera, which is just sort of an unexpected and strange thing. But the exploration that that book is about just because I happened to get the opera commission was a discovery of living in Texas's most quintessential city. I don't think that Texas politicians want to face the fact that Texas has enormous, has an enormous immigrant population, and not just from the over a million people who come into our country every year. Well, really, the truth is every year for dozens of years we have processed about a million people over the Texas border and another million have come in unannounced and without papers. And this has not changed, despite border walls and border patrols and vigilante patrols etc. The numbers don't really change. What happened in the Trump administration is that of the legal people who actually applied and applied for paperwork, the Trump administration refused to process them, so they processed about half of them in and the rest, you know, were going through legal channels. So there was a huge backlog. When the Biden administration came in. As a result, in the course of the Biden administration they have processed about 1.5, 1.6 million in the federal average is out over the two administrations as it has over several previous administrations. It doesn't. It's inexorable. Texas is filled with immigrants, always has been. It defines sort of the nature of the state, of the demographic of the state, in a thousand ways. This is what Texas politicians utterly deny. So I feel like not from here and my explorations in a way is an expose of wait a minute, people. Stop talking about issues, stop listening to campaign rhetoric, stop talking, listening to politicians, political theater, because it's theater and a play for power. Let's just listen to peace, shut up and listen. Let people who live here talk, know who they are, know and then, as a result, we'll know who we are. When we look at the aggregate, the collection of immigrants and their descendants in this country, if we stop dividing I mean, don't get me wrong identity politics has helped raise consciousness and improve our tolerance in a thousand ways, but it has its downside, and the downside is that it divides people into tiny groups. But when we look at immigrants and refugees as one huge group and their descendants, just as people who weren't born here and their immediate descendants period, they become the majority, not a tiny minority at all. The experience changed my concept of myself as a grandchild of Jewish immigrants, a very tiny minority in this country. I became part of a never-ending stream that has always been coming into this country and, by the way, that's always been the government's policy. The big reason that hasn't changed is because it's absolutely essential for the economy and it's a huge part of why we've been the world's top economy for a very long time. In fact, it's a given that when population growth is flat as it is now, and when it's an aging population, as it is now, there's a fear of the economic growth, and it's a given that the fix for this is immigration. Always has been All right. I went off on a tangent now, didn't I? But I think you answered your question.

Speaker 4:

Not a problem at all. One thing I wanted to ask you as a lesbian now is still hold on to some of that religious faith that you found earlier in your life, like how do you reconcile young lay-alax and the lay-alax of today?

Speaker 2:

As I was interviewing people for the book Not From here and for the opera, I found that immigrants hold on to their religious identity as a big part of their ethnic identity, which is a very, very big part of being Jewish. We Jews are pretty stubborn about holding on to our religion, even if we don't ascribe to it, which is common moment. But don't take it away. It's part and parcel, deeply bound up with our ethnic identity and I found that was true no matter where people were from. So I kept running in. It was embarrassing for me. I kept running into this deep faith at a time when I was jaded and had completely rejected all forms of religion. I think that it helped me in a way. I'll never ascribe to a specific religion, but it turned me back to my own personal identity and the religion of my family as sort of a precious thing to hold on to as part of our identity, and I understood that. At the same time, I understood why people had held onto their faith so tenaciously, because they'd been through hell and when Tanjabad, that's where people turn. It was incredibly humbling and shocking to realize that I had been finding people at random, at random, and I looked up one day and realized that maybe 20 people in a row had come here because of war Wars that the United States had caused or paid for, or drove or fought in and, as a result, their societies were destroyed, their homes were destroyed, their lives were destroyed. And is it appeasement, self-appeasement? I don't know what it was, but our country turned around and accepted people as refugees A small percentage of the people affected as refugees into this country, and that experience of migration and loss and trauma seemed bound up in their faith. I even I have a quote from the book, if you don't mind me reading a couple of sentences. I wrote as a lesbian. The Hasidim deemed my innate inclination to love irrelevant, twisted and dangerous. I was an alien among them, living beneath an onslaught of daily commands to squelch my sexuality, which is the source of my creativity and my passion and my drive. It was like a forced entry and attack on my being. Now, after meeting these people, I felt I had endured a small private war. This one was on my soul, and then I fled toward the hope of freedom. So I think that really expresses my ambivalence about faith. And yet I came to a point of really understanding, particularly when I met one family from Nigeria that it was just beyond conception to imagine that they had survived and very, very clear that it was their faith that had kept them alive and began to understand.

Speaker 4:

Clay. Alex, I wanted to ask you about the LGBTQIA plus community. Do you feel like there are any similarities when you look at the Hasidic Jew community in Houston and then ours? Is there any differences? What kind of connects those two worlds?

Speaker 2:

I don't see as much of an overlap with a right-wing strict religious community as I do with an overlap with the Jewish experience in general or any ethnic or immigrant experience. Being gay and being Jewish are like two threads that are intertwined in my identity. They're both very much in my DNA and my physical makeup. The overlap is that it helped me in my work because it gave me a sensitivity to what I heard, to othering, to the struggle with identity, what it takes to truly be who you are, to finding a place and feeling at home. It seemed to be common, these struggles. There was so much overlap in so many ways. Every now and then I met a new immigrant who was gay, who came to this country to escape persecution abroad or in another country. They were the most afraid. None of them would allow me to interview them, none of them dared so much as go home to visit their families. But they were still in some ways marked and traumatized. Even if they could live outwardly in Houston, they hid from the public eye. I found this so humbling. It gave me a very powerful drive to make sure this never happens here and made me much more politically and keenly aware and active.

Speaker 4:

Laylax, you've said that you're a gender queer. Tell me a little bit about that experience for you.

Speaker 2:

As an older person I think I share this with a lot of people in my age bracket we had to adjust to the new idea that you're either gay or not. Instead, it was alphabet soup and a range of pronouns. Ultimately, I had to say to myself well, if I was a young person, if my sense of language wasn't so stead and stone that I can't redefine, for example, they or them as singular, it won't fit in my mind. What would I really do Ultimately? I had a very delicate and revealing conversation with my wife where I finally was able to say well, if you're coming of age now, what pronouns would he use? I thought she was afraid of what my answer would be. I really did. We actually came up with the same answer. I don't understand really, at some deep level in my psyche, a difference between being male and being female. They all seem to be the same. It seems to be a mindset that I just understand intrinsically that either or. For years, when I dreamed those pesky erotic dreams and the Hasidic world, and years afterwards, it seemed variable in my dreams If I was male or female. It seemed irrelevant. This maybe finally look up and go. Well, that's what being gender queer is. That's who I am. That's aside from who I'm attracted to, aside from my physical wiring, which is only attracted to women. It's a mindset, it's an identity. It's something deep in your psyche. I realized, I understood it intrinsically and eventually started identifying myself as gender queer. It shakes you when you're older and first come to the kinds of discoveries that I think you were finished with in adolescence.

Speaker 4:

Lea how did you meet your wife?

Speaker 2:

At a party. I had one previous book that wasn't in wide release, it was privately released. I did a project with a photographer in which and it wound up being proven ground for the work that I did professionally because in it we interviewed people. I conducted the interviews and she took these really searing, glorious, brilliant portraits of people as they were talking to me. As they were often talking about very personal aspects of their personal story, I got them to open up and develop my interview techniques. That way we were at a party, and typical gay party that means 85% cruising men and three to five no, not even 88. I'd say 95% cruising men and three to five percent women who were just kind of wandering around going. Are there other lesbians within a hundred mile radius of here? This is so typical, right? But she was there and she had seen my book and she used the most perfect pickup line I read your book. That's how we met. We've been together almost 20 years.

Speaker 4:

That is the perfect way to pick up an author. I read your book definitely.

Speaker 2:

At that point an aspiring author, so definitely.

Speaker 4:

We have been talking with Lea Alexa, Houston-based author, who has written a brilliant memoir called Uncovered how I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home. She has a new book coming out this year called Not From here. Where can we find more information about your work, Lea?

Speaker 2:

You can go to my website, lealexauthorcom. You can go to the website for Brosses Bookstore and, please, everyone, come to the book launch for my new book, brosses Bookstore. It's going to be more of a staged thing with multiple readers because it's really, I think of Not From here is a memoir in many voices. I think we are all a product of many voices. The launch at Brosses Bookstore will be on April 4th at the bookstore on Bissonnette Street near the village. You can find more about that at the Brosses website as well.

Speaker 4:

I wanted to thank you so much for sharing yourself with Queer Voices. You talk about so much about how each person has a story and a secret. I think that is the crux of our show. We really appreciate how much your book means to the LGBTQIA plus community. It's such a testament to somebody that came from a different world and then found herself in this community as well. We're proud to have you here in Houston. You certainly are a voice that I hope more and more people hear, whether it be your books, the operas, all of that. Best of luck to you, Lea Lacks.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much. I think that by listening to people that aren't specifically an exclusive disability in the gay community, who have gone through similar experiences, helps to identify with a society at large and really feel part of it, really feel that we belong, really feel the overlap of experience and it helped me very, very much as a gay person and I really appreciate you helping me to articulate that I'm happy to be here.

Speaker 1:

This is Glenn from Queer Voices. You're listening to KPFT. That means you're already participating just by listening, but how about doing more? Kpft is totally listener funded, which means it's people like you who are making donations who support this community resource. Kpft has no corporate or government strings attached funding, which means we're free to program responsibly but without outside influence. Will you participate in KPFT financially? This station needs everyone who listens to chip in a few dollars to keep the station going, because that's the way it works. Even if you're listening over the internet on another continent, you can still contribute. Please become an active member of the listener community by making a tax deductible contribution. Please take a minute to visit kptorg and click on the red donate now button. Thank you.

Speaker 6:

This is Deborah Moncrease Bell and you're listening to Queer Voices. You know we have found out that coming out is not a one time thing. It's an ongoing process. It can happen every time you meet someone new or in certain situations. It's part of what we navigate as queer people, and our very own Brian Levinca has a story tell. Brian, you've been out for some time. When did you first identify as queer?

Speaker 3:

I've known my whole life, but I didn't officially come out until I was 18, in college. And this is after my mom asked me and I said no at the time. And then she asked me a year later and I said yes.

Speaker 6:

Yeah, I think a lot of people discovered that identity in college or become to more of a place of acceptance at that time, and of course it's also a time a lot of people experiment. You were kind of a party boy, weren't you?

Speaker 3:

Oh my gosh, I was. I was part of the Bayou City Boys Club and we put on the jungle party and I would be out partying every weekend and just going crazy.

Speaker 6:

But you came to your senses and said my role is to be an activist in the community.

Speaker 3:

Well, it kind of went hand in hand with meeting David. David, my husband had no part of me being a party boy. He says it's either me or the lifestyle. And I chose him. And you know, my life has been different ever since.

Speaker 6:

And better.

Speaker 3:

Yeah.

Speaker 6:

And that was a good choice, Brian, because I think Davey is solid. Just a little bit of your story. Is that how long you've been doing Queer Voices now?

Speaker 3:

Since 2008, I think.

Speaker 6:

And I remember you saying something and I said, well, you should come and be on the show, and it kind of progressed from there and then eventually you became the executive producer and of course I've been on and off for over 40 years now. What are some of the other activities that you're involved in besides Queer Voices?

Speaker 3:

So when I was out of work I hate being, I don't have nothing to do so I joined boards. I'm on the board of the Legacy Community Health Services Board and the Endowment Board. I'm on the LGBTQ Victory Fund Board. I'm on the EPA Executive Professional Association of Houston Board. I'm on the Alzheimer's Association Board.

Speaker 6:

We are thankful for your service in all those areas. Can we talk a little bit of why you were out of work?

Speaker 3:

Well, I was working in oil and gas and the price of oil dropped in 2015. And I was doing specific offshore projects that were very rare and not happening. So the work just wasn't there. And you know, I had a husband that had a nice job and kind of took care of me and I kind of got a little bit complacent and used to that lifestyle and I just kind of buried myself in doing volunteer and nonprofit work.

Speaker 6:

And you also had a health crisis.

Speaker 3:

I did In 2019, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and I was treated with radiation and I've been kind of recovering ever since and I have periodic MRIs to kind of monitor that.

Speaker 6:

I think that was also part of why you were out of work, because it was very difficult. Like you say, it's an ongoing recovery.

Speaker 3:

Well, it happened at a time that it was fortuitous that I was not at work, so I could kind of recover at home and kind of get past that. But now that that's kind of gone away, I can start going back to work.

Speaker 6:

Last year you had taken a job where you were working offshore, which meant that you were not around for a good two weeks at a time. That didn't really work out well for you. So you recently started another position. I think when you were on the reg. You really weren't out.

Speaker 3:

No, I kind of reverted to my old mode of being in the closet and typical oil and gas kind of culture. I was like you said. I was on there for two weeks at a time, two weeks on, two weeks off and it was miserable. I gained weight because there was just nothing but food to eat. I'm still trying to lose that weight and you're in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and there's nothing else to do but just eat and you're just stuck there.

Speaker 6:

I saw some of the spreads that they had and it wasn't necessarily healthy eating options. It was lots of good food.

Speaker 3:

Oh, the food Amazing.

Speaker 6:

Then you got this job here in Houston and no longer away for two weeks at a time. So what has happened there? This is what you've been there. What A couple of months.

Speaker 3:

When I was offshore, I'm like what I really want is a cushy office job where I can just go to work Monday through Friday and have a life and not have to be off on this wild platform in the middle of the ocean. I started looking for a job and then I found something and I applied for it and I got it. But at the time I was applying for it there was an out-professionals event for EPA that all of the oil and gas companies were at, and this company that I interviewed for was at that out-professionals event. So I'm like, okay, I'm going to go there and talk to them and see what the culture is like. And so I went there and I discussed that with them and they said the culture is very progressive and very open and it's a German company, so it's got European values. So I was very excited to hear that. So that made me kind of want to pursue it. So, flash forward to November 13th. I started the job at this company and the first thing my boss asked me is if I had kids. And I'm like I've gone down this path before about lying and I was just like I didn't want to do that anymore. I knew it was acceptable with this company that you could be gay and be a valued worker. But I didn't want to have to make up the lies about what I did with my husband over the weekend or where I went that I constantly was doing. So I kind of made up my mind that I wanted to do it on day one, that I would come out to my boss. But my husband, david, said no, don't do that. And so I waited for a while and it kind of progressed where I was just telling I was getting asked what I was doing and I had to kind of make up different stories. So then finally I had to go to DC for the Victory Fund conference and one of the interns asked me what I was going to be doing in DC and I said, well, he's young, he's probably a progressive. So when I'm going to the LGBT Victory Fund conference and we're trying to elect LGBT people to office, he's like, oh really, and it was just a matter of fact thing to him and he never really it didn't register much with him. So I thought this is good, but I was still not out to the rest of the people at work. I was very eager to kind of break the pink ceiling. I guess you would say flash forward to last week. We were going to lunch and I was getting questions again about how was my New Year's and how was my Christmas, and I had gone to Nebraska to see my husband's parents and I couldn't tell the people at work. So I'm like this has got to change. So we were driving back from lunch and I had two female coworkers in my car. One was a female co-worker that started the day I started and she's a Muslim, she wears a hijab to work, and the other was an intern. So I'm like, okay, I feel comfortable with these ladies. So I said this is my husband and I showed them a picture of David and they kind of just were very accepting. So I guess my point is that, like you said, you never stop coming out. And here I'm going to be 50 in March and it's I'm still coming out to a job that I love, but I have this fear of being accepted even as I approach 50.

Speaker 6:

It's interesting for someone who is out and as active and as much involved in the community as you are to ever have that closet door.

Speaker 3:

I had led a double life for so long that my community life and my professional life never intersected, and now that's kind of heading towards the intersection of the two, of those that I could bring my entire self to work. I'm excited.

Speaker 6:

That's wonderful, I'm really glad and that you found a place that you feel like you can be safe. Of course, there are times coming out is not a good decision, because you may be putting yourself in jeopardy, and so we always have to be conscious of that, and being LGBTQA plus is something that we can mask. I remember I was working at this place and I was not not out you know, I just most people. They are new. But one day someone noticed a picture on my desk. Oh, I said that's my partner. And she looked at it and she says, oh, he's very cute. I said it's a her. Oh, so it can be interesting, it can be funny sometimes.

Speaker 3:

It's rewarding, but it's kind of like it's a journey that you kind of constantly are on your whole life. I think that this is the right place for me at the right time, and I'm just happy to be there and I like feeling productive and kind of getting up and going to work every day and contributing to society.

Speaker 6:

Well, you're probably a better employee because you are in a situation where you're accepted or that you feel like you can be open about your whole identity. A lot of businesses have that attitude. They have policies because they want good workers and they have found that there are some excellent people who happen to be where that they don't have that as a part of their corporate style or policies, then they lose out.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely, Especially the oil and gas industry, the kind of the bigger producers of oil and gas. Like everyone in Shell have LGBT programs and resource groups. So my company's not as big but you know it's, it's international and they're trying to attract that type of employee. So it's good that they're doing that. And of course there's a gay group and I'm going to go in and I'm going to get involved with that and probably going to take it over.

Speaker 6:

Yeah, and you're copious spare time.

Speaker 3:

Well, you know, I just make time. It's about priorities.

Speaker 6:

I wonder if there's any resources I'm sure there are about coming out at work and advice about that. That'd be something to investigate.

Speaker 3:

I think it's an older generational thing, like people my age and older that have had this feeling of coming out, young people just are who they are and they don't. They don't really care.

Speaker 6:

It's not quite this struggle.

Speaker 3:

We have years of oppression to kind of deal with and kind of fight back against.

Speaker 6:

I think I'm almost 74. Next week I turned 74. I think about it because sometimes people will say something about, well, older people and I realize I'm an older people and I think but why am I the way I am in accepting an understanding of everything, not everything, but you know, liberal politics and social justice issues, and yet there are people my age that are old people. They're not like that. They're very much tied to whatever they're upbringing or traditions. I remember for some reason there were people who didn't get the memo that law Harrington was supposed to be an LGBT affirming community. Someone actually said, well, I can't have my friends from church come here and I thought, oh wow, they obviously did not get the memo. And because we have an adverse community, there's the traditional third word residents from the black community. Tsu is just down the street. The complex is named after two professors from TSU Charles Law, a black man who was one of the speakers at the March on Washington in 1963, jean Harrington, who was a good friend of mine, who was also a white gay man, who was a professor at TSU. Then we have HIV positive people, we have trans people by people. You know, we have all kinds of people and some of those within those different categories I listed. There is a mix, so some of them are gay, some of them are not. We have seen, certainly, that there's those of us that are out in the programs that we have here which are very much open about being LGBT, affirming more of an acceptance.

Speaker 3:

Well, don't you think that your kind of your life experience and your struggle with LGBT issues has kind of formed your progressive viewpoints and you're more accepting because of the struggle that you've gone through and that other people gone through?

Speaker 6:

I have a little bit of a different story and I got involved in civil rights issues and anti-war issues as a teenager and then that progressed into feminism and from feminism that progressed to being active and I came out in my 30s for the first time, although I always knew that I was bi. I always knew I had an attraction to both men and women, that I married, I had children. You know I lived of what seemed to be a heterosexual life and then, you know, it came a point where I realized that I wanted to act on my feelings towards other women. I still am bi and I will never deny the part of my life where I was with men, although I haven't been with men since I came out. And then, of course, I had the experience of having to come out to my children rather than to my parents, and a large part there wasn't a formal coming out with my family. One sister wrote me a letter and said I think you may be gay and so I came out to her and I knew that once I did that that everybody else would know, but it wasn't really talked about Then. Later it was just there. It's just no big deal In most situations it never occurs to me not to be out.

Speaker 3:

For someone like me who's constantly being gay and public and just kind of living this life, that it's ironic that I have to come out at work, but it's a process that you always you'll have to go through the rest of your life, to co-workers or to people that you meet, and it's about living your true life and your authenticity.

Speaker 6:

Yeah, being your authentic self, which is very important to do because there'll only be one you for all time. So furiously be yourself, Thank you. Well, that's a quote from Anthony Rapp, and I like that too. That's the advice that I give everybody, especially younger people that are in beginning their coming out process. Brian Levinka, thank you so much for sharing your story here on Queer Voices.

Speaker 7:

I'm Joe Bainline.

Speaker 8:

And.

Speaker 7:

I'm Sarah Montague, with NewsRapp a summary of some of the news in or affecting LGBTQ communities around the world For the week ending January 20th 2024. The United States Supreme Court ducked a chance to consider the rights of transgender young people. On January 16th the justices declined to hear a challenge to an appeals court ruling that allowed a transgender middle school boy to use the bathrooms that match his gender identity. The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana represented the Martinsville Indiana Adolescent and his parents. They sued the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville in December 2021 for denying him access to the boys bathrooms. Chicago based 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last August. It found the school district in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and federal Title IX laws that prohibit discrimination in education based on gender. All trans students in Indiana, illinois and Wisconsin will benefit from the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case in the 7th Circuit's jurisdiction. Lawdork editor Chris Geidner is a former Washington Blade reporter. He thinks it's now unlikely that the High Court will consider any trans bathroom case until at least 2025.

Speaker 8:

We're only halfway through the first month of 2024, and Republican controlled US state legislatures have already spawned a record number of deeply alarming and equate bills. The American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups estimate the number between 275 and 300. The vast majority target the country's most vulnerable citizens transgender young people. Several bills ban gender affirming healthcare for trans patients under the age of 18. A few even limit trans adults access to that care. There are bills to deny trans students access to bathrooms that match their gender identity and bans on trans girls and women competing in school sports. Still other bills restrict or ban the use of LGBTQ supportive educational materials or silence classroom discussions. The legislative avalanche is already outpacing some 500 anti-queer proposals that were introduced in Republican dominated states last year. More than 80 of those became law, according to the ACLU. State and federal courts struck down gender affirming care bans last year in Arkansas, florida, indiana and Montana. The Hill reports. However, courts upheld bans in Alabama, georgia, kentucky, tennessee and Texas.

Speaker 7:

The Republican controlled Missouri state legislature was anti-trans ground zero on January 17th. On that single day, eight anti-trans bills were debated, measures affecting access to gender affirming healthcare and appropriate sex segregated public facilities, as well as legal recognition of gender transitions. The show me state has shown its transphobic agenda with a total of 49 anti-trans bills in the house and Senate so far in January 2024. Rabbi Daniel Bogard has a 10 year old transgender son. He came to testify against a bill as he has visited the state capitol many times. This time he said it was so that my son can poop at school without being bothered. He told the committee he was desperately trying to avoid moving his family from their ancestral hometown. He said I'm begging you just to leave us alone. Then Bogard was asked to speak not as a dad but as a rabbi.

Speaker 9:

If you look at Jewish history, you will see that there has always been history of queer Jews, that there have always. For as long as there have been Jews, there have been trans Jews. We have normative understandings. The normative, regular, exegetical understanding of Adam, like Adam and Eve, is that Adam was born as one intersex, non-binary being with all the private parts. We have stories that suggest that Abraham and Sarah these are 1500 year old Jewish texts I'm talking about had fertility issues because they were intersex. There's a 1600 year old Midrash Jewish sacred text that suggests that Dina was originally going to be a man and her mother prayed and God transitioned her into a woman. There have always been queer Jews. We have stories of Jews in the shtetl in Ukraine 200 years ago transitioning and being accepted as men in a place where women wouldn't even count in a prayer quorum. You just have to look at Jewish history to see this and look the Mishnah, the basis of Jewish faith today, 1800 years ago, describes six, seven or eight different sexes that humans are, because being trans is just another way of being human.

Speaker 7:

That was Rabbi Daniel Bogard of Missouri.

Speaker 8:

Just what kind of smart does the Republican controlled Idaho State House want to protect? Students from the Committee on State Affairs advanced to build this week to delineate materials that depict nudity or sexual excitement, sexual conduct or sadomasochistic abuse that, taken as a whole, is harmful to minors and ban any other material harmful to minors? Republican State Representative Julian Young argued that material harmful to minors means books that depict what she calls acts of homosexuality and that includes such shocking conduct as hand-holding, hugging or kissing. Other representatives called all LGBTQ support of educational materials grooming books that might teach children to be queer. Last year the vague any other harmful to minors provision led Republican Governor Brad Little to veto a similar book ban. That language remains, but lawmakers are hoping that the more explicit House Bill 384 will pass Little's muster.

Speaker 7:

Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott also claims that he's protecting students from sexually explicit and vulgar materials, but a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals disagrees. It affirmed a lower court injunction this week to temporarily block enforcement of a law Abbott signed last June. The law requires vendors to rate each of their books for sexually explicit and sexually relevant content. To the Texas Education Agency, of course, anything LGBTQ supportive is a prime target. At his bill signing ceremony last June, abbott crowed that he was signing a law that gets that trash out of our schools. The Fifth Circuit upheld US District Court Judge Don Willett's August ruling that a challenge to those provisions is likely to succeed on constitutional free speech grounds. A plethora of plaintiff organizations, businesses and individuals engaged in the case called the Appeals Court Affirmation a good day for bookstores, readers and free expression.

Speaker 8:

Taiwan now has its first proudly queer federal lawmaker. Thirty-year-old Hong Jiyu won Gao Shang's sixth district seat in the legislative yuan in national elections on January 13th. Hong is a member of the leftist Democratic Progressive Party. Like newly elected President Li Qingta, a vocal LGBTQ ally, hong was elected to the city council in the southern Taiwanese city in 2018. She leapt into public spotlight with her reaction to statements made by the mayor during a council session. A year later, she's been there after known online as the Queen of Eye-Rolling. Qu'an promised in her victory speech to safeguard the well-being of Gao Shang and work to make it a place that shines internationally.

Speaker 7:

Finally, irish cabinet minister Jack Chambers came out in an Instagram post this week. He's a member of the center-right Fianna Foyle and his ministerial portfolio includes the Department of Transport and Environment, climate and Communications. Accompanied by a slideshow with a soundtrack from Coldplay's A Sky Full of Stars, chambers proclaimed I am fortunate that Ireland is a country that has made so many strides in recent years, becoming a much more inclusive and equal society, to the extent that the sharing of this information is becoming increasingly unremarkable.

Speaker 8:

That's News Wrap, global Queer News with attitude for the week ending January 20th 2024. Follow the news in your area and around the world. An informed community is a strong community.

Speaker 7:

News Wrap is written by Greg Gordon, edited by Lucia Chappelle, produced by Brian De Shazer and brought to you by you.

Speaker 8:

Thank you. Help keep us in ears around the world at thiswayoutorg, where you can also read the text of this newscast and much more. For this Way Out, I'm Sarah Montague. Stay healthy.

Speaker 7:

And I'm Joe Bainline, stay safe.

Speaker 1:

This has been Queer Voices, which is now a home produced podcast and available from several podcasting sources. Check our webpage QueerVoicesorg for more information. Queer Voices executive producer is Brian Levinca. Andrew Edmanson and Deborah Moncrief Bell are frequent contributors. The News Wrap segment is part of another podcast called this Way Out, which is produced in Los Angeles.

Speaker 5:

Some of the material in this program has been edited to improve clarity and runtime. This program does not endorse any political views or animal species. Views, opinions and endorsements are those of the participants and the organizations they represent. In case of death, please discontinue use and discard remaining products.

Speaker 1:

For Queer Voices. I'm Glenn Holt.

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