I grew up in multiple urban environments that contained diversity, like Los Angeles and Las Vegas. But it took me a long time to truly figure out my own identity. Despite being privileged in some ways and having an open-minded family, as a queer and a lesbian and a woman of color, I still had a lot of feelings of invalidation and of being an “other.”
It wasn’t until college, when I had moved to Orange County in California, that I officially came out. I was 25, and for the first time in my life I felt free. I had this overwhelming sense of comfort, but oddly enough, I had nobody wirh whom to share it. I didn’t find a strong LGBTIA+ community at the time, and I had few gay friends. Orange County was also largely conservative and seemed segregated in many ways. Being an openly queer women comes with its own challenges, but so does being a person of color. In America, we’re judged by our looks, whether it’s darker skin, not feminine enough, or not masculine or binary enough, and then treated as such. By sharing our stories, we get to change the narrative.
Now that I am working in the arts, albeit in a more traditional setting, I endeavor to speak honestly and stand up for others. I work with a group of friends in Santa Ana to provide safe spaces for the LGBTIA+ community and frequently attend local events to show my support. I think the the status quo is changing, and I’m here to be counted for it.
Sarah “Sans” Vargas
Santa Ana, California
I am proud of being a lesbian, but I also identify with other terms including queer and pansexual. When I came out in the early 90’s during the height of the AIDS epidemic, I was immediately drawn to queer resistance movements like ACT UP. Queer fits for me because I have never been comfortable being forced into a box. Being queer frees you from limited ways of knowing and defining yourself. To know this can be scary but it is ultimately liberating. And since those boxes are social constructions, are not all beings, in essence, queer?
At the same time, my lesbian identity is something deep within me; it is my true romantic and sexual nature. But I am also attracted to people regardless of their gender identity or body parts. Until I started working with so many youth I didn’t know there was a term for this – pansexual. This fits me too.
Navigating society as a queer lesbian has always been difficult but has also been the way my life makes sense and has meaning. I have never had a choice about being anything other than authentic; being false to myself or others creates a painful cognitive dissonance that I have never been able to tolerate. To be honest, I wish I could sometimes. Wearing my heart on my sleeve and my politics on my tongue sometimes proves complicated. But with that struggle there is also the freedom that comes with being true to myself. This is an ongoing journey. Even at 55, I am still learning who I am at each stage in my life. And as I grow older, I embrace my queerness more and more. I can’t wait to see myself in my 70’s!
We must ALL be visible and counted. What is the opposite? To be defined by others who tell lies about who you are against your will. To be denied a voice and your own agency and personal power. To not be. This is the legacy of our past and the roots of deep psychological and spiritual suffering. This is an act of violence.
To thrive as human beings we must be seen and we must feel a sense of belonging. I am so grateful that there is a LGBTQ community where I and others can go to feel that we belong and where we can feel pride in who we are. And I will always fight for this community, and to end this systemic violence that causes suffering to ALL people.
“I stand before you as a 2nd Generation Vietnamese American, who is a proud Queer/Lesbian. Although I am proud queer woman of color, I still continue to fight for my visibility and the visibility of others in the Asian community. There is not a lot of representation in various media and social settings. Many constantly try to oppress and erase our existence, but we are not going anywhere,”