Danielle S.

Since coming out as bisexual for first time as an adult, for me visibility has become personally mandatory.

That’s not how I felt as a high school student. I came out when I was fifteen only to jump immediately back into the closet when I met with unfriendly peers and a lot of outright hostility. For a long time, it was much easier to date boys and not think too hard about the rest of my identity. It was years before I examined who I was again.

When I came back to high school, this time as a teacher, I had to make a choice about who I was going to be for my students. I was asked to be the staff advisor for the Queer Student Alliance, and at the very first meeting, I had to decide whether or not I was ready to be honest with students who were trusting me within their community. I came out on that first day, and I’ll never forget how much it meant to them to see that someone they knew—an adult! a teacher!—understood part of what they were dealing with, what they were up against.

Since then, I’ve also become polyamorous. I’m married to my (male) high-school sweetheart, and I’ve been with my girlfriend, whom I love deeply, for almost a year. That brand of visibility has been harder for me, but I’m learning to be more open about that part of my life as well. My students deserve to know my most authentic self and can only benefit from understanding the rich diversity of the world in which they live.

Visibility is part of my identity now in a way I could never have anticipated as a teenager. It’s part of my teaching. I come out to all of my students in October on National Coming Out Day, I speak at LGBTQ+ educational events, I offer a safe space on my campus for queer students, and it’s part of how I conduct myself in every part of my life.

It hasn’t been easy. I’ve taken up overt LGBTQ+ advocacy work at my school and in my district, and in deeply conservative south Orange County not everyone is enthusiastic about change. There have been discouraging days where I felt that I could love my local community with all my heart, but that didn’t mean they would love me or my students back.

But for every bad day, there’s hope, rooted in the decision to be visible: a mother stopping her family to tell my girlfriend and I that we look cute together; a parent asking to borrow books from my classroom’s LGBTQ+ library so she can learn more about her transgender son; a student finding her way to my room because she heard it was safe to talk to me. These moments are what make visibility worth it, and to be counted among those visible in my community is something I value.

Danielle Serio
Aliso Viejo, CA

Peterson P.

When I was a child growing up, I would lay in bed asking for some higher power to simply let me be “normal”. I had many challenges, expectations, and pressures that came together to make my life experiences different from peers around me. I was seen as just that: different. As a result, I was bullied growing up in Orange County, for my name, my ethnicity, my race, my sexuality, my gender. For a very long time, I felt like I was torn and was told that this broken person did not belong here. I spent a majority of my adolescence surviving with the intention to run away, and when I had a chance to leave for college, I wanted to stay away for as long as I could to avoid the place that reminded me of being hurt. I did not have hope that Orange County, my home, would be a safe space that would or could nurture me and allow me grow.
When I was forced to come back to Orange County and to face my fears, I was prepared to find and to carve a space for myself while hoping to meet other people who had similar experiences like me. I returned from college equipped with lessons and experiences of self-agency, self-worth, and self-care. The more I searched, the more I found that I was not alone in my experiences: I discovered my community and my family in Viet Rainbow of Orange County. Through VROC, I was able to relearn that my backyard can be and has been a safe haven for queer people of color and that we as queer members of the Vietnamese diaspora all deserved to be fairly and equality treated, to be thriving, to be visible, and to be counted. I was given a chance to be me, a second generation Vietnamese American person who identifies as queer and gender-fluid, and more.
I work as a clinical social worker now, supporting people who survived through traumas and have challenges with their lived realities. I was asked at work “What would you like to be famous for?” during a meeting, and I shared that I wanted to be known for being “apologetically, authentically me”. In wanting to not be seen as different, I tried to mold myself to fit to the expectations given to me and expected of me. I did not want to inconvenience others and to make the people around me feel comfortable. In giving myself permission to accept the decisions, actions, and behaviors that made me quirky, queer, me, I became comfortable with and true to myself.  Different is good, special, and real; for me to celebrate my uniqueness is to accept that I am capable of being all that is me.
I learned that pain and loneliness does not always need to stay a negative feeling, but can lead to experiences that are honest and freeing. In standing up, I am vulnerable, but I can also be seen and be pinpointed as a person who is contributing to a movement that is larger than my life and beyond myself. I work towards creating change because my personal is political, professional, powerful, and precious. VROC’s slogan is “We, as a community are not complete without each other”, and this is a message that I am faithful to. Today, I am happy to be visible and to be counted as me: proudly queer and anything but “normal”.
Peterson Pham
Garden Grove, Orange County, CA

Justin M.

“I wasn’t out as a gay youth growing up in Orange County. I struggled with my identity in the context of my Evangelical upbringing at the same time I faced hostility by some peers in my public school because of my perceived orientation. There was little visibility of LGBTQ people in the community, especially adults whom I could look up to and aspire to be like. My future seemed bleak because I didn’t know what a happy, fulfilled life could look like for someone like me.

As an adult, it’s been healing to live as proud gay man in the very context I grew up but with various supportive communities that value diversity. From my work with the LGBT Center OC, to singing with Men Alive – The OC Gay Men’s Chorus to progressive political advocacy, I’ve gotten to know so many incredible people fighting for inclusion and representing the beautiful diversity that exists here in Orange County. We may not have as centralized of an LGBTQ community as some urban areas, but we are making progress and we are strong together.

Being authentic is critical to living your best possible life. It also is essential to forming strong, connected communities and paving the way for LGBTQ youth who hopefully will have it even a little better than we do now. We have the power to constantly progress and constantly make our world better. That starts with being honest and authentic.

We must be visible, and we must be counted. The more we are seen and our stories are heard, the more comfortable future generations will be in sharing their truths. Furthermore, our stories impact policies and decision-making that affect us now and for years to come. The needs of our LGBTQ community must be considered and the number of lives impacted by disparities in health and well-being must be understood.”

Justin Massey
Aliso Viejo, CA

Jose C.

Becoming who I am today was never an easy journey. I chose to fight for my right to be me, an openly Queer Brown Chicano, and I have never turned back. Being a queer person of color or QPOC in a conservative Catholic home meant that I never felt much at home growing up. I looked for home in dark and colorful dance clubs late into the morning and in faraway cities, but ultimately I learned that I needed to challenge my family to open up to my queer identity and friends. I challenged my family’s homophobic and heteronormative views, and I resisted pressures to stay silent in difficult situations when I knew my voice was needed the most. Being authentically queer and a visibly Brown person of color means that I choose not to shy away from uncomfortable conversations on recognizing the need for affordable queer & trans housing, mental healthcare services, and good jobs in inclusive workplaces. I hope to ensure that future generations of queer and trans people of color don’t have to face the same issues I have. They deserve better. That’s why I’m running as the first openly Queer Millennial of Color in Fullerton City Council in 2020.
My message to future generations, especially queer and trans youth of color, is that no matter how dark things might be, you are the light. You deserve peace, love, and joy.
Wish you were Queer,
Jose Trinidad Castaneda
Fullerton, CA

Sarah Jean

I thought I was straight for the first 28 years of my life. I always felt like I was *more* than an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community. Even though I grew up Catholic and later became a non-denominational Christian, I felt a strong connection to the queer community but I could never put my finger on why I felt that way until we left the Church and my husband Chris came out to me as bisexual (later identified as pansexual). This conversation with him inspired me to explore my own sexuality and the term “pansexual” really resonated with me. I realized that it has never mattered to me what gender someone is, based on their genitals or how they identify. The only thing that mattered to me was their heart and spirit. Proclaiming my newfound sexuality as Pansexual was one of the most freeing moments of my life.
It’s difficult to be visible to the general public as a pansexual/bisexual cis-woman when you are married to a cis-man because our relationship looks like a heterosexual partnership. So I do my best to be authentic and open about my sexuality in conversation, in my wardrobe, with PDA with my g/f, and on social media (Instagram mostly). Being able to openly and affectionately explore my newfound sexuality has led me to falling in Love with my amazing girlfriend Danielle. I’m not very shy, outside of my workplace, in talking about my her or about dating women while being married to my husband whom I love dearly. Having a husband who also identifies as pansexual is also validating because we can relate to each other on that level.
Sexuality is fluid and it’s comforting to me that it’s O.K. to have identified differently as a teenager, as a young adult, and now in my early 30s. With this new understanding of myself, I feel more comfortable in my skin then ever before. I didn’t have any bi/pan role models growing up, so visibility is important for me. I hope to be a positive role model to people of all ages as someone who is happy and free, being the person I was always meant to be, Loving those I am free to Love.
With Love & Pixie Dust,
Sarah Jean
Santa Ana, CA

Johnny A

Being an openly bisexual man is a challenge. Bisexuality often goes invisible as it is, with bisexual individuals typically passing for being either homosexual or heterosexual. Breaking that binary mentality means challenging the status quo. I do not always tell people that I am bisexual unless it comes up or is important to a conversation. I feel empowered as a man when I tell others that I am bisexual. I feel that it challenges ideas of how men are expected or allowed to interact in society.

Growing up, I did not know any openly bisexual men. Therefore, I was reluctant to be more open about my sexuality. As an adult, I strive to be more open about my sexuality because it opens dialogue and can help break down myths. I wholeheartedly agree with Harvey Milk’s sentiment that Queer people should come out if they are safe and able because the simple act of being visible and accounted for empowers society to be more loving and accepting.

With pride,
Johnny West Street
Anaheim, CA

Sarah Ann

Sarah Ann and David

“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,”
Sarah Ann.
Anaheim, CA

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