Jayme Hansen, Fleshtone
People ask me all the time, "Are you even gay?" I guess because if someone is seen as femme or whatever, you're not as accepted in the lesbian community. I don't even identify as femme. I'm just in the world, hanging out. I think it's just because I do my hair.
Sam Adams, Portland City Commissioner
I usually call myself queer, but funny enough, my official biography says "gay." I used the term queer because it's more inclusive—if you look at our similarities as humans and as sexual minorities, we're far more similar than we are different.
Still, there are some people who have very emotional, negative reactions to the word "queer." I'll usually push the boundaries and call myself "The Queer Commissioner," but if it's going to distract from the issue at hand, I won't use it.
Sarah Dougher, writer, musician
I just don't really find any of those terms very useful anymore. It's fortunately not the primary way I go through life. Terms like that are not central to my identity. Maybe 10 years ago I thought being a dyke was really cool, but I'm not really a dyke. I sleep with men and women so I think that's too reductive of a term.
I find any excuse to leave town during Pride. I hate it. I find the self-congratulatory nature of it unbelievable, and I don't feel like it's my world, at all. Even though it's supposed to show this wide breadth of the queer community or whatever. Just because you're queer doesn't mean you're a cool person, just because people are queer doesn't mean we have to have a party about it.
Lee Kyle, AKA Splendora
I'm definitely all about keeping the freak in "queer." I think there's a huge social movement going on in Portland to bring about a more mainstream or normal way of living for gay people, to get more rights, but whenever you go "I'm gonna be a flamboyant faggot!" people say, "Oo, you're making gay culture look bad," and I hate that. I think it's unfortunate because if we can't laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at?
Donna Dresch, Team Dresch lead singer
I would say that I'm a lesbian. I'm proud of my lesbianism. I don't have any shame in my identity. I am queer identified and lesbian identified and I would say I'm a dyke too. I don't worry about identifying myself anymore; I did that along time ago. I mean, I knew the second I hit puberty. I went to my first Pride with [a group of older lesbians], and I was scared out of my mind... So I go there just scared shitless and my fucking picture ends up on the front page of the Seattle Times. AH
Keith Brown, Drumattica synth player
It's all about happiness, and as long as people are happy and nobody else is being hurt by what they do sexually, then it's nobody's business. I've never found the big deal in all the terms, personally.
Gabriel Mendoza, Artistic Director of the Portland Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
The "gay" thing has always been odd for me in that my sexuality is only a small part of who I am and the least interesting thing about me. I find labels troublesome because they're meant to define people, which I find limiting. I am not the sum total of whom I want to fuck. That being said, I refer to myself as gay, but only as a descriptive term, not a "lifestyle" choice.
Because most people are "straight," labels are necessary for practical purposes. I refer to non-straights as queer because I dislike "gay, les, bi, trans," as it sounds like a skin rash or law firm. I dislike labels within the queer community: "bears, twinks, bulldykes, top, bottom," etc. I think these "sub-labels" infantilize queers by limiting the full expression of their sexuality, making healthy emotional development difficult. How can a 25-year-old man be taken seriously when he refers to himself as a "twink"?!
Many of us queers spend the first parts of our lives hiding or being out of touch with who we are. When we're finally able to say "gay" or "queer," it can be liberating. As long as being queer has political and social ramifications, labels are useful.
Ali Cotterill, DK PDX cofounder, filmmaker
Yeah, there are terms I have distaste for... something like the term (giggle) "soft-butch." I mean c'mon now. In general, I'm not that into the butch or femme terms—but I have a lot of friends that really identify as male, female, and really love that term—so whatever, I'll use it—but usually I think of it as pretty archaic. I like "gaywad." I think it's funny.
Aubree, Swan Island guitarist, filmmaker
I was very close with my best friend [in first grade], Andrea. We'd always walk around holding hands, until some of the older kids started calling us "gaywads." I didn't really get what that meant, but it seemed bad enough to make us stop holding hands at school. Oddly, the word "gay" never really stuck out to me, it was the word "wad" that seemed particularly disturbing. Like a "spitwad"... gross.
I've been fortunate enough to have only experienced mild instances of homophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism in my life. And, perhaps, because I've only had mild experiences, I am mildly outspoken. I've never concealed who I am but, at the same time, I've never been that confrontational about my identity. Maybe I've just thought I have had more important things in my life. In fact, when a precocious teenage girl asked me if I had a boyfriend and I told her I had a girlfriend, she looked at me and said, "Are you a lez?" I just laughed—partly out of surprise, and because I hadn't heard that in so long. I told her that some people wouldn't laugh, but yes, I am a "lez." That doesn't bother me. But, if you really want to get me riled up by calling me a name, all you have to do is refer to me as a "singer/songwriter."
Tom Spanbauer, novelist, creator of Dangerous Writing
I like the word "faggot" myself. It's got a good, hard sound to it, like the word "fuck." "Faggot" is a great word and it expresses a lot. Of course, there are many people who have been hurt by it. In fact, I was in front of Cinemagic one day when a car full of teenagers passed and yelled "faggot" at my partner and me. It pissed me off at the time—but, if I own it, it doesn't hurt me. I looked at it as further making me an outsider, which makes me comfortable. Being queer and having AIDS, while they include me in certain groups, also make me an outsider in other—perhaps larger—groups, which I'm proud of. I've always been an outsider, whether growing up queer in Idaho, or living in predominantly queer Key West and kind of abhorring the superficial scene there, and even in the publishing world. To the publishers in New York, I'm always a "Western writer trying to be a Southern writer" while my books are always found in queer fiction section. Though I don't want to romanticize it too much, I would label myself simply as an "outsider."
I'm a Portlander, which means something. When I travel doing my show, people ask me why I think we're so different. I tell them we have to be different because so much of the country thinks California is right up against Washington. So, we have to have the first bottle bill, to have the first assisted suicide law, in order to make things happen. Maybe that's why I'm different. I identify as queer first and, after that, an entertainer. The work I do has nothing to do with sexual orientation but, in order to do it well, I have to know who I am. If I didn't, my audience would see right through me. At the same time, when I'm out of costume, I don't mind being called "Darcelle." It doesn't create an identity crisis or anything. I'm happy being what I am and I'm proud of what I do, so calling me "Darcelle" even when I'm not in drag is like a thank you. You know, everything has a label. Perhaps I should be labeled with the word "warning."
Sister Paula Nielsen, trans evangelical preacher, sisterpaula.org
In 1963 I changed my identity from Larry, to Paula. I was living in Oakland, California, at the time, and me and Laura—who was a transsexual friend of mine—we both started living in the female identity at the same time. So on May 1, 1963 I moved out of my apartment in Oakland, left all of the male clothes behind—I had been going out as Paula off and on—but I started living full time in this identity on that date. I've been living in that identity ever since and I feel that's who I am.
Ninety percent of the time I preach the gospel, it's on TV. I'm on television to fulfill that call, but occasionally I do programs on sexuality issues. Rebecca Nay (a recent guest on the show) made some very interesting points—when she said that a lot of the male-to-female transsexuals come out of the heterosexual community, I had never thought of that before because Laura and I, and a few other transsexual friends I had back then—we all liked men! The first time I heard about someone having the surgery to be a lesbian, I thought, "Well, if they like women, why do it?" However, as years went on I realized there's a lot more of that than I thought there was... and if I want people to accept me where I'm coming from then I have to give them the same respect. People should have the right to be perceived in whatever identity they want to be.
Mary McAllister, Gaycation queer night promoter, DJ Mr. Charming
I have a very specific memory... I was raised Southern Baptist, so I would pray before I went to bed and I specifically remember being like seven, eight years old and praying for two main things which were (a) to not be a lesbian and (b) to not go to prison. I know at that age I had no real understanding what being a lesbian was, but somehow I got it in me—probably from going to a Southern Baptist church—that it was like really bad and on the same level as going to prison. No, I haven't gone to prison. I love that word [queer]. It's always meant something regarding the outside not necessarily bad. It's so all-inclusive—the word itself is queer.
Storm Large, Storm Large and the Balls leader singer
I hate "wife"—sounds like a sharp pain. "Husband" sounds like a doofus and "queer" sounds abnormal or unnatural. I love "gay"—that means happy, and sounds like "yay." "Fag" is fun to say, as is "fuck"... which sounds thick, hard, and satisfying. To define me sexually? Ugh. I like to say I'm an opportunistic omnivore (if it tastes good, I'll eat it) with a wide monogamous streak.
Labels are limiting and for the lazy minded. It's the first thing in a list of what identifies you... like, in a list of ingredients, it's whatever there's the most of. But like an excellent recipe, it's ALL the yummies mixed in that makes it so delicious.
Christa Orth, DK PDX cofounder, PSU professor of women's studies
When people refer to queers as "homosexuals" in the present day... it's a little rough. I teach history/sexuality classes so we're using the term "homosexual" all the time to talk about how people identify or how people were seen by medical science back in the day—in ye olden times—and then occasionally somebody will say, "Well, you know, the homosexual community is really big in Portland," and I'm just like whaa? That kind of makes my skin crawl... to think that some people think of us as homosexuals still, since that has such a negative historical connotation... as does "queer," but "queer" is something that we kind of reclaimed. Now "homo" is something that we're kind of reclaiming, but we haven't gone so far as to reclaim homosexual yet. We should work on that.