8 – Ashley Stephens

Gay/Identifying more as Demisexual lately (she/her) // Colorado Springs, CO

Quick intro…
“Hi! My name is Ashley, Ash for short.
I have a background in childcare and music education, but I currently work as a Target Systems Worker for the Army.
Outside of work, I’m either competing in Olympic Weightlifting, playing video games, or watching the news.
I am one of the rare people that actually likes to talk about politics. I don’t watch TV, but I’ll listen to political podcasts and stream C-Span for fun. So hit me up if you want to rant about our current political climate.”

With the infinite possibilities of gender identity and expression, when did you know?

“I’ve been thinking a lot about it… I think I knew when I was a little kid that something was different. Maybe 4th or 5th grade because everyone was like ‘Oh I like boys… this boy is cute’ …And I just didn’t care for boys… Kissing boys?? That sounds awful. I don’t care about any of those things. That’s also when girls were also super girly and I just wanted to play with video games, and maybe I’d play outside every once and a while.”

On preferred pronouns…

“She/her/hers. Even though, most people mistake me as a guy when they see me. I always get a lot of ‘sirs’ and it used to make me mad, but recently I’m like, ‘Sure… I’ll go with it’. If you call me sir, I’m not going to freak out about it. They don’t know I’m a girl until I talk.

When I was in college I used to get really mad because my gender expression was something I was bullied over when I was a kid. So, when someone called me sir, it was kind of like an attack on me. I was like, ‘This is a mistake…. why are you calling me sir? What are you trying to say?’ So, I would get mad. To some people, a short haircut is all they see and automatically assume who you are. So, I was like, ‘You know what? …I’ll get over that, I won’t make a big deal of it. Call me sir, I’ll just leave it alone, ignore it and see what happens.’ But it’s funny to see people try to figure out what they’re going to do after they make a mistake. And they’re like, are we going to acknowledge this, ‘Oh my god I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to’ …but some people just pretend they didn’t say anything and just correct it. So it’s weird.”

How old were you when you came out, and how was that experience for you?

“I was 30. So…technically last year. I came out November 30th, the day before my birthday. I talked to a friend like a month prior about it, and then I was contemplating…am I going to do this? Or, am I going to keep it to myself? I wrote this long, 14 page letter – no one was going to read the 14 page letter… But I didn’t want it to be an excuse, so I wrote a shorter one and at 9 or 10 o’clock just posted to Facebook  to see what would happen… So fairly recent.”

Has your family been supportive/accepted?

“I don’t know if I call it accepting, more like tolerance toward it. The day after I came out to my friends, I told my mom. For some reason I was afraid of telling her, but my friends said ‘You need to tell her, I don’t think it’ll be a problem’. So I went out for my birthday and had a couple of drinks… made a not-so-good decision to drive home – so I was kind of drunk. My mom (who I live with) was mad that that I drove home drunk. I thought, ‘So, mom, since you’re already mad I might as well just tell you right now…’ I told her, and she looked at me and said, ‘It’s your life, you do what you want…’ and that was it. I was like dang, I was freaking out about this for a decade…. then she said ‘…but don’t you ever drive home drunk again!!’. It was more like, there’s nothing I can do about it, it’s your life, you do what you want. She’s kind of conservative because she’ll say things like ‘your lifestyle…’ or she’ll make some comments. So, it’s not so much acceptance, but more like I’m not going to bother you about it.”

What was your biggest fear/concern with coming out?

“I knew I had a bunch of people who supported me, so it wasn’t that that was the problem. It took me a long time to get to that point because I hadn’t really accepted it or didn’t really want to accept it. People would ask me or say something, and I would deny it…. or someone would say ‘Oh that’s gay…’ and I would stay silent about it. ‘I’m not touching that, I’m not going there…’ But I had a friend who had been pushing me, ‘We know you’re gay… you don’t have to come out, that’s fine… but we’re going to act like you’re gay, and when you decide you want to come out…. then we’ll be here’. But kind of gently pushing me in that direction. So when I finally did it everyone was like ‘Yeah we all know, we’ve been knowing… it wasn’t a secret. That wasn’t the gayest thing you’ve done!’. And some people were like, ‘You had a problem? We didn’t realize you were struggling with this… we just assumed you were gay and that was the end of the story.’…”

What do you feel your favorite thing about our community?

“Just the community itself, that we are a community. We’re all so different, have different histories and come from different places, but we have this one thing that is pulling us together … even though sometimes it’s not the most positive thing – because of discrimination and all of that – But it’s just nice that it doesn’t matter who it is… I can just go on Facebook and there’s someone across the country and I can just say, ‘Hey I’m having a rough time at my job because these people are bothering me or are homophobic’, and someone will instantly get it. But if you’re surrounded by a bunch of, I hate to say, straight people, they might not understand it. They might not think it’s a big deal. But if I talk to someone from my community they’ll completely understand it.”

Least favorite?  

“That there’s discrimination within the community… We are already being discriminated against because we’re gay… but there are people within our community that do that to those who identify as trans and bisexual. It just frustrates me, we’re all a community… we’re all in this together… If they attack one of us, don’t think they’re not going to come after you too! Which is what I’ve seen lately with all of these transgender bills and bathroom bills and kicking them out of the military. There are some people you know who care about that and get frustrated, and others are like ‘That’s not that big of a deal’. They’re not so concerned about it after marriage equality, because they got what they wanted… But everyone else is just… ‘Oh we’re not going to worry about people who are trans… They’ll be fine…’ We got what we wanted and just left them out there, and now they’re being attacked. I see people that don’t care as much. Some people are arguing whether they should be a part of the community. Of all the people…we shouldn’t be doing this. We shouldn’t be discriminating against our own. Like being bisexual… ‘You have to choose one or the other or you’re going to be cheating on me…’ Are you kidding me?!? They would say the same amount of insane stuff to you and you’d be furious, and now you’re turning it on them…”

What’s one piece of advice you would tell younger you? Advice for someone who feels they can’t come out, or don’t have a community to be a part of?

“To myself… just, don’t be so afraid to come out. Talk to people about it. Just come out sooner, especially when I was surrounded by people that would be accepting, but for some reason it took until last year to do it. You know these people love you, you know you’re going to be OK nothing’s going to happen to you, just go on and do it… don’t waste anymore time. That’s for me…

To others…. You have a community. It might not necessarily be the people around you, but then you never know who around you would support you if you do come out. You may think someone may have a major problem, like my mom, but she didn’t really care. You have people around you, you might not know it, but you do. Don’t feel so pressured to come out right away (even though I told myself I should have come out sooner) but to me coming out is a process. Before you can come out to everyone, you have to come out to yourself and accept it for yourself. So, don’t feel that because you’re not out and you see people coming out, you feel pressure to come out. Don’t come out until you’re ready. It’s kind of your own internal process and until you’ve gone through that, don’t feel rushed to do it.

…Like Ellen, when she came out it wasn’t necessarily so positive in the beginning. But she has her talk show now… she made it. But I remember the whole process of her coming out and just seeing coming out stories, and seeing people figure themselves out online. Which thank god we have that now! We didn’t have that when I was a kid. It might have saved me some trouble. You might be surrounded [by support], you don’t know… You might not have anyone around you, or live in a small town or super conservative place and thinking that you’re by yourself… But stuff like this [Coming Out Sessions], you can go online… You don’t have to ask people in your community and tip them off. You can see this story and think, it’s not just me. I’m not the only one who feels like this. There may not be anyone in your neighborhood, but you can find someone online, and it’s not so lonely…”

With the state of the world/nation, if you could change one thing what would it be?

“There’s so much in my head right now, because it just feels so insane what’s happening now. I felt like before the election, I felt like things were getting better… It was not so much perfect, but we were working on discrimination against LGBT people, against black people. I thought we lived in a better place, a more accepting place… And then the election happened, and I realized that the people that you’re surrounded by, still hate you. I feel like we live in such a hateful environment right now. Not necessarily the people I’m surrounded by, but you go online and see story after story about horrible things happening to people. Discrimination against things that don’t make sense… Why do we live in such a hateful place? It doesn’t make any sense. Especially with the 9 year-old that committed suicide. I was telling my friends (I’m from Colorado, grew up in Colorado Springs) ‘Colorado isn’t as bad as it used to be, we’re not a hate state anymore’ I was telling them that things were getting better, things aren’t as bad as they used to be.. And the  I saw what happened, and I flipped out. We still live in that place. Where a kid can come out with supporting parents, he had everything that he needed, they sent him off to school and four days later he killed himself. So, if I can change one thing, just not to live in such a hateful place. It shouldn’t matter who you are. I’m trying to live my life, you’re trying to live yours. I’m not trying to bother you, don’t bother me. The fact that I like women, or that kids are gay, or that I’m black, it shouldn’t freakin matter! That’s what I would change. Just get rid of the discrimination and the nonsense. Because it’s all nonsense.

I think for so many years everyone was trying to believe, ‘Oh, racism doesn’t exist anymore… you’re all freaking out, it doesn’t exist….’ Everyone was acting like we’re all cool and fine and then this election happened, and the sh*t hit the fan and you start seeing things come up. And not only has it come up, it’s more public. I guess before people were homophobic and racists, but it wasn’t cool to talk about it. You kept [that hate] home. Unfortunately, your kids would have to suffer through that, but you didn’t’ say things out loud. Now you can just go walking down the street and someone will say some messed up thing to you… It feels like it’s commonplace. We went back to the 50s or 60s… it’s absolutely ridiculous. We’re supposed to be a colorblind, non-homophobic society, and one election proved that we are not even close to being there.”

Who was your first celebrity that made you question your sexuality?

“I don’t know if anyone…. again because being Demi, it’s not like I see anyone and think ‘Maybe I’m gay…’. So, it’s nothing like that. It’s more that I would see someone like ‘Oh my god they’re gay, that’s so awesome!’. I think the first one was Ellen because I used to watch her sitcom. I saw the coming out episode, and for some reason, I was really excited about it. Like ‘Oh my gosh she’s gay, this is so cool! I can’t let anyone know that I’m watching this now because she’s gay!’ I was really obsessed about the episode, but I didn’t understand why. So, I think Ellen would be the first one and then later on, I don’t think I had anybody. Well, I kind of had a crush of Naya Rivera during the Glee stuff for some reason. I think it would be cool just to meet her and talk to her. Her personality seemed cool, at least in the show.”

What are you most proud of?

“I went to college on a track scholarship. I was a discus thrower, hammer thrower, shot put (not so good at the shot put). I switched sports a while ago. I’m an athlete and I was actually pretty good. I won Nationals for the discus twice, All American. It was a Division II school. That’s the biggest thing I’ve accomplished outside of LGBT stuff. I did that, all 4 years, All-American. I switched to weightlifting when I realized that track was too expensive of a sport to do on my own. I’m doing Olympic Weightlifting at Pinnacle Weightlifting now.”

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