5 – Jaime Clevenger

Queer (she/her) // Married // Colorado Springs, CO // Parent, Veterinarian, Author

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

“When I was 4 or 5, I struggled a lot with presenting as female. I was from a traditional Catholic family and every Sunday morning we’d have to get dressed up – in a dress if you were a girl. I fought a lot against that. I remember my first fight with my mom was over stripping off my dress in the church parking lot. I remember racing back to the car after church, getting in the back seat and taking off my dress. Then my mom saw meI had shorts on underneath but we were still in the church parking lot, so she was so upset with me. I also had long hair that my mom curled, and too many barrettes. I wanted to have short hair and no barrettes. But that was another fight. There were a lot of fights with my mom about my hair and my clothesShe would scream, ‘What’s wrong with you? Do you want to be a boy? Do you want to be ugly?’ But I had never felt like I wanted to be a boy, I had 2 older brothers, and I didn’t want to be like them. I just didn’t want to be a girl. It was always this really complicated thing, because I couldn’t shout back, ‘Yes! I want to be a boy!’ all I could shout was, ‘I hate dresses!’. At that stage I couldn’t formulate the words as to what was wrong. I just knew that I was wrong. I didn’t have a modelI didn’t know anybody else that didn’t fit their gender. What made it more complicated was that I wasn’t exactly the wrong gender. It wasn’t ‘I’m a boy trapped in a girls body.’ It was more like, ‘I’m a girl, and none of this feels right. None of these clothes feel right. None of these expectations feel right.’ I remember being in CCD (“church school”), and listening to the nuns tell us what women were supposed to do, and being so upset and so mad at the rules. That was all part of my early years realizing that I didn’t fit society’s expectations of what a female should be.”

On preferred pronouns…

“I do feel most comfortable calling myself ‘she’, however, I don’t have any problem if people use other pronouns. I don’t have an innate negative response when people call me ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’. I’m okay with anythinghonestly, because nothing has ever felt right. I have friends who go by ‘they/them/theirs’ and I’ve considered trying that but it’s more complicated, and what people call me really doesn’t change who I am… I don’t care which gender pronoun you use. Nothing feels perfect.”

How old were you when you came out?

“So that’s complicatedmy brother told me I was gay when I was 14. Well, actually he said ‘You’re a dyke.’ I didn’t know what that meant so I had to go home and look through the dictionary for the definition. At the time, I didn’t think he was right. I wasn’t really attracted to any womenI just wasn’t attracted to men. I thought for a while that I was asexual. I didn’t have boyfriends or any feelings like I wanted to be with a guy, but there were no feelings for women either. I wasn’t at that point yet. I went through pretty much all of high school wanting to prove my brother wrong and worrying that he might be right. Then by the end of high school, when I was 18, I was reading this newspaper article, and it was about Women in FilmI flipped the page to read the rest of the article and accidentally started reading a different article without realizing it. I had gone to the wrong continuation articleThe new article was all about lesbians but I didn’t realize it until I got through the first paragraph. Then I was like, ‘You know what? I don’t think that’s disgusting anymore!’

For the longest time I had always thought that being a lesbian was this bad thing. I remember kids saying it was gross, but I actually had no idea what lesbians did that was supposed to be gross. When my brother said ‘You’re a dyke’ that meant ‘there’s something wrong with you!’ But when I realized that that was truly who I was, I didn’t have a problem with it anymore. I didn’t think it was gross or weird. It was me.

So I came out to myself when I was 18, and then came out to the rest of the world over the next couple years. When my parents found out, there was lot of screaming. Not on my part, but on theirs. I kept saying that I was happy for the first time because I’d been so depressed for years and I truly was happy. I couldn’t see why they would be so upset when I finally felt like living. They were most concerned that the neighbors would find out. Around the same time that they realized I had a girlfriend, I had also cut my hair. I used to have long blonde hair that my parents loved. Then I got it cut really short and that seemed to be the big trigger for them to thinking that something was wrong. They met one of my ‘friends’ and she was much more masculine presenting than any of my friends before her, and so my mom said ‘I don’t like this influence on youthis person is bad for you.’ She honestly thought this person was giving me drugs. Which is ridiculous because I was not into drugs or drinking or anything like that,and I had chased this person down. I had asked her out. It was me, not her, that was the ‘bad influence’ if anyone was.

My parents and I went through a rough time for the next several years. After I came out, they told me I had to move out. At the time I was commuting to college and working two jobs. I was still living at home because I knew I wanted to go to vet school and I couldn’t afford that on top of college loan debts. My dad said I couldn’t live in their house if I had a short haircut, and my mom just cried all the time. She said a lot of mean things that I knew she didn’t mean. But it was pretty awful at home for all of us. The thing was, I knew my parents loved me even if they didn’t like the gay thing. And I was stubborn. I was like ‘What are they really gonna do?’ So I didn’t move out. I just kept saying that I was happy and I still loved them. I didn’t care what mean things they said, I knew they still loved me back. I think the hardest part for them was that I was still a really good kid. I’d always been the good kid. I got perfect grades and I worked hard. I never did anything wrong until the gay thing came up. I wasn’t into drugs or drinking and I never partied like my brothers. Plus, I really loved my parents. So it was hard for them to really be mad for long. Don’t get me wrong, they tried. But eventually I think they realized that they were going to lose me if they didn’t accept that this was who I was.”

Biggest fears or concern about coming out…

“The big concern that I had initially was that I wasn’t sure… Until you have been with a woman, I think that there’s always that little bit of that self doubt. I kind of consider myself a late bloomer, not age wise necessarily, but in my mentality – I really kind of felt like I was asexual all through high school. Then when I came out to myself at 18, I thought, ‘Yeah, I like women!’, but there wasn’t anybody I was really interested in dating at that moment. Which brought on all this doubt of‘What if I’m not right? What if I don’t really like women?’ The first few people that I dated, sex was great, but there wasn’t a whole lot of emotional connection. And I didn’t love them. So there was a lot of doubting. Before I was ready to tell other people, ‘Yes, I’m gay,’ I really wanted to be sure. I wanted to date a woman and have a good relationship. Not just good sex. Then I’d be ready to tell the world, ‘Yeah! This is who I am!’ Which is kind of ridiculous, because obviously straight people don’t have to date somebody of the opposite gender and fall in love, to prove that they’re straight …but in my mind I had to do that to be sure. I wasn’t worried so much that I’d lose all my friends or my family. I was pretty independent and didn’t think I needed anyone. I think it was more my own fears of being wrong that made coming out hard. I hate being wrong. I didn’t want to tell everybody and then fall for some guy. I can’t imagine if I had dated a boy after saying thatugh, that would have really wrecked my world. Definitely my own fears.”

First celebrity crush?

“There really wasn’t one. That random newspaper article that I picked up, and my brother kind of laying the framework for me by suggesting that I was that way when I was 14, all helped me see who I was. But there was no crush. I asked my brother one time: ‘How did you know I was gay when I was 14? I wasn’t with a girl. I wasn’t attracted to girls.’ And his response was, ‘You’ve just always been different. From the beginning. You’ve never been like a ‘normal girl’.’ Unfortunately I didn’t have a role model to look up to, I didn’t fall for someone… it was all this kind of internal debate, and a growth that I had to do on my own. I kind of wished there were celebrities or people that I could’ve looked to, but in my environment, my parents would never talk about a celebrity/person if they were gay. That would never have been mentioned. We didn’t have any family memberswe didn’t have any distant relatives who were gay, or if they were, they were never pointed out to me. SoI thought I was the only person.”

Favorite part about the community?

“I love the word ‘family’, and I love that it is code. I love to be able to ask someone, ‘Hey, are you family?’ and they look back at me with a smile and say, ‘Yeah!’ I love that moment. I love those moments of connection that we can have. I’m a Veterinarian, and I love being able to do that at work, too. Even if you’re walking somewhere and someone looks up and sees youAnd they see you for who you really are, and they smile, and you KNOW. There’s a little passing moment of, ‘Yeahyou’re like me.’ – which, especially if you’re living in a conservative town, like Colorado Springs, or if you’re from a conservative family – I think those little moments mean so much. I might not perfectly fit into any category, and I might always feel like an outsider in any group, but there are moments where I belong to a Family.”

Least favorite?

“When I first came out and when I was first dating women, I felt like I didn’t fit in to the community. I think that’s mostly because of how I identify as not really a man, and not really a woman. I didn’t want to cheer: ‘Yay! Women are great! I’m a lesbian! Rah! Rah! Rah!’ That didn’t feel right to me and I felt like an outsider in some ways. I remember going to my first Pride event when I was 21. I went with my girlfriend at the time, and I remember being with all her older friends (she was 10 years older than me)… I remember looking around at everybody (in San Francisco) and seeing this city filled with all these gay people, and I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m just not gay enoughor if there’s still something wrong with me, but I don’t fit in yet.’ I think that was part of why I initially gravitated towards the word ‘queer’ vs. ‘lesbian’. For me it’s not just that I’m attracted to women, it’s also that I don’t identify as womanand if there’s a box between male and femaleI’d check that box.”

What is something you would tell a younger you?

“I guess I would say be bravertry sooner. go for it. I was worried so much about making a mistake, that I held myself back. There were years where I was on the brink of not being… where I was really suicidaland I wish that I hadn’t had to go through that to get to this point. It’s not so much the ‘It Gets Better’ quote, although I know that is right for many peopleFor me it’s like, ‘Yeah, your road’s gonna be really hard,but each step that you take is gonna make you stronger. You’re gonna grow and change so much. It may not get better in the foreseeable future, it really may notit may be that every step is hard. But you HAVE TO try. You have to keep going.’ It’s definitely worth it. Each step is definitely is worth it.”

Advice for anyone out there who feels like they can’t come out, or they don’t have a community to be a part of?

“You always have to be true to yourself, so if you can’t come out to anyone else, know that even coming out to yourself is validating. I remember sitting in my car, looking in the mirror and telling myself, ‘YepI’m gay! I’m gay…’, and just feeling this empowerment – I was listening to an Indigo Girls song at the time, and singing just as loud as they were (really badly because I’m not a singer!). I think it’s okay even if you don’t have a girlfriend, boyfriend, or gay friends, to say those words aloud to yourself. It’s part of the process. If you work on accepting yourself, the rest will come.”

What in your life are you most proud of?

“I’m not very good at any one thing, but I’m proud of myself because I’ve tried a lot of different things. I’m a Veterinarian – a pretty mediocre VeterinarianI’m a Writer – I’ve published books, and I’m a pretty mediocre writer… I teach Karate – I’m not very good at KarateI swim – you’d probably beat me in the swimming poolI’m a Mom – yet I hate the label ‘Mom’, so there’s that too. But I feel like I’m a decent parentI’ve let myself try so many different things, and been willing to fail. I’m not a rockstar, and I never will bebut I’m okay with that. I’m most proud of living an authentic life and finding my own happiness, and not following the rules that were written for me.”

With the state of the nation and the world in its current state, what’s one thing you would change if you had the power?

“I would make everyone more compassionate. I wish people could be more understanding and listen more instead of judge… but being compassionate goes even further. Even just on a daily basis when someone bumps into you, and gives you a mean look. Maybe they aren’t a mean person, maybe they just had to euthanize their dog that morninggive them a little leniency. Maybe be nice to them for no reason other than to be nice. The world would be a better place if more people were compassionate to total strangers.”

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