27 – Susan Peiffer

Queer Femme (she/her) // Married to Jesse Terpstra (16 years, open commitment) // Colorado Springs, CO // Poet. Educator. Community Activator.

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

“I probably didn’t know to feel that something was different until I was in high school. The only reason – and I mean that might be deceptive or misleading at first – I didn’t feel different until I was about 14, is because that it never occurred to me that I should feel different than anyone else. I always functioned as ‘I am who I am’.  I was raised in a family that never had to say, ‘You can be anything you want to be…’ or ‘Even though you’re a girl, you can do anything you want…’. It didn’t have to be said because we just accepted it as the way things were.  It was never presented as if I couldn’t. Queer representation has been hugely fundamental in that there have always been gay characters in the books, movies and radio shows from the 80’s and 90’s until now – that’s 30 years that I have been comfortable and have been encouraged and championed to be whatever the f*ck I am. I think the struggle that I’ve had, in terms of coming out, had nothing really to do with my own sexual identity… or confusion about who I was attracted to… or what I could, or should or couldn’t do about that… I think my confusion first showed up when my husband started… well more together we started to realize the proper relationship, and the proper language for who he was. So to come to terms, and to come out with my sexuality not being defined by my partner’s gender identity. That’s the coming out I’ve had to do… I’ve had to come back out in lesbian circles, to a big backlash because I have a transgender husband. I’ve had to come out in gay cis male circles, and they don’t accept me as anything but a straight woman… so my coming out a repeated adult experience, and more of self-affirmation and education, than revealing.

…a part of queer community that I’ve been active with in support, is with partners of people transitioning or exploring their gender. That’s a corner or niche that I’ve tried to spend some time in because its often overlooked or left behind. The only way I was able to travel it myself, was through my poetry.  In re-reading my writing from when Jesse and I separated in 2006 to give each other some space for about a year—that’s when he first moved to Colorado from Delaware to continue his transition—some things I was writing were really metaphors about shedding the solid identity I’d constructed for myself and had always been comfortable with—Always been comfortable with… At the same time, my partner was shedding the parts of himself that I had fallen  in love with… those same parts that I loved in my partner, were the things that made his life so difficult… that made his body feel so foreign. So systematically, and then, surgically, he eliminated so many of the things essential to whom the person I loved was.  it had been so special that I loved the things about him that he didn’t. I had to unlearn us both, and  tumble back into love.  Gender theory has so much new language now…”

On coming out….

“Driving in a car…. To catholic school… 14 years old… super liberal, radical, rebellious…. Super involved in everything… Wearing a school uniform… With a bad attitude… Riding in the car with my mom…. We’re casually talking about my weekend plans. I’m going bowling. She asked who I was going with. ‘Brandy, Sarah, and Ellen’… We drive a couple more miles… ‘Hey, Sue… is Brandy gay?’… ‘Yeah’… We keep driving… I’m so irritated she’s talking to me… So irritated… We have 5 miles left… ‘What about Sarah, does Sarah like girls?’… ‘Yeah, mom…. Whatever!’… ‘Does Ellen have a girlfriend?’…’Well, you know, Sue… do you?’… ‘F*cking sometimes….I don’t know!!!’…  And THAT was the last we ever spoke of it. That was my coming out story… F*CKING SOMETIMES!

Again, those anticipatory moments where you think of coming out of the closet, and the fear and the lash back… I’ve never feared a violent one. The time in 2006 when Jesse and I were taking out year apart, Jesse and I went out to still visit my paternal Grandma Peiffer in San Diego, and it was how to explain to my 86 year old grandma that… well, it was hard enough to explain I had a wife… we handled that! …and now the explaining what we’ve learned about the language about who he is. She made it so easy… we were sitting at the Baker’s Square with pie and coffee and I had written her a card about it all, so we sat there across from her… awkwardly until she finished. Then she looked up and said, ‘ Well whatever, Susie… love who you want. And, Jesse…you want to be a he? Okay!’

I’m the only vocally queer person in my family… Uncle Jimmy had a special friend, that for some reason took care of Aunt Ruth after Uncle Jimmy died…. But whatever! Now I have a ‘sib-kid’ [genderqueer – not a niece or nephew] too… they said ‘I don’t like to define myself by something that isn’t… I don’t want to define myself by what I’m not. I don’t think binary is a thing… So I’m certainly not not a thing I don’t believe in!’ Mic drop! That MY sib-kid, RIGHT THERE!!”

What is something you would tell a younger you?

“I’m not built for war, and it would be easier to understand if we all talked in flowers.
But that’s not the way the world works.
And so, little me…
That’s not the way the world works.
Little me…
It’s important for you to occupy your own skin.
Get out of your head and believe everybody
When they tell you who they are the first time.”

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’re right… it might feel like you’re entirely alone, and you’re the only one who’s experiencing this… or the only one who’s trapped and can’t get out of this… and you might have people on all sides telling you how wrong, and ugly you are… how much you don’t belong… or that you’re going to have a horrible future… You’re also gonna have some hints of people telling you it’s gonna get better… and it will… but maybe it gets worse too. You’re not alone…. Even if you feel like you are. You can’t ever say that anybody’s gonna have the same experience as you, but it’s important for you to be attentive and authentic to your own experience. You’ll get out of it. It’s ok. You do not owe anyone anything. Ever. You don’t owe them their comfort. You don’t owe them your discomfort. You don’t owe them obligation. If you are saying you ‘should’ do something, chances are you need to reevaluate it.”

What in your life are you most proud of?

“I’m really the most proud of my ability to forgive people, because I think what comes from that is the ability to accept anyone for who they are… for whom they’re trying to be… and I think every person is worth more than the worst thing they could do. So if you’re worth more than what you can do, sure, start again. Look! Another chance! If you think you don’t deserve a second chance from God, what makes you think you deserved the first one? You did! That’s the unconditional thing about it! Unconditional is of no virtue, unless it is in the face of conditions. To be hopeful is of no virtue, unless you are mired in hopelessness. It’s not worth anything until you’re put to the f*ckin line.”

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 put someone in Donald Trump’s life that actually loved him better… There is smoke in the air. The people are burning. I think that Donald Trump has never felt unconditional love from anyone… and I don’t think it will change the world, but it sure would change part of what went wrong with it. I’d give that to everyone really. I’d would have everyone have someone that they knew loved them unconditionally. Everybody has someone that loves them, but a lot of us don’t know it because not a lot of people say it.”

Other important thoughts…

“People say ‘Love is Love’……. But they really mean their heterocentric system of monogamous marriage…”

“It’s not that we finally have this youth generation rising up… it’s that for the 20 years that adolescent kids have been coming out to me …that for the 20 years that people like me and the slackers, like me, who were living in this world, like ‘F*ck you! F*ck It!F*ck your noise!’… and so we didn’t. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that there’s is NO ONE who has a better sense of what is fair and not fair, than a teenager. They can point out what is not fair immediately… and that developed sense from parents who are angry that it’s not fair, but so disenchanted, that we’ve given up on hope. I’m from a generation that’s defined by the swamp scene in The Neverending Story…. The horse doesn’t get out of the f*ckin swamp, dude! Our childhood was defined by the horse drowning…. We have a depressed childhood…. And from that grows a generation of hope. These children got here, because the boomers raised us to ask questions… to questions authority… and now they’re rising against authority and it’s so powerful, and it’s so strong. And to have millions of teenagers who know what’s fair and right, voting…. Don’t need to worry about it!”

“Hear Here Poetry is a non-profit, and one of the established poetry organizations in Colorado Springs, and their leadership has been consistently recognized for advocacy work with our queer yout… and the power of language, and the power of voice. The mission of Hear Here Poetry was encouraging everyone to listen, write and share. That’s it. You define poetry. I stepped away from the board in 2016…”

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