30 – Alissa Smith

Lesbian (she/her or they/them) // Colorado Springs, CO // Culture & Calendar Editor for the Colorado Springs Independent. Edits and contributes to the Queer & There column.

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

“Most everyone I know knew before I did, which is hilarious to me, because I knew pretty early on. All things considered. I knew something was different when all my friends were going on about getting boyfriends… and even though they wanted boyfriends, the boys had cooties… and I was like, ‘No, they really do have cooties… I don’t want them anywhere near me…’ So I played the game for a while, until the game ended. I got ‘crushes’ on all of these boys that were way out of my league, so there would never really be a date there… I’d never have to worry about anything. I think I realized when I was crushing on this guitar-playing, punk guy, and the idea of actually having a relationship with him was awful to me. Meanwhile, there were all these girls in my life who I just loved spending time with, and I realized there might be a disconnect there, that not everyone felt that way. Then I got my first boyfriend when I was 16, and I knew the moment we kissed. The moment… I was like, ‘Okay, that’s it, I’m going to try this for like a month…’ and then he told me he loved me… I had to nip it in the bud right then and there. Then I just owned it from then on out. It had been such a certain thing for so long that I just had to believe it.”

On preferred pronouns…

“She/her…. they/them… I’ve kind of been toying with they/them and I like it more, but I’m not gonna force anyone to use it because I really don’t mind she/her…”

On her coming out experience…

“I had a few different coming outs, as I’m sure many of us do. I was 16 for the majority of them, and 17 for the last big one. I told my friends immediately after that boyfriend and I broke up. We were having a Wiccan celebration of Samhain, which is Halloween, and we were burning all of our secrets… and that was the night that I told my two best friends. When I told them, they were like, ‘Yeah… this whole thing with [your boyfriend] was really weird… thanks for telling us…’ It was really sweet, bless their hearts. Angels, the both of them. They kind of gave me courage to pursue something that I had been wanting to pursue for a while before I knew I was gay, which was to start a Gay/Straight Alliance because our school didn’t have one. Before I knew I was gay, I was like, ‘I’m the biggest ally there is… I’m going to start this club because no one else is going to do it!’ The things we tell ourselves. They encouraged me to move forward in doing that… and I realized if I was going to do that, I was going to have to tell my family.

I was sitting in the car with my mom, and I told her I was going to start a club. She said, ‘Oh that’s great… because you hate people… So I’m really excited you’re going to be social!’ Then I said, ‘It’s going to be a Gay/Straight Alliance… for all the LGBTQ kids at school…’ And she was like, ‘You know honey…. If you start a gay club, people are going to think you’re gay.’

It was right there in that car, I was like, ‘Well, mom, I kind of definitely… am.’ She probably took it the worst of all of my family members. We were close because of my parents’ divorce, and I lived with her… and for about 3 weeks she didn’t talk about it, didn’t mention it… I’d try to bring up the GSA to see what she’d think of it… and she wasn’t having any of it. Then about 3 weeks later we were driving to Borders, and she looked at me and then back at the road… and she said, ‘Well, at least you can’t get pregnant.’ That was her peace… Okay, I’ll take that. She’s gotten a lot better and accepts me and adores my wife, but she definitely had trouble at first.

My dad and I used to take road trips and we were taking one after I had come out to my friends. So I told myself I was going to tell him — we always had heartfelt conversations on these trips — so I’m just gonna tell him after the next cow I see. We were driving through rural Washington, so there were cows frickin’ everywhere! I was just like, ‘Okay, the next cow. Next one. Maybe the next one.’ Finally we just crested this hill and there was just a field of a crap-tons of cows… an unimaginable amount of cows. I was like, ‘Ok God… I get it.’ At that point I had a girlfriend (now my wife!), so I was like, ‘Hey dad, I just wanted to let you know I have a girlfriend.’ He was such a gem about it, didn’t bat an eye, didn’t blink, and he said, ‘Great… tell me about her!’ I was floored and I’ve been floored for years. Until last year my dad told me that after we finished that road trip, he immediately went back to his office with his coworker who identified as a lesbian at the time (now his wife!) and closed the door and asked her, ‘Please Carla… tell me, did I do okay?!?! What do I say now?!’ It was too sweet! My dad is such a rock star. I just adore him.”

Biggest fears or concern about coming out…

“I was never worried that I was going to be kicked out. I knew that. No matter what… I mean, I had told my parents I was a Satan worshipper, and they didn’t kick me out. My brother smoked pot, and he didn’t get kicked out. I knew that my family loved me, and that was the most amazing thing going into all of that. I didn’t know that I would have the same relationship with them; I didn’t know that they would be okay with it; I didn’t know that they would accept my girlfriend, or just me as a person; and I know that they had ideas, and hopes, and plans for my future that I was quickly realizing weren’t a part of my life, and probably never would be. I had concerns — never for my life — but that these relationships that were so important to me were going to dissolve. Especially after my parents’ divorce… everything was always hanging on by a thread. My dad was married at the time to a woman I hated. My brother was Mr. Football and in a fraternity, my exact opposite … at any moment, one thing could disrupt this fragile peace that we had.”

Favorite part about the community?

“I think queer people are so creative. We are so creative. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve grown up outside the bounds of society, or if it’s because you have to have coping mechanisms to survive, and so many of those coping mechanisms are creative, but queer people just rock it. Musicians, poets, artists… all of the above… I love how creative our community is. Especially here in Colorado Springs, we’re sharing that creativity so widely! I love it!”

Least favorite?

“I think what I’ve noticed the most is the age divide, because I think there are a lot of younger queer people that assume, because we have the internet available now, it’s a given that we have all these different terms and methods and ethics…

Then we have the older queer people [in our community] who have been carrying this flag for so long… and are the reason I can get married and I can live openly. I feel they see the younger generation as these upstarts who think they know so much, and the younger generation sees them as these old people who are out of touch with their community. I’ve noticed that age division both online and in person. It breaks my heart because we owe so much to our elders, and we cannot expect them to know the terms that have only recently come into wide use. We should be understanding if they don’t use the most current language and terminology… And I want them to forgive us for not always understanding our history… it takes research and intentional learning because we aren’t going to be taught this stuff in schools. People don’t even know to look up Stonewall… “

What is something you would tell a younger you? 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?

“To younger me: Stop freaking out. All the things that seemed so big when I was 16, across the board, not just the gay thing… everything that felt so big when I was 15, 16 & 17 is a blip on my radar now. It barely registers as a monumental event. So I’d go back in time and tell myself, ‘It’s fine… this isn’t going to be nearly as big in a couple years.’

To others who feel they can’t come out… I think your instincts are your best protector. If there’s something that tells you in your heart that right now is not a safe time to come out, then now is not a safe time to come out. Only wait until you’re ready, until you have a safe support system, until you have a safe place to live, until you have money to eat, a job, whatever it is that you need to feel safe when you come out. Just know who you are and remember that your own identity is the most important thing you have. Even if you have to keep it to yourself for now, it’s not always gonna be like that.

If you don’t feel you have a community, my answer to that is you always have a community out there. I mean, always. I have many friends that are bisexual, and are in a relationship with the opposite sex, and they don’t really feel they belong in the community. … They belong. there’s a plus on the end of [LGBTQ+] for a reason. Whatever your identity is, we are here… in every city, every town, and on the internet if you can’t find it in person, there’s a community. Don’t worry about that… we’re here for you!”

What in your life are you most proud of?

Professionally, I’m most proud of Queer & There, the column (https://goo.gl/JrASGw). It was just a whim that I brought to my editor, and I was like, ‘I would love to have a space for queer voices in this paper.’ and he said ‘yeah!’ It’s been going on now for almost 2 years, and the fact that every other week we have a queer voice — whether gay, transgender, pansexual or lesbian… so many great writers of different identities and it’s awesome.

I’m also really proud to be with my wife. I love her more than anything. We’ve been together since high school, and that’s a rare and beautiful thing I treasure.

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 give everyone just a little bit more empathy. I think that’s the biggest problem with our country, our world right now. People cannot imagine, if it doesn’t affect them, then it doesn’t exist. We have to be able to imagine that other people suffer because of the policies we put in place, because of the things we say and the things we do. If people could just feel a little bit more empathetic across the board, I think that would heal so many wounds, or at least start the process of patching them up.”

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