This Inspirational Out and Proud Message brought to you by, Zach Lundin.
I am a queer storyteller, artist, and education professional with a background in playwriting. Currently living in Los Angeles with my favorite creature ever thought up by the universe: my rescue pug Panda. On Instagram: @zachary_grant
Gender Identity and Pronouns?
Queer, He or They
When did you know?
I had what I, at this point, think is a kind of classic “two-phase” realization – the first being at age five or so, before anything was connected to sexuality, when I found myself crushing on the male Power Rangers in a way that I *knew* was different from my peers. Then again around 11 or 12, when I discovered all the joys that come along with puberty and realized that most of my new powers were triggered by attractive men.
When did you come out?
I came tumbling out of the closet at 14. My whole life I’ve been the worst liar I’ve ever met, and keeping a secret this huge was doomed for failure from day one. I was outed to my school by a peer, and my parents found my porn, so I guess I outed myself to them?
To whom did you come out first?
I came out to a close friend from church camp first. I knew that, though we had met under some less-than-queer-friendly auspices, we had initially bonded via our status as outcasts within this community, to begin with. I knew that, no matter what her beliefs, she would be a safe space for me. She was.
How did your closest friends and family react?
My family and friends were supportive overall. More supportive than I expected if I am honest. Of course, my parents had an initial shock period to get through – which my mom beautifully described for me once as a “short period of mourning for the life we (admittedly selfishly) projected on you the day you were born. Things will just be harder for you now, but we are here for you and love you always.” I had done a lot of work in middle school to get myself to a safe high school environment in case the charade didn’t last (which, shock, it didn’t). So my friends, teachers, and administrators were amongst my very first champions.
Some Bigger Queerstions
How has your life been enriched by the LGBTQ Community?
Oh, gosh – can I be super cloying and say in every way imaginable? Because that’s the big answer. I have been so lucky to live a life surrounded by phenomenal, talented, intelligent, and driven queers in every possible context. Professional? Check. Personal? Check. Activism? Check. Spirituality? Check. The LGBTQ community has given me a sense of belonging I never thought I would feel in my life. It has taught me to celebrate difference, to recognize my own privilege, to fight for myself and others. I think above all else, though, it has taught me the value of mentorship and cultural history. There is something incredibly powerful and beautiful in how the LGBTQ community defines and celebrates itself, especially because queer people can be born into any and every other possible culture and context imaginable. Despite often overwhelming cultural factors, we all share some sort of experience of feeling different or less-than our straight and cis counterparts and have sought out others who are “like us” for millennia.
What are the common misconceptions about being LGBTQ?
I mean the very first thing that comes to mind is the idea of “The Gay Agenda.” We are recruiting, we are part of some massive conspiracy to unravel the Puritan fabric of American society, we are trying to purposely spread HIV, that all of this is some kind of “lifestyle choice.” The list is as foolish as it is long. My response to most misconceptions is to shrug them off if I can. Easier said than done, I know.
Describe the first time someone else read you (for better or worse) as LGBTQ.
a. Two years old. I burst out of the bathroom with a red towel over my head, plastic cups suctioned to my bare chest and belted the entire first two verses of “Part of Their World” from The Little Mermaid. According to my mom, that was the first time she and my dad had to sit down and have the “We will still love him if…” conversation. At least they were properly warned.
Do you believe in Gaydar?
Yes but no. I know there are some pretty strong scientific studies that suggest pheromones play a crucial role in identifying other gay men, but I’m also not sniffing every guy I think is cute…because, weird. I think there is something to be said for the generations of subtle code we have developed, but it is so culturally specific that I don’t know if I would say Gaydar is the most accurate term. It seems a bit monolithic. I do know that my semester abroad in Europe was one of the most confusing five months of my life. Pro Tip: 9 times out of 10, that British dude isn’t gay, he’s just British.
Who was your first LGBTQ role model or elder, and how did they impact you?
My friend Rachel was a senior in high school when I was a freshman. One of the less savory details of my coming out story is that I was outed to my entire school after getting caught making out in an empty classroom with another classmate (who is, to this day, one of my very best friends). At a prep school with a student population of less than 350, this meant that by the final bell that day, literally everyone knew and literally everyone was talking about it. Rachel, being the cool and immensely respected out lesbian that she still is, made swift work of the damage control, essentially spreading the word amongst the student body: “If you fuck with those boys, you fuck with me and every other queer on campus.” So not only is Rachel one of the fiercest protectors anyone could wish for, she was also the first person to teach me how to stand up for myself, how to accept myself, and how to grow in my own LGBTQ identity.
What is the biggest external issue or challenge facing the LGBTQ community today?
Education. That is a huge category, I know, but I see it at the root of so many of our other issues: ignorance, outright bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, as well as our own success as LGBTQ people. In terms of how it affects the way others treat us – the gamut gets to run and re-run constantly. There are states that make it illegal to discuss LGBTQ identity in schools without specifically mentioning AIDS. There are countless private and public institutions who expel or otherwise punish LGBTQ students or their families. All of this, combined with the fact that 57.6% of LGBTQ students in the US feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 43.3% because of their gender identity (GLSEN – National School Climate Survey 2015). When we do not have access to education or being in school is a matter of safety or survival for us from such an early age, we see ourselves, as a community, experiencing much lower rates of secondary education completion, which correlates to even more anemic rates of undergraduate or graduate education completion. Simply put, the quality of (and access to) educational resources has a very direct and a very significant impact on the wellbeing and future success of the LGBTQ community.
The biggest internal issue or challenge?
We are forsaking each other – and I put this onus largely (fairly or not) on older generations of cis white gay-identified elders. There is a very significant demographic within the LGBTQ community that truly believes Obergefell was the end of the LGBTQ rights movement. That we are all now equal. We are also seeing (I just read a super chilling piece about this yesterday) white gay men embracing white nationalism and white supremacist groups – both in America and in Europe. As someone who was raised in a liberal, affluent suburb of Seattle, I didn’t come into this community or get into the work that I do look for my own druthers. I already had them. I could have come out, retreated into my suburban bubble, and probably had a pretty rad and comfortable life. So at least on a personal level, I have a really hard time even understanding the mentality of “I got my rights, everyone else is on their own,” I guess because those were never the stakes for me to begin with. What I do know is that trans women of color are still murdered at an alarmingly high rate compared with every other demographic in America. I do know that my trans friends still struggle daily with our healthcare system – both in terms of access/affordability, and finding trans-competent providers. That is to say nothing of trans-friendly providers, who exist, but are still much fewer and further between.
Are there any LGBTQ nonprofits whose work you especially admire?
So many – I think the two I’d like to most highlight, though, are Point Foundation and GLSEN (The Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network). Calling back to my earlier response about education: both of these organizations are heavy hitters in the movement to increase LGBTQ students’ access to a quality education. GLSEN works to combat bullying in K-12 schools and is the founding organization behind one of the most famous LGBTQ days of action: The Day of Silence. Point Foundation is the nation’s largest LGBTQ scholarship fund, providing funding, mentorship, and leadership development to the future leaders of the LGBTQ community. I also worked with GLSEN in high school, and am currently on staff at Point Foundation, so this is a bit of a shameless plug. I guess if there is a “Gay Agenda,” for me at least it’s making sure everyone gets the education they need to succeed. Shocking and degenerate, I know.
Who is your personal Queer Hero?
RuPaul. This felt like a cop out at first, and I think these days I am reconsidering how high that pedestal should be, but I keep coming back to my experience as an out gay college student during the first two seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race. When it first aired, it had no budget (and you could tell), so the whole show was all heart. It was the first time I’d seen a television program, much less a reality show, center the narratives of femme and gender nonconforming people. The challenges all centered around gender, challenging gender stereotypes, and transgressing boundaries. It was, for lack of a better term, revolutionary. Its impact was somewhat minimized initially because it was on a premium cable network, but there was obviously enough there to turn it into the phenomenon it has become and win it a spot in VH1’s schedule this year. I saw RuPaul once in Los Angeles and it is to this day the only time I have actually experienced being star-struck. I could. Not. Handle. Of course, like everything, both Ru and Drag Race have their problematic elements, but as all of us crazy millennials like to say: #allurfavesareproblematic
Do you have any advice for young queer folks who may still be defining their identity, coming out, or learning how to be their authentic selves in the world?
a. Two Things:
i. BE. SAFE. I don’t mean wear condoms and avoid going home with strangers – you’re part of the LGBTQ community, nobody gets to judge you for any of that noise. I mean as you face the myriad challenges that this journey can and will present, be deliberate and unwavering in seeking out people who will support and protect you. I think we so often get caught up in the politics of visibility and courage that we forget there are so many folks, youth and otherwise, who are in situations that are unsafe, either outright or potentially. If coming out, or buying that gendered article of clothing, or inviting your partner to Thanksgiving could create a situation that brings you harm – it is OKAY to protect yourself by not doing that. If you cannot find anyone in your community who will support you and help keep you safe, there are hundreds of regional and national LGBTQ organizations with access to resources. The most important thing is always your safety. It might not get better immediately, or even in a year or two, but our community is a vast, vibrant, and resilient one – and if you can get connected there are gracious and empathetic souls everywhere who will become your champions.
ii. Seek out LGBTQ people who are unlike you. Connect with people of different ages, genders, races, ethnicities, religions, abilities, you name it. Learn about how much we all have in common despite our often-overwhelming differences. Learn about other peoples’ experiences, allow your own experience to be put in perspective. Embrace this community for everything it can possibly offer you, and know that for every person in the world who will tell you “That is too gay” or “It’s fine just don’t rub it in my face,” there are hundreds who will stand behind you and scream “YAS GURL. WERK MAMA. SLAY QUEEN.” until you can’t hear anything else.