WUSSY is proud to introduce episode two of the Ripe Podcast, hosted and created by Barry Lee. To keep these podcasts as accessible as possible, we will provide you with a transcript of the conversation each week.
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The purpose of “Ripe” is to share mental health experiences of the LGBTQIA community, which is extremely vast. I'm sharing stories that represent a single individual's path to getting to where they are now. Some might be quite different from your path, and others may reflect the path that you're currently walking on. Please venture into this podcast with an open heart and curious mind. My name is Barry Lee, and this is “Ripe Podcast.”
“I had a lot of sexual experiences with women when I was in high school and younger, but I never put words to what that was, and even though it seemed like a natural part of my identity, I never knew what to call it, never talked about it publicly. I remember really early experiences where I would get bullied at school for being masculine, like I remember being in kindergarten, and some girls in class wouldn't let me play house because I was wearing soccer clothes and having a bowl cut like a very round '90s bowl cut, and I looked exactly like a boy because that was my style, and so it's almost like a lot of other people saw that in me before I even had any awareness that that wasn't normal. I was lucky enough to grow up with parents that really let me be who I was and were not really into enforcing gender roles. I could wear what I wanted. That was never a problem.
My dad taught me how to fix cars, how to fix lawn mowers, how to work with wood because he could tell I was interested in that, and those were some things like he did as a hobby, and so I was fortunate enough not to have a lot of baggage about that that was like wrong or not what I should be doing like a lot of women do have to experience or overcome. I was married to a man for 10 years, all of my 20's, and then that marriage was dissolving and I was going through all kinds of emotional stuff. I actually called up my best friend, one of my best friends Melina Rodriguez. I told her on the phone that I had a dream that she was in, in which she told me it was okay to be gay, and there was a long pause on the other end of the phone and she wasn't even entertaining the dream aspect of it, and she just told me ‘it's okay to be gay.’
It took awhile for me to call myself bi and queer. These are the things that I relate to now strongly that are a huge, important part of my identity, but I really was like 31 before I was using those words about myself, even though it truly has always been that way.”
Jane Foley is an artist and teacher based in Atlanta, Georgia. In this episode she shares her experiences with dealing with depression, being a mother and owning her Queer identity. You can also find a translated article of this podcast over at www.wussymag.com and any additional content over @ripepodcast on Instagram.
“Needing to differentiate between bi or queer is of course ultra personal and also something that can fluctuate over time, and I did spend a while asking myself, ‘Was it so natural for me that I didn't need to come out and tell people I was queer because I was just so already queer, or was I being fearful or not supportive enough by not coming out and using these words specifically?’ We can be kind to ourselves, we can definitely change our label if we have strong feelings about a label, maybe talking to people about it definitely, but also knowing that these things shift, but yeah, I think that these labels are where we can hide, unfortunately hide some shame. A problem that I have is like, ‘Can I call myself queer or am I bi enough when I'm dating men to be bi?’, which of course, yes. Of course that label is yours and you know it's not manifested in reality, but even when we know these things, we find ourselves back with these old questions that are from other people that were taught to us in the kind of heteronormative upbringing that we had, that this is what a lesbian looks like or this is what a queer person looks like, and if you're not one of those. I think if we're not careful, they can be used for exclusion, shame, gatekeeping, all of these things that happen, even though we don't want them to within our queer community and within ourselves individually.
I've found that people decide something maybe even about somebody's style, and then they just want it to be true because it's tidy and you just can't necessarily guess who somebody wants to be with. I've had an experience with the completely wonderful and amazing person that I'm dating that people that thought he's gay and not bi are honestly visibly upset when they find out that we're dating. I have had several gay men be extremely rude to me, as in like, ‘Oh. Oh, God, we lost him.’ Like, ‘Oh, I thought he was gay.’
Especially as a joke even, these things can be damaging and indicative of our like heteronormative queer policing and as much undoing as we want to do, that we still do that to ourselves. It is an act of violence. It is a thing that people need to get better at. Like right now, not making assumptions about who somebody would date, not making judgments after you find out, and the answer differs from what you've thought. I do think that people who don't fit neatly into one sexuality are especially vulnerable for this.”
We know “Queer” is obviously not a black and white term. We can often use blank statements to make ourselves feel comfortable when in reality these blank statements, as you see can potentially hurt & separate others around us. Taking the time to really make sure we are inclusive in our language should be more encouraged. Words are and have always been used as a powerful tool for separation. I talked with Jane a bit about the role of mental health in the many facets of her life...
Dealing with the needs of my mental health issues, as well as just personal needs, I feel like it has shaped me a lot and shaped my career, and just so many aspects of my life a whole lot. I started having depression and anxiety when I was, I think in high school was when I really started noticing it. I tended even looking back in high school to be sort of a workaholic type of person. I worked as a secretary after school at a travel business brokerage firm. I worked on the weekends developing photographs at a family portrait photography studio that amazingly was still developing photographs by hand in like the year 2001, and I was on the swim team, and in chorus, and doing a lot of art stuff, just like everything.
I think that that was a need for stimulation, a need for distraction, a need for structure, just kind of not being able to contain like where all of my interests are, and that was an early start of not being good at stopping, resting, looking around, assessing if what I'm doing is the right thing to do, rather than just doing the things. Looking back on it, I know what that's about, but it's an ever-evolving process to sort of ask what my needs are and meet them. Now, I have a schedule that is a little bit structured, but also has a lot of loose time, which is something that I've figured out is a good mix for me. I don't do well with having nowhere to be all week, but I also don't do well with a 40 hours a week situation. I teach two sculpture classes at Georgia State, and then I have some freelance jobs that come up, and it's a pretty good balance for right now, but I'm always in a cycle of maintaining my mental health.
Sometimes it's like on the upswing where I'm feeling a lot better, and sometimes it's sort of regressing. I feel like the more I'm working and the less I'm resting, the worse off I kind of am, which that seems backwards when you look at it from the outside, because I'm very productive and making art is one of the places I hide from like my problems and other things, so from the outside, it might look like I'm doing very well, but actually I'm kind of burning the candle at both ends, and that's when I'm not doing the most well. When I can do a reasonable amount of work, and then put it away, and cook dinner at home and clean my house and be more settled, that's actually a better part of the cycle, even though it doesn't look as productive, as progressive as whatever. I'm actually doing a little better if you haven't seen me at an art show recently, so there's that. I do feel like it's, of course easy for people to covet what they don't have.
I've had a lot of people ask me like how I'm so productive or prolific because I do tend to make a lot of work, but also, it is very tied in with my anxiety. It is like a place that I go instead of relaxing, so there's really good and bad parts about it, and so I have to always deal with my relationship with my work in an intentional way, have to stop and ask. I'm 33, so that's not aged and wise, but certainly, I do feel different now than I did like three years ago, five years ago, definitely 10 years ago to where I'm better at slowing down and stopping to assess. Within the work itself, as far as finding coping mechanisms, I do write a lot of stories with what I'm making, and a lot of the sculpture that I'm making definitely has like, to me a dark humor about it. I was definitely just telling my partner the other day like, ‘Is it wrong that I'll spend a month like making something really elaborate that ends up with just the end result is that it makes me laugh?’, because it's like sort of triumphant and sad at the same time.
There's that, like even though it isn't necessarily directly related, I do feel like it's always related. The work that I'm making is very kind of definitely psychological for me, but also, regarding finding ways to have comfort or cope, I'm definitely very family and other people-oriented. I just really, really love having people over, working alongside people, or just trying to spend time with people.
Sometimes making concrete plans is really difficult, so instead, I sort of scale back to like, Hey, I have a few hours. Let me text somebody and say, 'Do you want to walk in circles in Oakland cemetery until we have to be at the next place we have to be at?' That is really, really nice and tends to be like a boost that can last a couple of days. Also, my son really, really loves to take walks. He does that too.
Something that I never ever knew about having a kid in my life is just like something highly underestimated is how good they are at leisure and doing fun stuff. It's like I've heard regarding mental health, especially regarding self-care, whatever that term means nowadays anyway, but I've heard people say to treat yourself the way you would a small child, and that's a good kind of rule as far as like, "Am I rested? Do I need snacks?", kind of going down the list of the very basic needs that you might not be meeting yet, but at the end of the day, when you have a small child there or as now, mine is a large child, but knowing that he needs to be outside and he needs to have downtime and uptime and all these other things, I kind of naturally sync up to that rhythm and it's really, really nice. I think in the same way, that managing your own career and managing your own mental health can change over time. It takes these arcs of like a year or two or three years where you might be in one certain mode, and then things can switch. I actually feel that way a lot about having a child.
What I feel is really dangerous that people do when they have a baby, is discarding their whole identity. That's definitely not what's good to do either. It's to like keep maintaining while responding to the amount of time and energy you have. It's not to like throw it all out or it's not to have these big expectations of everything you have to do. As he got older, I had to bring him with me a whole lot to where I was going.
There was definitely a sweet spot between like him being maybe six and 10 to where I just had to bring him so many places that maybe were or weren't necessarily appropriate for kids, but like I wanted to go to an opening or I had to do an install or something, and there he was. Then, when he was around 11, I could not believe how handy he was at installing. I never knew that he could like read my mind. I had him at the bottom of a ladder at one point, and I would reach down to get something that I needed, and he was handing it up to me when I was painting a mural. He could predict like the next thing that I needed because he was watching, and he's my child. Like, who knows me better? Nobody. It's actually kind of amazing like there's a structure that naturally happens with like biological needs that are, it's a lot more intense with a kid, like you have to have dinner on time, like you have to wake up when they wake up. You can't just flex in as large of a way, but on the other hand, like that biological structure that a kid needs is helpful for an adult with mental health issues.”
When I prepare for these interviews of the podcast, I usually try to meet with the guests either in person or via Skype so that we can both be comfortable chatting with one another. I’ve personally known Jane for a bit but upon meeting to discuss the show, she broke some news to me that she felt created even more of an urge for her to share her story…
Recently, the needs of being a mom have become more intense than they were last year
My child has recently come out as gender non-binary and gay, and has been dealing with a lot of mental health issues of his own regarding that. While it is a really exciting time of his life, that he knows who he is and wants to share that with the world, and is excited that he can vocalize this with his family members, and it makes him feel more whole because this is something he's been feeling for a very long time, but he's just now putting into words. That's a really good thing, but along with that has come some issues with depression, some really feeling not a part of school, and middle schoolers already just feel a lot of differences from each other. Then, there's this layer where it's seventh grade. There's not a lot of gay kids.
His best friends are the two other gay kids in the grade. I'm glad there's a couple others and that they all found each other. It's wonderful, but all of them are really dealing with some really intense depression and the percentage of kids that are having mental health issues, that are queer is just so high. It's just so alienating to feel like even if you're lucky enough to have a situation like my child does, where at home, people are affirming you and saying, ‘That's great and we accept you’, which that in itself is a rare situation. Even so, you go out into the world and you're not sure what you're going to get.
You don't know what the other kids in the teachers' backgrounds are, and we have so far to go as far as human rights about these things that you don't really know who to trust or how it's going to go over, and he wants to tell some people at school, but has expressed a lot of apprehension about being super out, out. Although his fashion is completely amazing, like his dress is very gender non-binary anyway, and definitely has a style of his own, but he doesn't necessarily want to verbalize this to the other kids because he's heard kids in school using gay as an insult. Super, super, super common still nowadays, even in City of Decatur. That's a very gay place to be. It's amazing how hostile the environment is and what a toll that takes, so lately I've needed to be there for him a whole lot more.
I used to have the freedom to not be home when he comes home from school or leave him home some on the weekends, but with his depression being as intense as it's been, and I just realize not to take the old school needs of just quality time and being home together, not to take that for granted especially in a rocky time of transition through, through middle school. I think that we are going to work on a zine actually. He's really artistic and he's been drawing a lot, and I've been asking him how to support queer middle schoolers and how to support middle schoolers who are gender non-binary, and I don't know. He has a lot of ideas that I wouldn't have necessarily thought as far as that some people might want like a big show of support, and other people might want when they come out, they might not want you to act any certain way about it, and so kind of being sensitive about like if verbal support is invited or if you're just supposed to go about living your life and tailoring how to treat that based upon the person that you're talking about, the middle schooler that you're dealing with. I don't know, we're thinking of making like an illustrated zine about that as far as like answering those questions with each other, but I don't know, maybe it could help other people too.
We are very much in the throes of this as he just came out a few months ago, and it's very new, so he's made a whole lot of progress as far as his own mental health, but managing mine while needing to be very constantly strong for him has been very intense. When he told me that he is queer, I was actually surprised, and I'm surprised that I was surprised because there are so many people in my life that are queer, so, so, so many. I mean, probably more of my friends are queer than not, and especially like in Atlanta's art world, you can find a lot of community around that. Certainly, a lot of things about him could be read as queer. It's just I'm also highly aware of these things being stereotypes, and you especially don't want to do that to your own kid, but as far as like … I mean, I don't know. Like his style has always been amazing.
When he was nine years old, he picked out at a thrift store this absolutely giant, like illustration of a leopard with the ornate gold frame around it, and he always wanted to wear different kinds of clothes regardless of gender in a subtle way, like he definitely had a very days of a very femme style and is taken as feminine. Like he's been mis-pronouned a lot of times and also doesn't mind that, feels flexible about his pronouns as well, and so definitely, the signs were there easily, but I I wanted to wait for him to tell me. Then, also it's like you know each other so well that when you hear something like this, that a person close to you already knows, it just surprises you because you just kind of take for granted that you know most things, but everybody has an inner life, and of course somebody very near to you might be queer and not out certainly. Then, he immediately became more femme in like the way he talked and dressed and everything as soon as he came out to me, and it amazed me and also broke my heart a little bit that I could see he was even code-switching with me, like even at home, straight-acting with me who all of my friends are gay, but also our family isn't, and so there's that. I take so for granted in myself my own sexuality and I wear a bag that says Queer Family, and I'm just kind of ... I don't know. I feel like I'm easily read as a person who might be queer, to where I realized I hadn't even explicitly said this to my own child. I had to say, "I'm bi. I have dated women", and he didn't even know that, which is amazing to me and kind of felt like a shortcoming that even though we had a lot of conversations about all these people around us who have different places on the spectrum of sexuality, and I had made sure to be very clear with him about like the ways in which we support and accept this. I wasn't even doing that work in my own household about myself anyway, so that was very eye-opening that we kind of came out to each other at the same time.
It was emotionally intense and beautiful and hard. A whole range of emotion. I think it was that I felt so embodied in the queer way that I was living and the media that I consume and the people that I surround myself with. It felt like it was so kind of that identity was permeating my life on so many levels that it kind of didn't, I guess occur to me to talk about myself explicitly in that way to my child. It's also wrapped up a bit in that I came to terms with like the language about my own sexuality at such an older age. I mean, after divorce and kind of really anchoring my identity more to just my work and my child and myself, it's not like I even talk to my parents or say my family necessarily about who I'm dating so much.
I mean, I'm older. It's more of like my own thing, and so yeah, I think because I came out in a way that was a little quieter and a little more internal, but seemed to be finally catching up with who I had always been. It wasn't something I explicitly went around and told people, although now, it seems like it's more important of a thing to do. Yeah, it does feel more urgent to put words to that in an open way because I have an unusual chance to be an example for my child.
Queerness can be as quiet or loud as we want it to be in our own expression. When we choose to share things about our identities that can be one of the ultimate signs of loving another person in our lives. It’s a privilege to gain insight into one’s identity and it was certainly so in regards to Jane sharing her story on the podcast today.
“Ripe” hosted and produced by Barry Lee, you can find me over at @barryleeart on Instagram and this show is a part of the Wussy Mag podcast network. Whether you have a social following or not, if you wish to share your story much like Jane did, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate you taking the time today to listen to my show and I encourage you to continue the conversation outside of the internet with your community about Queerness and mental health. Please subscribe to our podcast on iTunes. Thanks for tuning in.