By Iyanna James-Stephenson
I am only in my early 20s and I try to be as out as I can be with everyone I know personally.
When I lived at home, this was very easy. I was raised by a very liberal mother who is, and continues to be, understanding and open. As an avid reader and an intellectual, there is no limit to what she is willing to absorb with her eyes and accept with her mind – whether it is through documentaries or her most beloved novels. I first began expressing my attraction to girls as a sophomore in high school. Thankfully, it was a fad at the time, but as all of the other girls suddenly realized they weren’t queer anymore, I realized I was.
In college it was even easier than in high school. I attended a small, liberal arts, all-women’s, international institution – a hub for learning information surrounding gender and sexuality. When I entered college, I was already out. However, in all of the years that I had identified as not straight, I still hadn’t officially dated a woman; that all changed freshman year. Spring semester solidified my love for women as more than just an academic passion.
I have worked in several places, either as an intern or a fulltime employee, and have mostly been out.
When I was an intern in Washington, D.C., I told my boss that I identified as a queer woman. My boss at the internship was an alumna of my college. She is working as the executive director, spokesperson and activist for a civil rights and social justice organization. Given the circumstances, I thought it would be safe to tell her. However, she is from a different generation, having graduated from college in the heart of the Black Power movement. Although things have changed, I was aware she could still hold a strong opinion about sexuality quite different from my own. Thankfully, she accepted me and I felt closer to her because I was unafraid of expressing my personal self or my personal opinion. To this day, she continues to be one of my closest role models and an intellectual idol.
Currently, I am working as an English instructor at an after school academy in South Korea with a pretty close-knit group of men and women who are very open about their sexuality, as I am with mine. I work alongside two openly gay men and one asexual woman who told me in confidence about her sexual identification.
I try to be as transparent at work as I have been with my peers in college, and this includes disclosing my sexuality. If we happen to fall into a conversation of dating or people that I like, I always make sure to shout out the women I have dated, and the girls I’ve spoken to over the last five years. At my current job, my supervisors may not know who or what I like, but my colleagues are very much in the loop. That is as out as I am going to be here, and I am very comfortable with that.
I hope to continue working in spaces that foster my sexuality. As long as I am amongst a liberal group of individuals or living in an environment that supports civil rights and social justice, I will remain in an understanding place of refuge.
Iyanna James-Stephenson, 22, is a recent graduate from Mount Holyoke College. She is a writer, blogger, poet, and traveler who has visited seven different countries and is currently living and working in South Korea.