“Unapologetically Me: Exploring the Beauty of Queer Identities”
Below are my responses to the questions asked at this panel, where I was honored to have shared a panel with Sage, Luca, and Matisyn. It was well-moderated by Ash. LGBTQ+ youth are brave and true to themselves in face of a society still wrestling with the fact that the world is not linear in terms of gender identity or sexuality.
When you think about your identity formation, whether you had a formal coming out process or not, what are some of the highlights that stand out to you or some pivotal moments in your discovering your identity? And, how has your identity shifted over time, or continue to change, if it has?
My coming out process was organic and unplanned, just years of thinking and timid exploration in a private pre-Savannah life—and, screwing up the nerve to face “myself” head-on.
The highlights? Saying it out loud, declaring it, owning it—and, finding support as a result from it. Surrounding myself with open-minded allies and queer folk who had no interest in judging me for my expression. I learn to be strong because they are strong.
As for my identity, I was just a kid who liked to borrow my mom and sister’s clothes. As a young adult, I labeled myself a crossdresser. Now, I see myself as more dual-gender. The act of crossdressing is the mechanism in how I express and present my gender identity.
Do you experience your sexual orientation and gender identity as separate from one another? Or, does it blend together for you?
When I came out as Savannah, I realized that I “must” be homosexual because of my feminine dressing. Dressing as a woman should bring with it all the hetero normative stereotypes of being a woman, right? It took me a long time to understand that my gender identity and expression have nothing to do with my sexual and romantic attractions. I am attracted to biological women and to overtly feminine energy. What I wear does not change that.
What challenges have you faced in being who you are and how the outside world understands or doesn’t understand that? How have you faced those challenges? How have you advocated for yourself in the midst of those challenges?
Growing up, M2F crossdressing was wrought with the stigma of transvestic fetishism or a sense of perversion. I had one mother not want me to shake their daughter’s hand in church during the greeting (in male-mode). I have faced disapproval in relationships. I am hide my authentic self from many members of my family, co-workers, and friends. I’ve been mislabeled as a drag queen, gay, and a transsexual. Those outside viewpoints and stereotypes shaped my thinking for a long time. I’ve even feared getting out of my car in the Walmart parking lot for fear of how people might react to me. That was eight months ago.
How do I face those challenges? Head on, one experience at a time… and, typically, with a deep breath against the prejudice I expect around every corner. The more visible Savannah is in the world, the more confident we become. Some of the challenge is dispelling our assumptions of the world; some of it is realizing we are perfect as we were made, regardless of what people may think.
In the last two to three years, I have moved to more public avocation by writing two books in the “Living with Crossdressing” series, pledged to higher public visibility as Savannah here in the Spartanburg and Greenville areas, positive education, support group involvement, and having more respect for my authentic self.
What is your favorite part or most positive part of your identity?
Like Tom Cruise said to Renee Zellweger in Jerry Mcguire, Savannah “…completes me”. I need to express my dual genders. Savannah is that feminine expression. I am happiest when I don’t have to hide her away. She is part of me and deserves to breathe in life whenever she needs to. In the end, Savannah helps to recharge me as a whole person.
The most positive aspect of my journey is 1) coming closer to being my whole and complete self, and 2) sharing my strife and successes with others to let them know that none of us are in this alone. It’s amazing to me that telling my story positively impacts others.
What advice would you give to folx in the room who may be exploring who they are or facing challenges in how others accept who they are?
Embrace your authentic self. Don’t let antiquated social conventions, religious dogma, or malicious minds dissuade you from being the true you. Read all you can, listen to as many stories as you can. Discover where you fit in the fabric of your identity, expression, and sexuality. Self-acceptance is the most important first step to self-discovery and self-confidence.
Then, when faced with ignorance, your confidence will be your positive shield. It’s an upward spiral. For me, gaining social acceptance is not about acting arrogant, militant, or superior. Living out loud as Savannah requires grace, humility, empathy and sympathy, living as a productive and positive example, and a willingness to be an advocate and an educator for everyone who still “doesn’t get it”.