51 | 2019 Outspoken Voices Podcast Highlights

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Episode Transcript

Emily: Frequent listeners of Outspoken Voices by now will be familiar with the term queerspawn, the program COLAGE, and the joy that is Family Week in Provincetown. In this episode, we’re diving deeper into the history, impact, and future of COLAGE and youth-led, queerspawn leadership in the LGBTQ+ movement. Believe me, it’s a conversation for everyone – parents, future parents, people with LGBT Q plus parents and those who love and support us. With me to really dive into this exciting topic is Amanda and Lila. Thanks for talking with me. The first question and every episode is who is in your family and how was it formed?

Lila: So I have a queer mom and a trans dad. And then I also have a gay grandpa, and my family was formed through a sperm donor.

Emily: And Amanda, who is in your family and how was it formed?

Amanda: I have two moms and a little sister. My parents have been together for almost 40 years now, and they have me through donor insemination as well, almost 25 years ago.

Emily: Wow, this is fun. I am also donor conceived. This is actually the second time we’ve had an episode now where we got three donor conceived folks on the on the episode. I love it. What language do you use to describe yourself and your identity? I know that people with LGBTQ parents use all kinds of different language to describe their own identity within the movement and within the community. So, for example, frequently in the podcast, we use the term queerspawn, and that’s one that I personally use. But I would love to know a little bit more about what language do you use for your own identities. And has that changed over time?

Amanda: I’ve been thinking about this question a lot, because for anybody that’s been to Provincetown Family Week, we use queerspawn a lot. When I say we, I mean the community within COLAGE, a program by and for the children of one or more LGBTQIA+ parents/caregivers. It’s a very community driven organization that puts on programming for youth and adults, but largely youth 8-18 all over the country, all year round. But the majority of our workers centered in Family Week, which you probably have heard about on this podcast before, in Provincetown. During the summer, we do a week-long event there, and that event itself has built quite a community within our organization. So I was I was thinking about my identity in the context of Family Week, because, a lot of parents that I’ve interacted with on the ground at Family Week really don’t like the term queerspawn, which has been an interesting back and forth between the youth and the parents, as the youth try to reclaim the word and take it back for ourselves and make it into something that is for us. I have recently started using the term queerspawn since I got the position as the Fellow was this past January. So since then, I’ve been using it a lot. But my entire life, I really didn’t. I sort of just said I have two moms and it was kind of just up to people to figure out what that meant. The language I’ve used this kind of varied depending on who I’m talking to.

Emily: Oh, yeah, I really relate to that. And Lila, how about you? What sort of language do you use now to describe yourself and has that changed?

Lila: So when I grew up, I was always around COLAGE and everyone who knew about my family just call me a COLAGEr. So, I just kind of kept with saying COLAGEr. But when my mom would talk to people about me personally, she would use queerspawn.

Emily: Amanda, like you, I probably just used language of like I have two moms or, well, really I had three moms, but I would just say I had two moms before becoming involved with COLAGE and attending Family Week in Provincetown for the first time. And it was only around other people who shared that identity as people with LGBTQ parents that I even heard other language and other options to describe myself, which I loved. I got a queerspawn t-shirt. I just jumped into it because it felt like a word that could be mine and also made me feel part of something which was really cool as opposed to growing up the way I had felt, of being the person that was out about my family in my little town. That was the identity of what made my family unique, as opposed to what made me part of a community. When you do hear, people push back a little bit on the term queerspawn, either from other people with LGBTQ parents, because I know even not everyone who shares our identity loves the term, or from people who do not share our identities, how do you respond to folks pushing back about against this particular term?

Amanda: I think for me it’s about meeting people where they’re at, which is a very COLAGE way of saying that. For people within the LGBTQ community who are not queerspawn, when they hear the term maybe there is this paying of past harm that’s been done, and I think that’s why a lot of the time there is push back is because that is a very loaded term, and I think that’s okay. And I think that’s a very valid experience to have and to take with you while dealing with this language. I think it’s just really an ongoing conversation about what it means for queerspawn to have that term that is empowering in a way, as opposed to a term that’s been used in the past that has been the source of harm. So I think it’s kind of a give and take.

Emily: Yeah, and what I think it’s also so important, that I know COLAGE brings up very often, is the origin of the term and how it is a term that came from people with LGBTQ parents as a self-identity term. It came from the community. It wasn’t something that was put upon us or brought from outside. So, Amanda, you talked a little bit about what is COLAGE. But I am always interested in people’s journeys to the organization. How did you first become involved with COLAGE as an organization?

Lila: Yeah, so I grew up with COLAGE my whole life because my mom helped found the organization. So the earliest memory that I remember of being around COLAGE was this person came to our house to interview my mom, with a full on camera, taking videos of me playing outside with my dog. Just seeing all of that and hearing my mom talk about how she created the organization with her friends, really opened my eyes to what she did before I was born. It never was in the front of my mind. It wasn’t my identity. It was more like, Oh yeah, that’s just part of my family. I didn’t really realize that my family was different until middle school, because my family looked like an average family because I had a dad, and they were divorced, but it just seemed like an average family. So I would always try to see how people viewed life to see if I would want to tell them that I am a COLAGEr or no. And then this past year, I got on the Youth Action Board for COLAGE as well.

Emily: I’d actually love to know a little bit more about what is the Youth Action Board with COLAGE? How does that fit in with COLAGE’s, vision, mission and commitment to youth leadership within the organization?

Lila: The Youth Action Board is what makes COLAGE for kids and by kids. Because we help the people like the directors go on with some things and see, like, Do we wanna add something to COLAGE or should we redo something this year? They asked us to look into the 2010 Donor Insemination Guide to see if we would wanna redo it and revamp it to make it more current.

Emily: Which we’re doing! So in 2010 COLAGE created a Donor Insemination Guide, just like you said. And 10 years later, so much of it still feels very relevant. And so much has radically changed in 10 years. So thanks to your leadership in 2020 COLAGE is working on creating a new updated guide. So that’s really cool to know. So, Amanda, how did you first become involved with COLAGE?

Amanda: My first Family Week was when I was 12 and I really don’t want to go. My parents found this thing. They thought it would be good for me and my sister. The original meaning of COLAGE was to give youth a place where they did not have to explain themselves. And I don’t think that my generation was the last generation to have it really tough. I don’t believe that, but it was tough. I think that oftentimes we’re just expected to go along in life and we are normal, just children. But we also have to bear the brunt of a lot of what comes our parents’ way as well, which is not always really talked about. I think that’s why COLAGE is so special. We were having some issues in the town that I grew up in and my parents wanted to give us something that would make us feel normal. And I was like about to be a teenager. I had no interest in going away. I just wanted to get home. I just want to, like, swim in the pool and hang out. I threw a fit the entire three-hour drive from our house to Provincetown. I never missed a summer after that. It was the most transformative experience of my entire life to this day. I was a youth participant until from then until I was 18. And then I was on staff for three years, and then I took a year off, and now I’m the Fellow. It has been a wild ride.

Emily: I similarly went to Family Week in Provincetown, and that was the first time that I encountered COLAGE when I was 13. So right around a similar age. When I first went the COLAGE programming was divided up between youth ages 13 and over and 12 and under. And now today it’s really separated differently of more elementary, middle, high school ages. So it was great. I got to be 13 with all these super cool high schoolers, and I thought I was very cool. But I remember not having any idea of what to expect and having very low expectations and just thinking that it was going to be a week in Provincetown and then barely seeing my parents the whole week because I just wanted to be around these other teens who were sharing some fundamental part of my identity. And also were so different from me and had such different life experiences and were growing up with such different families. But we all share something so fundamental. And similarly I never ever looked back. I was very fortunate to be able to go for years and then was a volunteer on staff and then interned with COLAGE and now get to work very closely with COLAGE and Family Equality. Do either of you have particular any favorite memories or experiences with collage can be a family weaker just elsewhere. Any particular no collage memories that really stand out for you?

Lila: I think my favorite memory from COLAGE would probably like this past year at Family Week. It was during the COLAGE variety show that they do every the last Friday of a Family Week. In the middle of it, they stopped all the things and stuff. And so me, my dad, and my grandma all went up on the stage and presented the Hope Berry Manly Leadership Award. That was really heartfelt. You could see how proud all the parents were of the kids and the award and my mom. That’s very heartfelt and warming that all these people appreciate my mom’s hard work.

Amanda: I remember that. That was a wonderful moment. I remember during my second year, I was really young, and it was an optional afternoon program. And I was still trying to make my way into the social scene at Provincetown. I didn’t have a ton of friends yet and I didn’t have anything to do. So I went to the optional afternoon workshop, and it was about Sylvia Rivera, who is an iconic, incredible trans female activist who died in 2002. And it was really captivating. And I don’t know why I hung on to that so much. But I also ended up making all of the friends that I didn’t have at that workshop, and I left that workshop with this whole group of people. And that was that was just it. Those were my people for the next six days. I think that really speaks to what COLAGE is and the magic that it has. The reason that COLAGE is so by us and for us, is because COLAGE exists to give youth the tools that they need to go back into the community and make a difference, or be able to say what they were trying to say before with correct language, and to be able to stand up against the injustice that brought us all there in the first place. The social justice component of COLAGE is critical.

Lila: I definitely think social justice is a big part of it, because when my mom created COLAGE based off of a different organization which is called CODA for Children of Deaf Adults. She wanted to bring that framework forward because queerspawn needed to speak up about these topics, about everything LGBTQ and bring it forward, bring it to the front line. When it first was becoming an organization, my mom and her friends were at this conference full of these gay dads. The kids locked them in the conference room until they finally would talk to the kids about AIDS. Because they knew some of the guys had it. So that kind of started the organization because it brought together all the kids being like okay, we want to learn about these topics, we want to advocate for each other and all of that. I really saw a lot of that and heard my mom telling stories about it.

Emily: Totally. It is so clear that that COLAGE participants and programming and now the youth leaders themselves are saying that we can’t have an LGBTQ movement that’s not including and recognizing queerspawn identities. And we can’t have the movement, period, and our queerspawn identities if we don’t recognize other intersections of those identities and other aspects of what is impacting our families. And it’s been interesting because I think as at different ages, people’s reaction to my identity as queerspawn has changed. Now I feel like there’s an understanding of why that unique identity itself situates us within the LGBTQ movement. How do you relate your identity as queerspawn with the LGBTQ movement? Have you felt embraced? Have you felt that identity is not fully understood at times?

Lila: Before I was born, when my parents were pregnant, they lived in the Castro in San Francisco, a very LGBTQ community. There weren’t really many others having kids. My parents got some backlash and stuff because they were one of only a few to become parents. But everyone that we’ve stayed friends with, our close friends, were always supportive of me being queerspawn and a COLAGEr. Now my friends here in Ohio are welcoming of me being a COLAGEr.

Amanda: Yeah, I was gonna talk about the term culturally queer a little bit, which is sort of a new term on the scene, as far as I’m concerned. And it is a little bit controversial, kind of like queerspawn has been in the past. But culturally queer is supposed to represent this idea that you were just describing Emily about how, although that we may not or may identify as LGBTQ ourselves, that because we are the ‘children of’, that we are queer by way of culture. It’s not that I had never felt that way. I definitely had. It was just interesting to finally have the language to say what I was feeling. And so, although the word queer can be a little harmful for some folks, I think it’s helpful to describe the relationship that we have within the community itself.

Emily: I feel that way, too. Not everyone who has an LGBTQ parent may have that experience, but my parents have been out from before my birth. Those were the people that were caring for me, loving me. None of their friends had of kids, but they were all LGBTQ. All of the adults that I was being surrounded by who were not family members were all queer. I had to learn how to come out from the time I was meeting other kids and to describe my family and to defend our identities. That is something that has been fundamental to my identity. Being culturally queer is also the media that we soaked up. It’s funny for me to think about it. I feel like I’m culturally queer, but my fundamental years of cultural queerness were the nineties. I feel like so many people who are my age would have come into a queer identity and a queer culture later than I did. More as teenagers and as adults, when you’re able to access cultural markers independent of adults in your life. Whereas set those fundamental building blocks of memory of when I really was connected with queer culture was so much earlier. It was waiting for Rosie O’Donnell talking about her kids on TV and watching these much earlier movies that were fundamental to my parents and their coming out process. My parents gave me that legacy a lot earlier, and it’s been wonderful getting to also have my own experiences within queer culture decades later. It’s great because you get that legacy. Lila, I would imagine you experience some of that this too, because your own family has multiple generations of queer culture and queer identities. Do you ever talk with your parents and grandparents about how queer culture has changed over time? How identities have changed or even language?

Lila: I’ll talk a little bit about it with my grandmother, though not a lot, but I definitely do talk about her. My best friend’s mom, because she just came out and is now married to this trans woman, I’ve been talking to her about it and my friend talks to her mom about it. I kind of educated her a little bit more because she always knew about what COLAGE was and all that because my mom and I were very proud and open about that. My friends have been to Pride and are going to Pride because they are LGBTQ+. I kind of learned from them and learn from their experiences and what language they use for themselves.

Emily: All three of us have been involved with COLAGE for a number of years and LGBTQ and queerspawn spaces for a number of years. What’s new for the Youth Action Board in 2020?

Lila: The Youth Action Board will be doing more Instagram takeovers, especially before Family Week. Everyone get excited for that. We’re going to try to recruit some more people for the Youth Action Boar and that’s the main two things for this year.

Emily: I love that – recruiting new folks and using some of those social media skills that these Action Board members have. I love that there are so many experiences, voices and stories and they’re so varied. For three decades COLAGE has been amplifying those stories and following the lead of the youth. And I see so much more of that coming for the future of COLAGE in for 2020. And I get so inspired by that. As we wrap up, we’ve all shared ways that we’ve gotten involved with COLAGE and why it was really meaningful for us to be in a community with other people with LGBTQ parents. Any thoughts or advice for anyone listening on how they can get connected to COLAGE? And why it’s valuable to do so at whatever sort of capacity they have?

Amanda: Family Week is the big event of the year. But we have stuff going on all the time. The Creating Change conference is happening in January and we’ll have a big presence there. There’s a bunch of different ways that you can contact us or get involved. We don’t do chapters around the country anymore. We have ambassadors now, which is a fun sort of transition. If you want to get involved with that, all you need to do is contact me or Kaley Fry, our Director of COLAGE Programming. We have a page on Family Equality’s website. We still do have our own autonomous website. There is plenty of ways to sort of get in contact if you want to find out more. We have a bunch of different Facebook groups as well – COLAGE and COLAGE Family – that I would definitely recommend joining. Those are the ways that I would recommend reaching out. And the value of COLAGE can’t be put into a two liner and cannot be understated. The value is that it is still incredibly, incredibly necessary for the children of LGBTQ folks. I think it is transformative. I think it is life changing. I think it is community building. I just think it’s beautiful all around.

Lila: You took the words right out of my mouth.

Emily: For anybody listening who is interested in learning more about COLAGE and how they can get connected with either in person events or online community spaces, become a member of the Youth Action Board or get involved in other volunteer opportunities for adults with LGBTQ parents, visit www.familyequality.org/colage. That includes information for parents and prospective parents on how to be supporting their youths of all ages. Follow COLAGE @COLAGENational on social media everywhere.