DiversifYA: Kayla Whaley, part two!

KaylaGuys! This interview! When Kayla first approached me about it, I felt both humbled and so, so excited. It’s always a pleasure to have Kayla here, and to share in her fantastic insights in diversity (and since she’s now co-organizer of Disability in Kidlit *and* HuffPo guest star, we know we’re not the only one thinking that). But this particular interview is special and you’ll see why 🙂

So, go stalk Kayla on Twitter if you haven’t done so already (and in that case, re-evaluate your life choices), and happy reading!

1. How do you identify yourself?

I identify as bisexual and heteroromantic. That’s the first time I’ve said that publicly. Yep, this is my official coming out. A few of my friends and my sister know, but that’s it. I realize not all (or likely even most) of my “real life” connections will see this interview, so I won’t be totally out, but it’s a start.

When I say bisexual, I mean that I’m physically attracted to both men and women. When I say heteroromantic, I mean that I’m emotionally attracted to only men (so far, but, you know, fluidity and stuff).

2. What did it feel like growing up bisexual/heteroromantic?

I didn’t realize I was bi until a few years ago in college. I identified as straight my whole life until that point, but I also questioned that identification A LOT in my head. I remember having these strange reactions to certain girls both in real life and on TV (like Lizzie McGuire – probably the earliest example I can remember). I knew consciously that they were the same reactions I had to boys I was attracted to, but I rationalized it as, “Oh, I’m not attracted to them. I just think they’re pretty.”

I was raised in a homophobic family. Gay people were wrong, disgusting, every slur imaginable. Bisexual people were in some ways even worse. On top of all the negative characteristics of gay people, they were faking, they were sluts, they just wanted attention. Mine wasn’t even a religious family, but homophobia runs deep in my parents.

Once I got to high school, I started having those weird feelings even more. I kept rationalizing. I started fantasizing primarily about girls. That was harder to rationalize, but I managed (though I do want to point out that there are plenty of straight girls who like to fantasize about girls – I’m just not one of them). Around the same time, I became a Christian. I got really involved with church. Nearly all of my friends were Christian. And all of them thought anything other than heterosexuality was an abomination. I don’t know if I ever truly believed it too (I’d like to think I didn’t), but it gave me even more reasons to ignore what my body was telling me.

Fast forward to college. I’m still repressing these feelings. I’m still super involved in a very Southern Baptist organization. My parents are still homophobic. But I start meeting other people: people who are out, people who embrace their sexuality, whatever it may be. I see communities of people like that, both online and on campus. I don’t participate, but I watch and I want to. I start reading and listening and learning about LGBT people, about the false gender binary, about sexuality as a continuum.

I finally started entertaining the question, “Am I bi? Is that possible?” But even once I started asking that question, I had to answer, “No.” Because I’d never felt emotionally attracted to girls, only sexually. So I couldn’t be bi, right?

It was a video Hank Green made that let me finally and fully understand and accept my sexuality: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXAoG8vAyzI. (I highly recommend it.) In that video, he talks about both sexual and romantic orientations existing. In that moment, I intimately knew what an epiphany was – not just the definition, but how one felt. It was so freeing to finally have language to explain myself, even if I never said it aloud.

Like I said, I’ve told a couple people. I’ve still not told my parents. At this point, I don’t know if I ever will. But I’m ready to say it in some public capacity. I’m ready to be (mostly) out.

I still struggle with it, though. I feel like a fraud sometimes. Like being heteroromantic invalidates my bisexuality. Which is ridiculous, because as Hank says in that video, sex isn’t necessarily the endpoint of a relationship, and neither is a relationship necessarily the endpoint of sex.

At this point in my life, I don’t see myself having a physical relationship without an emotional one too, so it’s likely my future sexual behavior will be heterosexual, but that DOESN’T invalidate my orientation. (I’m saying this more for myself than for anyone reading it. I need to keep repeating it until I believe it and not just understand it.)

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

The biggest challenge, as you can see above, has been figuring out my identity. Finding words for it and accepting what those words mean in my life. I tend not to like labels for a variety of reasons, but in this case a label was exactly what I needed.

It was also really challenging trying to reconcile my new understanding of myself with my understanding of God. Honestly, I still don’t have all of that figured out, but I’ve come to a place where I’m comfortable and I don’t feel like my relationship with Him is damaged or strained anymore. I know He loves me and I love Him and that’s what matters.

The homophobia I see daily has been rough, too. It always bothered me, even before I knew it applied to me too. The worst is hearing my parents spew it, though. Like I said, I’m definitely not ready to tell them, and honestly, unless I end up having a relationship with a woman, I doubt I ever will. I’d like to be able to be honest and be my whole self with them, but it would hurt too much.

I’m hoping one of the perks will be the community I’ve wanted to be a part of for so long. I’m hoping it’s as welcoming as it seems. I worry, though, because I’ve heard some gay and lesbian communities have their own issues with bisexuality, and I imagine my heteroromantic orientation might exacerbate that. Hopefully that won’t be my experience.

4. What do you wish people knew about being bisexual/heteroromantic?

I wish my parents (and people in general) knew it wasn’t a choice. That it doesn’t make me a fake or a slut or an attention-whore. That I’m not wrong or disgusting. That I’m still me, only a more empowered, self-aware, happier version of me.

5. What are the biggest clichés/stereotypes you’ve seen?

All the ones I mentioned above:
• They’re really gay/lesbian or straight but don’t want to choose
• They’re greedy
• They are incapable of committed relationships
• Etc.

And then you have the cultural belief (it’s bigger even than a stereotype) that sex and romance necessarily go hand in hand.

Bonus: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

It’s the same advice I always give: do your research. Talk to people, read about experiences different from your own, assess your own assumptions and reject them. Above all, treat all your characters as human beings worthy of respect.

And recognize that there is no one way to experience life. There’s no common experience of any group, nor should there be.

3 Responses to DiversifYA: Kayla Whaley, part two!

  1. “And recognize that there is no one way to experience life. There’s no common experience of any group, nor should there be.” So, absolutely true!

    And may I say, I don’t believe God judges us the way we judge each other. God doesn’t recognize our physical differences. God recognizes souls which don’t have a sexual orientation, race, or religions etc. There’s so much more to us than just those worldly things.

    While you may have many concerns about how people will view you, (which makes sense, yes) God is always there, and accessible and loving you.

  2. This is awesome! Good for you for figuring out all these amazing things about yourself, Kayla. What a lovely and inspiring interview 🙂

  3. Amen to this…I’m with you 100%. Also the stereotypes go on and on. Research is important for everything you write, no one should assume because they come from somewhere they have all the tools to write the story they want. Thanks for sharing your story 🙂