In educational spaces, conversations surrounding LGBTQ+ communities and the various shapes that love and relationships can take aren't brought to the forefront. For those who identify as part of the community, there are few role models to look up to or learn from.
With Valentine’s Day approaching, educators at UNC who identify as LGBTQ+ uncover their personal journeys and stories of love, talk about their plans for the holiday and share advice for students who wish to imagine love in their own right.
Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Blaque Robinson, fourth year graduate student in the Department of Sociology (identifies as queer):
Daily Tar Heel: Some might say that those in queer communities will be able to experience ‘real’ dating when they either move to a new city or get to the age of 25, do you find this to be true for yourself and how do you feel about this statement?
Blaque Robinson: “My own experience took me as long as 25, but the reason why it took me until I was 25 is because I had internal processing and internal work to do. My advice would be to make sure that you deal with internalized homophobia or whatever you have inside of yourself because society tells you that who you are is not right and that’s when you know how to be in a healthy relationship, but it’s not confined to having to move away.”
DTH: What advice would you give to young people and students who are either lonely on Valentine’s Day or are coming to terms with their sexuality and hope to one day express themselves openly?
BR: “While all of the feelings about Valentine’s Day can be difficult, what you want in life is a love that does not need a date to be validated…Think more deeply about what the sentiments around this holiday are and if it’s about you longing to be out, you are longing to hold hands with somebody and you feel fear around that, then that’s another thing. When I started to love myself fully for who I was, I did not care what anybody else said about me. I recognized completely that we face the fear of violence all of the time in the queer community. You want to be careful about where you go and where you are. At the same time, we cannot continue to live in fear and make ourselves small because we’re afraid of backlash.”
Edward Moreira Bahnson, assistant professor in the UNC School of Medicine's department of surgery, division of vascular surgery (identifies as bisexual and queer):
DTH: Are you currently in a relationship and if so, what are your plans for Valentine’s Day?
Edward Moreira Bahnson: “My Valentine’s Day will not be very traditional this year. For many reasons, but the most important reason is that my husband and I became parents to twin girls in September. They turn five months old on Saturday, so it will be caring for children, changing diapers, making formula. It's not really conducive to a romantic dinner, which is what we would do on a more regular basis.”
DTH: How has it been caring for your newborns and what is this experience like for you, an opportunity that those in the LGBTQ+ community might hope to plan for in the future?
EMB: “...when the four of us are alone together and the girls are calm, there's this, ‘I can't believe how lucky and happy we are.’ Since they were born it’s this unimaginable love that you don't even understand because, I was telling this to Matthew last night, I've known them for less than five months and I just love them so intensely.”
DTH: What advice would you give to young people/students who are either lonely on Valentine’s Day or are coming to terms with their sexuality and hope to one day express themselves openly?
EMB: “My advice is don’t try to fit any predetermined box. For me, the label bisexual is meaningful because it was liberating. It’s like, ‘oh, it’s not that I am weird because I like both.’ Then again, if you ask me today, I live a completely gay life. I am in a monogamous, committed relationship, married for seven years with a man who’s gay. I don’t know if I ever envisioned it, but love is unpredictable.”
KD Brown, doctoral student in the department of geology (identifies as transgender non-binary and uses they/them pronouns)
DTH: What will Valentine's Day look like for you being in a polyamory relationship, especially in a time of a pandemic?
KB: “One of my partners is in California, one of my partners is in Toronto and I’m going to get some cute stuff from them and they’re going to get something cute from me. Then, I’m going to have a cute, little dinner with my little sweetie that’s here and they know each other.”
DTH: Can you define what polyamory is for you and how you navigate connections and love through this relationship dynamic?
KB: “I would define poly as ethical, non-monogamy for me. By ethical, I mean you are very transparent about who you’re dating. I think just allowing yourself the ability to pursue pleasure, in whatever form that is, is essential.”
DTH: Based on your past experiences and relationships, how did you come to terms with your sexuality and begin to partake in romantic relationships outside of the norm?
KB: “I think one of the things, especially with COVID, just like Gen Z, you’re not able to go and explore your sexuality in a club or a gathering. Like dance with someone and be up close with other sweaty, queer bodies. That is so foundational to how I’ve developed as a queer person, as a trans person, as someone who’s out, as someone who’s proud because I was surrounded by so much queer beauty. I think that is what has allowed me to get to that space.”
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