Con­nect­ing to com­mu­nity

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

When I came out at age 38, I didn’t know a sin­gle gay per­son. I had lived my life in an evangelical bub­ble and my life was largely made up of church mem­bers. It was a scary prospect to get out there and start to meet peo­ple and de­velop friend­ships but I was hell-bent on cre­at­ing a life for my­self that I wouldn’t re­gret at the end of it.

The first “gay” thing I ever did was go to a lo­cal gay bar. I’m not a big drinker and hadn’t been to many bars in my life up to that point. I didn’t even know what a bar tab was. Ev­ery­one there seemed to know each other al­ready, it was very smoky so I couldn’t breathe and the mu­sic was too loud for me to ac­tu­ally try to en­gage in con­ver­sa­tion with any­one, even if I pos­sessed the courage to (which I didn’t).

I sat in a dark cor­ner, nurs­ing a hor­ri­ble cock­tail, hop­ing that an at­trac­tive, fem­i­nine woman would walk up to me and start an in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion about books, pol­i­tics or ‘80s hair bands. Need­less to say, I left dis­ap­pointed but not dis­cour­aged.

I told a straight friend about my neg­a­tive gay bar ex­pe­ri­ence. She took me to down­town Decatur and in­formed me that it was the “les­bian cap­i­tal of the na­tion.” I re­mem­ber walk­ing around Decatur Square look­ing for les­bians and not know­ing how to iden­tify them (my gay­dar is still non-ex­is­tent).

Iron­i­cally, I work in down­town Decatur now and each time I walk through the square, it takes me back to that day when I was search­ing the faces of the women there look­ing for some sign that she was like me. I wanted some­one to see that I was gay and ac­knowl­edge it some­how.

Fi­nally, I de­cided to stop wish­ing some­one would ap­proach me to be my friend and just started be­ing my­self. I did what I’ve done my whole life: I vol­un­teered. I found sev­eral LGBTQ non­profit groups and asked them what I could do to help. I or­ga­nized at the Rush Cen­ter. I worked at the si­lent auc­tion at the an­nual HRC din­ner. I manned reg­is­tra­tion ta­bles at var­i­ous events and, as a re­sult, I be­gan meet­ing my gay self as well as my queer com­mu­nity.

Through­out the years, I have been able to con­nect with the most amaz­ing men and women that make up the queer com­mu­nity in At­lanta. I have de­vel­oped qual­ity friend­ships with peo­ple who work ev­ery day to make the world a better place for oth­ers to live in. They speak for those who don’t have voices, re­sources or abil­i­ties to ef­fect change for them­selves. They show love in ways that I could never con­ceive of.

When I think back to my first gay bar ex­pe­ri­ence when I didn’t know a soul, it makes me happy to know that I made my life into what I had spent so many years yearn­ing for it to be. I work on a (largely) gay real es­tate team, free­lance write for At­lanta’s lo­cal LGBT bi-weekly, a gay law firm and a gay-owned olive oil tast­ing room. I also just fin­ished a year of be­ing the pres­i­dent of my lo­cal PFLAG chap­ter.

Steep­ing my­self in my com­mu­nity as a vol­un­teer and then as a pro­fes­sional not only gave me the op­por­tu­nity to help al­le­vi­ate some of the prob­lems that our queer com­mu­nity faces, but it gifted me the fam­ily that I al­ways yearned for but was never able to par­tic­i­pate in. I’m hap­pily a part of LGBTQ At­lanta and here to stay.

Shan­non Hames is a mom, writer, re­al­tor, vol­un­teer, rocker chick, world trav­eler, and ’80s hair band afi­cionado. She loves ba­bies, ob­serv­ing peo­ple, read­ing great books and tak­ing hot baths. She has been writ­ing for Ge­or­gia Voice since 2010.

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