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Interview with Abby Tennant, transcript

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  • Transcript of interview with Abby Tennant.
  • Tennant 1 Name of interviewee: Abby Tennant Name of interviewers: Megan Gorman, Bill Harlan, and William Crooke Date of interview: File uploaded October 26, 2020 Length of interview: 24:14 Location of interview: Jackson County, NC Abby Tennant is from Wallburg, North Carolina. She discusses her relationship with her family after being forced to come out and her struggles as a result. Tennant also explains why she does not think Jackson County is inclusive to the LGBTQ community. She concludes with her current situation with her partner and advice for people who have not come out yet. Start of Interview Abby Tennant: Okay. Megan Gorman: So can I get your name, age, where you're from, sexual orientation, and your gender identity? AT: Okay. So my name is Abigail Tennant and I go by Abby. I'm 20 years old. I'm from Wallburg, North Carolina, which is a super small town. And I identify as a lesbian and my gender identity is female and my pronouns are she and her. MG: Okay. See, I knew obviously that you were a part of the LGBTQ community, but I wasn't sure where exactly you fell on it. So that's pretty much why I came with that question, but yeah. So do you think the local Jackson County and WCU community support those in the LGBTQ community and why or why not? AT: So as far as Jackson County as a whole, I feel like they're not very supportive of the LGBTQ community. So I'm currently, obviously I'm in a relationship and whenever I go out with my girlfriend, sometimes, actually a lot of times, people would stare at us. Even if we just go to Walmart, even if we're not even holding hands or anything, we're just walking together, they can kind of tell that we're in a relationship or whatever. MG: Mm-hmm. AT: But I also think that a lot of the Jackson County residents feel very strongly against the LGBTQ community because I feel like a lot of them are super religious. And I feel like they're taught, oh well, this is bad, this is wrong. And I don't know, you can just kind of tell, even if we aren't holding hands or something, people will literally stare at us. They'll sometimes make comments to our face or under their breath, but you can still obviously hear them. Or they're just literally just staring at you. And sometimes I'll be like, "Hey, can I help you? What are you looking at?" And they just literally stare. MG: Yeah. Yeah. AT: I mean, whenever, last year when I first came out, I was super uncomfortable with it and I kind of just would lay low and wouldn't really express myself a lot. But I mean, obviously now, if somebody's staring at me, I'm just going to be like, "Hey, what are you staring at? Let me live my life, you live yours. I mean, if you don't agree with it, that's great." But I really don't think that Tennant 2 the Jackson County community and the residents are very supportive. But the WCU community, it feels a little different because obviously it's a college town and a lot more of the people that go to Western are a little bit more liberal and are very much more supportive. I mean, I still have had homophobic encounters. People have made comments to us whenever we're together. There was one instance last year that I specifically remember. So my girlfriend and I, we were sitting at the fountain on campus and this guy came up and started just talking to us, just casual conversation or whatever. And he brought up, he was like, "Are you guys best friends or whatever?" Because we were just sitting together, and we were like, "Oh, we're dating." And his eyes got super wide and he was like, "Really? You guys are like girlfriends." And we were like, "Yeah." And then he started using derogatory language towards us, started calling my girlfriend derogatory names and stuff. And we submitted a bias report, but nothing happened with it because we didn't get the guy's name or anything. But I feel like the WCU community is definitely more supportive than just going out into downtown Sylva and experiencing those people. I feel like WCU is definitely more supportive than just Sylva or Jackson County in general. MG: Yeah, see, well, me and my two other partners, we discussed this question sort of because it's like Cullowhee and Sylva and the neighboring little towns, they pretty much depend on WCU and the students to support local businesses and stuff like that. And I feel like they know that if they want that business, they're going to have to be accepting of those people and things that they might not be used to, living out here. But I mean, I'm shocked, I never knew how bad it was. Because I mean, personally, I'm sure, I'm not a part of the community, so I really wouldn't know, but it's still shocking to hear about the incident on campus. That's awful. I cannot imagine that happening to me. AT: Yeah. I was even surprised at that. And so my girlfriend, she works on campus, so do I, but her job is a little bit less supportive than mine because she works with older people and you can tell they're very much not accepting. If I would be with her at work, come see her on her break or anything, she would obviously be like, "Hey, this is Abby," but she would introduce me as her roommate. Sorry, my dog is right here. But she would introduce me as her roommate because, I mean, we don't want to say we're girlfriends because we don't know how they'll react. I don't want her to be treated differently at work, you know? MG: Yeah. AT: But I work at Starbucks and obviously all my coworkers, the corporation in general, is super supportive, so it's two different arenas. It's crazy. MG: Yeah, definitely. So what challenges did you face after coming out to your friends and/or family? AT: So this one, I could talk about this forever. This is kind of a more difficult one for me because once I came out to my parents, they completely disowned me. I don't speak to them at this point. I was kind of forced to come out, which is something that you never want to happen, but I kind of had no choice. So last year, my girlfriend and I, we had been talking, we weren't dating yet or anything, and my parents suspected it so they confronted me about it. And they were like, "Hey, are you guys more than just friends or whatever?" And I was like, "No, we're just really good friends," or whatever. And then they were like, "Hmm, I think that you're lying." No. "I think that you're lying about it." And I was like, "Ah, okay." And then I just kind of told them like, "Yeah, we've kind of been flirting or talking." But at this point, this was my first experience Tennant 3 with a girl. I had never been with a girl before, so I mean, I was completely new to it and all. So once they found out about that, literally the first thing my mom told me was, "You need to go to CAPS and you need to go to counseling because this isn't right." And I just immediately started crying, I was completely devastated because, I mean, I knew that they wouldn't react well, but I didn't know it would be like they would think something was wrong with me, you know? MG: Yeah. AT: So after that, I told them I would stop or whatever and we would just kind of stop seeing each other or whatever. But obviously I didn't do that. And I just kept hiding it from them. So after that, I hid it from them for about two more weeks, but my mom would keep badgering me about it and asking me about it. And then once spring break rolled around, I had to go home for spring break to see my family or whatever. And so once I got home, my parents kept asking me about it. I was like, "No, I don't even talk to her." But obviously I was lying. So then they actually did find out again that we had still been talking to each other and everything. And so my parents both threatened to pull me out of school unless I stopped. So I was like, "Uh, well, I mean, I still want to go to school." So I told them, "Okay, yeah, I'll stop." And then one day, my mom took my phone and started going through all of our messages and stuff and found, I guess in her words, proof that we were still together or whatever. It was basically trying to take me down, I don't know why. So then my mom basically brainwashed me and she was asking me all these questions. And she was like, "You know you don't like girls, right? That's not natural. This isn't right." And she kept saying it over and over again. And she would stay up with me for two hours talking about it and trying to get me to admit that I didn't like girls. And at that point in my life, I was very, very weak. My mom had been controlling me basically my whole life. I lived under her roof, she still paid for everything for me. So I kind of just did what she said at that point. So I was like, "Yeah, you know what? You're right. Whatever." I just went along with it to get her to stop talking about it, you know? MG: Yeah. AT: So then, I think it was the day before we went back to school from spring break, she was like, "Okay, we'll let you go back to school but you have to stop seeing her." And I was like, "Okay. Right, I get to go back to school." I mean, obviously I kept seeing her, but I was like, "Yeah, I won't see her anymore." So then, I went back to school and about a week went by, my mom tracked my location, she would randomly call me to make sure I wasn't with her, and she would ask me literally at least 12 times a day, she was like, "Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing?" And she would make me FaceTime her and show her where I was and all of this stuff. So then that happened for a week and I was like, "I can't do this anymore." It was just completely draining and so stressful for me to just keep lying. So I was just like, "Okay, you know what? I'm just going to text her and I'm going to tell her that, yes, I'm still seeing this girl and I'm in love with her and there's nothing you're going to do about it because you can't change how I feel." So I distinctly remember this moment, so I sent her the message and I just ran to my dorm room and shut the door and I just held my phone. And I was like, "I don't know what to do now," because I didn't even know what was going to happen, honestly. So she called me literally the second she got the message and I didn't answer because I was freaking out, so then she kept calling me until I finally answered. And she just started screaming at me, she started threatening me and my girlfriend, and she started telling me that she was ashamed of me. And the one thing that she told me that really, really hurt me, she told me, she was like, "I don't even want to have the same last name as you." Tennant 4 MG: Wow. AT: I mean, just stuff that no mother should ever say to their daughter for any reason. And so I ended the call with her and then she told me that she was going to cancel my health insurance, she was going to turn my phone off, she was going to take all of the money from my bank account, she was going to take my car, and she told me that I wasn't allowed at the house anymore. MG: Wow. AT: And she also told me that... Yeah, I know. She told me that she wanted everything out of my dorm room that she bought for me. And she said she would be there to pick it all up in two days, along with my car. And she was like, "You have to come home as well." And I was like, "Well, that's not going to happen." So I was like, "Yeah, that's not going to happen." So obviously, I contacted UPD because she was threatening me and stuff. And I was like, "Something has to be done because obviously she has no right to any of my belongings." And I was 19 at the time, so she just assumed she could just force me to go home. But the police department was like, "No, you're over 18, you don't have to go home." AT: So I called her and explained that to her on the phone and stuff. So that same night, my mom messaged my girlfriend at least 10 times. She was threatening her, she was saying terrible things to her, she was calling her really, really bad names. And then kind of after that night, I just shut down and didn't speak to my parents for the next 24 hours. But that was honestly the worst day ever. And honestly, it should have been the best day because I was able to finally say who I was and stuff and I felt brave enough to actually say it. But it was just a really, really, really bad day. MG: Yeah. AT: But fast forward to today, I haven't spoken to my parents in, I think, almost six months. And it honestly feels so much better not having them in my life, not having the negativity, not having the pressure to please them and stuff. But it took me a really, really long time to finally let go of them and the relationship with them because I'm really hard on myself and I kind of blame myself for everything. And I felt like I was at fault for putting them through all of this, which, thinking back about it now, I was like, "Why did you ever feel that way?" Because it kind of sounds silly. But once I realized, "Hey, there's nothing wrong with me," that they were basically just brainwashing me this whole time, I began to understand that, hey, I don't need them to be happy, you know? MG: Yeah. AT: And the only time, I think the last time I spoke to them, so I asked them to fill out my FAFSA so I could take out loans to go to school this year and get financial aid or whatever. And they refused, so basically that's why I'm not in school this semester because I can't afford to make the monthly payments with just my income and Peyton's income combined, it's so expensive. But yeah, they were like, "No, we're not going to fill it out because you decided to do this so you're completely on your own now." But I don't feel the need to speak to them. Yeah, when Mother's Day and Father's Day goes by, I get super sad, but I mean, there's no need to have that negativity in my life, you know? Tennant 5 MG: Yeah, exactly, exactly. AT: Yeah. But now I'm completely independent and my girlfriend and I are still together, we both pay for everything on our own, all of our bills, everything that we do. I mean, it wasn't easy adjusting to being completely on my own, obviously, because I just kind of got thrown into it, but I definitely did have help and support from most of my other family, like my aunt and my brother and my sister-in-law and all them. But once my close friends found out that I was dating a girl and stuff, they literally just stopped talking to me. I had a lot of close friends, you probably knew that, but people from high school, I don't talk to any of them anymore. They just literally stopped talking to me. MG: Wow. AT: I tried to reach out and be like, "Why?" And try and figure out, is there something that I did, you know? But yeah, they basically just distanced themselves and stopped talking to me little by little. But I mean, I have gained a lot of new friends obviously and a great support system, but yeah, it's been kind of hard, but I'm MG: It cut out a little bit right there at the end. AT: Oh, sorry. I said it's been kind of hard, but I'm trying to stay positive as much as I can throughout it all. MG: Yeah, exactly. I mean, like you said before, I mean, that's tough and I know that these days with parents and grandparents and everything, a lot of people say you have to keep in touch with them and all this stuff, but it's like, at end of the day, if your opinions are so different to the point where you're hating on anyone, that's like I do not have any priority to be in contact with you, you know? AT: Yeah. MG: Because we're blood, because I definitely have- AT: You have to live for yourself. MG: Yeah, exactly. All right. So how does being a member of the LGBTQ community shape who you are as a person and how you take on life? AT: So, being a member of the LGBTQ community definitely has helped me grow as a person and mature a lot and start to kind of care less about what other people think about me. I'm just kind of living for myself and being happy with who I am and understanding that there's nothing wrong with me. And I love who I am and I wouldn't change a thing about me. And I understand that there's people out there who completely disagree with my entire existence or whatever, but that doesn't mean that I have to be any less of who I am just to please them because it's not important, you know? MG: Yeah. Tennant 6 AT: And those people may try and change me and hurt me and tell me that I'm going to hell and all this, but I'm just as much of a person as they are. And even though I face discrimination and homophobia on a daily basis, I try to not let it affect my happiness. I mean, I wasn't really good at that in the beginning because I would really get upset about it and stuff. But now, I'm just like, "You know what? It doesn't matter," you know? Because it only matters that I'm happy and I'm able to be who I am, you know? MG: Yes, exactly. At the end of the day, your happiness is the only happiness that matters. You shouldn't care about anybody else's opinion or anything. AT: Yeah. Yep. MG: And then my last question for you is what advice would you give people who are anxious about coming out to their friends and/or family? AT: So, the first thing that I would say is only do it if you are ready, don't let anybody pressure you because it's just not right. If you still live with your parents or rely really heavy on them, they pay for all your stuff, you don't pay rent to live in their house or whatever like I did, I would try and start being more independent. When you know that you're ready to come out, just try and start being more independent just in case they do what my parents did and want nothing to do with you and take everything out from under your feet, just so you know that like, "Okay, well I pay for my phone and stuff and at least they can't take that from me," you know? "I'll still have stuff that I have to my name." But that's obviously the worst case scenario. But it does happen a lot more than people expect. And if you feel that your parents or guardians are going to be really supportive of you, which is super great, then take all the time you need and let them know when you're comfortable and when you're ready. Coming from experience, it sucks when you're forced to come out, but you are not ready, you know? But my parents basically outed me to my entire family before I was able to even tell any of them. I don't even know what they said to them, but it probably wasn't good, but I wasn't able to tell my family members myself, which was pretty hard. But I think that it's such a big deal when you come out, but honestly, I feel like it shouldn't... I feel like it [inaudible] put on a pedestal [inaudible] everyone that heterosexual people don't have to be like, "Hey, I just want everyone to know that I'm straight," you know? MG: Yeah. AT: So I feel like it does put a lot of pressure on us and that does suck and I don't think that's going to change anytime soon. But it can even force people to stay in the closet longer because obviously you're scared to come out, you know? And I just feel like it shouldn't be that... It is a big deal but I feel like you shouldn't be forced to "come out," you know? MG: Yeah. AT: If that makes any sense. MG: No, yeah. I definitely get that. AT: Yeah. But overall, I would just let your loved ones... Can you hear me? MG: Hear you, now I can. Tennant 7 AT: Okay, sorry. I don't know what the [inaudible] is. But like- MG: It's okay. AT: But overall, I would just- MG: I don't have the best connection either. AT: No, it's fine. But I would just say to let your loved ones know when you're ready and when you know in your heart that it's right. And just, yeah. MG: Yeah. See, I like that because I definitely agree with you on how you shouldn't really have to feel like you need to come out because it should be okay for you to be gay. It should be okay for you to be bisexual or lesbian, whatever you want to be. You shouldn't have to come out because, you know? And hopefully one day the world will be accepting of everyone. And we won't have to have people who have to come out and it'll just be the norm. AT: Yeah [inaudible] extremely anxious. MG: Sorry, did you say something? I can't hear you. AT: I'm sorry. I don't know, maybe it's my WiFi. But I was just like, it should definitely just be normal [inaudible] so you don't have to feel [inaudible] and this is who I am, you know? MG: Can you hear me? AT: Yeah, I can hear you. Can you hear me? MG: Yeah, I can now. Is there anything else you wanted to add? AT: Not anything I can think of off the top of my head. Is there anything else that you would like to know? MG: No. I mean, I think we pretty much...
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