Shelley 1 Interviewee: Lyd Shelley Interviewer: Danny Woomer Location: Jackson County Date: March 7, 2021 Duration: 0:24:04 Danny Woomer: Okay. So I am Danny Woomer. It is March 7th. I am interviewing Lydia Shelley, who goes by... Lydia Shelley: Lyd is preferred, but Lydia isn't dead, and she, he and they pronouns. DW: Who lived in Western North Carolina for... LS: So since, fifth grade? I can't do math. You should have done this before you started recording. I'm 22 now. DW: What age were you when you moved there? LS: Nine, maybe? DW: And you're 22 now, so I think that's 12 years. LS: Okay, sure. DW: If that's wrong, it's fine. And you grew up in Asheville. And how would you describe your sexuality? LS: I'm bisexual, with the view of it as meaning the genuine one, where you're attracted to anyone. It doesn't exclude anything. Not the bi equals two, but attracted to your own gender, which I guess means nothing now. And anyone of any other gender. DW: It's easier to explain to older people, I think. LS: Yeah. I haven't had to explain to anyone in a long time, because I feel like the people who know me know what I mean when I say that. DW: Yeah, that's what I feel like. It's easier to explain. Most people don't ask. They're like, "Oh, okay, sure. Great." And so when did you come out? LS: I came out probably my freshmen or sophomore year of high school. And it was, largely, remarkably easy. Maybe not for my family in that, I don't really know that I experienced homophobia from them, but especially my dad's side of my family was very much just like, "No you aren't." Which I bet has been fun for them as I've spent the last eight years going, "Yes, I am." But with my friends and my community and the school that I was in, it was very much not a big deal for anyone. DW: What sort of pushed to the, "No, you're not." Were there any specific examples? LS: Yeah, absolutely. Either I came out later than I've just said, or I hadn't talked to them much about it, but I was in love with this girl named Catherine and I wanted to go to the prom with Catherine. And went to ask Catherine to the prom, must've been my junior year prom. And I told my parents, my dad, my step-mom that, and they were like, "Lots of girls go to prom with their friends." And I was like, no, no, no, no, no. I ended up going with a guy and they were very, very relieved about this turn of events, but I just sort of passively rub it in their faces every moment that I have, because I don't think they have a right to ignore what makes them uncomfortable about me. DW: But other than that in school, you didn't really, I guess high school didn't start, you didn't experience any "backlash" which is so, a weird term for that. Shelley 2 LS: Asheville is not a lot of the times what it likes to think of itself as and present itself as, but I find that the young people that I grew up with that went to Asheville High were very, very much not homophobic. There was just not, it was not a culture. And I think maybe that's different from a lot of Western Carolinian experiences. If you are perhaps somewhere more rural or you'd been a little bit older than I am, but it was not strange or uncommon in my high school experience. DW: Now you are a WCU alum. How did high school compare to Western? LS: So I think I should... I only speak from my own experience. Western was much more conservative than my high school experience, which I think is the opposite of what a lot of people have when they leave their hometowns and go to college. DW: Yeah, that's really interesting. LS: I had a reverse and it was very hard, especially starting in 2016, right after the 2016 election. There was a strong wave of people who felt very empowered to be very conservative and not empathetic to other people's experiences, let me just say. But I also think that I was very cushioned by that because at the time I identified as a cis-woman and I still am very cis-woman passing. You would look at me and think, that's a cis-woman, a cis-white-woman. So nobody is going to hurt me or do anything bad to me. I got mostly some rude, sexualizing comments. It's not ideal, but it's fairly harmless. I never felt unsafe and nobody ever called me a slur or anything. DW: That's preferable. LS: Yeah. It's preferable. But I also don't think that I can speak to the experiences of everyone at Western, because I am a very cushioned person by that passing, I think. DW: On the flip side of that, what was your experience with the community at Western Carolina University? And you could say, University and just Asheville in general. LS: And Asheville? So I didn't really have a queer community. I have found that a lot of people have that queer affinity group thing is really what defines their social group. And that has never been the case for me because I am bad at friends. I don't like to spend time in big groups of people. I don't like to do events. I was never a club person in high school. So there was a Gay Straight Alliance, whatever organization at my high school, but I'm not going to go spend time with people. So I was never a part of that. I find that that gay people tend to make friends with other gay people just by chance, by happenstance. So, I've found my people wherever I have gone, but I am not, I was never part of a queer community specifically. In retrospect, I've found that a lot of the people, even that weren't out when I was in high school, looking back those same people that made up those friend groups are now all, some variety of queer, but that is after the fact. Does that make sense? DW: Of course. Definitely. And I guess that's high school, would the same apply to Western? LS: Yeah. And I also wasn't very aware of, this again could be a problem with me and maybe not even a problem, but not a fact about Western. I wasn't really aware of any queer affinity groups and student groups at the time. That wasn't a big thing at Western to my awareness and I also just never, I never sought one out that hard. DW: You also worked all the time. LS: That's very true. I did work all the time. DW: That's the same reason I wasn't really in any groups or clubs just because two jobs all the time. LS: And class and et cetera. So, yeah, it wasn't something that was important. Whereas I found now in law school, student affinity groups are really important for a variety of reasons. Shelley 3 DW: And you attend where for law school? LS: I go to University of North Carolina School of Law. Every time I want to say Chapel Hill School of Law, and that's just not a fucking thing. DW: Is it not? LS: No, it's University of North Carolina School of Law. They get really mad at you if you- DW: Interesting. LS: Yeah, obviously I guess you wouldn't be writing Carolina Western University on your resume. You can't just make up the name. DW: It's like a slur. LS: I don't know about that. DW: It's not, but. LS: But every time I'm like, "Oh, I'm going to say it wrong." DW: "I'm going to say," yeah. And so that's another interesting point, is you moved considerably far away from Western North Carolina. What's your experience been I would say as a queer person, being out, what's the experience been like compared to Jackson County? LS: Well "out" is a strong word. DW: It is. My apologies. LS: No, no fine. No, no worries. "No fine." DW: "No fine." LS: No fine. So it's interesting because I think, as much as I have just said that Western was conservative, I was very insulated from perhaps what people from Jackson County would think about me by being a part of that campus community and deciding who I would interact with. Whereas here in Chapel Hill, the campus community and the town are very much more one in the same. And so I feel very safe in that and don't feel that sense of homophobia maybe? But I am part of a professional school community, and a law school community, which I think tends to be more conservative. Not... Don't go up there. That is a terrible idea. What are you doing? Lord Jesus, oh God. The way we almost just had a car accident. DW: We didn't though. LS: You did this for what? DW: I wanted to take a turn. LS: I fully lost my train of thought because that was so stressful. Okay. And that's probably an exaggeration, but essentially what it results in is I am not out to the law school as a whole. I've been very slowly... So I'm in my second semester and I'm very slowly releasing it and deciding what people are comfortable with it. Especially since I have this fresh new gender identity, which is very precious to me and which I really want respected. And I'm not maybe strong and secure enough in it yet that I'm comfortable to release it to the whole world, knowing inevitably that someone will disrespect me? So yeah, it's different everywhere. Oh my God. A literal raspberry beret. Can we steal that beret? DW: Yeah, let me turn around. LS: I don't, maybe someone will come back for it. We shouldn't steal things. Shelley 4 DW: That's true. Would you be comfortable with talking about this fresh gender identity further? LS: Yeah, absolutely. So I think looking back, and this is me maybe falsely predicting scholarship trends, but I think there will be a big pool of scholarship on the way that quarantine has caused people to self-examine and discover new facets of themselves. So I have always not really fucked with gender. There have been times when I was younger, like really young, like early elementary school where I would just randomly be like, "I'm going to start wearing dude clothes all the time." And demand that my parents and grandparents use a different name and he, him pronouns for me. And you know, that kind of became something that I suppressed as I got older because there is a social value in fitting in. And I don't know entirely that that is something that would have been part of the general consciousness and accepted when I was in high school. But I just don't feel as strongly connected to she, her anymore. I don't feel like it's gone. So I consider myself gender fluid envy and I'm comfortable with all pronouns and want that... I contain multitudes. Right? So I want that recognized as a part of myself. And it's really wonderful to me and precious to me. So I don't keep it from people because I'm ashamed of it, obviously. I keep it from people because I love that part of myself and for someone to misunderstand it or mischaracterize it or make fun of it, it would be very painful to me. So, yeah. DW: So LS: [inaudible 00:1:41] houses. DW: It is. Interesting turn of events. I guess it's obvious that quarantine helped you explore this part of yourself much further in a positive way. Do you think that you would've had the chance otherwise? No pandemic, non Zoom school experience, do you think it would just happen later on? LS: Yeah. I don't think anything that is truly a part of you stays buried forever. There's no saying in what way those things become realized, but... Oh my God, little tiny puffer jackets. Yeah. The parking situation, is this a one-way street, baby? Are you going the wrong way on a one-way street? DW: I might be. So what I'm going to do... LS: Okay. Oh look, pride flags. We found it. DW: Topic. Yes. LS: Sorry. Yeah. I don't think anything that is yours, that you're meant to have, stays buried forever, but- DW: It's not a one-way. LS: That's good. You can keep going now. DW: Yeah. LS: I just, it looked weird. It looked weirdly parked. DW: It did. LS: Can we go first to Target and look for [squishmallows]? DW: Yeah. LS: Okay. But no, I don't think anything that you're meant to have will stay away from you forever. And I think I have become more fulfilled by experiencing this part of myself. So no, I think it would have come up. It's become that trope where it's like, a lot of people who are gay now remember having that experience of Googling, "Am I gay?" When you're little. You wouldn't be Googling, "Am I gay?" If you were straight, right? So the same thing as, "Am I trans? Am I non binary?" You wouldn't think about your Shelley 5 gender all the time if that was something that you were happy with the way it is. Sorry, I'm not expressing that well, but if you have a consciousness of it, if you think about your gender and I don't mean like explore it, that's healthy for everyone. Even people who end up deciding that they are cis. But if you think about your gender and you're dissatisfied with it and you... There's a pretty good chance that you're not cis. So I think it was inevitable. DW: With identifying as he, she, they, how do you... I guess you just know on a daily basis, but do you want to talk about just LS: How I use them? DW: Yeah. Not even that. Just what the experience is like. LS: Clarify question. Make it make sense to me. I don't know. I don't what the experience is like. DW: On a day-to-day. It's a he day. How does that compare to a they day? LS: Gotcha. I have not been doing it like that of late. So when I first started, I was like, "I'll just pick on the daily." And I think that leans more towards the gender fluid side where there's a more linear expression of how I'm expressing feminine and masculine. But I found that that was really hard for me because I'm a 22 year old person who's only bought women's clothing for the entirety of their lives. And I am also like curvy. I look feminine. And so to a certain extent, I would love to really have an opportunity to dress more masculinely, but I found it painful to be failing at that by dressing and looking a certain way and not being able to achieve that way of being masculine that I saw in my head. And so I've been leaning away from having she, he, or they days and trying to use them all intermittently as I'm working on myself, and in my writing, accepting that I contain all of those multitudes, as I said, even when I'm not expressing in a way that traditionally be he or she. DW: Yeah, no, absolutely. LS: Yeah. DW: To fall back to Jackson County with quarantine expediting the exploration process. LS: Uh-huh (affirmative). DW: If you had explored this part of yourself way earlier and I guess, I don't want to say found yourself, but figured it out while you were either in high school or college, what do you think your experience... Very much a hypothetical, what do you think your experience would have been like compared to grad school? LS: Hopefully I'd have a way more variegated closet by now. I don't know. It's hard to say because I think that the place in which I'm closeted, and I think this makes sense, is in the classroom in my school experiences. Because by their very nature, you're in a classroom with a bunch of people who have various backgrounds and opinions and will feel their own unique ways about unique gender expression. So I had a student, and I never spoke to them about it because I don't think I was there in, not to be gay about it, but in my journey. But we had a student in our graduating class who was either non binary or trans mask and change... I think they use they them pronouns and I won't drop their name in case that's not even what they're using anymore. And then obviously, this isn't my story to share, but it was very much difficult for people to get their fucking heads around it. And I saw that that was difficult for them. And there was a lot of deadnaming, there's a lot of issues with getting the pronouns right. And I think that very much validates where I still am, where it's like, I'm not sharing this with people who are just going to hurt my feelings. DW: Yeah, that's not fun. Shelley 6 LS: It is correct and it is right. But the he, she, they thing sort of allows me to... You can't dead name me. You can't use the wrong pronouns for me because there aren't no... But to some extent, people who don't understand you will never be equipped to respect you. DW: And it's weird because COVID-19 classrooms, I guess, with the hybrid at least. You just sort... Unless you ask or you know this person, you go by clothing, which sucks. LS: Yeah. So I am a part of this absolutely wonderful... I got added to... So obviously I'm very femme passing. I'm sure no one who ever sees this will listen to the recording. They'll just have a transcript, but- DW: No, they can listen to it. LS: Oh, okay. So super femme passing, if you can hear my voice, "Hi, hi." So I was added, through the law school, to a group chat that was called Gals of Section D, which is my law school section. And I was in there for a while and felt like it was a safe space, and I was like, "I just want to let you guys know, that I actually use he, she, and they pronouns intermittently. But I'm very happy and I hope I can stay and hang out with the gals." And they immediately switched it to Pals of Section D, which first of all, absolutely tear-jerking. Just very, very genuine. It was not performative. It was not with commentary. They were just like, "Well, it's not true anymore." And that was just a wonderful experience for me. But members of that group have been including, on their little Zoom squares, first name, last name, and then pronouns. Even though the vast majority of them to my knowledge are cis women, just so that it becomes more normal to have your pronouns in your thing. And so that it's not just me and the one other non-binary person I know in the law school who are, they have their pronouns in their chat. So yeah, we should be doing what we can for each other, but it's a hard habit. And it's also hard if you... It's one thing to put those pronouns in and they are exactly what people expect and it's another to drop a surprise in there and know that someone is going to have something to say about it. DW: Yeah. Yeah. Some people... One of the way, it's Zoom filters, where the... I've seen articles on it where people will share more over Zoom classes. Because obviously when you're online, the confidence really comes in, which can be a really bad thing and uncomfortable thing because people will just say whatever the hell they want. LS: Yeah. I don't think anybody would say anything to my face, but I just, I don't know. It's painful to me to imagine being the butt of someone's joke, even if I can't hear it, which I know is not... If someone else asked me, I would say, "Well, that has nothing to do with you." And you have to be yourself and true to yourself. You don't have to be, but you have right to be. But I'm not quite there myself and there's no rush. I've got a lot of years left. DW: Yeah. That's I think that's really important. There's really no rush. LS: Yeah. It's just, like when I said earlier closeted, or sorry "out" is a strong word. It depends who and what and what environments. DW: Absolutely. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about overall? LS: No. Mm-mm (negative). DW: No. Okay. LS: No. Not really. DW: Okay. Sounds good.