Brynn Tannehill

Fear and Loathing in Dayton

Filed By Brynn Tannehill | February 25, 2015 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Advocate Magazine, conservative cities, Dayton, isolation, Ohio, out of touch, PFLAG, transphobia, WTF

downtown-dayton-ohio.jpgRecently, The Advocate ranked Dayton, Ohio as the queerest city in America. I shook my head in wonder: did they actually ask anyone in Dayton what being queer is like here -- especially for trans folk and lesbians?

The Dayton area itself is generally very conservative, catering to nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The base is the largest employer in all of Ohio, and it sets the tone for the surrounding community. The Air Force itself has strong evangelical and Mormon communities, and that bleeds over into the rest of the east side of the Dayton area.

Universities are not much better in some cases. Wittenberg University was home to a notorious anti-LGBT author. At Wright State University, I watched as a religiously-motivated administrative staff member threw a fit about "safe space" stickers in her office. She demanded they all be taken down because she felt it violated her religious beliefs to imply that she tolerated LGBT people.

University officials caved immediately, and the safe space stickers came down.

Many resources in the Dayton area are completely inexperienced with trans issues. LGB leaders aren't familiar with even basic language in the modern movement like "cis" or "cisgender."

Two of the doctors with the most experience at working with transgender people retired recently, leaving only one left in the area. Others, while well-meaning, have no experience and have to be educated from the ground up. And until recently, there was no transgender support group in Dayton at all.

It's also something of a wasteland for state-level activism. The congressional representatives for the Dayton area, Mike Turner and Jim Jordan, consistently score 0 on their HRC legislative scorecard, and most state legislative representatives are so solidly anti-LGBT we don't really even try to lobby them.

Transgender men have made themselves scarce. I have been assured they are here by a few people who are in the know, but that they prefer to stay away from LGBT community events and remain as stealth as possible. As a result, despite working across multiple lines of LGBT work in the city and state, I do not know any trans men in the Dayton area.

This brings me to Club Masque, the supposed crown jewel of the Dayton LGBT scene. The Masque may have been a gay bar once, but it has gained something of a reputation as a place where straight people can go to feel trendy hanging out with the gays.

On top of that, they are completely tone-deaf to the trans community: just ten days after Bianca del Rio said some things so transphobic it would make Bryan Fischer blush, she was the celebrity headliner at Dayton Pride -- at the invitation of the Masque.

As a result, I sat out Pride, as did the other trans women I know in the area. None of us felt particularly welcome at a parade that was supposedly for us. Not that there's much of a trans feminine community either -- we're scattered widely, and most of us are looking to move out of the Dayton area if possible.

There is effectively no transgender community in Dayton, and being lesbian is just about as bad. One cisgender lesbian friend of mine quipped:

"The lesbian dating scene in Dayton has always been like the barrel of monkeys' game. Put the name of the 10 lesbians in Dayton on each of the monkeys, and they'll have hooked up at least once before."

Another lesbian friend who emigrated from San Francisco a few years ago was appalled at how almost the entire lesbian community in Dayton was still underground.

isolation-b&w.jpgAll of this leads to a deep sense of isolation for those of us left behind who can't escape. My own personal experiences when I have visited friends in Washington, D.C. is that I felt a sense of delight and wonder that queer, geeky people like me are able to find a friendly and accepting space among straight, cisgender people.

When I delivered my speech in Pittsburgh about the difference between tolerance and acceptance, it was a message that came directly from my experiences as an isolated transgender woman in a sea of deep-red "tolerance" in rural Ohio.

Maybe there's a good space here in Dayton for gay men. However, those of us in the lesbian and transgender communities have a very different story to tell.

We're queer, but most of us would rather not be here.

Editor's Note: Shortly before submitting this post for publication, the author announced that she is leaving Dayton to take a job in another city -- for many of the reasons she describes above.

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