Next up in our Queer+ Voices series, we'll be featuring photographer, filmmaker, and author Sharisse Coulter, who proudly identifies as a woman. This entry in our series is a great time to point out that while we decided to use the word “queer" in the title of our series for its broad reach within the community, we recognize and acknowledge that this term doesn't necessarily speak to all of our interview subjects' identities and experiences. Moving forward, we'll be calling this series Queer+ Voices as a reminder of that! Now, onto the interview!
Tell us a little bit about your coming out experience(s). How has life changed for you since being “out”?
SC: For most of my life I felt comfortable as a straight woman. I had only ever been attracted to men. At 38, I was attracted to a woman for the first time in my life. I had just ended my marriage and felt comfortable experimenting. It was nice, but I didn't have any big revelations about my sexuality. I let it go, considered myself straight, and continued dating men.
About eight months ago I started dating a woman. Shortly thereafter I made the decision to tell my friends, family, and son. I was most concerned with my son's reaction. In part because she was the first person I'd introduced him to since his dad and I split up and also because he'd never known me to date a woman. When I asked him if he thought it was weird that I'd been married to a man and was now dating a woman he shrugged and said, “Not really. I know lots of lesbians." And then resumed the conversation about who would win in a matchup between a T-rex and a superhero. In that moment, and in the loving and supportive responses I got from friends and family, I recognized my privilege in being able to experiment, date and tell anyone I wanted without fear or rejection. It's a sign of the social progress made as well as being at a stage of my own life where I'm not looking for anyone's approval. For the most part I haven't been pressed to label myself, which is good because I still don't know what to say. But when their curiosity proves too much I usually just say, “I'm straight, but my girlfriend is a lesbian."
LBP: How do other aspects of your identity intersect (or perhaps clash) with your sexuality?
SC: As an artist whose mission is to empower women through creativity, I find that my friend and professional circles are already very accepting and seamlessly integrated. I was raised in a conservative Christian environment in which acceptance at a younger age wouldn't have been a forgone conclusion, but even then, most of the disparaging comments I heard about being gay referred to men.
The main clash I've experienced is internalized prejudice that comes up when I challenge my own stories about myself. Straight no longer accurately describes me, but I don't feel any different than I did before. I'm simply in love with a woman. Sometimes, like when my girlfriend and I kissed on a sidewalk and a dude driving by hung out his window and yelled, “Yeah! Hey ladies!" I recognize that people behave differently with us than they do when I've been with men. Overall it feels like there is an “othering" that occurs in changing the way people see me, but mostly people are just uncomfortable with defining new parameters and language, not with the fact that I'm dating a woman.
Image description: Square graphic with yellow background and large white quotation mark at the top. At bottom of square, large black text reads: "queer+ voices." In the middle, in black text, is a quote from Sharisse's interview. (The last two sentences of her response to question 1). Under the quote, in bold black text reads: "~Sharisse Coulter. Pronouns: She/Her"
LBP: Pride is a celebration of liberation but also an acknowledgement of struggle, resistance, and revolution. Where do you see yourself in that celebration? Where do you see yourself in that struggle?
SC: I see myself as someone who is in an extremely privileged position. I “came out" at a time when the hardest barriers to equality had been taken on by others, when social progress meant that I could reasonably assume acceptance in all areas of my life, and when I go into spaces anywhere in the world I still present as a straight, white, female. With that, I recognize my privilege as a responsibility to listen to the struggles so many are still going through and to speak up when confronted with ignorance and intolerance.
LBP: As an artist, how does your “queerness" or sexual orientation show up in your creative work?
SC: As a photographer/filmmaker, my work is about seeing people and reflecting back to them something they didn't see in themselves or something they didn't think anyone else saw in them. In that way, every time I expand my own perspective, I expand my capacity to see others and it makes me better.
As an author, I am incorporating queer relationships into my upcoming third novel. Fiction allows us to step inside and experience the world of “other" while leaving our prejudices in the “real world." That suspension creates empathy and understanding through a shift in perspective. Hopefully through representation the gap between “other" and “real world" shrinks, then eventually disappears, all the stories blending together until all we are left with is our shared human story.
LBP: What queer-centered artists, shows, films, podcasts, authors, etc. are you into right now?
SC: Glennon Doyle's Untamed, Elizabeth Gilbert on Insta, Maria Popova's BrainPickings.org, We're Here and Gentleman Jack on HBO.
LBP: What are some of your favorite LGBTQ+ organizations or businesses you'd recommend our readers look into, buy from, donate to, volunteer for, etc.?
SC: LadyBrain. Apart from that, I haven't yet done my research and don't want to offer recommendations without knowing what I'm talking about.
LBP: Is there anything else you'd like to mention in closing?
SC: I don't know how I feel about the queer label as it relates to me. I am grateful that it is up to me, and only me, to decide how I I fit in. What I do know is that I am madly in love with a woman. I feel loved and supported and happy. And to feel all that in the midst of a pandemic and the dumpster fire that is this presidency is pretty miraculous. I am one lucky woman.
To find out more about Sharisse Coulter, visit http://sharissecoulter.com. Stay tuned throughout the month of July for more Queer+ Voices interviews!
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