Hello and welcome to the Career Success podcast. I’m Jason Connolly. If you’re a regular listener, it’s great to have you back, but if you new a big welcome to the show in this series. Every week we speak to the biggest things in business all across the globe, we talk about their career stories, the lessons learned, how they overcome challenges, and what success habits they practice. If you have a passion for business, then this is the podcast for you.
In this episode, I’m delighted to be joined by Jill Frendenburg . Jill is an author and filmmaker based in Memphis, TN. Her work explores the relationship between. Social technologies and identity formation. Her book LGBTQIA Plus Revolution 2.0 a celebratory collection of LGBTQ plus narratives. Serves as one example of space making for under underrepresented queer stories. Jill is a communication PhD student at the University of Memphis and runs a sign on the door. A medium publication for the sides of ourselves, we often leave undiscovered Jill. Thanks for joining me. Thank you for having me. I’m thrilled. Great, so before we kind of delve into the book and walk us through your career ’cause you an offer a filmmaker and you’re even doing a PhD at the moment. But tell us about you. Yeah, that’s always at overwhelming question. Just tell us, tell us about your career and how we how you got to where you are now. Tell me about who you are and how you got here. Yes, it is always a little bit of an overwhelming question, but I, I mean, I grew up a creative. I studied art in undergrad. I was a sculptor and a videographer. Uhm, I wanted to be a documentary filmmaker and that is a big part of how I view myself and who I who I imagined myself to be is a is a documentary filmmaker specifically, but the more I I worked on other people’s films and the more I asked people about their personal stories, the more I realise that there’s so much opportunity for really incredible nonfiction, storytelling, and a bunch of different ways. And a bunch of different methods. And I actually did a Fulbright which I don’t know if Fulbright is something that’s open to English folks, but it’s like a exchange between the United States and other countries, so they sent me to Estonia for nine months, and I’ve never even heard of it. Oh, it’s so it’s under Finland’s left of Russia. It’s small, but really really cool and a very technologically forward thinking country. Which is why I picked it. ’cause I’ve always been interested as much as I as I love art and creation and communication. I’ve also always been interested in technology and the way that technology impacts identity formation and the way that people identify themselves and discover who they are. Because a big part of what eventually led to the book LGBTQ plus Revolution 2.0 was my identity as a bisexual slash pansexual woman. In a in a very heterosexual presenting relationship I’m married to assist man who’s very straight and so it’s it’s. There’s always this big question or I had a big question mark for really long time over. Like do I still want to be involved in the queer community? I started to sort of feel an impostor syndrome and self excluded from that community. But then when I was that what? Why was you having those feelings? Well, so part of it was showing up to parties and things with a straight guy and and just coming across as a heterosexual person like I didn’t want to look like the straight girl getting drunk at pride. Right, so it was about how you kind of interpreted yourself or it was about the, you know, the other people’s perceptions of you. Or it might be indeed it’s a mixture of the two, it is a mixture and I think it’s a really common thing, particularly with people who are socialised as women. We get sort of taught to constantly be making other people comfortable and prioritise other people’s happiness and comfort above our own. And so I was constantly. Thinking about how my presence, even though I am queer in those spaces, might affect those spaces negatively, I didn’t want to like. I’m very aware of the privileges that come with being in a heterosexual presenting relationship. And I didn’t want to go where I didn’t belong, like there was very few people in the LGBTQ space ever explicitly made me feel like I wasn’t. Welcome, but the few people who did really impacted me and I internalised that desire of theirs for only people who are like a million percent gay to be part of the party point, I think we’ve LGBTQ plus community is. I always find it bizarre that a community of people who probably all been through experiences of not being accepted can be very unaccepting by themselves. And I I found that myself even going. You know different gay bars and that to places over the years, but actually, you know, I feel that it can be a real place of judgment. Some of these spaces it can. It can, especially for like our Trans brothers and sisters and our non binary friends like I think it’s a lot of what the book tackles is the in between identities or the ones that are. I think I, I say underrepresented because even though I think that gay and lesbian storytelling is still super far behind and like we need more representation for all of those identities, there’s even fewer representation of like BI sexuality, which is interesting ’cause bisexuals make up something like 52 53% of the entire LGBTQ community.
So we are the majority. You wouldn’t think it’s that many though, and I think your book bio really, and I know we’ve kind of completely gone off the career and we’re talking about this, but I think you make so many interesting points I want to kind of run with what we’re talking about here now, but not all the time.
It’s all relevant. It’s irrelevant and I I think it’s really interesting to, you know, talk to you about your story because you know, I think there’s I. I think even the the gay community is is very underrepresented in a lot of ways, especially in story telling you right. And recently there was a a series out in the UK which called it’s a sin that tackled the AIDS crisis and talked about that. But there’s. There’s not a lot out there and. When it is, I always think is this representing it in the right way? And but maybe we have those faults because it’s underrepresented, but what you say about bisexual people who treat you know, I can’t think of? Yeah, I’m trying to think of a bisexual person that is very out there in, you know society and I. I’m even I’m struggling to think of 1 now. It’s one of those identities where once you. There’s there’s this sort of myth that once you’ve picked a partner, you’ve picked a side so particularly for, particularly for monogamous bisexuals, I think it’s really hard to decide whether or not you still want to engage with and be a loud and proud member of the LGBT community, especially for those of us that pick partners of another gender in our own, because then we’re not visibly queer. Like that’s a really convoluted and deep thing to even talk about too is whether or not someone is visibly queer, but I think there’s a big hefty that comes with the privilege of, you know, like I can go out in public and do PDA, and like present my partner at parties and things without worrying about people discriminating against us. Or, you know, being the victim of some sort of hate crime you mentioned about your partner. The time being kind of very stray. And what was he aware of? All these, you know, internal feelings you you were having at the time and and how you really felt or did it and 2nd 2nd to that. Did he understand he? Yeah he is an incredibly empathetic individual. It’s part of why I picked him up but he he moved me into my undergraduate dorm my freshman year. So my first year of college and we got together two months later. Like we were quick. Friends, I immediately decided like I wanted this man in my life for as long as possible and I came out to him as by ’cause I’ve known since I was. Probably 14 or 15 years old that I was attracted to to folks not based on their gender, but on who they are as people and. I came out to him about a month. I would say into our relationship and he had questions, but they weren’t the questions that I think most by folks are scared of. It wasn’t an immediate sexualization, it wasn’t like. OK, so when do I get to have a threesome, which I think is the one that every especially the bisexual women are really scared of? It also wasn’t. Did you Mommy asking what kind of questions did he ask? So it was mostly, you know. So do you still want to date me? Because I do think that there is a fear for a lot of people that those of us who are attracted to multiple genders can’t really settle with one person and be monogamous, which in my case isn’t true. And so he had questions around, you know the monogamy. He had questions about. What that meant for sort of our future? Like did I did. I want to eventually maybe get married. Should I want to, which is like all of these are big conversations to have a month in, but apparently we have. But at least that probably in a way kind of gave you a sense of, well, you know what? I guess you were wanting is to know what his thoughts were. And by having those deep kind of objective conversations at the start about you know exactly where it is. You know you two want to, maybe go and what your thought process is that probably in a way was bonding. It was yeah and and his. Openness to it and because he he had known some people in the LGBT community. But he had never really been close to anyone who was out. At least it was a good like I wanna say like kind of a lesson in allyship because he figured out how to ask questions and where sort of his place was. And after the book came out like he was one of the biggest proponents of like marketing it and being very loud. About it and he was so thrilled that I was doing it, and I think that meant a lot to me too. Because when you’re writing something that is about sexuality and romantic attraction and you have a partner like you have to consider that other person and anything that you publish, especially if you’re using your real name. ’cause that it does have implications for him in his future to some extent. So I was really excited that he was so supportive and he continues to be heat honestly keeps up with like, particularly the LGBT. Policy because the United States and a bunch of other countries too. But the United States, especially Tennessee, where we live, is having a lot of problems with anti trans discrimination right now and he is even better about keeping up with all of that than I am, which means a lot that’s really interesting. So you’ve obviously been together for quite some time. How do you kind of stay connected to the community? ’cause it sounds a very inspirational person because you’ve got you know who you are, you know. You know how you kind of fit into the world, but it’s something I’ve never really thought about. You know? How does someone who is bisexual you know kind of still keep in touch with that and still do you understand what I’m sort of trying to say? And I’m? I’m sure it’s something people kind of come out with a lot, and that’s why you aren’t answering what a lot of these may be. Misconceptions might be, but you know, I I, I sort of think to myself, how is it you stay out there and how you know what what’s the internal, you know? You’re kind of thoughts and feelings having you know now and I don’t want to say being in a heterosexual relationship, but you are with a mayor who and you are bisexual. How does that kind of make you internally feel? And how do you feel connected to it? Or do you? Is it for having bisexual friends or how? How do you internally kind of process that? Yeah, so that has changed overtime. So we’ve been together for almost almost eight years now. And congratulations, thank you. And when we first got together. So like I said, it was my first year in. Undergrad and I had all of these plans to like be part of the LGBTQ clubs on campus, and all of these things I was going to be super out and undergrad and when we started dating, that’s when I started self excluding so I was out to him and I was out to a handful of my friends. But because I was dating him and this is not none of his fault like that. Absolutely it all had to do with self excluding where I was like. OK, well I look straight now so I don’t want to go to these meetings and be part of this group. Because I don’t want them to feel like I’m a lying, which is a huge fear that a lot of bisexual people have. Because we are told that it’s not real or that it’s a phase, or that it’s a myth. So I carried that when I was 18 to 22 throughout undergrad, and it wasn’t until I went to Estonia, the year after college and I had a group of kids come out to me individually and all of them came out as some version of in between. So some version of an underrepresented LGBT identity, whether it was gender like I know I’m not a boy, but I don’t know what my gender is or I I’m attracted to multiple genders and I don’t really know what. That means I had these these young people coming out to me because I think a lot of LGBT people just sort of find each other. Yeah, yeah I do agree with that, but a lot of these things you’re saying the very big kind of things to even kind of process through one’s mind. Huge. And then the part of Estonia that I was in was ethnically Russian. So even though in Estonia it’s not illegal to be gay, a lot of these kids parents would be very. We’re very very concerned, very. Very kind of strong views, so I acted as much of as a ally and as a resource as I could to the extent that I was comfortable with ’cause all of these people were under 18. So like my my ability to sort of engage with them. One on one was limited, but I I think I was helpful. But when I came home after that experience I decided I was like. I need to be the person that 1415 year old Jill needed and I need to be out and I need to be loud about this because the people who don’t know for sure that there are 100% gay get lost in the mix. Like when you it’s it’s so like I remember realising that I was attracted to women and then being so confused when I was still attracted to men ’cause I did not think that was an option and I didn’t have the image and I had because I had those kids. Reaching out to me in a very I I struggle to say dangerous, but that’s the only word that’s coming to mind right now and a very dangerous part of the world. To be clear, I knew when I came home that I needed to try my hardest to be the example that I needed when I was young and that those kids could have used, and I think it’s I do think it’s very hard being bisexual because there’s there’s not a lot of representation and I think there’s a lot of discrimination within the community. Just an interesting question. Sort of more for my benefit. Do you think lumping LGBTQ plus altogether is sensible? I think there’s a reason why we did it. I thought, why do you think that is? Well, why was that? So you mentioned the AIDS crisis, and when that was going on, it wasn’t just. It was like people were calling it. Specially in America, people were calling it the gay disease, but it was affecting way more than just gay men and lesbians were the primary caretakers. For a lot of the people that were falling ill, and so the queer community in general like anyone who had contact with this sort of got all lumped together. And I don’t know if historically we were seen as the LGBTQ plus community before that. I don’t know that specific history, but I think the collective trauma of that experience. Uhm, kind of solidified that lumping of everyone together and then when you look at Stonewall, which the only reason why LGBT people have any rights right now, is because of trans women of colour. I think we’re all sort of put together because we’re fighting for a lot of the same rights, though there is a lot of that internal discrimination like what we were talking about earlier. I’m always amazed, like I, I know a few LGBT. People who voted for Trump and I just I’m always amazed when something like that happens. But some people are in. He’s very strong places of privilege where maybe they’re white and SIS and so they can separate themselves from the specific needs of their. A lot of the systemic issues, that kind of exist.
Yeah, and it’s you know it breaks my heart when there’s this kind of discrimination in terminally. But then I guess, you know, that’s. You’re always going to have, you know, not nice people in any kind of setting. Whether that’s straight or gay or bisexual, there’s always going to be small minded people out there, and we’re also not a monolith, and I think that that’s. Something that I took a lot of learning for me, especially when I came back and decided to be more out. I had to be out, but also recognise that like under the LGBT umbrella, there are a bunch of conservative folks and there are a bunch of people who have all of these experience that experiences and. Like access that I could never dream of and that I have a lot of experience in access that there are other people who they would never be able to dream about that. So it’s part of it was a big learning curve for me in understanding the diversity under the LGBTQ umbrella, so I understand why we’re all lumped together like that. But I I also appreciate your question, because I do think that like ace people and trans people and by people have a lot of the same. Challenges to tackle. But each of our little community also has their own base. It does and I I do. We could talk probably for an hour about the the merging of all these different communities. And yes, I agree with you. They there’s similar fights that need to be had, but you know, do kind of crossover and align but trans people. It’s you know it’s I could argue that that’s completely different from, you know, being gay and that’s but you know we won’t. We won’t delve necessarily all those avenues of conversation now. I think this really nicely. Leads onto your book. So LGBTQ plus revolution 2.0 a celebrator a collective of LGBTQ plus narratives. Now in the description, I really like the description. It says here that it’s an honest depiction of life from the point of view of people who are part of its community, no matter your identity, you are bound to find bits and pieces of your own experiences. Within these pages tell us about the book and kind of, I think, a lot of us are kind of listening to this. Going to kind of understand. Your motivations to write the book, but there’s nothing better than hearing it from you, Jill. So tell us about it. It’s really interesting, and I have ordered a copy my myself. It is sitting on my bookshelf. I just unfortunately haven’t started reading it yet, but it looks fascinating. I appreciate that. Yeah, so I grew up with queer representation. That was the the gay person dies in the end, or that they’re the villain. Or like Disney is a really good example of like they always there. There are. Villains are always clear, coated and it’s crazy, and I grew up with all of these negative examples, and so when I got back what you mean like we’re coaches? I’ve never heard of that, but don’t tell us about that. I have some really good essays I can send you that are, like Ursula is a good example, Ursula from The Little Mermaid. Like in her in her musical number, there’s just mannerisms that would be stereotypically coded as queer or like. What’s the the villain from Pocahontas there? There are essays that I can send you that were experts that are way smarter than me have gone in and actually written about how a lot of a lot of villainous characters in children’s media are coded as LGBT through mannerisms through the way that they dress through, and that must have been conscious to the people doing it. That’s that’s not a mistake or an accident. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, but it’s really hard. The more you read into this thing. Fascinating, ’cause I’ve never even heard of that. So we send you some stuff, please do. It’s frustrating and intriguing, and it’s it’s a lot of I think it’s a lot of internal bias. But then, like you said I, I do think some of it is on purpose. But so I grew up with that kind of representation. And then when I was in Estonia I was really struggling ’cause I could give the kids that were coming out to me like Internet resources and stuff. But I couldn’t think of any specific books to lend them that weren’t fiction and that weren’t more about the the tragedies that come along with. With being part of the LGBT community like there are a lot of awesome books, but I wanted something where someone between 14 and 18 could pick it up and enjoy it. But then also someone older than that could take something from it, and so I started interviewing both my friends and people who I found online who were out and LGBT but weren’t so famous that they were disconnected from what the everyday. Queer persons life would be like because I also think that a lot of our queer representation comes from really amazing. Like amazing famous people, but once you get to a certain level, you’re not necessarily relatable anymore. And so I wanted to interview a bunch of. Like for lack of a better word, like normal people or like regular people with jobs and experiences where maybe they’re coming out. Story was hard, but it wasn’t the biggest life changing event that they ever had, because sometimes some of that doesn’t need to be the biggest deal in the world, and sometimes it does. But then the healing process is after are what needs to be prioritised over the over. The dramatic, horrible experiences and so. I interviewed a bunch of people and I put together this collection of LGBT narratives and the big question. I asked everyone. I asked everyone multiple questions, but the big one that I asked everyone was how did you feel self empowerment in your gender or in your sexuality? And then how did you build community? Because I think that’s what everyone who realises that they’re queer wants is they want specific relationships with people who identify in similar ways. Because that’s what really opens doors for feeling confident and comfortable in who you are when you asked me earlier. How I go about sort of feeding my sexuality despite being in a hetero presenting relationship, it’s allowing myself to still be in queer spaces and make queer friends and deliberately seek people out who I know, understand how that feels and the more friends that I make in those communities, the more I feel like I am wholly myself. And that’s something that I wanted to really put in the book was. Like as mind-blowing and life changing as realising that you’re queer can be the biggest change is recognising that a lot of what you’re fed in the media and a lot of what you’re presented just day-to-day isn’t necessarily going to be your story, and so figuring out how to how to. Find those resources for yourself and build a community for yourself is the most important thing. As long as it’s safe thing to do. Yeah, I. I was reading before we started speaking some of the I don’t know why I was reading some of the samples when I’ve got the book in front of me, but I was flicking through it and it and it’s quite moving. Even your story of kind of being outed by a someone who identified as a lesbian because you know they didn’t take your sexuality. Or seriously, it sounds like a really honest kind of candid account of you know how. You were feeling and it you know, even just reading a kind of a short monologue it you know it sort of did make me work, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, Jill. So I’m kind of what’s been the reaction of sort of since you’ve published a book. Well, so the publishing the book was in some ways my coming out to a lot of people because like I said, I had like a handful of friends and my partner knew but I had never actually sat down and had a full conversation about it with my family and I had never sort of done the social media thing where you come out online and it’s it’s a big deal and a big part of why I didn’t do either of those things was because I was with my my mail, my system. Partner, and so I was like, oh, that’s not necessary. It’s not necessary, and I was at that point. Finding enough community on my own without feeling the need to sort of make a big deal out of it. So a lot of the reaction to the book was just, oh, I had no idea, oh. And so my from a lot of my straight friends and family. I, I guess, to kind of have it all down in one place where you’ve kind of accounted for absolutely everything. It must have been in some way quite freeing and liberating for to know that it was, you know you, you kind of had your story down in one place where people can you know. Finally know exactly how it is that you feel and what you’ve been through. It was hugely therapeutic and I think a lot of the interviews with other people. Really helped the two of us like the person that I was conversing with and myself understand where a lot of our pain points are. But then where a lot of that healing can come from after every single one of those conversations like I felt. More empowered and myself, and it was very tempting at times to put even more of myself in the book. UM, like I have more stories that didn’t make it in there. I mean, because I wanted to represent a bunch of identities other than my own, but also because I think. Sometimes it’s it’s not up to the person with the identity to sort of share their entire story in order to be validated. And so I really appreciated the the response that I got to my book about my favourite reviews are the ones that site like a specific story that really connected with them. Yeah, and the the few bisexuals that I’ve reached out to me and said like no one’s ever put it into words like this before. But this is completely how I feel and This is why I’ve kept myself out of this community for so long and that that must have been quite quite impactful to you. To for someone to say that. It’s huge, especially because I know how real that feeling is, and I think self exclusion in general is probably one of the biggest reasons why the LGBTQ community. Like one of the biggest internal reasons why there’s so much discrimination within the community, I think. If more people were out and loud and willing to be honest about the ways in which their gender or their sexuality is fluid, or like if we were just more open to conversations that aren’t rooted in fear around, like whether it’s conservative groups saying that it’s a choice or people like hyper sexualising the community, I think if we made a lot of our decisions based in in celebration and community rather than fear a lot of the. People who keep themselves out of the community won’t feel the need to do that anymore. Do you think we’re ever going to get to a place where being bisexual is no different to someone saying the straight or being trans is is, do you think we’re ever going to get to that place? Are we generations away? Do you think their days ever going to come? I think we might be a couple of generations away, but Gen Z is the queerest generation. I can’t remember. I I I I can send this to you too so that you can link it. But I’ve seen recent stats from the same place where I learned that bisexuals are the silent majority was the place where I learned that Gen Z is more open to to gender questioning and to sexuality questioning than any other generation in recorded history. Now this doesn’t include like the ancient Romans and Greeks, who like, didn’t feel the need to have these conversations. You’re opening up a whole new avocado worms there, Jill. Yeah, like Gen Z gives me a lot of hope because I I like to think that by the time they’re the runners of media and the majority of the authors publishing books and all of these things, I think having a character who just happens to be like a like a SIS woman character who happens to be in a relationship with another assist woman character or people who are gender non binary who use they them pronouns like. I think the they’re going to be the big group that normalises that and I think the more people. In my generation, which I am like, a a cusp millennial ’cause I was born in 1994. I think the the more of us that can be very vocal about these more fluid identities and these these lesser represented identities the the more will build sort of a a framework for Gen Z to really come in and just totally flipped the conversation. Great heads I can’t believe it. Your date of birth is 1994 it’s making me feel slightly old. I just wanted to touch on one more thing because I think it’s really important, and we’ve we’ve kind of really got stuck into met. You know, many, I think really valuable points throughout this conversation, but obviously your work explores the relationship between social technologies and identity formation. Social technology is something that you know. I always think that these websites, whether it be Facebook or Instagram or any of these, they appeal to the human psyche in a lot of ways. Even things like WhatsApp. You know what? Why do you need to see when someone read a message? It all these things are there to play on, you know human anxieties or you know the world we live in of seeking positive endorsement. But how do you think that kind of ties into LGBTQ plus is? Is do you think this is a positive thing? The fact that we’re all online and we’re all able to connect? Or you know, I, I think it’s bringing personally a lot of problems and mental health issues. You know might have not previously existed what what’s your views on it? I think you’re definitely right, and I think that there are a lot of anxieties and and maybe higher levels of mental illness that we recognise now because of social media, but I think what’s even more important is as a queer person. I don’t think I would have known that I was queer without Tumblr, and now there’s a lot of people who are discovering that they’re gay, questioning, bisexual trans. All of the identities because of tick tock and tick tock is it and is an app that I was scared of for the longest time and it still makes me really nervous the way that it can be so targeted to my interests. Kind of freaks me out, but I also understand how that is so crucial because I grew up so I grew up in Memphis, TN, which is a big part of the Bible Belt in the United States and I went to an all girls Catholic school, so I was actually in in school, being taught that being gay was a sin and all of these. Other things so fun. And it was. It was like I could write a whole other book about just what being raised Catholic and going to a Catholic school is like that made you disconnect from the religion then. I think I disconnected from the religion for a lot of reasons. I call myself culturally Catholic and my partner and I actually got married in the Orthodox Egyptian Church. Trust in the Egyptian and and it was really important to him and his family and I respect I. I respect culture more more than I think I was traumatised by Christianity as a whole, although like I think that that is something that I I need to start working on. Act more actively than I have been, but I think that without the Internet it would have taken me. I would have known eventually, but I think it would have taken me a significantly longer period of time and and to figure out that I was by and then it would have taken an even longer amount of time to realise that that was OK, because the Internet is so often the only safe place for people in communities that aren’t like New York or London, or like really big, magnificent filled cities like, I think that community and identity formation that can happen. Online is worth protecting and it’s really interesting talking to as well, because you’re eight years younger than me and I remember the Internet it was there when I was 1314, but it was there with a, you know, all of a sudden your mum would be booted off of the phone line because the router will be dialling in and stuff like that. So it was the Internet was there, but it was definitely obviously much more prevalent in advance. When you were going through those years. Yeah, I just want to thank you so much I think. You know you’ve given such an honest, sincere and heartfelt kind of account of everything. If people want to find out more about you, or indeed they want to get the book, I would definitely recommend the book. Where can they go to? So I am Jill Fredenberg everywhere.
I’m on Instagram YouTube medium. I have my my own website sojillfredenberg.com. It’s just my name. I try to make it easy for people and then the book is for an international audience. I would suggest Amazon but if you want to order to your local bookstore it’s you can very easily call your book story and ask them to order it and they’ll be able to do so. So if you want to support. Independent, I highly suggest that, but if you’re more of an audiobook person or a sorry, not audiobook button, eat more of an ebook person. It is on Amazon as well, and it’s available for only £3.84 on Kindle in the UK. At what bargain Joe is being absolutely fantastic talking to you. Thank you for taking the time to share your account with us. Thank you so much. That was Jill Frendenburg from Memphis, TN. I’m Jason Connolly, this is the Career Success podcast until next time goodbye.