I’m a woman. I’m also gay. These are easily the two most uninteresting things about me, but they dictate every interaction I have in this world. While being a woman is more of a shared experience than being gay, it comes with certain expectations of behavior and appearance. I’ve never quite felt like society’s version of what a woman is supposed to be. I’m not a social facilitator—quite the opposite, in fact. I’m an introvert with some legit resting bitch face.
I don’t present in a feminine way outside of my ~glamorous~ locks. I’m too fond of my red mane to ever don a short ‘do after spending most of my youth with a bowl cut and a sweet rat tail. My hobbies are traditionally more masculine. I drink a lot and play ice hockey—sometimes both at once. I watch a lot of football. But I do enjoy being a woman despite the pitfalls it presents.
Like any woman, I’ve been talked over, mansplained, catcalled, coerced, inappropriately touched or advanced upon, expected to stroke some dude’s ego, and generally treated like a delicate flower that couldn’t possibly have the mental or physical fortitude to keep up in any traditionally masculine endeavor. It’s not a sob story, I’m fine. It’s just the reality of being born with two X chromosomes.
Being gay presents another layer that complicates things. I’m a month away from turning 35 and only in the last few years have I felt comfortable enough to make public declarations about my sexuality. This one is the most public yet. I’m more comfortable in my skin than ever, but coming out is never a one-time deal that simply comes and goes. It’s often quite stressful.
There’s the first “big coming out,” in which you tell your friends and family. Then there’s every new person you meet—a new friend, a new coworker, a random stranger that strikes up a conversation, or your doctor of several years that continually asks you if you might be pregnant each visit. Seriously, make a fucking note in my chart already!
Depending on varying experiences that LGBTQ individuals have, we might weigh the necessity and risk of sharing this type of information with each chance occurrence with a human. Does this person need to know? Do I care? How might this possibly affect my career? Do I feel safe? Will this person be cool with it? Is there a chance they’ll tell someone who might not be cool with it? The spilled beer can’t be put back in the can.
For someone who’s never had to deal with being treated differently for something that isn’t obvious at first glance, it may not seem like a big deal. After all, gays can get married now! It’s so much better than it used to be! It’s OK to be gay! All of these statements are true, but…
As a gay woman, I assure you even the most open-minded straight woman is not immune to making assumptions, even if unconscious, that an attempt at friendship might have other intent. If I turn to men, I’m faced with the same assumptions. I’m sure straight folks can compare this to the perils of making opposite sex friends. I just don’t have the option of sticking to my gender to play it safe.
It’s exhausting and, at times, extremely isolating. And just like anyone else, I sought a way to escape the mental gymnastics in any way I could. One way was a passion for beer. I’ve drunk a lot of beer since moving to Chicago 11 years ago, and in that time, I’ve found an unlikely opportunity to get paid to photograph and write about an industry I’ve grown to love.
The beer world isn’t without its faults. At its worst, it’s often not inclusive to anyone who isn’t a straight white man. It’s often boorish when it comes to beer names and label art, or the infamous “pink” lady beers. Despite several prominent women in the industry, most brewery owners and employees are still straight caucasian dudes.
I’ve been repulsed by some of the behavior I’ve experienced over the years. There’s an insufferable amount of gatekeeping, unwelcome sexual advances, and straight-up condescension. But I know these examples aren’t innate to all men in the industry—not even close. I have hope for the future, even if sometimes I think maybe I shouldn’t.
Of course, I’ve seen women thrive and earn their due respect. From operations managers to head brewers to die hard beer lovers to everything in between, women are staking their claim in the industry—even if it’s been a bit slower to adapt to cultural shifts than the outside world. We’re proving we’re capable and willing to put in the work.
As women increase their visibility in beer, so do LGBTQ and other minority groups. The Brewer’s Association recently appointed J. Nikol Jackson Beckham, a woman of color, to be their first ever Diversity Ambassador. And Julie Verratti was recently named the chair of the BA’s Diversity Committee. It’s a welcome shift that should keep momentum swinging in the right direction for an industry that has become a respite for so many.
Slowly but surely, the beer world is becoming safer for anyone who struggles to feel like they belong somewhere, anywhere. To be seen, heard, and valued. To be themselves, without judgement, expectation, or assumptions. It’s a change that’s made me proud to be both a woman and an LGBTQ individual in beer.
It’s Pride Month, a time when diversity and acceptance is celebrated. And it’s not just limited to queer folks. There are shitty people in this world, and it’s not exclusive to one gender, race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or people who drink Hazy IPAs. But! There are also so many wonderful men and women. Humans. And if you sift through them, you’ll find those that can offer safety and love unconditionally.