Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Melissa N. Stein, May 2, 2018

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

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00:00:01 - Childhood

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Partial Transcript: This is Adriana Sisko and the date is May second.

Segment Synopsis: Melissa Stein is introduced. She gives a brief overview of her life. She describes her childhood in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey area. She talks about her family's social class, her parents' jobs, and her experiences in school.

Keywords: Children; Family; Friends; High schools; New Jersey; Only children; Parents; Popularity; Schools; Shy; Social classes; Suburbs; University of Kentucky; Wife; Working class

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Families.; Philadelphia (Pa.)

00:03:41 - Awareness of LGBTQ people and identity in early life

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Partial Transcript: I started to kind of come out, um, and be-- uh, slash kind of be outed my senior year of college.

Segment Synopsis: Stein mentions being outed her senior year of high school, as well as a relationship with a friend that led to rumors around the school. She talks about her awareness of LGBT individuals mostly coming from the AIDS crisis, and talks about the lack of visibility of gay women. She talks about when she began using the label 'lesbian' for herself.

Keywords: AIDS (Disease); AIDS crisis; Awareness; Conflicts; Crushes; Derogatory; Fried Green Tomatoes (Film); Friendships; Gay women; High schools; LGBTQ women; Labels; Media; Melissa Etheridge; Outed; Relationships; Rumors; Slurs; Terminology; Visibility

Subjects: Childhood; Coming out (Sexual orientation); Gay men.; Gay youth; Gays--Identity.; Homosexuality.; Lesbian youth.; Lesbianism.; Lesbians--Identity.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Sexual minorities--Identity.; Sexual orientation.

00:09:24 - Coming out in high school and being out in college

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Partial Transcript: So you're having these thoughts and these feelings and, you know, at a certain point you started applying, uh, the word lesbian to yourself--

Segment Synopsis: Stein talks about her experience coming out to friends while in high school and their reactions. She talks about temporarily applying the label 'bisexual' to herself, but later realizing that it was not the most accurate label. She talks about telling an aunt and discusses her aunt's reaction. She talks about her experiences in college coming out, including reactions from friends, roommates, and the wider campus. She talks about being the sole member of the college LGBT organization, and being very visible on campus. She talks about her dating experiences, including the difficulty of dating women who were still in the closet. She returns to the story of being outed while in high school, providing more details about the experience.

Keywords: Attitudes; Aunts; Bisexuality; Boyfriends; Campus; Colleges; Conservative; Dating; Experimentation; Faculty; Family; Feelings; Freshman year; Friends; Haircuts; High schools; In the closet; Internet; Jokes; LGBTQ organizations; Marking; Online; Outed; Outing; Peers; Reactions; Rebellion; Relationships; Responses; Roommates; Senior year; Sex; Students; Support; Visibility

Subjects: Childhood; Closeted gays.; Coming out (Sexual orientation); Education; Education, Higher; Families.; Gay youth; Gays--Identity.; Homosexuality.; Lesbian youth.; Lesbianism.; Lesbians--Identity.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Sexual minorities--Identity.; Sexual orientation.

00:26:31 - Interest in activism in high school and college

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Partial Transcript: Uh, it sounds like you were very politically active--

Segment Synopsis: Stein talks about her activism experiences during college, including her membership in various organizations, writing for the campus newspaper, and hosting a college radio show. She talks about the attitudes toward feminism on campus and her own growing interest in feminism at the time.

Keywords: Colleges; Committees; Coursework; Defensive; Diversity; Female-centric music; Feminists; LGBTQ organizations; Misunderstandings; Music; Newspapers; Poetry; Political activism; Politically active; Radio shows; Riot Grrrl; Stereotypes (Social psychology); Women's history classes; Zines

Subjects: Coming out (Sexual orientation); Education; Education, Higher; Feminism; Lesbianism.; Lesbians--Identity.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Women political activists

00:34:18 - Interest in the punk scene / Coming out to her parents

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Partial Transcript: How did you get access to the whole zine and like Riot Grrrl and all that kind of stuff?

Segment Synopsis: Stein talks about how she became interested in zines, Riot Grrrl, and the punk scene during high school. She talks about her parents' growing suspicions and accusations regarding her sexual orientation. She talks abut initially coming out to her mother as bisexual, her mother's reactions, and why she later regretted using the label 'bisexual'. She talks about her father's reactions, her relationship with her parents, and the outcome of attending family therapy.

Keywords: Accessibility; Appearance; Attitudes; Bisexuality; City; Colleges; Conflicts; Crying; Family therapy; Fathers; Films; High schools; Mothers; Movies; Negative; Parents; Public; Punk scene; Reactions; Relationships; Snooping; Tense; Wife; Zines

Subjects: Coming out (Sexual orientation); Education; Education, Higher; Families.; Gay youth; Gays--Family relationships.; Gays--Identity.; Homosexuality.; Lesbian youth.; Lesbianism.; Lesbians--Identity.; Parents of gays.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Sexual minorities' families.; Sexual minorities--Identity.; Sexual orientation.

00:50:03 - Coming out to extended family

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Partial Transcript: It seems like, um, putting this lightly, coming out to your parents was complicated.

Segment Synopsis: Stein talks about her parents' demand that she not come out to her grandparents. She talks about how they eventually found out and discusses their reactions.

Keywords: Attitudes; Cousins; Extended family; Grandparents; Reactions

Subjects: Coming out (Sexual orientation); Families.; Gay youth; Gays--Family relationships.; Gays--Identity.; Homosexuality.; Lesbian youth.; Lesbianism.; Lesbians--Identity.; Parents of gays.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Sexual minorities' families.; Sexual minorities--Identity.; Sexual orientation.

00:55:07 - Role of religion in her life

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Partial Transcript: What role, if any, did religion play in your childhood or in your family to any extent?

Segment Synopsis: Stein talks about her family's religious beliefs and her experience in church as a child. She tells the story of why she stopped attending her childhood church.

Keywords: Baptist; Catholic; Churches; Conservative; Evangelical; Fears; Image; Parents; Protestant; Rapture; Reactions; Rebellion; Refusal; Youth pastors; Youth retreats

Subjects: Childhood; Coming out (Sexual orientation); Families.; Gay youth; Gays--Family relationships.; Gays--Identity.; Homosexuality--Religious aspects.; Homosexuality.; Lesbian youth.; Lesbianism.; Lesbians--Identity.; Parents of gays.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Religion; Sexual minorities' families.; Sexual minorities--Identity.; Sexual orientation--Religious aspects.; Sexual orientation.

01:00:20 - Impact of the Internet

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Partial Transcript: So backtracking to something you mentioned earlier--

Segment Synopsis: Stein talks about meeting other LGBTQ individuals online which led to relationships and friendships. She briefly mentions meeting her wife online.

Keywords: Chatrooms; Fandoms; Friends; Instant messengers; Internet; Meeting; Online; Relationships; Wife

Subjects: Coming out (Sexual orientation); Gays--Identity.; Homosexuality.; Lesbianism.; Lesbians--Identity.; Sexual minorities--Identity.; Sexual orientation.

01:03:38 - Experiences during graduate school

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Partial Transcript: So after undergrad, walk me through what happened from there.

Segment Synopsis: Stein talks about her life after her undergraduate experiences. She talks about living in Philadelphia and working as a grant writer before returning to graduate school. She talks about earning her PhD in history at Rutgers University, her dating life during this time, and the LGBTQ community on campus.

Keywords: Apartments; Being out; City; Faculty; Feminism; Gender & Women's Studies; Gender and Women's Studies; Graduate schools; Grant writers; History; Jobs; LGBTQ community; PhDs; Piercings; Presence; Relationships; Schools districts; Undergraduate; Work

Subjects: Coming out (Sexual orientation); Education, Higher; Gay community; Gays--Identity.; Homosexuality.; Lesbianism.; Lesbians--Identity.; Philadelphia (Pa.); Rutgers University; Sexual minorities--Identity.; Sexual orientation.

01:09:53 - Experience during her postdoctoral fellowship / Meeting her wife

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Partial Transcript: And so you go to Rutgers.

Segment Synopsis: Stein talks about taking a postdoctoral fellowship at Indiana University, where she says she was lonely and miserable. She talks about briefly returning to Rutgers University before being offered at position at the University of Kentucky. She talks more about meeting her wife.

Keywords: Dating; Decisions; Jobs; Lonely; Meeting; Philadelphia (Pa.); Postdoctoral fellowships; Relationships; University of Kentucky; Walking; Wife

Subjects: Education, Higher; Indiana University; Rutgers University

01:13:46 - Interest in gender, race, and science / First experience teaching

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned that gender, race, and science in the sense of like scholastic subjects was your thing.

Segment Synopsis: Stein talks about why she became interested in the field of gender, race, and science. She describes her first teaching experience as a graduate student.

Keywords: Biological determination; Body-conscious; Graduate schools; Graduate students; Illnesses; Nervous; Scholarship; Sickness; Summer classes; Surgery

Subjects: Childhood; Education, Higher; Teachers; Teaching

01:17:41 - Opinions of Lexington, Kentucky / Perpetual coming out

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Partial Transcript: So it sounds like, at least for the most part, you're, you're in the northeast at least somewhere, whether--

Segment Synopsis: Stein talks about her expectations of Lexington before moving to the area and how those compared with reality. She talks about coming out as a perpetual process, and talks about her experiences with coming out in relation to her children's school and activities.

Keywords: Appearance; Assumptions; Being out; Bloomington (Ind.); Children; Correcting; Expectations; Northeast; Oblivious; Parenthood; Process; Stereotypes (Social psychology); Transitions

Subjects: Coming out (Sexual orientation); Families.; Gay couples.; Gay parents.; Gays--Identity.; Homosexuality.; Lesbian couples.; Lesbianism.; Lesbians--Identity.; Lexington (Ky.).; Sexual minorities--Identity.; Sexual minority parents.; Sexual orientation.

01:22:35 - Campus life and identity at the University of Kentucky / Parenthood

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Partial Transcript: Talk to me a bit about, uh, campus life here at the University of Kentucky.

Segment Synopsis: Stein talks about the atmosphere on the UK campus in regard to being out, and talks specifically about the Gender and Women's Studies Department. She talks about how her friendships have changed since having children. She talks about how she and her wife came to adopt their two children after being foster parents for a time. She talks about her social circles, which now include other parents as well as older lesbians.

Keywords: Age; Artificial insemination; Attitudes; Campus life; Changes; Children; Dating; Faculty; Foster care; Foster children; Foster parent mentors; Foster parents; Friendships; Gender & Women's Studies; Gender and Women's Studies; Generational differences; Mothers; Older; Parenthood; Parenting; Private adoption; Social circles; Students; Wife

Subjects: Families.; Gay couples.; Gay parents.; Gays--Identity.; Homosexuality.; Lesbian couples.; Lesbianism.; Lesbians--Identity.; Lexington (Ky.).; Sexual minorities--Identity.; Sexual minority parents.; Sexual orientation.; University of Kentucky

01:35:28 - Welcoming and unwelcoming spaces

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Partial Transcript: So now that we're on the subject, this is a topic that comes up a good bit in these interviews.

Segment Synopsis: Stein talks about when she first heard the word 'queer', what it meant then, and what it means to her now. She talks about some of the spaces in Lexington that she has found to be welcoming, including the Gender and Women's Studies Department at UK, her neighborhood, and her current church. She talks about her initially unwelcoming experiences with her son's sports team and how those attitudes have changed.

Keywords: Acceptance; Attitudes; Churches; Daycares; Derogatory; Diversity; Experiences; Gender & Women's Studies; Gender and Women's Studies; LGBTQ community; Labels; Latino; Little league teams; Neighborhoods; Ostracized; Parents; People of color; Progressive; Queer; Safe spaces; Schools; Social justice; Teachers; Terminology; Umbrella terms; Unitarian churches

Subjects: Families.; Gay couples.; Gay parents.; Gays--Identity.; Homosexuality.; Lesbian couples.; Lesbianism.; Lesbians--Identity.; Lexington (Ky.).; Sexual minorities--Identity.; Sexual minority parents.; Sexual orientation.; University of Kentucky

01:43:30 - Current political climate

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Partial Transcript: Uh, one of the questions--well, this is a subject that keeps coming up--

Segment Synopsis: Stein discusses the American political climate at the time of this interview. She talks about her attempts to walk the line between protecting their children and teaching them about social and racial justice. She talks about the complications of raising Mexican-American children in the current social climate. She talks about her hopes for the future. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Administration; Black Lives Matter Movement; Children; Consciousness; Future; Generations; Hopes; Intersectionality; Latino; Mexican Americans; Overt resistance; People of color; Political change; Political climate; Protection; Race; Racial justice; Safety; Scholarship; Social justice; Trauma

Subjects: Families.; Gay couples.; Gay parents.; Gays--Identity.; Homosexuality.; Lesbian couples.; Lesbianism.; Lesbians--Identity.; Lexington (Ky.).; Politics and government; Sexual minorities--Identity.; Sexual minority parents.; Sexual orientation.