Before you judge Lewiston’s Laelen Torrance for her sexuality, consider that she may one day save your life.
Torrance, 21, passed an exam this week to become a certified EMT. She loves writing, music, theater and game nights with friends and family. She grounds herself by spending time in nature, on the river or hiking. She has two spoiled cats, Nala and Kiara, and a boyfriend.
She’s also a pansexual, which is a form of bisexuality, “with an emphasis on the fact that I don’t care about that person’s gender. It’s about the individual. I also find that term is more inclusive of the trans community,” said Torrance, who grew up in Lewiston and whose T-shirt states her priorities, “but first, coffee.”
Torrance was a young teen the first time she heard the word pansexual, and it struck a chord. But it was a long time before she could admit that to herself, let alone her friends and family. Acceptance is still a struggle, even within the progressive LGBT community, something she’ll talk about Saturday at the Celebrate Love in the LCV festival at Pioneer Park.
When did you first realize you were not heterosexual/straight?
I first admitted it to myself around age 16. I grew up in the church, so there was a lot of “this is wrong” dogma in my head. My first crush was a girl. I thought she was perfect and pretty. I wanted to be her friend.
What was it like to grow up in the church living with those feelings?
I pushed it down. Don’t get me wrong; there were some people who were very loving and accepting in my church, but there were also people who were … more traditional. And the people who have that outlook tend to be louder. I wanted to express myself safely and without being judged.
When did you finally feel safe enough to tell someone?
I did have a couple of friends who I told at the time. My best friend at the time identified as bi(sexual). There was a ripple effect and it slowly went out. My parents, along with everyone else, were the last to know.
When did you tell your parents?
When I went away to college in Arizona, I told myself I would live as my authentic self. My big coming out story is that, when I finally got the guts, I Skyped back home. I told my parents on Skype. Then I did a big Facebook video to tell everyone else.
Why did you feel like you needed to tell everyone, to make it public knowledge?
I felt like I had been living a lie for a really long time. I wanted every trace of that lie gone. I knew there were other people like me in my small town. I wanted them to know I was someone safe and that they weren’t alone in their situation. I did get some messages from people who said they were inspired to come out or explore their sexuality. It felt pretty good.
How was the news received?
My parents took it really well. There was a part of me that worried, but when it came down to it, my parents are loving people and they love me. They took it in stride.
The Facebook video was also really well received. There were a few issues with adults I’d gone to church with, but that was really minor compared to all the support.
Do you feel safe to be yourself or with a partner in the valley?
I’m pretty secure in myself. The people who would have a problem with me do not concern me. In certain areas or environments, I’m not shouting about it. It’s just another part of me, as much as anything else.
How do you deal with people who have a problem with your sexuality?
They’re not the ones that matter. I feel that their hate, or whatever they feel it is, harms them more than it does me.
How do you think the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley can become a more inclusive community?
Honestly, it has to do with your willingness, if you’re willing to hear an outside perspective. The valley is a really cool place; it can also be very secluded. I feel that if people would knock down those walls a bit, it would help everyone out.
We’re all our own people. We’re all making our way alone, and we could all use a little more understanding.
At Celebrate Love you’ll talk about issues within the LGBT community. What are some of those issues?
There are misunderstandings within the community. With my sexuality or bisexuality, people assume you are straight or gay. They don’t think bisexuality or pansexuality exists. You grow up struggling with the knowledge, and even the community itself doubts you.
Not everybody is accepting of transexuality (someone born with the physical characteristics of one sex who identifies as the other) or nonbinary (someone whose gender identity is not exclusively male or female).
Being one of the more progressive groups, it’s a little startling how people can be excluded.
Looking back at the arc of your life, how have things changed for you?
If I could see my younger self now, she could not believe where I’m at now, that I am doing this interview or speaking at this event. So, there’s hope. There’s always a way to move forward.
Ask a… is an occasional series where we ask people who are often overlooked questions others may be afraid to ask. Story suggestions can be sent to email@example.com.