When This Philly Instagram Influencer Came Out as a Lesbian, Her Mom Kicked Her Out of the House
Now Kate Austin uses her platform to share her story, in an effort to shatter stereotypes and help others feel less alone.
Who I am: Kate Austin (@kateaustinn), a blogger and influencer who focuses mostly on gay and lesbian issues.
“The only thing I really ever heard about homosexuality was that it was wrong. I grew up in a super religious household in Ohio, so it was never really explained further than that.
I want to say the first time I thought I might be gay was seventh grade. I looked at myself in the mirror and was like, ‘Oh my god, I think I’m gay.’ I quickly was like, ‘No, I can’t be. There’s no way. I’m a Christian.’
But I remember I would stalk girls on MySpace and be like, ‘Do I want to be her or do I want to kiss her?’ I didn’t know how to navigate those feelings. I think I had so much internalized homophobia from the area and the religious home I was in that my brain wouldn’t let me go down that route.
When I was in high school, I was the only girl who had zero interest in anybody. That’s the age when girls are boy crazy. All my friends started to call me out for being gay. It wasn’t in a nice way. They were all talking behind my back. That happened my freshman year of high school. Senior year, I was cheerleading and they started yelling at me and calling me a lesbian and fake making out in the stands.
I remember sobbing during halftime of a football game and went up to the stands and talked to my mom, who’s ridiculously religious. She was like, ‘Well, are you?’ I was like, ‘No no no no no,’ trying to brush it off. The way she was reacting was defensive. It was very uncomfortable. I figured, ‘If this is how people around me are acting about it…’
Then, in college, I went to Mexico and cheated on my boyfriend with a girl who happened to be a lesbian. When I came home, I tried to be normal and act like it never happened, but it was the only thing I could think about. It was like a light switch flipped, like, ‘Oh my god, how have I been living like this?’ I had never felt any feelings for somebody like that before, and I’d met this person 48 hours beforehand. I thought, ‘This must be what girls felt in high school about guys.’ I was so excited it consumed me.
Four days later, I broke up with my boyfriend, but I didn’t tell my parents or anyone yet. I wanted to see how things played out. I turned girls on on Tinder and went through that whole thing. But a friend actually introduced me to the girl I’m still dating now, Sarah. We started messaging, and it was love at first conversation. We started talking and never stopped.
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That happened in June. My 21st birthday was in August. Sarah lived in New Jersey, and I invited her and my friend who introduced us to Ohio to celebrate my birthday. I have five brothers, and they came, so I told her, ‘We can’t act like we’re dating. My family doesn’t know.’ But I got so drunk, I didn’t care who saw and started kissing her. They were like, ‘You’re kissing a girl? What’s happening?’ I told them she was my girlfriend.
The next day, my mom told us she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and that caused my one brother with really severe anxiety to have a panic attack. He told my dad it was because, ‘Mom has breast cancer and Katie’s gay.’ I denied it at the time, but a week later, I texted my mom and told her. She texted back and told me not to come home. She even started a group chat with my family and told everyone not to let me stay with them.
I was working a double shift at Chili’s at the time, and my brother Brian — he’s the mediator of the family — called me at the end of the night and told me to come stay with him. About a week and a half later, I went back to my mom and had a conversation. It wasn’t great. She told me I could move back home, but I had to pay rent. I didn’t have enough saved to go get an apartment on my own, but I didn’t have any other choices at the time. I lived there for about a year, working three jobs and saving up money, and then moved to South Jersey with Sarah.
We’ve lived in the Gayborhood in Philly for about three years now. I love it. I feel so lucky. We cross the street, and there’s rainbow crosswalks. In Ohio, everyone gets stuck in their day-to-day, and nothing ever changes. It’s always the same drama when you go home. Here, people are so creative and progressive. I feel similar to people in my political stance. I see couples holding hands all over my neighborhood. When people message me on Instagram, I always tell them to find a city that’s progressive and leave. You can always come back, but you have to get out at first.
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When I first came out to my friends, it was around the same time as Cleveland Pride. My guy friend was like, ‘We’re going to find you some girls. This is going to be great.’ I was ready to go ham. Now, I’m naturally a feminine person in my mannerisms and how I dress. I’d go up to a girl, and she would shut me out. They kept saying I was straight. I’d just come out and went through this whole thing and now these girls are telling me I don’t belong here.
I was really into Tumblr at the time, and there’s a whole Tumblr genre of lesbian girls who dressed the same. I didn’t dress like that so I thought maybe I should. Maybe that would make more sense. I tried to wear jeans I never would have bought in my life. And beanies. I was trying to stand different, and it felt so unnatural. I took pictures, and the way I’m standing, I look so rigid. I felt like I was trying to be something I wasn’t.
Around the same time, I was talking to Sarah, and she was like, ‘I love you in a dress.’ She appreciated me like that. I eventually realized that I don’t owe anybody a certain look or an explanation. Clothes don’t make me gayer or less gay or whatever. When I put on a dress, I feel just as gay as I did five minutes ago in joggers. So I’m trying to embrace that label and show girls they can wear whatever they want and they’re still just as valid as whatever else.
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But because Sarah and I are both very feminine, I don’t like to go into predominantly straight bars. We aren’t respected there. It’s sad, but it’s the truth. For her and I to be standing in the corner, some guy will hit on us. If he’s persistent, we’re like, ‘Oh no, we’re together.’ That’s when it really becomes an issue. He’ll say something like, ‘Normally one of you is ugly.’ Or, ‘Prove it.’ Or, ‘I’ve never seen two hot lesbians before.’ They think they’re complimenting us, but it’s so beyond frustrating. Even when we’re in queer spaces, people think we’re both straight girls. We have to hold hands for people to get the point. Passing as straight women on the day to day is great because we’re safer in a lot of other areas in life, but it sucks when we’re in the bar scene.
We try to not even bring it up with the older generation because you don’t know how they will react. Older men especially can be super aggressive and super set in their ways. Our safety is above all else. If we need to walk down the street and not hold hands, I would rather do that a million times over than make a scene.
At this point, I don’t leave the Gayborhood to go out. I would rather go to places I know and where I’m safe, where I can go out and have fun without someone making a problem. Woody’s is my go-to. There’s 10 different dance floors with all different music, and it’s always a blast. I think UBar is super underrated. It’s mostly queer men but if women are in there, they don’t care. It’s not as intense as Woody’s — easy to go have a drink and hang out. Tavern On Camac is a piano bar during the week, but it’s got a dance floor upstairs that’s pretty good. Toasted Walnut Bar & Kitchen is supposed to be a lesbian bar, but I don’t think it is. It’s just a cool place with games and stuff you can play there.
Before I was out to everybody, I started posting pictures of me and Sarah on Tumblr, where there’s a huge lesbian community. That’s when I started to gain a following. When I shared I got kicked out, that’s such a common theme among kids in the Midwest and really all over, that people started responding. Sharing those parts of me that I was so embarrassed about and how I felt so alone, I realized other people felt this way, too. And I could tell them it gets better if you keep pushing and stay positive.
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Three years ago, I started Kate’s 30 Days of Pride on Instagram, where every day I would post some Pride-related post and talk about coming out or dealing with this or that. For two years, I featured myself, but I can only tell my story so many times. There are communities that have more issues than the white femme lesbian. Like trans women of color are dying at rapid rates. I felt I could be doing more.
So this year, once a day every day in June, I would feature someone from the community. There were tons of trans people’s stories, bisexual, whoever wanted to share. It was the coolest, most gratifying experience in the whole entire world. Weeks like this past one [it was Bisexual Awareness Week], I like to do it again because it’s one of my followers’ favorite things I do.
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during #kates30daysofpride, i will be featuring one of my followers stories. the more we share our story, the less we feel alone. not only are we a community but we are a family who can hold each other up when the world is heavy. i love you. thank you for letting me share your message with the world. 🏳️🌈 We’re so fortunate to have each other because we have a deep understanding and appreciation for one another and each other’s existence. We’ve both been in relationships where our partner wasn’t as educated on trans rights, history, or the correct terminology, and we’ve both been in relationships where we felt incredibly invalidated or like we had to overcompensate for something. Social media is actually what brought us together and we’re both so fortunate to have a partner in each other that knows almost exactly what the other is going through mentally, physically, and emotionally. This is both of our first times dating someone who is transgender and it really makes our bond and our love that much stronger knowing we can just be 100% ourselves and support each other through life, hormones, surgeries, even the protesters telling us we’re an abomination. We know we’re 100% valid and we’re going to be happy and continue living our best lives together ❤️ #kates30daysofpride (30/30)
My goal for next Pride is to get out and speak more. I never planned on any of this happening, but I can see how talking helps people, and I would love for it to be something I do all the time. (I actually just quit my job as a brand manager at a hair salon two weeks ago to do this full-time.) Especially since I don’t mind sharing all the details of my life and parts of me that people normally would not share. If I get one message a day or a year that I helped somebody or saved somebody’s life, that’s all that matters to me.“