Gloria Allen and Charlene Carruthers
DescriptionCharlene (29) and Gloria (69) talk about growing up in Chicago, their sexual orientations and gender identities, and how LGBTQ terminology has changed over the years. Gloria shares stories about being gay and then transitioning and living an out life in both Chicago and New York.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Gloria Allen
- Charlene Carruthers
Recording LocationChicago Cultural Center
Venue / Recording Kit
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00:04 Gloria Allen, I'm 69 years old and today's date is the 24th and I'm in Chicago.
00:17 And I have no relationship to my partner, but I'm glad to meet you Charlene.
00:27 My name is Charlene Carruthers. I'm 29 years old. Today is January 24th 2015 here in Chicago, and I just met my partner a very happy that we get to talk with each other today. Thank you.
00:46 Start with any question you like.
00:49 Play where'd you grow up in Bowling Green Kentucky. I'm a farm child a hillbilly.
00:59 And I'm the eldest of 13 children lived on the phone with my grandparents. It was their phone but my mother and father we all lived there until we migrated here to Chicago and I'll coming to the city was a big change for me don't care for it, but I had to come because I was young and have was with my family.
01:31 You were you basically from I grew up here on the South Side Chicago Heights neighborhood. My family was the only black family on the Block. Everybody else is pretty much Mexican American Mexican immigrant.
01:52 So you're 69. So that means you've been in Chicago for a long time writing. You've probably seen a lot of things. Yeah, I'm going to call the old man on the Block really. I didn't even like experiences that you had that stand out like within the black lgbtq community or outside.
02:21 Alright by me coming to Chicago ik match cargo when I was about five or six years old, you know and living on the southside of Chicago cuz I remember we lived at 5939 South State in the apartment building which I couldn't get used to because I was so used up growing up on the farm and farm animals and you're being really free and then get here to Chicago everything was difficult for me because I had to go to school with basically. I just say this with black kids and
03:09 I didn't get along with them too much and it was it was a difficult trying time for me a difficult for you. People didn't understand me at all because I was so open with my family. I didn't have to hide it was no scene about being hidden in the closet because I never was hidden in the closet. I didn't have to hide the only time I went into the closet or come out of the closet with the hang up my clothes. So basically with my family my family was a loving family.
03:57 And we were religious and everything but the love that my mother and father and my grandparents had given to me was you no be proud of who you are and what you are and you know, it takes all kind of people to make up the world. So that's my theory and how I got a loan and how to cope with bad situations.
04:30 What were Yorkshire?
04:32 The kids are you saying? I can you tell at the school at the school it was you know difficult, you know, I had to share seats with people. I didn't know nothing about you know, and some of them were kind of fish is toward me because they could see them I guess the sweetness in me, they could see that and because basically I was staying down child, you know, I love that you have attention to get it and I would do it to get it, you know being flamboyant and outspoken. I was that person and a lot of the kids here in the city. They didn't like that and basically City Life in the country life is quite different, you know, I was raised different from them and they couldn't understand that and then buy me coming for
05:32 Biracial family you don't they I had a hard time with you know, that would tell me all you want to be.
05:42 White or you don't know what you are you don't fit in and I was I had to fight and I didn't like that at all. So have you ever moved outside of Chicago is not my real question is why did you say I'm assuming you say or have you ever gone back? I've gone back to visit, you know, but I didn't go to New York and I moved to New York in the 70s and that was around when the Stonewall and you know, what they were going. I don't want to know I was a part of that which was you know, really something else. You know, you knew Marcia, you know.
06:31 Praying believe in you. In New York if they were raised the bars and do all sorts of things like they did in Chicago to you today. Did you I know we always have new language make it seems every couple of years folks have new language and different ways to identify. How did you identify when you were living in New York City and has that changed in like how you identified today?
07:00 Living in New York was an experience for me, you know because it was a really a big Melting Pot and I got a chance to meet all types of people and what strike me the most about it being in the gay community are how we weren't accepted to be what we are, you know locked up for nothing. You don't go into the store as well. They did that here in Chicago going to the store and New York. It was more basically for me a night because I really did my thing at night, you know coming out and hanging around going to different clubs. It was more thing like more acceptable than Chicago to me, you know, cuz I got the chance to meet a lot of people and I was in New
08:00 To become in the entertainment field because I was this singer and I met some interesting people. I did a few gigs in New York with a live band, you know the going to Jazz Club. So I was always in them Showbiz thing in New York was supposed to be there at that time.
08:29 And you may I ask you a few questions. I can ask you questions. So it was a an experience that took me all over the city because I lived on the south side, but my aunt lives in the Woodlawn community and what line is notorious for so many reasons and like black Chicago History often times people hereabouts like the black p Stone Rangers and the Gang history in the line and what that looks like me when I was growing up and William was a place that we ran around as kids. We will go to the park. We would visit people's homes. And then I went to high school on the north side of Chicago. Travel an hour on the hour every single day to go to school and I will always say the photos in my high school is like the United Nations there were people from all over the world.
09:29 And it was a regular old high school regular old public high school. And so a lot of folks who would come to Chicago Beer from Eastern Europe North East West Africa all over Central America and South America native have money and they were moving to the North Side Chicago. They will send their kids to Nicholas senn high school. And so I went to Saint because it has and IB program an international Baccalaureate program, and so I received an amazing education and it's one of the reasons. I know that public schools and public education and can actually be really really good because I was prepared with a global education to go out into the world and think globally and since then I've traveled all over the world, but I know that my high school education played a major role in that at the same time. I had my family at best. I can describe this growing up working class from I have lots of experience has lots of
10:28 Opportunities because a lot of people invested in me at the same time. I know what it's like to live in Chicago during the winter and not have heat cuz my parents couldn't afford the heating bill or I know what it's like to go to the public aid office in Chicago. And I also know what it means to think and plan to travel the world even being from the south side Chicago and just doing things that people don't expect us to do.
10:54 Okay to send High School. How was that for you? Because I had a nice that wouldn't they are and when doing the time she was there was amazing to school and she's a lawyer now, you know and she travel from the south side to send. Wow. So when I was at saying I get the things are mimosa bison were when we will walk in in the morning. We had to go through metal detectors. And if we had a cellphone on us there would be these random searches where we will walk into the building. We wouldn't know what day is it? What day these would think these things are happening? We will be searching movie pad down by the police. And if you had a cell phone on us, they would take their cell phone away and like so folks will it have to go in single file through the metal detectors put your bookbag through a metal detector and then going to the auditorium into until the random search was over with
11:53 I remember like they're being police officers child in the hallways remember all of that and then the same know I remember people like Miss Harris Miss Brenda Harris who was the coach of the Palm pom pom team and she took on every single year. She took on groups of girls the teachers discipline and taught us camaraderie taught us how to work on a team taught us how to commit to something. I also remember teachers like miss my English teacher who is still there and it was Miss Buckman. She still there and she taught me. She's one of the major people who taught me how to write and she taught me that if the value of being able to write and then the other thing I remember most about saying is we would have these International days where folks would get up on stage and perform dance song art from all over the world and we weren't bringing people in these are folks who were students at the school and so we will see traditional dance from
12:53 Traditional Mayan Aztec Dancers traditional dances from Ethiopia just all over the world. And so that was beautiful. So the same no of us having to walk through metal detectors everyday having police a high police presence in a high school. There are so many beautiful things happening at the same time.
13:11 Great. Okay did my experience with high schools was totally different the teachers that I had some amazing teachers, but they couldn't
13:25 Cope with my ways when they found out that I was, you know, gate as they would call it and I didn't consider myself gave you know, and but that's what they classified me is and the students they are not high school. I have a lot of problems with them and the teachers I had some problems with stew because they were not friendly when they found out your preference what you want to be in you know, and I was just like hey, I'm going to be out there. I'm here. Do you have to deal with that? Cuz I'm dealing with you and we didn't have metal detectors in school. Thank God. You know that was a blessing being out in the open because during that time we didn't have the umbrellas that they have today.
14:25 You know classifying as you is queer and all that stuff weird. I think that's horrible. You know, I don't want to be labeled as a queer because I'm not it was either you were with me. They classified me as a sissy that was the term. Oh that goes Assisi, you know, and no I didn't like their term, but it was given to me by
14:56 The high school kids good time then compared to what it is now, you know.
15:08 I've heard folks talk about how queer used to be used and in some places it still leaves uses so many of us identify as queer today and it in is there even points major points in steel to a certain extent queers like very academic. There's a sting that happening with myself a lot of other young people that I know who I see sexuality and gender identity as more of a spectrum and not just this is your your gay or your lesbian or you're bisexual and then even talking about it and that's just sexuality and then we talked about gender we talked about folks who identify as trans and then you have folks to identify gender nonconformity. They don't identify with anything and so I'm just wondering how an ongoing question about how useful The Umbrellas. I like how much do they serve Us? And how much do they
16:08 Further segment us even within the the black lgbtq, whatever we want to use his defy the community that LBGTQ it what are what else are they going to add to it? That's what I'd be thinking. You don't because if doing the time for me growing up you were either a lesbian or you are gay boy or a girl, you know, and that's it. And now they've I've noticed they've got so many letters added on to it and it's confusing to me. Yeah and the trans city, which they never did put in there now that's been added and I'm glad that they should have did that long time ago, you know.
17:02 Lesbian gay and Tall, you know GT but they didn't do it. You don't invite me being there transgender.
17:13 Woman, you know, they even in our own group of the LBGTQ Community. It's still divided very much divided because the lesbians they stay to themselves. So what so-called gay boys there into their little group The transgender women are into their little group and the queers and which I don't know.
17:52 What a queer is never seen a quick but they have that and we are so
18:01 So distant with each other, you know because I had a boyfriend and this is a true story when I decided I wanted to be a girl my boyfriend.
18:18 Was against it, you know all I love you as a boy and blah blah of this and I didn't want to do that outfit was not comfortable being that way. I wanted to be myself and so he left me and I said well,
18:38 So be it, you know you go your way and I must still live the life that I want to live and be happy with it. So you experience with did you have any love experience?
18:53 So I
18:55 Of a different kind of story I
19:00 Have I feel like when I was growing up, I always knew that who I was attracted to wasn't Jess boys or men. I always knew it but there are things that I experienced when I was a child that made me question whether what I thought about women was like real whether it was authentic and so I went through most of my adult life, but I'm complaining that but I went through most of like my like my later teenage years and like my early dating years again college and things like that either going through long. I'm not dating anyone at all and being completely asking it not doing anything or dating and and dating men for men. I guess take me in 18 hours today to put their men and boys with that says, I don't know but it was actually in 2013 where after last year's.
20:00 Of having like legit does having this this, you know, how you have to see those cartoons you have like the person your shoulder his personal sure. They're saying to me like listen to yourself surely listen to yourself at the same time mind you I was totally you know, the Ally like shortly. I was supportive of LGBT community all that stuff, but for myself, I still hadn't even come out for myself. Right and I don't even know the whole closet thing. I have issues with the whole coming out cuz who the hell are you coming out for like if it's if I'm the most important person to make any realization that accept as far as it's me, it's not for other people and so I was at this conference and it was convenient actually for the organization that I work for now and there were a lot of young folks identify as queer right or trans folk trans identify for lesbian disposal off.
21:00 Alana the Spectrum and I was just like there's one person that I was attracted to and I was like, you know what I'm just going to do it. I'm just going to be honest with myself and with this other person cuz I've been thinking about it like seriously thinking about it and being completely honest with myself and just what I'm going to call coming out right and that was really the moment for me and so it was it this person. I was attracted to this person nothing we never saw each other never dated never did anything and I always knew that like my sexuality my attraction whatever whoever I was interested in being with wasn't hard to just one person, but it was something that I've known for a long time and I just needed to be honest with myself. And so that was really are from me and I remember telling my parents talking to my friends.
21:54 It I think it's different when you're 27 or 28 saying this and you work for you have a job you pay your own bills then if if I was like 15 or 16. I don't think my parents would have reacted very too much differently because I remember even grown up my parents were very accepting and very open and all that. I wasn't ever afraid of my parents having like a bad reaction then like you said about your family is very supportive of me like regardless of what I wanted to do, but it was always like tied back to experience as a child and meet us being concerned about is this real is this authentic or is it just something that yeah that that was more mine or my story was just this later talk to people in there like you're not if it's not it's never too late and actually there people who wait even longer than I do in one thing that was really important to me was
22:54 When I leave this earth, I don't want anybody to be confused about who I am and what I like how I live. I don't want there to be any secrets any questions if anybody should ever write about me. I don't want them to be speculation about o wish Eileen lesbian. Who was she who her partner that you have? No, I didn't want that for myself or any children I have
23:14 I want whoever whatever his whatever it is a story that people tell about me to be real and to be about my entire self so that you know, you could talk with me just be yourself. He is a Ganesha and he's like, he's he's a very good friend of mine and he was always someone I could talk to you is always someone I can talk to you since I was I was about as a sophomore in college. It's just someone that I can always talk to and that's so that was like over 10 years ago when I first had a conversation with him, and I've been talking with him since then. So yeah.
24:11 I looked up to my mother and grandmother that was too they and my aunt they were the most amazing women in the world. My mother was a jet centerfold model and in 1957. Her picture was in the Jet magazine and she travel over to Paris and my mother was extremely beautiful. And that's who I pattern myself that I want to be just like my mother and my grandmother was even more prettier than my mother my grandmother. She was so wise her and my aunt they would the most incredible women because they could sit down and talk with me and tell me things and my mother to and those three women's I admired
25:07 Cuz they went through a lot to get where they were and they wanted to instill that into me. You can do it. You can be a better person and you don't care what people say you do what makes you happy, you know, but they always told me be kind be nice and that'll get you somewhere and stay in school get an education and I was closer to the women in my family my aunt's my grandmother and her sisters. My great-aunt's I had female role models the men.
25:52 Didn't you know they were standoffish from me? Cuz my father I remember one time my father got my brother's some jobs doing this summer while they were out in school out of school and I wanted the job to you know, and so I asked my dad could eat take me to work and give me a job and my father his excuse was I don't think you would fit in there, you know, and then I question my mother about it and I told her I think my dad is ashamed of me. She said no, he's not ashamed of you, but he don't want you in that environment where he has to watch it. Look over your shoulder because it's going to be me and there that will you know wouldn't understand me. So I took that okay. Well, he does love me then cuz he's trying to spare me.
26:52 Being hurt, you know and talked about and it was just amazing with my family. So those are my role model the women in my family and that's still today, you know, because I have cousins and sisters and they steal my role models. Do you see yourself as a role model for younger trans women? Yes, I do. Yes, I do because me being out here solo cuz this year be 70. So being out here that long and seeing what I you don't see and the things that I hear I am so shocked with the Young Generation because when I was coming up I had friends that were out there. They were older than me and they charged me. They took me under their wings and they taught me.
27:52 I was classy they were smart. They told me you stay in school and get you an education. And that's what I did you don't and if I had problems I can go to my friends and talk with them, but they were all older than me and what made me be a role model for the younger generation today is that I see so many kids that are tossed out by their families for being who they want to be the family can't take it. You are a mother or father. I can't see them. You know, you you raise this child and this child knows, you know what they wanted be and what they want to do in life and parent just turn them loose and let the world take care of them. I don't think so. They shouldn't do that. It should be a law against that you know, because his
28:52 Kids out here they commit suicide because the family don't accept them, you know, and I think the blame should be put on the same place, you know that do that and it it hurts. So you told I'm there to give her my love, you know, I want to share that with them. You know, I'm going to teach them how to dress and conduct themselves as a gentleman or lady because if you carry yourself in a manner by being you know, what standards people look up to you they accept you, but if you out there as a sex worker on the corners, nobody has respect for you, but you really don't have respect for yourself out there doing that, you know, and they're out there doing it for like
29:43 They have to do that summer. I understand but they are out there doing that for whatever reason five $10 and $20. That's no money, you know and my makeup cost over $50, you know, and I try to instill that in them be worthy of yourself, you know be true to yourself because if you let people bring pull you down they can always pull you down cuz you going to always have that thought, you know, I'm no good. I'm not this, you know look in the mirror cuz the mirror speaks for itself.
30:28 And Dom
30:30 So it's it's just horrible for them to go through that and that's why you know, I tried to help out I teach you to charm school at the center on Halsted and I get some kids that they come in young adults and they get with it. They listen to me some don't but if I can get out of 10, I think I'm doing a good job, you know because as they say the old term you can take a horse.
31:05 Take him to the water. But the horse don't have to drink as you know, and that's the way these kids are I talk to them and I tell them, you know be be true to yourself, you know, and don't sell yourself cheap.
31:30 Oh, yes. Oh, I've got a few of them Naomi Naomi. It was a transgender girl still a transgender girl and she went out she was home. She got off the streets got a job and
31:49 I'm there for her. She calls me up today and let you call me up a month ago and she wanted me to be a reference for her so she can get another part and they called me up and I spoke up for her and she got the apartment and then I have another kid young trans girl that went on the college and she's got a associate degree and she calls me everyday and talk with me and got quite a few of the some of them. I don't recall their names, but you know, I talked to them because I have a thing with the
32:34 Transgender Community. I like all the girls out there with these guys and I told him I said don't sell yourself short or cheap, you know, if I'm out there and I'm dating a guy and he comes in with his pants up under his butt cheeks. I don't want him because I can't take no him nowhere with me, you know, and so I told them the same thing don't let the guys, you know, I know how love is with some of them, you know, I'm need of love, you know, love yourself first.
33:13 That's important really important.
33:24 Growing up for you. How was it?
33:30 For me
33:33 I was always at I read a lot as a kid. I read a lot of books as a kid in for me reading was a way to escape what was happening around me. And so when I was when I was a kid that was one point in my life where I remembered the police being called to my house regularly because my parents are fighting and parents are fighting and
34:01 My mother is one of the cleanest people that I know she she kept she keeps her children and any children around her when I was going to say she kept us in packable. Like she we were always well-dressed. She always had I hear you very well, But every time the police came to the house I hair with all over I had like, I remember that every every every single time and it's just when growing up it was it was a mixture of things as I mentioned earlier has so many different opportunities a lot of folks to invest in my future, but that still didn't keep me isolated from all kinds of Dynamics and I carry a lot of the resilience that I had to build up when I was a kid and I just found myself. It's just lost in books. So I remember I read roots and queen when I was in the sixth grade. I think it's reading time.
35:01 Morrison's first year of high school all kinds of things that most people my age either shouldn't be reading or don't know how you got these books in your hand. But it was it was a way to escape everything else that was going on around me. And so I feel I love reading to this day and like if I'm really really stressed out I can read because it allows me again to just get lost in somebody else's reality and I figure it's more productive than getting lost in something else. Like I don't know what substance is something like that so I can read and read and read it read as opposed to doing some other things to to escape. What was right in front of me.
35:47 Charlene did you leave Chicago and then come back?
35:54 Yeah, when I was 18, I went to college in Central Illinois apply to schools all over the country had no intention in saying here in Chicago. My parents actually encouraged me to go to school outside, Illinois for you to stay here and try to end up two and a half hours away, Illinois Wesleyan University. And then I went to grad school in St. Louis. And then after that I moved to Washington DC I live there a couple years and up organizing all over the country. And then I moved to New York City. I am at about always want to live in New York. And at the time I was doing independent Consulting where I was twenty-four, I think and people were hired me to be a consultant like hell and to get enough contracts to pay my bills and to feed myself. And so I just I'd like I broke even every single month and I was doing like really really cool work with a lot of different organizations.
36:54 And so I was in New York is 2012 2013 and mostly 2012 and I hear about it like the teacher strike in 2013 in the Chicago Teachers Union be heavily involved in the leading the teacher strike here and then hearing about that like the potential of the school closings and
37:18 I'd have to make a decision at that point in been about 10 years since I moved away from home.
37:26 And I said, you know, I never organized in Chicago. I never even voted in Chicago cuz I was always gone. I live in somewhere else and made the decision to move back home. It was mostly out of a sense of all the I hear about what's happening in Chicago every day. I had a I have a niece she's 4 years old. She was here in Chicago. I was missing her growing up and I just felt like I had a responsibility to be back here until at least give it some time about where give it some time to see what I wanted to do in the city and it was one of the best decisions. I've made that have the opportunity of all over at least, you know, the east coast and stuff like that and travel and work in different parts of the country, but coming back home was really significant and it led to a lot of other opportunities.
38:22 Well, may I ask you a question of what do you think about religion the woods? What are your religious beliefs and what?
38:33 Are you so I grew up turn it in and out of church, like one foot in one foot out. Like my parents didn't go to church. We didn't go to church regularly, but they was sometime soon as with family members. I went to summer school Sunday school for a whole summer once in Florida.
38:53 To my relationship with religion has always been a little like contentious one. Like if I was sitting at a church and people in the past that we talked up like what's a homophobic things or things that are like sexist things like that that I just couldn't deal with it in the same know I went to some Churches where they were very very open so I know there's like a diversity of experiences in in perspective. And so right now where I am is I have this whole hard to believe in God but it's not tied to one particular system of belief and feet still figuring it a navigating that for me later when I go to church sure how to go to a church, but I also go to a mask or I'd also go to get also go to am I some of the most powerful spiritual experiences I've had have been in my house, but I'm not Muslim. Don't don't identify as Muslim at all. So
39:51 I have a consistent consistent journey and building my relationship with God and then also tie myself to other people because I think that there is some facing spirituality between relationships with other people and even just like the Earth that we live in and we walk on so
40:09 Thank you so much. You are welcome. I can ask you questions all day and you are such an amazing woman and just sit here with you. You you you brighten up a room you really do you are so amazing, and I'm not going to forget about you. Imma stay in touch with you because I see a bright future for you, and I'm so proud of you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.