Monthly Cultural Corner - June 2024

June 6, 2024

Cultural Spotlight- Meet Robin Bruce

Hi Y’all,

I’m Robin! I’ve been working at the Commerce office for both the TAY Drop-in-Center and Clinic as a an Intern. I’ve been at Penny Lane since last August, certainly 10 months feels to have passed much faster than it reads now. Since this is for the June spotlight, I’d like to focus on the cultural connection I have to the LGBTQIA+ community. I believe at some point in my life I’ve been drawn to each individual letter of our ever-growing acronym, although now I identify strongly with the term queer to describe my affiliation with the larger community.

I grew up in southern Georgia and was privileged enough to become another of my regions queer ex-patriots to eventually find their way to Los Angeles. I won’t spend my time waxing on about Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs, or Gus Van Sant. I won’t pretend I don’t love rebel country and folk music. Waylon Jennings, Barton Carrol, and Sturgill Simpson fit right alongside the much more cosmopolitan Built to Spills or Meat Puppets on my rotation. But if anyone here is looking for specifically queer artists to jump start their June playlists, I’d recommend a few of my favorites: John Grant, Ezra Furman, or Diane Coffee are all excellent and varied enough in sound that I recommend you try a few of their top tracks on Spotify or YouTube!

I don’t know if the gays have a food culture of our own, but I am a huge fan of iced coffee! In terms of southern food, I have to say that our deserts have most of the world’s beat. You can’t hold a candle to the cholesteric catastrophe of fried chicken combined with collards and cornbread. You can’t. Try me.

In terms of cultural traditions that I love… well you won’t ever find me at a sports bar watching college football, so I guess I’ll go queer with this one. Pride is a wonderful event, which as we hear often from our elders began as a multiday riot of throwing bricks at police in protest of the continued systemic abuse of our dignity and right to live unmolested. My favorite LGBT tradition then, is the continuation of that spirit of audacious challenges to expectation that lives in the hearts of so many community members. We can see this spirit embodied by the bombastic, as in the self-titled King of Filth John Water’s films. Despite uncertain outcomes and the pain which awaits them in their struggle to be seen, this spirit exists also in the decision for a queer child to come out to themselves.  At either extreme and in-between, I believe this is a lovely tradition that deserves to be recognized.

I think it’s important to know that no community is a monolith. No community I believe exemplifies that sentiment more than the LGBT+ community. We are mostly raised in families who are not like us, often in cultures or religions which outwardly distance themselves from us, and in societies which often overtly or covertly wish to suppress us. Our connective identity isn’t bound by gender, or geography, creed, or race. Queer identity may be something known as soon as 6 years old. It may be that one reaches 60 before they realize or accept their queer identity. We grow like daffodils in a uniform lawn, yet no two are alike in their experiences or journey to discover how it is they wish to live their lives.

My grandfather meant the world to me. I loved him deeply. It was a kind of love which took as it gave though, because he was one person I was deeply terrified of ever coming out to. I had no reason for this fear really, but the terror of losing someone that close to you over something you can’t change is something tense enough to almost touch. A few years after his death I had come out. I was speaking with my aunt as she told me of a conversation the two of them had decades ago as they were watching me. He told her that I was a strange kid, but he knew I’d be alright in the end. It’s reductive to say my people don’t talk deeply much, but I suppose it’s true. Emotion can disrupt the decorum which rules most of our interactions. Our insults as well as compliments are sheathed in a way that is meant so they pass almost unnoticed. I’ve often thought there’s a great art behind a southern woman’s smile. Only the fluent understand what is meant by it and when. I don’t know if I can properly thank my aunt for telling me that story. In person it would be too awkward for both of us. If she read this anecdote though, she may know how much it meant for me to know he said that. After his own fashion, I was seen and understood.

It’s a long cultural tradition for misfits to find their way to whatever islands will take them. For every famous or well-known name there are hundreds more who go unnoticed hoping to find a bit of space where they can exist simply, comfortably, and unmolested. It’s a misconception that Los Angeles, or any other place, is any different than from where I came. Culture aside, it’s the people that make a place. There are hateful people and loving people everywhere, and I’ve experienced both in this city as much as elsewhere. However, when I was looking for a place to learn and work Penny Lane did shine out for the work you do in communities across Los Angeles County. I wanted to find a place where I could work and be respected, and where people in my community would feel safe coming for help. There’s a large emphasis in my chosen culture on the idea of chosen family. For such a diverse and stigmatized community, finding people with whom you can trust and feel safe is essential to your growth and survival. I want to provide a semblance of that through my work with the community, and Penny Lane has been an excellent and amazing place to learn how. I’ve rarely worked at a place where I’ve felt the kind of unconditional positive regard for clients as the TAY Center at Commerce. The clinic has been providing me with wonderful and supportive individuals who make me feel at ease and more confident with my clients. I want to thank everyone here at Penny Lane and elsewhere for fostering an environment of acceptance and inclusion for all. When diversity is celebrated, we are all given an opportunity to grow and learn. Thank you for letting me feel celebrated as well.

Happy Pride month everyone!

-Robin Bruce, Penny Lane Centers

Check out some more photos below!