Ask A Queer: Lindsay Wheeler

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Wheeler.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Wheeler.

Today’s queer is Lindsay Wheeler, a 27-year-old woman living in New York City. Lindsay is currently pursuing a Double Master's Degree in social work and public health at Columbia University with an interest in working with trauma survivors and LGBTQ+ children and adolescents. She is also a writer and shares her unfiltered experiences with mental illness in publications like Bipolar Magazine and The Mighty. Lindsay says that her story “offers insight into what owning one's diagnoses publicly can look like and how accepting oneself as a flawed work in progress can translate into survival.” As a result of her writing and work with mental health initiatives, Lindsay was the 2019 recipient of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Young Leaders Award.

When she isn’t making a difference in the world, Lindsay likes to bake wedding cakes and hang out with her French Bulldog, Tubs. She also recently started a small candle business called Snarky Candle Co., which we will be discussing in this article.

You can find Lindsay under the handles @lindsaygraynyc and @lindsaywheelerwrites on Instagram. Tubs and Snarky Candle Co also have their own Instagram pages, @TubsPigInTheCity and @snarkycandleco. More information about Lindsay’s writing and work is on her website.

If there is a word you don’t understand in this blog post, you can consult the main page of “Ask A Queer” for definitions. Now let’s get into it! The following responses from Lindsay were only edited for clarity. These words and this experience are all hers.

How do you identify? What are your pronouns?

I identify as a queer woman and use pronouns she/her/hers.

What do you wish people understood about your identity?

I wish people understood the concept of fluidity. We have been conditioned to put a label on most everything, including things that constantly evolve and change. We like to assert control over a world in which we ultimately have little control, and an unfortunate manifestation of that is our reliance on labels that feel concrete and immovable. Evidently, this process makes it difficult for people to adapt to the reality that identities change and to understand that nearly everything functions on a spectrum. Historically, this has resulted in the erasure of certain identities and the establishment of problematic beliefs which position identity as fixed and inflexible. When we open our minds to the concept that human identity is neither constant nor linear, we create new space for acceptance, opportunity, self-expression, self-love, and joy.

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What can allocishet people do to support your community?

Treat us like we are what we are: human. Acknowledge our history and systemic oppression. Acknowledge our exclusion from history books. Celebrate, don’t just tolerate, us.

What do you love about being queer?

I am a goddamn explosion of sparkly rainbows. I am so proud of who I am and the difference my community has made and continues to make for this world. Our existence is resistance, and we have the power to transform society into a safer, better place for future brave, beautiful, queer souls to live and thrive.

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How do you stay connected to the LGBTQ+ community?

Through events like spoken word poetry performances, supporting queer artists financially and otherwise, attending Pride events, monthly donations to LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations, and doing clinical mental health work with LGBTQ+ teenagers.

What does the LGBTQ+ community need to work on? How can they better support your identity?

There needs to be more cohesion within the LGBTQ+ community itself. Being an ally isn’t strictly the responsibility of straight-identifying cisgender folks. Whatever identity we occupy, we need to support and advocate for other identities. There have been longstanding rifts between fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community, and that is sad and counterproductive. It hinders the growth and progress of the community as a whole. We also must do a better job of advocating for our trans friends and trans friends of color. As a cisgender white queer woman, I have a unique responsibility to stay educated on the experiences of others and intersectionality more broadly, and to leverage my power and privilege in this way.

Describe your coming out experience in 5 words or less.

Process of loss and liberation.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Wheeler.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Wheeler.

How was queerness discussed during your upbringing? Were you raised with any specific perception about the LGBTQ+ community?

LGBTQ+ people were the “other.” “People can be whatever they want but they shouldn’t throw it in our faces” - that was the sort of rhetoric. It was painful, but I watched the people around me evolve with me; to me, that is the most important thing. I grew up believing I was a burden because of my environment, but I am seeing revolutionary things happen among younger generations who face the same pressures. I’m so proud of the courage that takes.

What are your favorite pieces of LGBTQ+ media?

Mary Lambert’s music is incredible and centers on the LGBTQ+ experience, mental illness, and body positivity. I also love Andrea Gibson’s poetry.

Who are your LGBTQ+ role models?

My ex-girlfriend and best friend, who helped me move into myself, and every person who lives authentically in a world that has not always been kind to them.

Who are your favorite LGBTQ+ celebrities?

Sia, Lady Gaga, Janelle Monáe, Laverne Cox, and Kate McKinnon.

Are you alright with me referring to you as “queer,” or does the term make you uncomfortable?

I love it, because it encompasses the dynamic nature of fluidity. I also love it because it represents a brave reclaiming of a term used against a people that could not be stopped despite the threat of danger and opposition.

One of the candles Lindsay sells. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Wheeler.

One of the candles Lindsay sells. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Wheeler.

Okay, now tell me about your newest business! What inspired you to start Snarky Candle Co?

I have always been into entrepreneurship.  As a freshman in college, I started and ran my own ice cream truck business with other college students. It was important to us that a percentage of our proceeds go to foundations supporting the education of youth and young adults.

I now run Snarky Candle Co., which I started to normalize the mental illness experience and promote positive rhetorics around subjects and identities which are ignored or face scorn or opposition. I have suffered from Bipolar II for my entire life and I wear that diagnosis proudly, welcoming any opportunity to share my story and spread awareness. The tagline for Snarky Candle is “tailored to your trauma,” which reflects my ethos that we should embrace and celebrate adversity, the full spectrum of the human experience, and the beauty in neurodiversity. I have endless gratitude for my ability to fight for the rights of the many communities that have touched my life. It is a privilege to be able to create art which reflects important issues of intersectional feminism, mental illness, and LGBTQ+ rights. I also like to laugh at the ignorance of others, and I know that the quality makes people feel less alone. The candles allow others to also express these snarky sentiments in their own spaces.

How do you feel mental health and queerness are connected?

Mental health and queerness are inextricably tied. Sadly, mental illness runs high in the queer community and particularly in trans communities of color. When you are labeled “different” on the basis of qualities that are inherent and fundamental to your identity, it is unsurprising that the cruelty and pressure are damaging. I grew up in a small, conservative town, with very little diversity, and the expectation to conform took a serious toll on me. I was depressed and carried a lot of shame that I had to work through (and still work through) after leaving. Fortunately, the sad reality that mental illness disproportionately affects the LGBTQ+ community presents an opportunity for increased support, an emphasis on social change, and pushing for greater access to mental health services.

As a queer business owner, how do you feel about “rainbow capitalism”?

I was just talking to a friend about this last night! I definitely think “rainbow capitalism” is a double-edged sword; as much as it's wonderful to see corporations showing support for historically-ignored and marginalized communities, it is hard to digest the reality that they are making a tremendous amount of money off of it…off of us. It is as if when the clock strikes midnight on June 1st, the curtain opens and we are suddenly important - our bodies are no longer a joke, an afterthought, or a political bullseye.

Admittedly, some companies do sell me on their goods every time because I am drawn to anything that screams “I am queer,” so I’m certainly complicit at times. I will say it feels nice to see us being represented and supported in some way by multimillion dollar companies, whatever the motive. Knowing that where the Stonewall riots took place 50 years ago is now an iconic center for the representation and pride of LGBTQ+ individuals, is a sign, however problematic, of progress. In some ways, “rainbow capitalism” has contributed positively to that.

Is there anything you would like to tell me about Snarky Candle Co. and your mission?

My mission is to make people laugh and feel safe, not to make money. A portion of my proceeds go to LGBTQ+ and mental health advocacy organizations. The more candles we can get into the spaces in which they will have a significant impact, the better. In light of this political climate, it is particularly important that our voices be heard in whatever way possible.