Equality Arizona
The Arizona Equals Conversation
Arizona Equals Gav
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Arizona Equals Gav

A conversation about environmental policymaking, neurodivergence, and queer community

On this week’s episode of the Arizona Equals Conversation, Jeanne interviews Gav Orman about their experience relocating to Arizona in the early months of the pandemic, their career in the environmental sector, and the way they approach disclosure of their identities as a queer, neurodivergent person.

Full Episode Transcript

Jeanne Woodbury

From Equality Arizona, you're listening to the Arizona Equals Conversation, a podcast about queer people and queer communities in Arizona. I'm your host, Jeanne Woodbury, and each week on the show, I talk with a new guest about their story. In today's episode, I interview Gav Orman, who's been an active member of our own volunteer community and who had a lot of really interesting things to say about what it means to be queer and neurodivergent in all the different ways those things can overlap and mirror each other. It's really one of my favorite conversations I've had about those ideas, and I was really excited that we could record it and publish it on the podcast. So I'm going to run through a couple important announcements, and then we'll jump into the interview. First, we're always looking for new guests to interview on the podcast, so if you're interested in sharing your story, get in touch. You can email us directly at hello@equalityarizona.org, or you can sign up through the form on equalityarizona.org/stories. I'd love to talk to you. Also tonight, Wednesday, March 22nd, we're having another in-person event for Ask Smart People Smart Questions, where we'll be talking with a panel of experts about LGBTQ+ experiences with criminalization and incarceration in Arizona. If you're interested in attending, we'll be at the Tempe Public Library at 6.30 p.m. You can find more information and sign up in advance at equalityarizona.org/events. All right, now let's roll the tape.

(beep) (film reel clicking) [MUSIC PLAYING]

Jeanne Woodbury

So OK. The other thing I usually forget to do is ask people to introduce themselves. So could I get you to say your name, your pronouns, however else you'd like to introduce yourself?

Gav Orman

Yeah. My name's Gav Orman. I use they/them pronouns. That's it. That's the spiel.

Jeanne Woodbury

Nice. So one of the things that I used to really always start with is just asking people how long they've been in Arizona. Because I think it's interesting to just get a sense of like — you know, for people who grew up in Arizona, how has it changed? For people who have moved to Arizona, why did you make that decision? So how long have you been here?

Gav Orman

Yeah, I moved here in 2020.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh wow.

Gav Orman

In the middle of the pandemic, like I moved in July of 2020. So it was hot and terrifying.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right.

Gav Orman

I moved from Southern California. So I lived in like Orange County area, near Laguna Beach for probably about a decade, ignoring like college years.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh yeah.

Gav Orman

And then before that I was in Dallas, Texas.

Jeanne Woodbury

Okay, so a lot of like the Southwest and everything. Which I guess means like the terrible summer wasn't like totally out of the norm.

Gav Orman

No, it was probably only like 10 degrees worse than normal.

Jeanne Woodbury

Moving during the pandemic, I've actually talked to a bunch of people who have something like that in their story. They get a new job, they move, they graduate from college, and it just seems terrible. I mean, like, I can't imagine. I — and I did have to do a move like a year into the pandemic. And that was a little challenging. But like we kind of understood safety stuff. I feel like in July of 2020, people didn't even understand how COVID really worked yet. So what was that like for you? And did you come here for a job? Or what was the reason for the move?

Gav Orman

Yeah, that's a good question. I moved because I quit a job that I did not like, and my parents had moved out here a few years before. So I was kind of running away from adulthood and going back to family. Moving was kind of terrifying 'cause I had to hire movers to pack the house 'cause I was moving by myself, and I didn't have roommates, I couldn't lift my bed down three flights of stairs. And that was kind of terrifying, like inviting complete strangers into the house to touch my stuff, which I don't like people touching my stuff anyways, packing up a van, having to drive across, you know, having to do pit stops, and everything's shut down… with a cat. That was, it was just really anxiety-inducing, mostly. It was very relieving to be done, though, at the end.

Jeanne Woodbury

Were, like, gas stations shut down on that drive? Like, I'm guessing on the 10?

Gav Orman

Some were, yeah, some were shut down. Most of them would have, like, those, you know, those temporary bathrooms they pull up for like festivals.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh yeah.

Gav Orman

They would have those out front, but they weren't letting you like inside the building still.

Jeanne Woodbury

I think that's something I never really knew because I was living with my parents at the start of the pandemic and I basically just didn't leave the house for a year. And so those questions of like, how did Kingman handle the pandemic, is something I'm still kind of learning. And then, so then you moved here, which feels like a decision a lot of people made. I remember reading a bunch of stories from the beginning of the pandemic where people were living in New York, and they all left New York to go live with their parents in Ohio or something. Arizona, I guess, is like the Ohio of the Southwest on some level.

Gav Orman

I can't disagree, but yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

And then now that it's been like three years, right? What's kept you in Arizona?

Gav Orman

Honestly, my options kind of came down to, I could stay in Arizona or I could go back to California. And one, it's so expensive in California. Not that it's getting cheaper here, but it's more expensive in California. And then I work in the environmental sector. In California, there's not much of a — this is gonna sound a little weird — there's not much of like a fight to be had. Everyone's kind of in agreement.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh yeah, I can see that.

Gav Orman

Yeah, like you're not making any real progress 'cause everyone's just kind of working towards the goal of improving the environment, whereas in Arizona, there's still so much of a fight to be had over protecting the environment versus welcoming in these kind of big polluters to secure our economy.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, that makes sense. I would kind of think, you know, my first instinct would be, okay, California's the place to do that work because you can get a lot done, there is no fight. But I also understand like, well, if you can win that fight that has a big, maybe bigger impact. Now thinking about like polluters, I think the big thing I would think about with environmental stuff in Arizona is water. So is this something that you've been working on for a long time? Is this, what's your focus in that, I guess?

Gav Orman

Yeah, I've been interested in environmental stuff probably since high school, so almost a decade ago. And then in college, I was really focused on water. It's the same issue California has. We don't have enough water, everything's getting polluted, everything's gross and yucky and too expensive. When I moved here, I actually took a job in hazardous waste, which was kind of a whole side sweep of dealing with industries really directly. But I'm starting to get back into water just because we're running out and we don't have any and no one really seems to be making any decisions about it, including the agencies that are in charge of making those decisions. They just seem to be like, oh no, what do we do?

Jeanne Woodbury

Do you work directly with those agencies?

Gav Orman

Yes and no. I work in an adjacent agency, so I talk to a lot of those folks and am in a lot of those meetings, generally.

Jeanne Woodbury

Getting involved in hazardous waste during the pandemic feels, like, extra scary. Although I'm guessing maybe it's not a job where you're like directly interacting with hazardous waste.

Gav Orman

Yeah, luckily I was more talking to the people directly handling the hazardous waste.

Jeanne Woodbury

That's nice, yeah. This is something that feels sort of like an invisible side of policymaking or the economy for a lot of people. I think everyone is aware of like, we've got a water issue or we have a climate crisis. But then they don't know a lot about the agencies that actually exist to handle these things. Whether they're doing a good job or not, we have all this infrastructure. What does it take to really understand that and to learn it? I think, not from an academic standpoint, but to just get a sense of what's the lay of the land here.

Gav Orman

Yeah, that's actually a topic that I kind of have a soapbox about.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, cool.

Gav Orman

Getting involved in the environment and just involved in the actions agencies are making is so inaccessible to the public. A lot of people assume the agencies are taking care of it, they're handling their business, because they're like, "Oh, it's this really complex scientific thing." When in reality, every action that the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality or the Arizona Department of Water Resources, any action that those agencies are taking, they have to have a public comment period. They have to have public meetings. It's just that a lot of people don't feel confident in going there and actually saying anything because they think they have to make a point or they have to make some scientific endeavor.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, I see, like they have to be an expert.

Gav Orman

Exactly. When in reality, what a public comment is really looking for is just people to say their opinion on something. You're worried about the water crisis, or you don't like the way your water tastes, or… you don't have to know why, you just have to show up, basically.

Jeanne Woodbury

Do people show up at all?

Gav Orman

No, we've had public comment periods where no one came.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, wow, okay.

Gav Orman

And I was like, there's this whole industrial facility that's getting a hazardous waste permit to store and treat and move in your neighborhoods right next to it and no one shows up. But if you go and you actually talk to them, they do care about it. They are worried about it. They just weren't given the tools to show up to those meetings.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, and I mean that's something that I have to deal with when when it comes to the legislature or school boards, for example, but those are things people vote for. That there's at least some awareness of like, okay, I don't know who this guy is on my ballot, but it's on my ballot. It's my legislative district, it's my school board, and my kids are in school, or I went to this school. With this, people don't even really know it exists. They don't know there's the same kind of mechanism for interacting with it. Is that something that you got involved with in California also, or that you had to figure out here in Arizona?

Gav Orman

Kind of both. People in California generally are a little more engaged. I think that the governors in California have historically kind of made a point to say like, these are where you go to see where the public meetings are and figure out what's happening. Arizona historically has not done that type of stuff. I think here, there has to be a more conscious effort on the part of the staff members of those agencies to send out the public notices to places people are actually going to read them. And whether that's knocking on doors or posting something up at the local library, I think more of an effort needs to be made in that capacity because we're not on the ballot. We're hired on by an agency who, theoretically, the director is appointed by the governor, but really the only say-so that the people have in that decision was the governor.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right. And people generally don't even know who those agency leads are, right? Once it gets to that point, they just kind of see it as one big mass.

Gav Orman

Exactly.

Jeanne Woodbury

You know, they're not knocking on people's doors, they're not putting stuff up in libraries, it sounds like. Are they just putting information on a website?

Gav Orman

Yeah, so every place has a website. They tend to just post it on their website. If you get on the right mailing list, like if you somehow found where to get on that mailing list, you'll get a copy. But of course, then it's really the Sierra Club and those environmentalist groups that get copies and not the guy that lives around the corner.

Jeanne Woodbury

So is there a community of people engaging in advocacy? Like there's the Sierra Club. Are there, like, a concerned citizens group or anything like that?

Gav Orman

You know, I haven't really seen one. And it could just be because of where I am in the waste world and not the water world. But I think that's one thing that moving from California to Arizona kind of shocked me. In California, we constantly had citizen action groups or advocacy groups or even just one person that really cared about a topic, whether they were just emailing us or on the public comments or in the public meetings, they were always showing up. And here, we don't really seem to have that. It seems to be kind of an odd gap in our advocacy groups.

Jeanne Woodbury

Does it feel different in the agencies also, like from an industry standpoint?

Gav Orman

Yeah. Internally, there's — I mean, to a certain extent, everyone that gets into the environmental field tends to be of a similar liberal-esque mindset. But it is kind of a different — there's more of a defeatist attitude, I think, of, "oh, why even bother? It'll get shot down along the line." "Oh, we want to change this statute, but what's really the point?" Like, "it won't go anywhere."

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, I see, yeah. Well, and they don't necessarily have direct influence over something like statute.

Gav Orman

No, every once in a while, we'll get, like agencies will get brought in for like technical guidance, but that's it. I mean, they could choose to listen to us or not.

Jeanne Woodbury

Well, so that kind of puts you in a difficult position then I guess in like the whole landscape of everything, is that you're taking care of something pretty important but the whole group of people you're working with is sort of powerless despite the responsibility you have. Do you feel like there's any kind of interest from that field of people to move in a different direction or to address challenges in a different way?

Gav Orman

I think that we are starting to see certain cities and counties kind of get to the point where they're like we need to do something about this and the more citizens that engage, the more citizens that are interested in at least you know being a body in a room, the more we're going to move towards you know actually solving the water crisis or actually combating climate change or doing environmental justice type activities. The tides are shifting. There are people having those conversations more and more at least.

Jeanne Woodbury

Okay, yeah. So moving to Arizona in the pandemic, everyone I've talked to who's gone through that kind of move, the hardest thing is finding any kind of community at all. It sounds like there's some professional community that you have, but were you able to find any kind of, just like social community when you moved here?

Gav Orman

Yeah, that was probably the hardest part and it's actually something I've really struggled with for like the past three years that I've been here. You know, I got my professional community and that's fine. There's a few people in there that I socially hang out with as well. It was really this year that I started actually seeking out like queer organization groups and like book clubs and actual social groups to just exist within because it's just so isolating working from home in the middle of a pandemic and then you just kind of get stuck in that groove of, I don't go anywhere I just sit in my house and do nothing.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah. Early on in the in that phase of the pandemic I was looking for either, like, support groups or social groups online and I definitely found things. I mean people were really helpful when I said like, "Hey, I need this kind of support group," and they would find something I could call into. But then I think a lot of that kind of tapered off pretty quickly.

Gav Orman

Yeah, it did.

Jeanne Woodbury

Did you have anything that you found early on, at least online, that was helpful?

Gav Orman

Yeah, I had some online like crafting groups and video game groups and just like we would all chit-chat or we would hang out and work together just like online with each other. It very much tapered off once everyone started getting vaccines and could go back into the world, which was really the only time that I was like, man, I really wish I had moved back to California where all of my friends were. But I think those initial social groups where you could just be online and exist in a space with someone, even if it was virtual, were very valuable for those first like six months.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, I think it was great and then I think part of the challenge is that the great thing about it is that it could be people who are anywhere, but then they're not where you are once you can actually go outside again.

Gav Orman

Yeah exactly, I mean there's still people I talk to a little bit but, you know, they're in Wisconsin or North Carolina and it's not like we can just go hang out on a Friday.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah I got really involved on Twitter, that was like a big thing for me. I had been on Twitter just kind of like, reading, and then I was like, "Let me actually make some friends here." And then eventually Twitter just got so toxic that I'm not even there anymore. And so like the long tail of pandemic social interaction is just: whatever connections I made online are almost gone by now. And it really has to just turn back into, where can I go in Phoenix? You know, where can I go close to home? And it sounds like that's what you've been working on. When did you first start to put your mind to that?

Gav Orman

Probably last year. Once we all got vaccinated and everything was going well, then I had a bunch of health issues. It was like this one thing after another. And so I took a lot of time to just really like heal and like make myself better. And then it was probably the middle of last year that I was like, I should go outside. I should go to the museum. I should actually go interact with things that I enjoy doing, I remember that I enjoy doing, to pretty great success. I mean, there's always people to talk to around Phoenix, interesting people to talk to.

Jeanne Woodbury

Did you start by looking for those public institutions? You mentioned museums and going outside. Was it that over, like, finding social groups?

Gav Orman

Yeah, I'm very introverted, very, very shy, very unlikely to just kind of force my way into a social group where I've kind of assumed that everyone already knows each other and likes each other and has all this history. So I basically worked my way up there. I would go to the museum and hang out there and talk to the tour guides and the people that were there and I would go on a consistent basis and actually just make friends to the point that eventually I was like, oh, well I could probably go to this coffee shop and hang out, or I could go to this meetup and be fine. But I very much had to talk myself into it. It wasn't like an easy thing to do.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, and that makes sense. I mean, what I've found with the queer community that I've been able to interact with is that very quickly I'll find out that someone I know knows someone else I know, and it just closes the loop really quickly.

Gav Orman

Exactly.

Jeanne Woodbury

So even when people aren't cliquish, it still becomes really insular, which I think is hard to break into. I know that was your fear. Was that also the reality?

Gav Orman

I think it was one of those things, like I was aware that that was kind of the situation, because I had a huge friend group in California that was all very based around the queer community, the neurodivergent community, everyone knows each other, there's like 20 of you or something on campus. And I think as I started to meet people in the queer community to make those connections. It was one of those of, yeah, everyone kind of knows everybody, but not in like a cliquey way, and kind of a, hey, come meet this person, you would probably like them too.

Jeanne Woodbury

That's actually kind of great.

Gav Orman

Yeah, it was like a very welcoming thing of, we actually have this huge community and you're a part of it now, not like a, oh, I know this person, but we're not gonna talk about that. Like, it was more of a come in type of feeling.

Jeanne Woodbury

So really inviting.

Gaf Orman

Yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

Is the community you found here similar in terms of having a big overlap with neurodivergence and queerness?

Gav Orman

It has been so far. I don't know if that's just the type of people that I tend to talk to over others or if that's like an actual correlation.

Jeanne Woodbury

I can never tell either. I always end up, I mean, and this is my whole life too, is I always end up realizing all my friends are neurodivergent. And we didn't plan that, right?

Gav Orman

Exactly, like we weren't seeking each other out, it just happened.

Jeanne Woodbury

And I wonder if some of that is just like the openness that can come of like recognizing a like mind and being like, well, you'd also love to talk to this friend who's very into environmental policy or whatever other like crafting interest or whatever. And I also think that maybe there just is a big overlap, like statistically, that's maybe hard to track.

Gav Orman

Yeah, I honestly wouldn't be surprised if someone was looking at that. But it's probably kind of in the way that all countercultures and subcultures kind of co-mingle to a certain extent. You're always going to kind of have the differences that start to come together, because there just is that level of overlap between them.

Jeanne Woodbury

Just the sense of, because these people are all different, they're all alike.

Gav Orman

Yeah, like almost like social cue-wise, there's some sort of underlying thing and that's just like commonality between it where you're like, oh, that's a safe person. I can go talk to that person and they would probably listen.

Jeanne Woodbury

And sometimes it's, at least in my experience, it's a little, it's not at the conscious level. Like I can, okay, like you can definitely clock an autistic person sometimes, like in a good way. But sometimes that's not what happens. And then like a year later, you realize that's a thing you have in common.

Gav Orman

No, I fully agree. I think it's almost just a subliminal instinct type thing and not necessarily a, I clocked this piece of you and I'm gonna make us be friends now because of that.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, and that normally doesn't work out super well.

Gav Orman

No, it rarely does.

Jeanne Woodbury

One of the things that I've found, and I've talked about this with other people, is that despite the fact that there's this big kind of overlap or just a big group of people who are neurodivergent and queer, is that there's plenty of queer groups and advocacy groups in Arizona, but there really aren't a lot of groups or organizations like that for neurodiverse people.

Gav Orman

No, there really isn't. And I've always kind of wondered why. I don't even necessarily think that there are large advocacy groups or even like social gathering type groups for neurodivergencies, even where I lived in California or, I mean, obviously not in Texas. But I never really understood why. And I think a part of it — like, it took me a while to come to terms with my autism, my OCD, my problems. And I almost feel like there is a lack of advocacy groups or a lack of social groups on it, because people are like, well, I don't want to talk about, I don't want to focus on that piece of myself, or I don't really want to come to terms with that yet. And so there's kind of this weird lag or this gap in those groups forming and coming together.

Jeanne Woodbury

Do you think it's a stigma thing or just like a privacy thing?

Gav Orman

It's probably both. I think the stigma is getting better. I think people are starting to talk about it more and more. And so it's becoming less of a secret private thing. So I think the stigma is lessening. I think some people just are more private than others. I think it's almost like a protection thing. Like I'm going to protect myself by keeping my kind of nuances, my fun little quirks to myself.

Jeanne Woodbury

Well, I guess that's just masking.

Gav Orman

Yeah, exactly.

Jeanne Woodbury

But I think sometimes even when I'm not necessarily masking, I won't disclose something.

Gav Orman

Yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

Although what I've noticed recently is that I'm 100% comfortable telling people I'm autistic. I'm not comfortable telling people, here's the actual accommodations I need as an autistic person. I'm somewhat comfortable talking about having OCD, but I'm 100% not comfortable revealing any triggers related to my OCD, because it feels very vulnerable and kind of unsafe.

Gav Orman

I actually fully agree with that. I have stopped really having a problem saying I have XYZ, mostly because at some point it gets just kind of easy to be like, I have these labels that I've given myself. I think it's a lot harder to actually open the door to this is what my actual problem is, and this is what I have to do to avoid these triggers, these problems, mostly out of a fear that someone would take advantage of that, or poke at it, when really I'm just letting you know this is an issue I have. I think, too, I have always had trouble discussing accommodation needs, because I always feel like someone's going to feel like they need to take that on, to accommodate me, like over the top, and then it becomes all about that part of my identity, which I don't really need every conversation to be about accommodating me in my day-to-day life.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right. (laughing)

Gav Orman

And so I think it's really easy for me to just be like, oh yeah, I'm autistic, and let someone make those assumptions for themselves.

Jeanne Woodbury

Oh, right, yeah

Gav Orman

And like, move on.

Jeanne Woodbury

My feeling is that it becomes an infantilizing situation. If I actually tell people, hey, I need this, or this is a problem for me, I fear that they're gonna stop taking me seriously as a professional. And working in the kind of industry you work in, or the kind of industry I work in, but probably for anyone working and being autistic, it feels like a real compromise to your career, potentially. It won't necessarily be, but it feels like it.

Gav Orman

Yeah. It always kind of feels like you're one step away from telling the wrong person something a little too true, and that they could potentially use that to knock you down a peg, to basically say, like, well, this is why you can't do your job right. And you're like, actually, no, I was doing fine before you knew this about me.

Jeanne Woodbury

Exactly. There's like, well, if I can just manage it on my own without telling anyone, and then if I told someone and I kept managing it on my own, but then they start to discount me, why not just manage it on my own? And I don't think that always pans out super well, but being able to work from home, and this is something that the pandemic, I think, was kind of great for, is: being able to work from home, I can keep a weird schedule and work in weird ways and no one has to know better.

Gav Orman

Exactly. No, exactly. I fully agree with that. And on the other hand, I've had some great success with some fantastic managers who totally didn't use it against me and were able to accommodate me by giving detailed agendas or sending everything via email or whatever I needed without any big issue. But I think, you know, working from home or working with a group of people that are all a little neurodivergent.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah.

Gav Orman

It makes it a little easier where you're like, I'm going to go sit in this dark corner with my headphones on, no one's going to talk to me, I'm going to get so much done in like 30 minutes and then I won't be able to work for four hours and no one's gonna care about that.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah. I'm thinking about that contrast between like these groups of neurodivergent people that coalesce and then the fear of like asking for even a simple accommodation in a workplace. And I wouldn't say that sensory needs and things always mix very well for a group of autistic people, but overall, no one even has to say anything, and it's this universal design of, we'll make it generally comfortable for the average autistic person, I guess. And it just happens naturally. I don't have to ask for something, and people will recognize like, these things might be a problem for someone.

Gav Orman

Yeah, I think to that point, when you have a group of people that are neurodivergent who have probably experienced some level of discomfort in day-to-day life, there's a level of just kind of assumed respect given of like, I'm going to kind of gauge what your needs are because I know that you're gauging what my needs are and we'll probably meet in the middle pretty naturally. Whereas someone that's neurotypical who maybe has never had a problem in their day-to-day life, I don't even think they're considering sensory things, and kind of a, they've never had to.

Jeanne Woodbury

It's just not really on their radar.

Gav Orman

Yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

That's something where you get community though on some level is in the neurodivergent space you can find commonality and even just with like special interests and things like that. With OCD, and you don't have to talk about this if you don't want to, but with OCD, that's something where I think saying that there's potential clashes around autism — with OCD, one of the big reasons I don't like to tell people about anything specific with it is because I know that it actually can just lead to difficulties interacting with people, and I'd rather kind of manage that on my own level without telling them about it, but I've never really found like, oh, here's the community of all the OCD people. Like, that doesn't happen.

Gav Orman

No, it doesn't, and I think the stigma around OCD is different. Like I almost feel embarrassed by a lot of my OCD things and so I don't, I never wanna tell people, one, 'cause I'm embarrassed, but two, I know that even speaking about those triggers makes them worse and so then it's kind of this vicious cycle but then on the other hand, you're almost isolating yourself and handling all of this on your own.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, it's very isolating.

Gav Orman

It's very isolating and there's an anxiety component and all of that kind of compounds into itself and it can be so much worse. And so then there's always going to be that risk of, I have to lean on someone. I have to, someone's going to have to help me at some point even if it's just, like I have some that I didn't even notice I was doing until someone was like, that's probably the OCD. And I was like, probably, but what are we gonna do about it?

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, just kind of throw your hands up at that point. I feel like with the pandemic, it was just hell for a lot of people. Not even necessarily people who have contamination stuff, but just the level of additional isolation and people following a bunch of rules that they don't fully understand. For some reason, I was thinking about this the other day, but at the beginning of the pandemic, it felt like, okay, we're all isolated, but we get to have like a kind of thing that we all care about. And that lasted probably until you moved to Arizona. It was so brief that there was kind of like… Jimmy Fallon's doing the Tonight Show from home and we're all watching it for the first time for some reason. I feel like that same kind of thing could exist around whatever these other isolating things we have are, whether it's being queer in a new place or autism or OCD, and occasionally it kind of flares up into existence, and then it can burn out really easily. Have you found anything that makes it sustainable?

Gav Orman

It almost, I feel like it kinda depends on how structured you want something. You know, like I've had some groups where they exist and maybe I meet like one person that I really click with and I'm still friends with that one person, but the community's kind of fallen apart because really we just kind of all paired off or found the people that we would have naturally been friends with anyways. And I think probably the issue with getting a social group like that for neurodivergencies is largely because you're so much more than them that you naturally kind of will lean towards one or two people in the group. And then the nature of being neurodivergent, you just kind of hone in on that. And so then the group falls apart, which I think to an extent is fine. But I do think there is that gap in advocacy groups of just people who are fighting for them.

Jeanne Woodbury

I know there's like a chapter of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network in California. They don't even have a chapter in Arizona. And that's still very niche. I think autism self-advocacy is just one small portion of it. I think that having those advocacy groups would be great, just like getting more people into these public hearings would be great.

Gav Orman

And I think getting those advocacy groups are good. And I think dismantling any barriers that we would have in getting those advocacy groups into things like public hearings and public meetings and meetings with legislators and whoever is going to be a step in that, 'cause it'll be hard for anyone to get going and get started if they're constantly hitting brick walls and feeling like, what's the point? I can't do this.

Jeanne Woodbury

I think my fear though is that for me, it's just something that can be isolating and maybe advocacy could help break that down a little bit, making it like easier to talk about things and you don't have to educate people from the ground up every single time. But ultimately, I'd love it to just be a little more chill. And maybe I'm thinking about it in terms of a queer politics standpoint, but having to do queer advocacy around something that kind of automatically feels isolating. And now it's like, well, you're definitely not isolated because everyone's yelling about you is not the direction I want to go. And I think it could easily turn into something similar if there were more attention directed at autism. Like if I look at people yelling about like medicalization of ADHD, right, we're kind of lucky that it's not at the level of the way people are yelling about trans care.

Gav Orman

Yeah. I think that's a really good point. I think a lot of people even are scared to look at queer advocacy because it's so terrifying to be in such an angry argument about something that is like your existence as a person, which is the same thing if you're talking about autism or ADHD or other ones, it's your existence as a person. And I think to the point earlier where you were talking about infantilization of people with autism and ADHD, I think that would be a huge problem in starting those conversations of, oh, well, you can't really advocate for yourself, so let us do the talking. And then having to fight, and even start those arguments, those confrontations to get your voice heard is already so much just strife when really we just wanna exist. We just want to live our lives.

Jeanne Woodbury

And those conversations and settings are not accessible. So it's just kind of weighted against you in the first place. But with queer advocacy and that just like awful spotlight, it's a little different California, I think like to say the least. When you moved here, was that a culture shock for you at all? Or just, I assume you knew what you were getting in for.

Gav Orman

Yeah, I knew it would be worse here. I kind of had this weird perspective growing up in Texas until I was like 11-ish, where it was very much not talked about. We lived in the Bible Belt. Like, that was not a conversation people were having at schools. Moving to California, where people were out, like and I was meeting people that were gay or trans and I was like, that's a thing, like that's an option. And those conversations were fine. Like there are parts of California that are very conservative, much like Arizona actually, but where I was living was very just out and open. You didn't really have to question coming out. No one was really going to bully you or isolate you for it. It was just like, oh, that person over there is gay and we don't care about that.

Jeanne Woodbury

Ah yeah.

Gav Orman

And then making the decision to move here, I actually, that was something I kind of weighed, you know, like I was like, am I going to go there? Am I going to feel safe? I wasn't necessarily fully out to like my family at the time, not out of any fear, just I didn't feel the need to like make a whole thing out of it. I was like, they'll find out when they find out. But moving here, it was like, is it going to be a constant battle? Like I had no idea if it was like I would have to hide on the streets or if it was fine-ish.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right.

Gav Orman

And I think it was a bit of a culture shock just in terms of how full of strife the conversation is all the time. You can't really bring it up at all without someone going, "Well, I heard some crazy argument over there." And you just have to sit with that.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right. What do you mean, like in a public setting?

Gav Orman

Yeah, even just in public. I think in California you could have discussions about trans-affirming healthcare, and everyone would just kind of talk about trans-affirming healthcare. It wasn't an argument or a debate. Whereas if you bring up anything here, someone in the vicinity probably has something to say about it.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, I see, yeah.

Gav Orman

So kind of having to come to terms with either having those kinds of arguments and being willing to engage in those, or keeping those conversations private, I think was a decision I had to weigh a lot because I'm not a very confrontational person. And so that was a bit of a culture shock.

Jeanne Woodbury

Do you end up in those situations where you have more confrontational conversations with people?

Gav Orman

Less and less. Mostly it was surrounding when I started using my actual pronouns at work. I was probably like one of the first people in that values, in the management chain that had like ever not used the pronouns that someone would assume for them. And so that had a lot of kind of like politically charged conversations that you're also, you know, trying to be professional 'cause you're at work. And so —

Jeanne Woodbury

It can be especially hard with they/them pronouns.

Gav Orman

Yeah, exactly. A lot of people just don't get them. Like they just don't understand the non-binary space at all. And it's so emotionally exhausting to start from the ground up to explain like, this is he, this is she, this is the binary, and I don't exist in the binary. And starting to just find YouTube videos that you would send to a five year old and be like, here you go, here is what pronouns are. If you have questions, come to me, but I'm not gonna teach you from the ground up.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right.

Gav Orman

I think that was probably the most exhausting part. It was just the constant education on it, on something that really just should be there. People should just know about it.

Jeanne Woodbury

Or there should at least be corporate resources for it, right, so that you don't have to do it.

Gav Orman

Like an infographic that you can just refer to.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, I've found that, 'cause you mentioned having to figure out how safe is it gonna be walking around in public. I found that sometimes it's just not even an issue at all, and then sometimes if I go to like Scottsdale maybe, and especially if I'm with other queer people. It's so fascinating because I can go somewhere very clearly as a trans person and just everyone's friendly to me and it's fine, no one pays any attention. And then if I go somewhere with another trans friend and maybe, I don't know if it's just Scottsdale, but that's where I have a really distinct memory of it. Like a lot of dirty looks all of a sudden. I've had the experience in Tempe also. And frequently I think it's because it's not just me, but it's me and another person. Sometimes it's more directed at my friend than at me. And that's a tricky thing to navigate, I think, because then sometimes when I am on my own and I'm not getting dirty looks, it's like, well, I know that they probably might actually have some thoughts. And I don't know what's happening here.

Gav Orman

Yeah, I agree with that. I've largely not had any issues just in my day-to-day life. Typically, when you're in a group of queer people, that's when issues start to arise, which I find incredibly frustrating because we should be allowed to have friends and hang out in a group of like-minded people. And I almost wonder if it's like if it's just one of us, they're like, "Oh, well, that's just one person and we'll keep it to ourselves." But then once there's multiple of us hanging out, they're like, "eh. I don't like that." And so they become a little bit more outwardly hateful looking. But I have experience, like, I've been kind of surprised at where I've gotten dirty looks versus not.

Jeanne Woodbury

You mean like geographically?

Gav Orman

Yeah, just like I've had no problems over in West Valley in like Buckeye and Goodyear; downtown Phoenix is usually fine. But if you're like in North Phoenix or Scottsdale or some pockets of Mesa, it's weirder, yeah.

Jeanne Woodbury

Mesa is super unpredictable. If I go to like downtown Mesa, it can be fine. It can be nicer than Tempe, to be honest. And it's just like, okay, well, it's kind of a lottery. You just roll the dice and see what you're gonna get.

Gav Orman

You have to make sure you turn the right corner at the right time.

Jeanne Woodbury

Kind of, yeah. But I've never had real violent interactions, I think.

Gav Orman

No, I haven't personally. I know a few people that have been like yelled at and kind of heckled.

Jeanne Woodbury

I've been heckled.

Gav Orman

Yeah, but nothing where I was like, "I'm in danger and I need out immediately." Luckily, that's not really happened here.

Jeanne Woodbury

The worst part of it for me was at the really beginning of my transition. And I was in Flagstaff at the time, which is like a smaller, more rural area. So that was probably the time where I felt like the least safe walking around. And I walked around a lot 'cause it's really walkable.

Gav Orman

Yeah, I think that's fair. I think too, like a lot of people expect when you're transitioning to either be one or the other, like present a certain way that they want you to look. And so when you don't, there's more of that kind of, well, what's going on? Like, what's happening?

Jeanne Woodbury

Explain yourself!

Gav Orman

Yeah, and you're like, whoa, I'm trying to go to the store.

Jeanne Woodbury

Well, sometimes there's people who just have like a curiosity, and that can be really uncomfortable. Do you ever run into that?

Gav Orman

I have, mostly once people know that my pronouns are they/them. Then they get that really, well, what does that mean? Why can't you, why aren't you just girl or boy? I'm like, well, I don't want to be either girl or boy. Neither feels right and they're like well, why? Why are you doing XYZ or like if I wear like a skirt one day? They're like, but I thought you didn't do that. And I'm like, I can do whatever I want. Like so can you. I think the curiosity can be… for me it gets almost worse because I feel like I have to prove myself in some way, like I'm defending myself, versus like someone that's just outwardly hateful. It's a lot easier to just kind of dismiss that. To be like, Oh, well, they just don't like that. They don't like me. That's fine

Jeanne Woodbury

I handle a lot of the things the same way I handle disclosure around autism, where if I don't need to I won't say anything and I'll just kind of wait for it to be an issue, instead of like giving them the opportunity to make it an issue.

Gav Orman

Yeah, yeah, I — very much. I just kind of state things and then and move on with my life. Like it's not my job to justify my existence.

Jeanne Woodbury

Yeah, I think we're running low on time, but something, you know, at the beginning of the interview, I always try to ask people to introduce themselves with their name and their pronouns. But when I'm in a social setting and people ask for introductions, and they say, "Say your name, say your pronouns." I don't say my pronouns because it's uncomfortable. the same way, like, okay, I'll say I'm trans, but I won't necessarily say what my pronouns are. I'll say I'm autistic, but I won't say what my accommodation needs are. Do you think that's a unique thing to me? Or do you ever have that feeling too, in terms of introducing yourself with your pronouns?

Gav Orman

No, I do, and I think it's to the extent that like, it's my business. If they make assumptions about me, that's on them. If they really wanna know, I guess they can ask very directly and I might tell them. It kind of depends on my mood a lot of the time. Like sometimes I'm feeling more like I'm gonna make a stand and this is who I am. And other days I'm like, I exist and that's all I'm doing.

Jeanne Woodbury

Right, I don't wanna explain myself today.

Gav Orman

Exactly.

Jeanne Woodbury

Well, thanks for talking with me. This was a lot of fun.

Gav Orman

Yeah, thank you.

Jeanne Woodbury

Thanks again to Gav for being my guest this week on the podcast. If you'd like to be a guest on a future episode of the show, Remember, all you have to do is send an email to hello@equalityarizona.org, or just sign up on our website at equalityarizona.org/stories, where you can find the entire archive of past episodes of the show. As always, thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you again soon.

Equality Arizona
The Arizona Equals Conversation
Arizona Equals is a conversational interview podcast chronicling the lives and experiences of LGBTQ+ Arizonans. Listen to new episodes weekly on Wednesdays, featuring conversations with queer people living in Arizona.
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