Wesley Vaughn, Clay, Kentucky
Being gay has given me a more liberated attitude. I don’t concern myself with behaving in a way that is traditionally masculine, nor traditionally feminine. I feel that I can behave and express myself the way I want without any concern of violating some sort of rule about how I have to act or look. I often wear flowers in my hair. I also get dirty and do major home renovation. Many people would see these characteristics as being incompatible. However, I just see them as parts of myself and feel that they fit together very well. I would like to see more people shed their preconceived ideas on what it means to be a man, a woman, straight, gay, queer, transgender, and anything else we identify as. We are all humans and are capable of so much. Identify as whatever you feel, but don’t let that box you in.
Queer simply means “different” to me. I have to admit, queer often has a negative connotation in my mind. I realize that the LGBTQ community has repurposed the word, and I am comfortable using queer in this new context. However, each time I hear the word queer, I can’t help but hear the voices of kids on the playground calling one another “queer” as a way of tormenting one another.
I grew up in a small town in Western Kentucky called Clay. It had a population of two thousand or so and was somewhat isolated. Growing up in a small town was great. It was safe and quiet. My friends and I could walk around and hang out anytime we wanted without any real fear of some of the crazy stuff that can take place in a larger city. Once I was eighteen and came out as gay, I was fortunate to still feel accepted in my hometown. I have definitely been more fortunate than many of my friends who grew up gay in small communities. My family was respected and my coming out was well received, at least on the surface. I knew there was plenty of talk behind closed doors. I had no remorse about my decision to live honestly, and so the talk didn’t have much of an affect on me.
Be the person you want to be. Pursue the things in life that you want to pursue. Like I mentioned earlier, don’t let your identity define the way you live. You can be a makeup artist or a mechanic, or both. Forget about the labels society has placed onto everything and live the way you want. I also recommend never saying never. As i’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that every person is always changing and adapting. Things I once said I would never ever do I now find myself much more open to. Be yourself and stand by your beliefs. However, if over time you feel those beliefs begin to change, take time to evaluate and explore those feelings. Explore new ideas you are confronted with, so long as they are safe and healthy. Never be afraid to make changes. Staying the same on principal alone can make you miserable and full of regret.
I think that the issues in the queer community are very similar to issues in the local community around them. Having traveled some and interacting with various queer communities around the world, it seems like the real issues there are a reflection of the larger community around them. If an area suffers from racism, then the queer community seems to also display racism. Areas where the population in not sex-positive, the queer community will also suffer from its own version of sexual shame. If a city has a drug epidemic, the queer community there will also have a drug problem. Don’t get me wrong, there are probably some issues within the queer community that are disproportionate to the population as a whole. For example, I often see other gay men who are caught up in materialism.
However, I think there is a bit of a misconception within the queer community. The misconception is in saying there is ONE queer community. People often talk about feeling ostracized from the queer community, and make broad blanket statements about the community as a whole. The reality of the matter is that we are extremely diverse and have formed many different communities. Queer individuals are so often guilty of making huge generalizations about “the queer community” that just plain don’t fit everyone, or even a significant portion of everyone.
I think we have to stop seeing ourselves as being so different from one another. After all, isn’t that what we’re fighting for? We want to be given the same rights and opportunities as everyone else – be seen as equals. We all need to stop lingering on the things that push us apart and embrace our differences with one another the way we’re asking to outside world to accept each of us. No, we will never all be best friends. There are too many of us, and we are all so different! But we can get along, watch out for one another, and stand together as a united group. Look past the difference in skin color, body types, gender identity, and see one another as humans with similar struggles. Queer individuals make up a significant percentage of the world population. If we could ALL be kinder, more patient, and understanding with one another across every sect of the queer community, wouldn’t that be a wonderful example to set for the rest of the world?