There is no one way to be queer: Kentucky Lesbian couple tells all

McKenzie and Colby

What does the word queer mean to you?

M: I always thought of it as existing outside the heteronormative universe—with rules about the things you’re “supposed” to do. It’s marching to your own drum and being different while not having to worry about what society says you have to do at a certain time or a certain age. C: To me, queer has become a catch-all term that can be used to describe an array of gender and sexual identities. It is a term that can be morphed and molded to fit however someone needs. I often use it when I’m trying to describe a group to be inclusive of all the variation that exists within our LGBTQIA+ community. How do you identify? Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything at all? M: Lesbian. (Let the record show that upon answering this question, McKenzie broke out into an adorable chuckle.) A soft butch. I heard the term GNC recently and was excited because in my mind I thought oh it’s a new way to say sporty fitness gay since you know that store but I found out it meant gender non-conforming which in a way works too because I don’t exactly fit into the standard feminine mold.C: I’m queer, and I’m gay. I like “hard femme” to describe the way I present. I’m tattooed and pierced, my hair is longer but shaved up the back, I only wear black though I secretly enjoy a nice floral, and I’m not afraid to open my mouth to tell you the brutally honest truth especially if your political opinions are trash. Where are you originally from and explain how was it growing up/living in Kentucky? M: Campbellsville, KY. I grew up in a very Southern Baptist family. My dad was/is a deacon at our church that my family has been attending for decades. I was in church 3x a week, youth group, and even went on mission trips around the state rehabbing homes. I was always the rough and tumble tomboy that just liked playing outside, participating in sports, I got along better with boys than girls because I didn’t want to just sit around playing dolls. Nothing seemed amiss until early high school when the usual things happen. All the girls who I was friends with would be like “he’s cute”, started going on dates and I was always like “eww, boys are gross” and had no idea why. I started to figure things out mid-high school but knew because of where I lived, I couldn’t tell anyone. There were a lot of years of listening to angry music and taking lots of art classes, and wearing what I thought was emo clothes to deal with the keeping it all in—trying to rationalize being gay but at the same listening to a pastor who said I would very much go to hell. I was determined to get out of the city and live my true self in a city far away from prying eyes. I even went to a college that I knew no one from my high school would attend. C: I grew up at the dead-end of a dirt road in Hampton, Connecticut. My graduating high school class had 50 students, and a third of them had gone to school with me since we were in kindergarten. That part of Connecticut was, and still is very conservative. In elementary school, I wore my work boots with either overalls or dresses my mom sewed from fabric we picked out together (bugs, ants, the solar system, school supplies—you name it, she was cool with it). I was often the only girl invited to an all boy birthday party, and I played on every sports team. By the time high school came around, I felt different than the other girls in my class, but I did not have the language to explain why. I liked to wear make-up, I wore dresses to semi-formal dances and proms, and I even had a boyfriend all four years (first and last time that happened). Thinking back to then, we were really just best friends who were really into being emo together. After graduating high school, I went to Smith, which is a womens’ college in Northampton, Massachusetts. It took all of about 20 seconds for me to realize why I had felt so different all those years—I was very, very queer. By the time I moved to Louisville, Kentucky five years ago, I was very confident in my identity as a queer human. Admittedly, I was scared I would not be able to find anyone to date based on my assumptions of a red state as far south as I have ever lived, but meeting McKenzie was the most perfect surprise of my life. What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity? M: Do a lot of reading and search out resources. I spent a lot time on the computer in our upstairs bonus room late at night reading and researching, then carefully curating the search history so my parents wouldn’t figure out what I was doing. I also latched on to, as corny as it sounds, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was the first tv show I watched with a queer character that was accessible to me. I remember reading the old TV guide magazines my mom would buy and I saw an article about all the “gasp” LGBT people on TV! I just remembered seeing the characters and knew I had to watch it! I got really into the online communities surrounding that show almost 15-20 years ago that really expanded my understanding of what being LGBT meant. There were no limits to message boards filled with questioning kids like me with people from all ages offering all kinds of advice. That was how I coped living in a community with no representation. Once I got to college, I finally could be around other queer people who were open and confident with who they were. You have to find your own tribe who you can trust, who will support you, sometimes that might be a digital tribe until you find your own space. C: There is no one way to be queer. The way you choose to be yourself is beautiful and perfect in every way. You are enough, exactly as you are right now. How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it? M: My identity has always been a part of how I carry myself. I am a butch woman who lifts weights. I have never been dainty. I don’t walk demurely, or dress how women are “supposed” to dress. I am more comfortable shopping in the little boy’s section (I’m short) than the womens. Many people tell me I walk with swagger but that is the furthest from the truth if you knew me, but I’ve been told that since high school. It’s just who I am! C: I take up a lot of space and I’m proud of that. When men walk toward me on the sidewalk, I never move to the side and sometimes that means they walk right into me. As a queer person, I know I do not fit the mold of how society would like me to act, and I find that freeing more than anything else. I’m not afraid of calling out microaggression when I see or hear something. I will be loud and I will get in your face if you choose not to hear me. People in Kentucky seem to mistake this passion of mine for aggression, but I think it’s kind of a common New Englander thing. Don’t get me wrong, I like to think I also know when to listen—but I won’t stand for anyone getting stepped on. Now that I am in medical school training to be a primary care provider for LGBTQIA+ people, I am way more open about my identity than I ever have been before. I am proud to be someone who is out and can help my colleagues learn to be more inclusive. What issues do you see in the queer community? C: I think there are a lot of ways that the queer community straight-up fails at intersectionality. Queer people are living at the intersections of multiple oppressions all at once and until each one of us is free we will not be truly liberated. People are comfortable wearing rainbows and going to (partying at) Pride, but not marching for Black Lives Matter, rallying for immigrants and refugees, or speaking out for any other marginalized groups under the queer umbrella. M: I echo a lot of what Colby says in her statement about not standing up for other marginalized parts of our community, but I also think to the overall health problems in our community. I like to exist in queer safe spaces but often times those spaces are surrounded in clouds of varying types of smoke, especially patio areas on nice nights. This may also intersect with our state problems as well. This states populace smokes way too much. Being into fitness I wish our community would take better care of ourselves. It’s hard to fight the white supremacy and the patriarchy when you have COPD. What do you think would solve those issues? C: As a white person I know I have directly benefited from centuries of enforced white supremacy. Since I have recognized that, I can use the resources I do have to unrig the system. There is a lot that I do not know, and a lot that I know I will never understand, but I am willing to put in the work to learn on my own time and read up on how I can use the skills I do have to help my community. I think we can move forward together if each of us gave what we are able to. M: I know many of the health issues surrounding the community are also connected with being marginalized by family. They are coping mechanisms for pain. I hope that over time we recognize these and steer away from unhealthy vices. As a member of the Crossfit community that sometimes gets a bad reputation as a bunch hypermasculine meat heads, I do see many gyms reaching out to the LGBT+ community. I want to see women pick up the weights and get strong, for the community to get better at finding spaces to congregate that don’t involve smoking and excessive drinking. As I’ve gotten older, I am turned off by going to bars where the goal is just get blacked out. I’d rather get sweaty lifting!