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What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify?

It’s a huge question, but one I think is worth discussing. It’s a word that has been used to hurt me, smear me, physically assault me; I have had a painful past with the word. When I first was growing into myself, my sexuality, and learning about what that meant for myself — I was very apprehensive about it. I understood the argument about reclaiming your power and owning the word yourself, but the emotion was still a little too raw there. So, it’s been a process of reclaiming that word and bringing it into myself. I love the word now and use it all the time.

Queer means anyone not cisgender or straight. It encompasses all expressions of the rainbow family. But it also means, for me — a state of being and knowing that you can, and are helping the world in your most beautiful and unique *not straight* self. It means knowing and positioning yourself to assist in centering queer people of color voices, non-cisgender voices, and other marginalized communities. As for me, I am a queer gay dude and a fun loving, easy going leatherman and Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, obsessed with figure skating.

My pronouns are he/him/his.

Where are you originally from and explain how was it growing up/living in Kentucky?

I grew up in Loretto, Kentucky, in Marion County. It’s directly in the center of the state. I grew up in a very Catholic family, and in a very Catholic part of the state. In that aspect, it was incredibly isolating. Literally, my hometown has a population of 500 people, and even then, my parents still don’t live in the city limits. I’m fairly close to everyone in my family, but though they aren’t necessarily politically conservative, they were still fairly socially conservative in what they talked about and discussed, if that makes sense. I was the weirdo, the shy kid who everyone else knew was gay before they did — which was the worst thing ever. I was closeted until I moved to Louisville for college, and began to really form and discover my true identity (in every sense of the word) then.

I took for granted Kentucky’s natural beauty when I lived at home. It truly is a special place and my breath always catches on the drive home when I pass Rohan’s Knob in Nelson County. I love advocating for Appalachian justice, and our Kentucky environment. I’ve had so many people tell me “Jody, you should move somewhere else, I promise, it’s so much better!” but for some reason, I’m still here. I want to be part of the change that helps Kentucky’s image across the nation and the world.

We live in a special, beautiful, wonderful place full of folks that at their core are deeply compassionate and giving people, and I want to bring that out in my activism. I will not give up on this state or this country, and that means helping remove from office politicians that have misguided, lied to, and made false promises to folks for decades. And, I want to be here when Mitch McConnell finally leaves office.

What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity?

You don’t have to have everything figured out all at once. Our identities change, grow, and evolve over time, as we age, grow, learn, and change. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, of yourself, and others. Find your passion, or something you’re deeply interested in, and build community around that. There are some pretty good chances people you find there probably have dealt with similar feelings. Have compassion for yourself, and realize you have so many folks behind you. And be open minded! Don’t limit yourself. You’ll surprise yourself.

How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?

It informs so much of my thinking, what I do, and how I do it. Being queer, being gay has taught me so many life lessons. It’s taught me to be kind, to be informed, to think critically, and to know every inch of myself. My likes, dislikes, and things I can’t fucking stand. It’s forced me to take a stand politically, to recognize systems of oppression in our society, and how I can contribute in taking those down. It’s urged me to become a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, to spread joy and expiate guilt for my community. It’s informed my sense of humor, and appreciation for queer culture, artists, musicians and music, humor, subcultures, and the like. We are a really a creative, hilarious bunch of folks, and I love that. I love basking in the creative energy and endurance of my community. My identity as a leatherman has helped me embrace my body, and all its flaws, quirks, and “what the fucks.”

I did not have good body image until I became immersed in leather culture, and now I can finally say I feel pretty sexy and special. I am myself.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?

I don’t. I’m a cisgender gay man, and it’s up to me to navigate and move our community to a better, more inclusive, accepting, and safer space for *all* people. There are many other more vulnerable populations and communities within the rainbow.

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)?

Being with family, friends, and chosen family equals my happy place. I love getting all dressed up in my formal leathers, going to the bar, and grabbing a drink with my leather family here in Louisville. I love being around my Sister family; they inspire me to continue on when sometimes I feel like I can’t be the activist I am or used to be. We have so many talented people in that organization, it really fills me with joy. I also love a good day at the coffee shop, snuggled up with a good book and my headphones. Who influenced the life you live now?Many, many people. My bio family; my mother and father are the hardest working people I know, and they worked their asses off to give my sister and I the best life possible. My mother is one of the most sensitive, caring, empathetic, and encouraging people I know.

When I feel like getting angry, or reacting with anger, I think of my mom, and how she would handle the situation. My dad expects me to work hard, but also helps me recognize even hard work has its limitations, and to never be too hard on yourself. He also has a bizarre sense of humor that I’m starting to understand as I get older. I alway saw him as rather serious growing up, but he’s really not.

Much like me, I think. People think I’m so serious, until they finally get to know me. I’m anything but! I’m also encouraged and blessed to have so many wonderful friends and chosen family members scattered around the world. Seeing them live their lives authentically really makes me happy. Becoming active in the BDSM, leather, and kink community — and also Sister rabbit hole, has introduced me to so many lovely people. I’m continually motivated to be my own authentic self in every interaction I have with folks I’m a lucky guy. If I can add my own slice of Kentucky to the mix, life’s good.

Queer Kentucky

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