Andy Aliaga-Mendoza, Kentucky by way of MN
What does the word queer mean to you?
It’s the welcoming rainbow umbrella.
How do you identify? Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything at all?
I like to identify as both bisexual and queer and I use the two interchangeably. I tend to use bisexual more when referring to my romantic and sexual preferences or if I’m starting to speak on my past relationships. For example, “Well you know, I’m bi and my ex-girlfriend used to talk to ghosts through Tumblr…” or “I’m bi but I really can’t get into softball again, I’m sorry, I left that shit behind in the 7th grade”. I also find that, unfortunately, the word bisexual is more convenient when you’re first getting to know someone and you’re not sure how queer friendly they are, almost like a verbal stepping stone. I’ve been using queer a lot more lately with people I trust more or who I know are LGBT or LGBT allies. I identify more as queer sometimes in that while I wouldn’t necessarily call myself non-binary, I do see myself as a little fluid; on a scale of cis graham crackers to genderless water, I’m Greek yogurt.
Where are you originally from? What has been your experience growing up and/or living in Kentucky?
I’m originally from Minneapolis, MN. It’s kind of unfortunate that I didn’t explore myself and come out there because I feel it would’ve been far easier than coming to these realizations in Kentucky. I started falling in love with girls when I was 16. My high school principal was an openly homophobic man and the few openly queer kids at my school were bullied relentlessly. I would say living in a red state delayed me living my truth for a good few years.
What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity?
Be patient with yourself. There’s a lot of pressure from the mainstream to have this insta-worthy/viral/super cute coming out story or for everything to just fall into place when you tell the world your truth. Nothing is that easy. Get comfortable with yourself. Find a group of people that you trust and can turn to. Make sure that when you do decide to tell other people that you have a safety net if things go awry. Contrary to popular belief, coming out of the closet isn’t a Band-Aid ripping moment, it’s an ongoing lesson in community and self-awareness.
How does your own identity affect how you carry yourself? Or does it?
It has in that it has made me practice confidence in ways I wouldn’t have thought to before. Prior to coming out, especially as a heartbroken teenager, I was extremely self-conscious about not looking feminine enough or acting passive/cute enough. This was really damaging to me because I was sexualized in ways I didn’t want to be on a regular basis and I let just about everyone walk all over me. Once I started asserting my identity, and stopped letting people call it “a phase,” I found I also had to assert myself in all aspects of my life.
What issues do you see in the queer community? What do you think would solve those issues?
There’s a lot of instability in our community. Personally, I think it’s a cyclone of unresolved trauma, pushback from society, and the seemingly never-ending search for acceptance. We’re so pushed to the margins by cis/het folks that we have a tendency to focus on our survival more than our well-being, and there’s a clear difference between the two. I hope to see a day when none of my queer friends have to resort to couch surfing or trying to raise money for basic necessities through GoFundMe. A lot of these problems are systemic; homophobia has created a culture of shadows.
I also find that white gays continue to be problematic, even within my age group, which is really disheartening. So many of them use their gayness as a “get away with saying racist shit” card and it’s really troubling when we live in an era in which black and Latinx queers are being attacked and disenfranchised faster than ever.
Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
I’d like to go ahead and take a page out of Hannah Gadsby’s book and say that I’m a quiet queer. When I first came out I felt this strong need to immerse myself in everything related to the community and nearly shunned the my interests that couldn’t be a part of that. And while that was well and fine at first, I realized, kind of stupidly, that I was more or less the same person. I don’t feel excluded but I don’t see myself as the most active participant in gay culture. That being said, I’ve watched every episode of Queer Eye on Netflix and have actively daydreamed about asking Janelle Monae out for dinner.
Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)?
I’ve discovered a few happy safe places that calm me, which is great because as a woman of color it’s hard to wander the South without feeling several eyes on you. One of them is my living room, which I have curated to a hilt. Another is my neighborhood, specifically in the daytime or evening when I can plug in my headphones, put on an album or podcast and zig zag through 2nd Street all the way to Central Park or as far as the Speed Museum. The third is any movie theater.
Who influenced the life you live now?
My parents more than anyone. I was so lucky to grow up with people who taught me life skills my entire childhood and were willing to tell me all about the world instead of trying to shy me away from it.