Queer Kentucky

Queer Folks

Amelia Pantalos, Louisville, Kentucky

What does the word queer mean to you?

I like the word queer, it’s expansive to me. It describes the attitude of being indifferent to, dismissive of, or in direct opposition to mainstream expectations of beliefs and behaviors. And “queer” doesn’t have the word “sex” in it, which I like, because queerness is about a lot more than sexual attraction.

Where are you originally from? What has been your experience growing up and/or living in Kentucky?

We moved from Utah to Kentucky right after I turned 12, and Louisville is my home—I went away for grad school for four years, and came back here on purpose. (Although Louisville is my home, I love this whole damn commonwealth and all the many, many people working to create change here).

I keep needing to say something here to acknowledge that short be being male, I have all the privileges a queer person can have—I’m white, cisgender, straight-passing, etc. Have I had negative experiences that were a direct result of my queerness? Absolutely. But my list of grievances is shorter than one might expect. So instead of telling you about what cis men have approached me to say while on a date with another queer person, I want to tell you about the loving queer community I have found here. That community was one of the things I missed the most about Louisville in the time I was away at school. I wish everyone were as fortunate as I am to have multiple people in my life that make me feel so seen and heard.

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

Don’t panic! It’s okay to not know, or to find that something that used to be true isn’t anymore. It’s okay to be afraid. Always be open to making discoveries about yourself, over and over.

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

It’s been a part of me for so long that in some ways it’s hard to say. I think that in some ways being queer has freed me from the pressure to meet certain expectations or have specific ways of being—like, if I’ve already fucked up the foundation, why bother? But also, my queerness intersects with my millennial-ness, my privileges, and probably lots of other factors that shape how I move through the world.

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

I’m not exceptionally visibly queer, so making connections with other queer folks in the wild can be challenging—especially since I don’t really enjoy the sensory experience of “mainstream” queer venues like bars, clubs, or Pride. I consume a lot of queer news media, which makes me feel connected to queers elsewhere (but not necessarily locally), and that is something that I’ve found to be really affirming to my own sense of queer identity when I’ve been single a long time or in a relationship where I’m read as straight.

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

In the kitchen, cooking or baking for people I love.

Bevin attacks LGBT rights

 

By Wesley Whistle, QKY Contributor

Governor Matt Bevin is at it again. After calling Kim Davis “an inspiration to American Children” and filing a brief arguing a company shouldn’t have to make Pride shirts, Bevin is attacking LGBT rights again. Now, Governor Bevin is arguing that companies are allowed to fire someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This week 16 states—including Bevin—filed a brief with the United States Supreme Court asking to overturn a decision by an appeals court that redefines the word “sex” in federal law to include “gender identity.” The Civil Rights Act of 1964 says it is unlawful for employers “to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” This case was brought when a transgender woman said she was illegally fired by a funeral home in Michigan while transitioning from male to female because she is protected under this act.

The states arguing against this are saying that civil rights law as written does not include sexual orientation or gender identity. On the other side, one argument says this definition of “sex” is appropriate because a woman who gets fired for being married to a woman wouldn’t get fired if she were a man married to a woman—therefore it is about her sex.

Currently, 28 states do not protect LGBT people against discrimination—including Kentucky. Thanks to folks like the Fairness Campaign, some in Kentucky are protected, as 10 cities have adopted fairness ordinances. And, as Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office told the Courier Journal, the state of Kentucky prohibits discrimination on sexual orientation right now for state employment. (Thanks, Governor Steve Beshear! Let’s hope Bevin doesn’t roll back that protection.)

But that still leaves LGBT folks in 110 Kentucky counties—and the parts of counties not covered by those cities—vulnerable to this type of discrimination. My home of Daviess County is one of those places that lack this protection. Plus, most of those places are rural where LGBT people face some of the worst oppression already.

This is an important case. If the USSC rules that employers cannot discriminate that would be a huge win—expanding that definition and protection to the folks who need it. However, if we lose it leaves those people hanging while also telling folks everywhere that discrimination is legal. That could empower those who might have otherwise thought twice before firing. It’s time Governor Bevin defend all Kentuckians. Not only is defending LGBT folks the moral thing to do, supporting LGBT people would be better for Kentucky’s economy.

Coming back to self

 

Jon Tenholder, Louisville Kentucky

What does the word Queer mean to you?

Queer for me is knowing, existing, embracing that I am part of a minority, outside of the
heteronormative stories we have been told year after year about human life, survival, purpose.

Being queer is my heart saying my journey is different, more creative than roles, societal messages, behaviors surrounding my body and its purpose for existing. I am here to connect, to create art, to breathe, to learn, and that is affected by more than a filtered image of what consumerism, capitalism has instilled in us about gender, sex, and avenues to live as a human.

I am greater than someone else’s imagined life for me. Being born with XX chromosomes came with assumptions about what I was supposed to do, what trajectory I would take in life, and those ideas do not apply to me! I never identified with womanhood in a Western, cultural sense. I never have been. I played those roles as best I could and harnessed those energies and still do. I am human, with soft and firm traits, passive and assertive, passionate and caring, boyish, talkative. Queer is claiming my body, my mind, my spirit and setting it free from beliefs that have agency over my purpose or my image.

How do you identify? Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything at all?

I identify as trans-masculine, the term implying an intentional change to present and live within an historically understood view of masculine bodies while also allowing myself the flexibility of queerness for my body, how it moves, how I use it. Not restricting myself to Western masculine roles, but also taking them on and becoming what I want with them, reclaiming them.

I now know that this journey is an internal exploration of childhood dreams, of breaking free from a patriarchal, authoritarian family and community culture, while also trying to nurture what I appreciate about masculinity. I can now walk like, look like, exist like role models and humans that matched my spirit and interests as a young kid. That includes a mixture of female and male individuals from actors Leo Dicaprio, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hayden Christensen, to soccer heroes Ericca Todd, Mia Hamm, Landon Donovan, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Where are you originally from?
I am originally from Cape Girardeau, in the “bootheel” of Missouri. I consider it the south and it is still a vastly conservative place.

What has been your experience growing up and/or living in Kentucky?
I have lived in Louisville since 2014, Mississippi for almost 2 years before that, and I grew up in Missouri so my life has been under a Southern umbrella. My experiences as a queer person stretch from affirming and embracing to threatening, scary, hostile, rude upon coming out to people or being in public, from curiosity and genuine interest in my personhood. As early as I can remember, I identified openly as a boy and was criticized, laughed at, beat up by boy neighbors, ostracized by girl peers.

I always felt like I did not feel safe being me, or at least without experiencing resistance. On 7 out of 8 place of employment, I have experienced harassment, demotion, fired, transferred, lied to, gaslighted, written up, ostracized by customers and co-workers alike. These actions were not related to a lack of character or work-ethic, but directly connected to the openness of my identity, the bias and misunderstanding about my personhood, my persistence to address these issues, and the fact that I am naturally open about my thoughts and opinions.

This is my experience as a white, trans-masculine person with panic/anxiety and with a lack of sensitivity to it. With that said, I am grateful that I have had amazing, kind, patient friends who validate my pain, my feelings, my perspectives on the job and in the world from both queer and cis-het identities.

What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity?
I would say be brave and dig into past memories and feelings, validate and explore them. Find ideas, feelings, and descriptions for self that resonate deeply, intuitively and try them out. Personify them. Talk about them with trusted friends. Find role models, seek to meet your individual needs relentlessly: housing, health, emotional and social and take it a day at a time.

The whole process of coming back to yourself should be cherished, the dark and light and everything in between. Know that it may be painful, even dangerous, but we are capable of overcoming these pains with wit, passion, connection to others and self-love.
How does your own identity affect how you carry yourself? Or does it?
My identity does affect how I carry myself. When I am most anxious or working through panic attacks body dysphoria, I slouch, hunch, take up as little room as possible and try not to draw attention to myself. Recently, I have been walking in sync with my breath, my shoulders back, chest open, even though I am still waiting to have top surgery. Some of this is to maintain alertness and high energy for my safety, some of it to show that I am here and alive and worthy.
It is scary as hell to walk with courage and grace. It is vulnerable and empowering all at once. You tell the world its ok to be ok with you. Now being perceived as a masculine person, public life has changed for me. Femme people are coy with me, less open to socializing with me, which does make me sad because I grew up with women and I feel safest with them. But I understand their fears of course! Before coming out, cis-men harassed me to flirt or assert themselves inappropriately. Those memories and experiences have stayed with me, but now men still approach me thinking I will automatically welcome their presence and this creates anxiety for me so I sometimes step up my bro-ness to help me safe, but I hate it! So I try to maintain some type of queer edge, no matter what.
What issues do you see in the queer community? What do you think would solve those issues?
I think the queer community has to function from spaces of poverty, betrayal, internalized hate, lack of adequate or sensitive healthcare to no access at all to doctors or hormones. I think this sets the stage for daily living to be a continual challenge. Trauma changes you. It changes your brain and your body. Being marginalized deeply affects us; abuse, homelessness, ostracization from family and friends, change, grieving old identities and the way we used to function are all issues we deal with to varying degrees and with intersecting identities. I think focusing on healing ourselves, body, mind, and heart, whatever that looks like to each individual could help us immensely. Not just existing, but really working through our trauma and pain so we can be loving to ourselves, so we can thrive. Speaking out for ourselves, advocating for others, living
boldly, supporting each other politically, communally, learning about and listening to black, brown and non-Christian human experiences may help us develop legal, social, political, spiritual spaces and resources that are not present without intentional creation.

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)?
I feel at my best when playing music and performing. When I am releasing my voice into the world, I feel bigger than my thoughts, my worries. I become my inner self for others to see and feel. Even playing my guitar by myself soothes me. I also love coffee shops because of the smells and destination for connection. In nature, I feel the most loved and rejuvenated; I am alive without talking or explaining myself. I am nurtured by the sounds and beings and smells. I love art galleries and craft stores because I can get lost in the colors and figures and messages from others worlds.

Queer means Power

 

Daniel Bond, Kentucky

The word queer to me means a lot, but if I had to put it down to a word it’s “power.”

Some of the best people I know and love are queer. I identify as pansexual and male. I don’t necessarily care for the gender of the person, just as long as their chill/cool.

I am from Louisville, Kentucky. My experience in Kentucky has been OK…yeah there are a few bad apples from time to time but that doesn’t spoil the whole batch.

To anyone struggling to identify themselves, I say take as much time as you need. You may not discover who you really are today, tomorrow, or even for years but you will, people always do. And that feeling of finding yourself can match even the greatest of feelings.

I guess I don’t really feel excluded from the mainstream queer community, I just don’t really involve myself as much as I should. I feel at my best when I’m with my friends or my mom. No one really influenced the life I live now, if anybody did, I’d have to say my mom. But she more just gave me the tools to build the best life I could.

“The Welcoming Rainbow Umbrella”

 

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.

Beth Rich, Queer Kentucky Writer

 

I am thrilled to be a writer for Queer Kentucky, and excited to share my story here. This is the first time I’ve shared parts of this publicly, and I am excited to have the space and support to do so.

Queer-ness to me is about how I see, experience and interact with the world. It’s connected to gender and sexuality, sure, but it’s also more than that. To me, queer is not fitting into the boxes, queer is being on the margins, queer is feeling like an outsider. And those things are difficult. I’ve been hurt because of them, but there’s also so much beauty and opportunity there. Being queer presents me with the opportunity to see, discover, and embrace all parts of myself, no matter how desperate they might seem. Being queer invites me to celebrate myself in my entirety. Queer-ness, to me, is about integration, wholeness and discovery.

I identify as queer. I am a cis woman married to a cis man, so there’s a lot of privilege that comes with that. I’m in this place where I could choose never to come out and people probably wouldn’t know the difference. When I first realized I was queer, it felt more about who I am attracted to. Right now it feels more about the ways I think, the ways I experience my gender, my body, my mind, my self. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about balancing and embracing the femininity and masculinity within myself. There are parts of me that are very masculine that sometimes bring up defensiveness, fear and anger because I’ve spent much of my life fighting for those parts of my self, body and personality to be recognized. And then there are parts of me that are very feminine, that I’ve often downplayed or ignored because I didn’t want to be seen as weak, didn’t want to be sexualized and objectified any more than I already was, didn’t want to be left out because “I was a girl.” I am starting to see all of myself, embracing both the masculine and the feminine within me and giving each of them room to grow and thrive. I really want to accept all of it and make room for myself, so that I can harness the power and beauty that comes with full expression.

I am from Alabama, and moved to Louisville, Kentucky a little over three years ago. Honestly, there is much of my growing up experience that I don’t remember. I grew up in a Christian family, and was a sure, steady, believing Christian myself for much of my life.

Eventually, after college, I started having doubts, but before that things just stopped feeling “right.” I had no words for it, it wasn’t a conscious transformation in the beginning. But I stepped down from several positions of church involvement, started reading different books, started asking questions. And in the middle of all of that, I moved. I was on my way to North Carolina, dying to get a PhD in Comparative Literature from either UNC or Duke, but doors just kept slamming in my face, and I ended up living for the summer in my great-grandmother’s house in Central KY. My entire family, both my mom and my dad’s side, live in a tiny, two-stoplight town. I spent a summer with nanas, papas, grannies, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Though I don’t love everything about small town life, I am really grateful for the family support I received from them that summer, and for a quiet place tucked away in the middle-of-nowhere to read, rest, and figure out what was next. When my plans in North Carolina fell through, my family members suggested Louisville. They connected me with a couple of friends and I got a part-time job teaching English (ESL) to adults at Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

When I arrived in Louisville, I still considered myself a Christian, still felt like one, still believed. But I knew I had issues with the denomination I’d grown up in, and wanted to find something else. One of my issues was the racism I’d seen growing up, not always overt or conscious, but there nonetheless, so the first church I attended was an AME Zion church, a traditionally African-American denomination. I wanted to learn from church leaders who were people of color. I attended several services, and asked to meet with the pastor to better understand the church’s beliefs and practices. I had also chosen this church because the main pastor was a woman. I had grown up in a church that believes women can’t be in positions of leadership, and the most a woman can do is teach Sunday School or Bible studies to people younger than herself or other women. In that meeting, I asked the pastor what she thought the Bible said and what she believed about queer people. (Actually, I probably asked about homosexuality; I didn’t have the vocabulary and understanding that I do now.) As a woman, as a Black woman, I expected her to be accepting of queerness and homosexuality. Maybe that was assumptive of me, and I didn’t know then why her answer was so important to me. I had little conscious reasoning behind why I asked that question, I think the most I had a sense of was that I didn’t want to join another church community where I’d be taught, asked, required to look down on, police, or judge another group of people. When I asked, she immediately said something like “Well, it’s wrong. The Bible clearly says homosexuality is wrong and anyone who says differently is lying to themselves.” I remember feeling disappointed, like if I stayed I would just have to leave again because I’d be asked to see yet another group of people as wrong and less than. So I left that church too.

After that I tried what is, in many ways, the other end of the spectrum when it comes to churches; I attended an Episcopal church for several months. I rode my bike to an Evensong service where it ended up just being me, a church member, and one of the priests. I had coffee with them after the service, and ended up asking the same question. They were more accepting it seemed, and said something like they weren’t sure what the Bible says about homosexuality, but they did know that the Bible asks Christians to love, and so that was their focus. If I remember correctly, they seemed to disagree with each other a bit, but didn’t openly state their personal views. A few weeks (or months, I’m not entirely sure) after I began attending that church, the entire Episcopal church ruled to make the rite of marriage through their churches available to all people, regardless of gender. I don’t know all of the ins and outs of it, but the church I was attending split (or nearly split, again I’m not sure) because of that decision. Many members thought homosexuality was a sin, while others were convinced that the Bible asks Christians to love all people, and that that love freely extends to queer people. I didn’t stick around to learn more or take sides. I felt fragile, frustrated. It was enough work to hold space for myself to work through my own conflicting ideas, I knew I was unable to be a part of yet another community set on arguing over who is right and who’s wrong, who deserves love and respect, judgment and condemnation, and who doesn’t.

I know that there are queer people who are Christians, who are religious. I know that there are Christians and religious people who are fully accepting of queer folks. I know there are probably many people who were (and are) a part of my life and church experience who wished (or still wish) that I would have taken more time to talk things through, to understand their point of view, to be more gentle in my exit from the church and Christianity. (There are also Christians who love, accept, and understand me just as they did when I shared their faith, and there are those who are trying, and for that I am so very thankful and glad.) I also know that there are people who wish I would have stayed. People who want me to come back. But I couldn’t, I can’t, and I won’t. Though some of my reactions to Christianity have been motivated by hurt and fear, my decision to leave the church and identify as an atheist was driven by love and curiosity. (Note: I’m not completely happy with the word “atheist” or its associated identity, but it’s the closest word I currently have to define my worldview; humanist and nihilist also sometimes stick.) Love for myself, love for other people that I care about and refuse to judge, correct, convert, or convince. Curiosity about the world, and desire for an open, ever-growing worldview that has room for all of my discoveries, truths, and experiences. It’s taken three years for me to feel comfortable and safe enough to share this publicly, but this is my truth. Sometimes my experiences still hurt. Sometimes I miss pieces of the church community, practices, and beliefs. But I am free, I am healing, I am happy.

I don’t think it’s particularly notable that I had this experience in Kentucky, I think it could have happened anywhere. But I do find it interesting that I’ve wound up here and that this is where I left Christianity and discovered my queer-ness. I had always grown up visiting Kentucky (which as a kid, to me, meant that tiny town in Central Kentucky) but never planned to move here. When I moved to Louisville, people would tease me: “Why would you choose to move to a place like Kentucky?” When I said “Well, I came from Alabama,” they’d laugh and tease me even more. “Oh, well that makes sense. At least Kentucky ain’t Alabama.”

I am a strange Southerner, someone who’s often wanted to leave. Many days I still do. But, I’m also glad that I’ve stayed. That I’ve lived in both Alabama and Kentucky. That I’ve learned and grown here and grappled with what it means to be a queer, college educated, non-Chrisitan, white woman in the US South.

I discovered this interview in the Bitter Southerner with Lee Bains III when I was a senior in college. I was still attending church, still identifying as a Christian, still totally unaware of my queer-ness, but I LOVED every one of his words, and hung onto them even before they meant to me what they mean now. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the piece:

“The discourse of the powerful in the South has held Southern identity outside the grasp of multitudes. So, yes, I, personally, as a leftist, reasonably intellectual, open-minded Southerner, feel that I have been disallowed of my very identity by the discourse of the powerful, and, with this record, I am engaged in a process of reclaiming that identity for myself. But I hope too, and really more importantly, to invite other, more marginalized Southerners, and members of any culture anywhere for that matter, to engage in that same process — to refuse to be treated as strangers in their own land.”

That’s how I feel about being Southern, living in Alabama and now Kentucky. Even in Louisville, a city that celebrates its liberalism, openness, and culture. (No place is perfect, sure. But I think Louisville has a lot of growth to do, and it’s growth that I’m not altogether convinced will happen because the power in this city is nowhere near evenly distributed. In many ways the city is still segregated. Our laws don’t protect all of us, in fact they hurt many of us. So. I don’t want to live here forever. It’s not a place I want to raise my kids one day. It’s a place that’s difficult for me to live in. For those of you that feel that way and choose to make a life here anyway, you have my deep respect and gratitude. For those who don’t feel that way, good for you.) So here—in the US South, in Kentucky, in Louisville—I am deeply, passionately engaged in a process of reclaiming a Southern identity for myself and in creating and celebrating places that make room for Southerners more marginalized than myself to do the same. I refuse to be treated as a stranger in the land I grew up on. (Note: I’m hesitant to call it my or our own land. I appreciate the sentiment, but I think that it’s important to acknowledge the reality that this is not my land, our land. In many respects, this is stolen land.)

Later in the article, Bains says:

“It doesn’t matter where your parents were born or what religious tradition you follow or what type of person you find attractive; if you say you’re a Southerner, then you’re a fucking Southerner, and we need to hear about it. We need to hear what you love and hate about it. We need a real, open discourse about authentic culture and identity.”

I find this statement true about Southern identity, and true of queer identity. I am queer, and other people, queer and straight, can benefit from hearing what I have to say about my identity. I don’t really feel a part of “mainstream” queer culture. Because it’s very easy for people to assume I’m straight, and many do, I’m not always readily included or thought of in queer spaces or culture. Like the brilliant Hannah Gadsby said in her Netflix special, Nanette, “I don’t even think lesbian is the right identity for me…I identify as tired.” Queer is part of my identity. But I also identify as tired. As a bitter Southerner. As a million other things, a few that fit into mainstream, popular queer culture, and many that don’t.

Instagram has actually been a really big part of my queer journey, it’s been a way to find community and find people that I admire and identify with. I am studying to be a doula, a person that offers physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual support to people during times of transition (traditionally through birth, pregnancy, and postpartum, but I also want to offer similar support to people dealing with loss, academic and career transitions, cancer, other medical procedures and issues, and death). One of my favorite-ever doulas is a queer woman married to a cis man, Erica Chidi Cohen. Another doula I super-admire is Lindsey Bliss of Carriage House Birth, also a queer woman married to a cis man, and Vyana Novus-Magee is another amazing person that I’ve connected with through Instagram who’s a queer woman married to a cis man. Writing this makes me realize that I used to feel pretty lonely in my queer identity, and that it’s been empowering and encouraging to find queer people who share a similar experience to my own. Which takes me in two directions: issues in the queer community and a person who’s influenced who and where and what I am today.

Issues in the queer community: there’s a lot of cliques. Like any other segment of the population, we’ve created in-groups, we often stick with people who look and act like us and that can cause a lot of disconnection. I think it’s important to recognize and examine our personal experiences and specific privileges, and I also think it’s important to come together, to connect with queer people who don’t look like you, talk like you, act like you, identify like you, have sex like you. I think there’s a lot of healing that can, and I hope will, happen within the queer community. Racism and sexism are very much a part of this community, this culture, even if queer is already a marginalized identity. I’d love to see us heal some of our individual and collective wounds, and move into a more accepting, curious way of interacting with one another.

My person: I’ve mentioned being married already, I’ve mentioned being a queer cis woman married to a queer cis man. For most of my life, I was unable to imagine a person I’d want to marry. When I left the church and Christianity, I wondered if marriage meant anything to me. It does, but that’s meaning I’ve created, we’ve created. Meaning that would not exist for me if it weren’t for Bobby. Bobby is my favorite person, the biggest piece of my world. If it weren’t for him, I’m not sure when I would have realized I was queer and I am sure that coming to that realization and stepping into my identity would have been much more challenging and painful. I met Bobby soon after I moved to Louisville, and he was a friend, a listener, a support as I navigated moving to a new place, leaving Christianity, and defining my identity for myself. A 6’5”, 200+ pound person who studies Nietzschean philosophy, writes poetry that scares the shit out of many, and lifts thousands of pounds of what look like torture implements in his home gym every week, Bobby would not be described by all who meet him as friendly, loving, or open. But I am luckier than I imagined I could be that, since the day I met him, he’s shown me nothing but friendship, love, and openness. When he came out to me as queer, he texted me (I went back and read the texts, this is verbatim):

“I’m with you because I want to be with you. [Being queer] is something you need to know about me. Because you can know more fully who I am, and because I can be closer to you through being more open and honest. And also I want you to know because if you ever feel like you need to express or explore gender expression or sexuality differently, I want you to know you can. I have no expectations except for you.”

That’s proven to be true, and his acceptance of his own queerness has encouraged and inspired me to accept and explore my gender, my sexuality, my self. We eloped last summer in Cherokee Park, on my birthday (and had a second, bigger wedding ceremony upstairs above Ramsi’s cafe in October, on our second anniversary). We wrote our own vows and this is how mine ended:

“Your teacher, your friend, Nickole, and her wife wrote an essay about their marriage. In it, her wife, Jessica said:

What can be a greater act of self-definition than making you my wife, my chosen family?

I want to echo her words here.

I choose you as my family.

I choose to define myself as yours. Not because you own me or as someone forced to stay. But because this is what makes sense, more than anything else. Being your family, being your wife.”

And now, just a little over a year later, those words ring true. I imagine they always will. Bobby is the person who’s influenced me most and there’s no one else I’d rather define myself by, with, and alongside.

That’s my story. For anyone struggling to come into your own identity, I would encourage you that you’re not alone. And that, even if it doesn’t feel like it, you fit into the queer community. Your experiences, your feelings, your preferences matter, and there’s room for them. Stay curious. Whenever you can, reach out to people who make room for you, people who listen to you, people who love you.

Here is to chosen family, beautiful acts of self-identification, and the reclamation and celebration of our stories, as queer, as Kentuckians, as humans.

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