Queer Kentucky

Gay Gratitude, reflection on addiction and coming out

I would’ve loved the word “Queer” over the other words used to describe me when I was growing up.

It was not an acceptable thing in the 90’s to be gay in Louisville, Ky. I was sick, depressed, and full of fear my whole life.

I knew I was attracted to men as far as I can remember. My earliest memory was when I was four. I had a crush and it was not a woman. Paralyzed by fear I hid side by side with a girlfriend thinking I was fooling folks. What I didn’t know is that you’d have to be deaf or blind NOT to know and thats even questionable. I’ve always be an effeminate male and it brought discrimination, hate and cruelty from a lot of people.

My brother had my back my whole life and I’m so grateful for him. My Uncle Kenny and David accepted me even though they knew I was not like other people. So the word “Queer” and its definition may ring true. I refer to myself as Two-spirited and in the Native American culture it is a gift to walk this path. I’m at peace with who I am and I’m not any better or worse than any other creature walking our earth.

My Gay “Bible” if you will is called “The Velvet Rage” Overcoming the Pain of Growing up Gay in a Straight Mans World by Alan Downs Ph. d.

This book had a major impact on my life. It was written in 2008 & I came out in 1996. I say that to say this:

I spent twelve years of my life drowning myself in drugs and alcohol. I was drinking and drugging just so I could accept myself and it didn’t work. Coming up for air while living in New York City, I found a community of men just like me. These men loved me until I learned to accept myself. I learned to walk with confidence, self esteem and acceptance. I knew that not everyone agreed with my lifestyle but there is nothing I can do to change who I am. I would not have chosen a life of discrimination, hate, and a hell of a gay bashing in my twenties — It was time to tie up my boot straps and walk into the person that creator intended me to be.

I want anyone coming up in our community to know that you are the only you! You need to know that “YOU MATTER” and you are the only person that can serve the purpose you were brought here to do. Take risks, jump with no net, walk in faith not fear, and don’t get stuck in the box of “I can’t” — that only leads to could have, would have, and should have.

I’d like to share this poem by Marianne Williamson one of the best spiritualist of our time:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

I don’t speak on behalf of our whole community. I’ve learned that starts discussions, opinions and controversies. I can talk about my own experience and I struggled with something for years. I had internal homophobia for years, and I was afraid of my own people. This kept me feeling separate, different and alone within my own community.

I was harder on my own kind and myself. It didn’t matter what others were saying because I was opinionated, stuck in being right and political on what I thought. What I know today is we love each other where we’re at. Everyone deserves their process because that process creates magnificent human beings into voices for the ones that are coming up behind them. Shared experience and loads of hope create more and more pathways to standing together for what matters most and thats rights for everyone not a separation based on sexuality.

#unstoppable

Queer Kentucky sent two youth mentors from the Louisville, Kentucky community to the Baptiste Foundation’s #unstoppable program.

This is a training for anyone who works with youth – school teachers, school counselors, aides, coaches, community center employees, police officers, etc. Our participants learned through personal experience, a set of tools to teach basic yoga poses, breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques to youth as a part of how they already work with them. The training will also gave an introduction as to why and how these tools can help people who have experienced trauma. Our participants were given valuable tools that taught them how to care for themselves first so they can more effectively serve others.

Jefferson County Public School teacher Trina Helson works as the adviser to the LGBTQ+/alliance student group at Eastern High School and participated in the training. Also, Chris Wilson, diversity and outreach coordinator for Louisville Youth Group attended. Both participants filled out an application through Queer Kentucky and were selected based on their interaction with LGBTQ+ youth.

This training covered how yoga, meditation and self inquiry are powerful tools for self care, but also through personal experience, how it can be shared with others.

We thank 502 Power Yoga and the Baptiste Foundation for offering an inclusive space for education and self-growth.

*The Baptiste Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit organization contributing to individuals and communities in need by sharing the powerful tools and techniques of Baptiste Yoga. The Baptiste Foundation exists to bring yoga and educational programs to empower and inspire communities across the planet.

Gender, color, sexuality

Jerika Jones, Kentucky

What does the word Queer mean to you?

I think Queer means living a life that is otherwise considered different from mainstream and also heteronormative lifestyle. I choose words carefully because gay lifestyles are becoming more “mainstream,” but often tend to fall into heteronormative ideas and I’m reluctant to call all gay life Queer. But that’s an argument for another day. I don’t really identify as Queer per say. But I don’t think it would be wrong for someone to call me Queer. I definitely identify with being at least sexually fluid. But I identify more with a cis gendered feminine life style more than anything else.

Where are you originally from?

I did not grow up in Kentucky, but I do think that I spent important years here. I was mostly a teenager in Kentucky. When I moved to Kentucky, I became aware of what my skin tone really means. I never knew the gravity of being a black girl until I came to Kentucky and had people call me a nigger and threaten me because of my race.

How do you understand Ideas of gender

I have an interesting stance on Gender. I really never knew how much of a fluid idea i had of cis femininity until I went to college. I remember having the hardest time understanding what cis gender meant in relation to what I was reading because I never understood femininity to mean docile, submissive, emotional attentive etc.

I have only been around black women who provided for my family when the men couldn’t, being the pillar of strength when no one else would, speaking up when others were silent, and being the voice of authority. All of these things I have come to learn are associated with masculinity. This is the narrative for black women. In a lot of ways, I have learned that being a cis gendered black woman meant being somewhat masculine. But given my experience growing up in a Black family it is a no brainier that I would be confused.

But with that said, I have made some POC, GNC and Trans friends, and I have come to learn more of the nuances of gender that way.

And I have learned that even though I have a fluid sense of gender because of my race, my identity as a black cisgendered woman is still the normal of abnormal femininity. Gender is far more intricate of a thing than I can even understand because I don’t have the first-hand experience to know. So, I have come to understand the tricky bits of gender by being friends with people who are more oppressed than I am, who rely on my voice as a cis aligned black female to elevate theirs.

This doesn’t give a clear-cut answer to “how do you understand gender and what does it mean to you” nor does it give a sufficient answer to “how do you see your identity ” because to give a clear cut answer does a disservice to experiences that I can imagine that by siblings in race experience.

I have also come to understand gender by watching people react to my own gender performance. I kinda present tomboy but very feminine at the end of the day. I think people readily ascribe Queer to me because I don’t really perform high femme. But I’m definitely femme. And usually, it’s Queer folks that incorrectly gender me. They tend to either make me into more Queer than I actually am or not recognize being just sexually Queer as legitimately queer. It’s like people want to see a particular type of Queer performance. For me my Queerness come in a form that’s largely unseen, which is my sexuality.

Now that I think about this question more – I actually think this is the best way to demonstrate my cis privilege. Because at any time I can perform more high femme it wouldn’t make me feel a type of way at all but I want to be more tomboy-ish because I’m lazy — not because I truly identify as androgynous.

Do you feel excluded from the queer community

No, I do not feel excluded from mainstream Queer community because it is people like me who are creating the caricature of it. The actual Queer community looks different from what mainstream media would say it does. And while I don’t feel excluded from it, I am very aware of my role in relation to other people who can only find community within the queer community. At any time, I can go into non-queer communities and be OK.  And I have to be mindful of that.

A Western Kentucky Queer

Austin Norrid, Hopkinsville

The word queer to me is about chosen family. For many queer folks, relationships with our given families can be strained at times, but we have the opportunity to create families of our own within the queer community. What the word queer offers that LGBTQ* doesn’t, is one word for our entire family to embrace and call our own.

I identify as queer.

I’m originally from Hopkinsville, KY. Growing up I had no examples of out queer people who were my age, and very limited examples of older people who were out.  I went to a small school with only 33 people in my graduating class. I was the only one to come out before graduating, which at times was isolating.

To people who are struggling to come into their own identity, I’d say that living your authentic self doesn’t require a specific label first. Experiment. Experience. Try new things and meet knew people. Ask questions. Finding yourself is an act of liberation and rebellion against heteropatriarchy. The tendency to compare yourself to others is neither queer nor liberating.

My identity influences my teaching praxis as I strive to be a positive example of a queer adult, which I didn’t always have when I was in school.

In the queer (and especially gay male) community I often see folks being shamed for being “femme.” This is just an aspect of heteropatriarchy. Queer bodies that are masculine are valued over those that are femme, much as our culture values male bodies over female bodies. Until we as a community can learn to value queer femme bodies, we will continue to be enacting the violence of heteropatriarchy on ourselves.

I don’t feel a need to search for a “mainstream” queer community because I feel I have made my own queer community.

I feel my happiest when I am making music with my students in South Louisville and when I am relaxing with my partner, Sanjay.

All of the queer pioneers like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Harvey Milk have definitely influenced me the most. As a teacher, I feel that it is my duty to advocate for the needs of my students, especially the needs of my queer and POC students. When they are in my classroom I want to make sure they know they are safe, respected, loved, and valued, and that I will fight to make the world a better place for them.

Wordsmith rediscovers home in Queer Kentucky

Sarah Gardiner – Gay/Lesbian, She/Her/Hers

Owner of Nanny Goat Books, writer, editor, and small-press publisher

Queer is a word I’ve only recently adopted. When I came out at 19, Gay was the umbrella term used for anyone in my LGBTQ+ circle. I was living in DC at the time, and though the community was incredibly inclusive, diverse, and of course, political, “standard” terminology was still the go-to for those around me.

Though I am a lesbian, that was never a word I adopted or was used to describe me, and queer was simply not used at all. Perhaps that was due to the age of many in my circle who had lived through a time when that word was thrown at them like a bullet rather than a badge. Or perhaps it was because we were still fighting for marriage equality and many felt that simplified language would help us win our basic rights. Whatever it was, it is changing, and I couldn’t be happier by that shift.

The first time I heard queer as a positive identifier, it felt radical and beautiful. It was the perfect fit for the umbrella of a community made of up so many unique and diverse members. It felt like the opposite of standard. We’ve always been radical, and words that support our fight are more important now than ever.

I’m from Louisville and, after being away for a while, moved back over a year ago. Moving back to Kentucky has been one of the most incredible decisions of my life. I left to go out and explore other places and, particularly after I came out, much of that exploration revolved around discovering queerness elsewhere. When I left Kentucky at 18, I had no idea just how wonderfully queer the state can be. I was pulled toward more “traditionally” LGBTQ+ spaces, but in doing so I missed the beauty of Kentucky and our community. Coming home and rediscovering that community has been wonderful on so many levels.

To any/all struggling with their identity, You are not alone. I know exactly where you have been. We all do. And it isn’t easy, but it is the most beautiful journey I have ever been on, and I believe you will feel the same with some time. The journey is the difficult part, but there is a community out here for you who have been through it and support you every step of the way. I was lucky enough to have many incredible influences within the community while coming out and as I found my footing in life. The care of others and the knowledge that I was not alone in my journey helped me become the proudly queer person I am today. In the end, it is amazing where life takes you after all the twists and turns. And that destination is beautiful beyond belief.

My queer identity influences so much of how I carry myself and interact in this world. From the way I present myself to the people I surround myself with, LGBTQ+ culture is at the core of who I am. As a writer, publisher, and bookstore owner, I also find myself considering how I can promote queer writing and ideas on a daily level. Amplifying the voices of the community is one of my driving factors personally and professionally.

Because of this, I feel at my best, on a day to day basis, at my bookstore. It is a place I built with my own two hands and a place really filled with care and love. Plus, who doesn’t like to be surrounded by books everyday?

On days I am out of the office, I find nothing more relaxing than being out strolling through the the rolling hills and trails that make Kentucky so uniquely beautiful. I grew up hiking down to Harrod’s Creek through winding paths cut in forests that felt untouched by time and society. These woods and rolling hills were what called me back home to the to the land I love. The spirit of this state has a way of seeding itself deep into the hearts of Kentuckians. This place is ours.

Friday Flowers

Kenyatta, 24, Louisville

What does the word queer mean to you?

The work Queer to me means someone who’s not afraid to be themselves and live free without a care in the world.

How do you identify?

I identify myself as a non-binary pansexual.

I’ve came to a point in my life where where you not only have to accept the masculine but you also have to accept the feminine to be aligned with what the universe has to offer.

I also don’t really like to label myself but I do to help others try to understand but everyone isn’t meant to be understood. When you label yourself I feel you just put yourself in a box just to fit society but I commend those who don’t identify.

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

Born and raid here in Louisville, Kentucky. I grew up in Clarksdale Housing Project. I was always loved playing outside and very fascinated with nature. I didn’t play too well with others I was the one throwing sand and had all the popsicle sticks in my behavior pocket at the end of the day so school was never cake for me at all. I always enjoyed art class my favorite thing to draw was flowers when it was Friday.

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

Do it on your own time. Don’t let anyone for you to do anything you’re not ready to. Go within and love yourself and due time you’ll be ready.

How does your own identity run how you carry yourself?

Coming into my identity allowed me to not follow societies ideal of what I should be. My sexuality allowed me to realize I don’t have to fit one specific role in society I can play multiple.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

Some people here build their own categories and stereotypes about each other which builds a “wall” and puts tension within the community.

What do you think would solve those issues?

Some people should try to step outside of their comfort zone and actually get to know someone before you make assumptions about them.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community?

I feel excluded from mainstream queer community cause I’m not a sir, a twink, an otter, a bear, and you catch my drift. Sometimes I got out and they throw specific events for main categories I just don’t fit into at all and would never classify myself as one just to fit in.

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

I feel happy when I’m on the go I’m a Capricorn so I like to stay productive especially when I’m working. I’m the night owl and the early riser. Who said you need 8 hours of sleep? That’s for lazy people. I love to catch the early morning fresh air before everyone gets out and hop in their cares and start polluting the air.

Who influenced the life you live now?

Dr. Mufundishi Baba Serikali. He’s my spiritual father and Mufundishi. He not only introduced me to meditation but he also introduced me to Tai Chi which taught me to be more mindful and conscious. Tai Chi is an ancient, yet modern, form of meditative exercise, effective regardless of age and physical ability, and practiced by millions of people worldwide. The study and practice of Tai Chi is based on the belief that health is not just the absence of disease, but is a true balance of physical, emotional and social well-being.

Tai Chi

• Improves balance to prevent falls

• Lowers high blood pressure

• Improves shallow breathing

• Facilitates curing respiratory illnesses such as asthma, colds & bronchitis

• Strengthens joints in knees, ankles, wrists & hips

• Aids in physical & emotional adjustment during menopause

• Improves posture, aligns the spine & strengthens the lower back

• Helps to metabolize blood sugars

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