Queer Kentucky

Q&A with Queer KY Seminarian

How do you identify?

I identify as a gay man.

What does the word queer mean to you?

I think queer is a word that is used to describe a community that is hard to fit into one label. People are used to saying, “the gay community,” but “the gay community” is exclusive because gender identity and sexual orientation has complexities. The word queer, however, does justice by defining a community for what is it not, not being cis-gendered and/or heterosexual.

Growing up in Kentucky?

I have grown up with an appreciation for Kentucky, most notably from the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association. Through the organization I was able to meet people from all around the commonwealth, and I was able to do community service throughout the commonwealth. There is a lot to take pride in for Kentuckians. For me, I take a lot of pride in horse racing, and the natural beauty of eastern Kentucky.

However, I recognize that Kentucky can have a negative connotation for some, particularly for its associate with the south and the Bible belt. I’ve received a taste of this for four years when I lived in Murray, Kentucky. While I love Murray, Kentucky, being close to rural Kentucky was a cultural shock for someone who grew up in Louisville, and while there were aspects of rural Kentucky that I did not like, I also gained an appreciation for rural Kentucky. I love the religious landscape (as someone who was part of it); I loved continually running into people I knew, and I loved experiencing how knitted a small town can be.

What would you say to someone who is struggling with their identity and religion?

I think a lot of Christians are drawn to Christianity because Christianity speaks into the depths of us, and makes us confront the parts of ourselves that we wish to bury- our anger, lust, jealousy, failure to do justice, prejudices, etc. Christianity brings to us a message of salvation, through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it is through our salvation that we are able to live into new life in Jesus, however, I do not believe that our queerness is what we need salvation from. Instead, I think the depths of us that we may need salvation from is our unwillingness to see the image of God in us. I think we need salvation from believing that our sexual orientation and gender identity is not God’s imprint on us. I think salvation looks like a queer person saying, “I am queer,” believing that being queer is okay, and living authentically. Salvation is not the condemnation of ourselves that may lead to self-harm and suicide.

Rather, you, along with all queer people, are beloved children of God, created in the image of God, and nothing of this world can separate you from the love of God.

How does being gay affect how you carry yourself?

For the most part I wear my gayness on my sleeve. If someone can perceive that I’m gay by how I walk, or how I talk, then that is pretty awesome. Having that confidence definitely takes time, and it is not something that I’ve always had, however, if a stranger were to call me a faggot I would flip my imaginative long hair.

I think worrying about how I carry myself comes more from being gay and religious. The queer community has come a long way in overall society, however, the church has a long way to go. While the majority of mainline protestant denominations have affirmed the queer community church wide, the universal church has not affirmed queer identity. As someone who cares for the entirety of the universal church I still feel as if there is pressure on me in carrying myself the “right” way, as someone who is becoming an openly gay pastor.

Issue within the queer community?

We do not have enough queer coffee shops. Queer bars and clubs have become sanctuaries for us because they are one of the few places where we can live authentically without judgment, and they are a place where we can be social and find people just like us. I love them, and I probably go to them too frequently. With that said, my gayness needs to go somewhere at noon.

Queer identity, especially for gay men, has been centered on the bar scene, and while that is okay, it is also exclusive. It is exclusive for those who are sober, and it is exclusive for those who are not into what the bar scene brings. I go to the bars semi-regularly; I see the same people and I know I’m not seeing all the queer people of Louisville.

So, in a mid-size city, let’s have a queer coffee shop where we can be queer, read queer books, and listen to Cher. And in rural Kentucky, let’s get a gay bar. Baby steps.

Do you feel excluded from the queer community?

Not really. My piety is either an enigma or a weird fetish, one being understandable the latter being annoying. I would not say that my religiosity has made me feel excluded because I have also found many queer people who I am able to be with in fellowship. Being Christian isn’t counterculture in the queer community; it is more of a subculture.

How do Christians feel about me being openly gay?

It’s a mix bag, and when I lived in Murray, Kentucky I always had to prepare myself for any response when a Christian was to find out that I am gay, especially since I was doing ecumenical work in the community. Typically, I get three responses. 1. I immediately get this figurative trophy for being opening gay and Christian, particularly as someone who has some status as a faith leader. 2. They don’t care, or seem to not care. 3. Unspoken but noticeable change in the air due to their un-affirming views (And in some cases I would hear what they have said about me later). No one has ever tried to make me think differently, and I think that’s because they know I’m not going to change my opinion, and because they know I can debate them.

Addressing God of Christians and Queer people?

The God of queer Christians is the same as the God of all Christian’s, but just as denominations may differ in theology that they emphasize, I think the queer christian (Queerstians) community does the same. As a community that has been on the margins, and many of us having to deal with harm from our Christian community and family, we cling to the identity markers of Jesus.

The God incarnate, Son manifested, chose to come to us as Jesus Christ, a man born of a refugee woman in first century palestine- Jesus Christ- a poor man who hung out with the outcaste and blessed the poor, meek, and persecuted. Queerstians cling to a God who is their advocate, and who’s love for them is radical, so radical that an all powerful – all knowing – all present God was willing to be part of humanity, and take on human suffering for the sake of the world.

Say to Christian families struggling with their child’s queer child?

Addressing Christian families who are struggling with their child being queer is challenging. I think many people within the queer community want to not care for them, which is understandable considering the pain that queer people go through. However, families often struggle because of their deep love for their child, which is why empathy is important.

For many Christians, faith is a cornerstone of their identity, and Christianity emphasizes the passing down of the Christian faith. And if a Christian from an older generation is struggling, it may be because the institution that has been part of them for their entire life has been uniformal on queer issues for the most of their lifetime. For a parent to simply question their entire spiritual upbringing is monumental and difficult. And conservative Christian parents are struggling because out of love they are afraid of what being queer means for their child’s faith, child’s salvation, and child’s daily living. With knowing this I have sympathy, and I address them as siblings in Christ.

To conservative Christian parents struggling with their child being queer:

“Siblings in Christ, while you may be reading conservative authors and listening to conservative pastors as a way to make sense of your child’s queer identity, I hope that through your child you are able to see that your queer child is the child that they have always been. And at what may be a difficult time in their life, love and support is detrimental for their faith and overall well being. As you may lean on your faith for comfort, as you should, I hope that you are also willing to challenge you faith. Through challenge our faith is deepened, and if you’re willing to listen to Christians who affirm queer identity you may find that their queerness is truly a gift.

In love for my siblings,

Alec.”

Progressive denominations?

In all honesty, there is no “progressive denomination” because queerness is still debated in ALL Christian denominations (including conservative denominations), however, some denominations have made monumental strides in support of the Queer community, such as Old Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran (ELCA), Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and Disciples of Christ.

How does Christianity help me come to terms with my queer identity?

When it comes to Christianity helping me come to terms with my identity I caught myself in constant pondering. I knew of the teachings of evangelical Christianity, and because of them I struggled at early age. However, despite my struggle with religion, my faith was my rock. In my struggle I took comfort in knowing the love of God. By recognizing God’s love for me I knew that my fears and distress were not because of good discipleship to resist sin, and because of this, I was then able to ask, “what other thoughts are out there?” Upon studying I found comfort. I found salvation from my fears, which looked like me saying, “God loves me, and it’s okay to be gay.”

He’s beautiful

 

Tyler, Edmonton, Kentucky

Queer kind of just means I can do whatever I want. If I want to be butch one day I can butch it up. If I want to be femme I can. It contains no boundaries.

It’s a word that means freedom. You can do whatever you want

I kind of grew up in a bubble. I didn’t have to come out, I wasn’t the first person to do it in my family either. It was always understood that I was gay. All my friends were older and I was around people that made it OK for me.

I had an ideal group around me and I never felt out of place or unwanted. It could feel a little alienated in my hometown because of being the only one open about being gay.

A major issue right now with the current political environment, young people and kids see this administration and what is said about Queer culture and its detrimental to them. They’re just bombarded with negativity on who they are. If kids are thinking that something is wrong with them, I hope they realize that NOTHING is wrong about them. Some of the stories we see in the media right now could be hard for a young Queer person to interpret.

My identity used to run how I carry myself.

I thought, “Oh I’m gay. I have to be a twink. I have to be skinny.”

I felt that I had to fit specific stereotypes. As I’ve gotten older everything is more authentic. I know myself now more than I ever had. I do what I want when I want and I don’t ever think about how that fits into my identity.

The “mainstream” Queer community is not a part of our community that I choose to partake in. I don’t like how vapid it is. I feel like that side of the community tends to be very egotistical and self-centered. I love being around people who are genuinely weird without trying to be. I always feel more at home at alternative Queer spaces.

I am the happiest when I’m out of my comfort zone. I like the unknown of it. For me if something scares me, I’m going to do it and it’s never as scary as we make it out to be in our heads. I’m really happy when I’m by myself too. I love being social, but I am a loner. I love traveling alone, eating dinner alone, etc.

If something will make you happy and it doesn’t physically hurt people do it, because life is short, and you can’t live for others. As long as it’s authentic for you, people will respect you more because you’re living your truth as opposed to hiding.

Queer family

 

Amanda, Madisonville, Ky

To me the word queer means that there is fluidity to my life and to my sexual attractions. I identify as queer or pansexual because I am attracted to who I am attracted to and their gender identification is not a factor in that attraction.

I am originally from a rural part of the state near Madisonville, Ky. I grew up in a dysfunctional Southern Baptist family. I knew from an early age that I was queer, but didn’t talk about it.

I struggled a lot with being ashamed of myself during my childhood and teen years.

It takes time to come to terms with who you are and can sometimes feel overwhelming. Just know that you are important and loved.  My queer identity has lead me to create my own “chosen family” of folks who are not biologically related to me, but are my Family. I feel at my best when I am spending time with my queer family and we are living our best lives. There is something magical about sharing space with people who just get you.

My identify has also led me to get involved in social justice and mental health. It shapes how I interact with the world.

One of the main issues I see in the queer community is that it is “whitewashed.” What I mean by that is that when you see representation of queer folks it tends to be cis white able bodied queer folks.

Why are we not lifting up the voices of black and brown queer folks? Trans and non-binary folks? Folks who are differently abled? Fat folks?

Even just looking around at all of the queer organizations here in Louisville they are mostly cis white folks and we have to change that. When we don’t make space for everyone at the table then we are being complicit with systemic racism. I would like to see organizations putting other folks in leadership positions and actively ensuring that they are representing EVERYONE in the queer community.

I may not personally feel excluded, but if there is no room in an organization or community for my queer friends and family to feel comfortable, then it’s not the space for me and I feel that the “mainstream” queer community again is very cis white and able bodied.

Diamond heart

 

 

Liv Coffman, Kentucky

I spent a lot of time resenting my sexuality and being unkind to my spirit. I learned, however that accepting this part of myself demands vulnerability within. It is so vital and beautiful to be able to love the way that you love people and to be able to identify that for yourself.

Forecastle’s Queer Party Cove

 

Gearing up for Forecastle Festival here at the Queer Kentucky office! We are grateful to have such an inclusive event filled with art, love, sustainability and music in our state. If you’re searching for the Queerest area of the festival, check out Party Cove, founded by Mo McKnight Howe, owner of Revelry Boutique Gallery.

Howe said, “Party Cove is Love and we have a super inclusive lineup this year.”

Between Queer weddings, genderless sea creatures, dancing and sweat, Party Cove is a Mecca for all Queer festival goers. See you there! We’ll probably throw you a condom or two.

femme is so underrated

 

Deantre, 20, Cave City, Kentucky

To me, Queer is a more intellectual term. It’s more to describe a broad range of sexualities. I identify as a femme non-binary person.

I don’t really have a certain pull towards a gender of sorts. I consider myself more femme because I feel like I take after my mother and the women I was raised around.

I’ve been blessed to have four mothers. Two grandmothers and two mothers. Seeing them, all black women, knowing all they went through and they always had a smile on their face. They’re the strongest and best people I’ve known to date. They’d go through the fucked up shit through the week, but get their makeup on and little heels and get their ass to church on Sunday.

I find femme as strong and powerful.

There was a reading that enlightened me about it, Femmes are the people that will put out 20 dollars in your books when you’re in jail, feed you when you’re sick and always take care if you. I find those qualities in myself and femme is so underrated.

It’s more of the performance of my identity of how I carry myself, rather than my identity alone. Sometimes I’ll wear eye shadow, lipstick, or just to go bare-faced. My identity plays a part in my politics, my interests such as being a Pan African studies major.

I don’t see a lot of black people talking about the Queerness., like myself. My identity also plays a part in my intellectual choices and romance.

My identity is more of a part of my life than I actually thought about.

When you have all these identities (non-binary femme person) you have to have these questions like, “Is this place safe for me?”

There is a lot of fetishization with my black queerness navigating that can be difficult.

I wrote a thesis paper on “BBC culture,” which was so funny because I got to say “big black cock” throughout the entire piece.

One of my sources was a porn website called “Thug Watcher,” where a group of white men go to “the hood” and find thuggish black men to fuck. This is the kind of expectations or stereotype of black men. Outside of my blackness, my femmeness will get fetishized.

I’ve been in Louisville for a few years, but I was raised in Cave City, Kentucky. Some of my neighbors even had confederate flags.

However I actually feel more unsafe in Louisville than cave city because Louisville has a lot of structural racism and that’s a whole lot scarier. Everyone knew my mom and family in Cave City; it’s a small town. I felt like a person there and I feel like another statistic in Louisville.

The system at play in Louisville is more powerful and older than in my home.

Cave City is just more comfortable. There isn’t conversation about what sides of the city need this or that …like grocery stores.

I’ve been in Kentucky whole life and people shit on the South, but I love it. It’s a hidden cultural Mecca. Louisville has a lot of potential with lots of people doing good thing. And I will stay in the South.

I’m sure there are many Queer people struggling in the south, but trust in your magic. Whatever it is, it’s gonna be alright you’ll figure everything out. Coming out is not a one- stop shop. I feel myself constantly coming out to myself or other folks. My family knows but it’s something they don’t talk about or celebrate. I don’t think they have the language to do so. (i.e. Understanding Queer terms)

On the topic of Queer education, we as a society have a bigger problem with not having a comprehensive sexual education program across the country. I think this leads to more sexual assault in our Queer community, especially for gay men.

The only type of Queer culture I saw growing up consisted of bars, bath houses, and bookstores.  I didn’t know that being gay encompassed anything else other than fucking. Without education, we’re leaving young gay men out because they have no idea and  have no cultural competency. All they’re coming into is sex and highs and it’s unsafe.

We don’t teach them what sexual assault consists of in schools.

Education is so important to me.

In the classroom is where I feel my absolute best or in any educational type settings. I love meeting up with friends to shoot the shit and then we’ll be talking about research and societal topics. Education is where I feel the most comfortable. We’re able to leave the identity or the bodily aspect of yourself out of the conversation and be able to just talk about cognitive aspect of ourselves.

However, I also love being in the disco lights. Just something ethereal about dancing.

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