Blake Reichenbach, Lincoln County, Ky.
What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify? & Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything at all?
I see queerness as a claim of liberation. In fact, I generally refer to myself as “queer man” rather than a “gay man” even though gay is the label that I see more commonly. I grew up in a very conservative, religious environment in which even accepting that my sexuality was something other than straight was a huge struggle. Into my teens, as I finally did accept that the gay couldn’t be prayed away, I was convinced that the best way for me to live my life was as a straight-passing, masculine gay man. It was such a narrow box to try to cram myself into and it never really fit. It wasn’t until I got to college and got to spend time with fabulously queer, liberated people that I realized that there didn’t need to be a box at all. I could just BE. That is what it is to be queer to me. Queerness is about living without the box of being confined to the expectations of a specific sexuality or gender identity. When I launched my website– BlakeWrites (www.blakewrites.com)– that was my core focus: creating content for guys and masc-identifying individuals that didn’t set expectations about how one should live or who they should be.
Where are you originally from and explain how was it growing up/living in Kentucky?
I’m originally from Lincoln County, which is a very rural county in south-central Kentucky. Like so many others in the Bible Belt, I grew up in the church and even went to a private, Christian high school with very conservative Southern Baptist roots. Growing up, the only narrative of queerness that I heard was one of shame and violence. Kids at school would brag about the fact that their youth ministers would play “smear the queer” at church; classmates lamented the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell because they believed “everyone in the military would get AIDS”; if someone else was perceived as being gay, they were mocked relentlessly behind their backs and I didn’t know how to protect myself without laughing along at their jokes. In fact, the first person who I heard speak up on behalf of gay people was Lady Gaga in 2008. Prior to the words of an inescapable megastar, I heard nothing but derogatory and hateful comments about the queer community.
Naturally, as a byproduct, I spent my teenage years deep within the throws of pretty severe depression and anxiety, and it’s something that I’m still medicating and working through today. At the same time, having lived in a position of privilege that has allowed me to venture out of the state, out of the country, and to come to terms with and embracing my queerness, I no longer resent or fear my homeland in the way that I once did. In fact, I chose to move back to Kentucky from Los Angeles, and have settled close to home in Richmond (Madison County). Once again, it goes back to understanding my identity as a queer person– I’m free now, and I know that I’m strong enough to make an impact and help other queer people by being myself and being visibly, proudly queer.
What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity?
Don’t let others’ expectations cloud your perceptions of yourself. Coming to terms with your own identity is rough, especially in the Bible Belt, but I promise you that at the end of the road, living authentically will be worth it. In all things, be true to that voice in your heart, and be willing to see yourself change and adapt over time. Virtually every queer person I know goes through phases of discovering themselves– the wild hair phase, the bad facial hair phase, the militant phase, the angry phase, the promiscuous phase. They’re all valid and they’re all a part of figuring out who you ultimately are. What’s important is that in each stage of your journey, you listen to yourself and do what’s good and what’s right for you, not what others are expecting of you.
How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?
Now that I’m an adult, I try to be the adult who I needed in my life when I was a kid. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I launched my own website– http://www.blakewrites.com. I spent a while doing freelance writing and content marketing full-time, and most of my clients were in the men’s fashion industry. Feeling incredibly burnt out with the content I was writing, I took a step back and realized that it was draining me because I was writing about an experience of masculinity that wasn’t my own. The audience I was tasked within writing for was white, heterosexual, wealthy, and lived in places like New York City or Los Angeles. I was betraying my identity and my community each time I silently let an editor erase my efforts to include trans men, plus-sized men, black men, Asian men, or low-income men into my content. I finally got fed up with it and resigned from those jobs, launching my own platform to create content for men and masc-identifying folks that doesn’t assume anything about their experiences with masculinity, and that actively seeks to break down the walls of toxic masculinity.
What issues do you see in the queer community? & What do you think would solve those issues?
There is a lot of work that needs to be done within the queer community. You can’t scroll through a gay dating app, or even walk through a gay bar or gay event space, without seeing clear signs that racism, misogyny, transphobia, body shaming, and classism is deeply engrained within the way in which the queer community. As a cis-gender, white man with a comfortably middle-class job, I find it painfully obvious that the way I’m treated is quite different from the way my trans friends, queer PoC friends, and lower-income friends are treated and viewed by the general public as well from within the queer community. As a community, I think we need to work extra hard on educating each other and speaking to each other about privilege and the role that it plays in the dynamics of the queer community. We are a community– we’re not siloed groups within our own, separate spaces. If we are to rise as a community, it has to be all together as a community, and we won’t be able to do that without learning to use privilege as a way of lifting others up rather than pushing them down or elevating ourselves.
Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
I’ll confess that I wrote out an answer to this question and erased it three or four times. To be honest, I don’t know how to answer this question. While I’ve never felt particularly excluded from the queer community, I also don’t have a local, queer tribe yet. My big gay family lives on the other side of the state from me now, and it’s been a challenge for me to actually find a queer community where I now live. If you would have asked me two or three years ago, my answer would have definitively been that I wasn’t excluded. Today, I’m in a position where I find myself wondering if I’d have a more solid community if I was thinner, more muscular, wealthier, more outgoing, or something along those lines; I essentially remind myself on a daily basis that being queer is having a permission slip to not fit into any of those “If I was more ____” definitions, and that my community will come in time.
Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)
Maybe it’s a symptom of working for a tech company, but I feel like I’m at my best when I’m out at a coffee shop or cafe on my computer creating content that can empower and uplift the queer community.
Who influenced the life you live now?
I don’t think I’ve ever told her, but the first person I ever met who was openly and proudly black and queer was Arielle Clark. She was an upperclassman during my freshman year at Bellarmine University, and she was a leader within the school’s gay-straight alliance. There was something very magnetic about her– she was powerful and smart and proud and visible. Eventually, I realized that the power she possessed came from her pride in her identify. She embraced it, she lived it, and she celebrated. I wanted what she had, and couldn’t have it without embracing my queerness as well.
What Arielle set in motion, my friend Haley Adams saw through to completion. Haley has been by my side and supported me through all the various phases of my journey to live authentically… even the weird facial hair and “maybe I should present myself as masculine and kinda conservative” phases. I don’t know how she was always so patient and able to gently guide me and educate me.