Interview

‘It takes confidence to break the rules’

To mean queer means the freedom to be as “weird” as your heart desires. I think that’s why conservatives hate us so much, we get to live out their wildest dreams & darkest fantasies like it’s everyday life.

I identify as PRINCE! I don’t feel the need nor the obligation to anyone (besides who I’m fucking) to clarify. I’m androgynous. I’m very in touch with both male & females sides of myself.

I’ve always just been obsessed with being pretty. That translates beyond gender. As I’ve gotten older pretty has evolved into sexy, as such my style has as well.

I’m a mission kid, very similar to an army brat I’ve lived all over. Born in Morocco, moved to Atlanta when I was about 5, then settled in Louisville around middle school. No matter where I go in the states, Louisville always feels like home tho. It’s slow enough to build a practical life, yet fast enough to explore your options while doing so. I love being apart of the city’s growth as opposed to going to a bigger more established city tryna find your footing.

I’d tell anyone struggling with their identity to just be themselves. There’s no rule book on the game of life, but I guaran-Fucking-tee, it sucks getting to the end of it and realizing how much time and energy you wasted trying to please everyone but yourself. I’ve been there. Coming from a strict ass religious(mission) family, having 4 older brothers, moving to the south. All I wanted, all I tried to do was be a normal “boy” but that’s not who I am. I’ve always beat to my own drum. I was the first boy cheerleader in elementary school. I used to design and sew my own Barbie clothes. Even started my own business selling doll outfits in the 3rd grade. Happiness lives where honesty begins. Free yourself, live your best life. Fuck whoever doesn’t get it, it’s YOUR life.

I carry myself fearlessly, I think that’s a very literal interpretation of my identity. It takes confidence to break the rules. It takes balls to be a “boy” in daisy dukes, no matter how hard I have to hide them. I love myself, and I think that’s one thing that’s been consistent in my life. My bravery, my confidence, in myself.

I see the queer community as very cliquy, and almost segregated honestly. For us to be a rainbow, we lack diversity as a whole. The queer community (much like the black community) could rule the world, if they just stopped feeding into the stereotypes they used to fight against. I wish we supported each more outside of PRIDE. I wish we loved each other more outside of white straight male Americans standard of beauty. Don’t get me wrong, the queer community is definitely making moves to make sure we’re represented, just not has strong a force as I feel we could be. Gay people also need to free Nowhere and other spaces that we helped make popular as they no longer cater to our culture. It’s time for us to create a new wave of energy, as we control what’s cool!

We have to stop supporting businesses that don’t cater to our power. We bring people, we bring money, we bring creativity & energy. That’s something you truly can’t put a value on. We need to support queer events & queer curators more. It isn’t easy being a POC queer androgynous kid in Kentucky. On paper the odds are definitely stacked against me, but created a land to myself. I don’t look for acceptance from anyone, and I think people gravitate towards that. I try to create spaces that are all inclusive, and I think my events reflect that. Rather I’m providing a twerk fest dance party or a mental health support group, I want any & everyone to feel welcomed, appreciated, & valued.

I don’t really feel excluded for anything mainstream, as I’ve somehow made my way by my own rules into that space. I’d say I’m more aloof to people, like they know of my existence, but they don’t really know me. I often show up to parties by myself, but know everyone at them. I was the first “boy”/androgynous mermaid at Forecastle, and it was amazing. They really believed in me, as I’ve participated in party cove a few times. And it was a wild experience. I made my own costume, and it was definitely over the top. But I tell you what it was so much love in the crowd! They didn’t give a shit if I was a guy or a girl, they just loved that I loved them being there. I think the world could use more of that in all communities.

I feel at my best… Most of the time. I know that’s kinda corny, but it’s true. I’ve been on a spiritual, self care journey over the last year, & I’m truly happy in my skin. Everyday. Not all day everyday, but everyday. I’ve never felt more focused on my creative projects, I’ve never felt more loved by my family & friends, I’ve never felt more sexy, or confident.

My biggest life influence is my Mama Critt (my grandmother). She was this beautiful creole woman, with impeccable style, gorgeous flowing silver hair, and a sassy ass attitude that would rival any Dynasty diva. I remember everything always being perfectly coordinated. The earrings had to match the necklace, the clutch had to match the shoes, it was always a spectacle to watch her get ready. She drove a mint green Cadillac, and everyone in town knew her. They still do. She was a double amputee, both legs below the knee. It was hard to watch her go through that change. But she was a fighter, much of where I get that attitude from. It was the late 90’s early 00’s and the technology isn’t what it’s like today. She hated her new flat legs, so she marched into her doctors office demanding legs she could wear her heels with. And I’ll be damned if she not only got them, but she walked in the no assistance. Slow mind you, but she was walking. I remember being a kid so inspired by her audacity, to still want to feel like her true self. No matter what life threw her way. I miss her greatly, but I know she glows from within everything I am. A fabulous, intelligent, radiant, unapologetic, Black Kween!

Taking Back ‘Queer’

Lane Levitch

What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify?

Queer to me means an umbrella term for the LGBTQ+ community. I didn’t use it at all until I got to college, I always heard it as a derogatory word in media growing up. I’m glad that the LGBTQ+ community is taking it back. I identify as a transgender male and pansexual.

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

I label myself so I have a feeling of connection to the people who label themselves the same as me. 

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

I was born and raised in Louisville. Growing up, my parents were very accepting of the LGBTQ+ community and never really pushed gender roles onto me or my sister, which I’m thankful for. I never knew any queer kids my age until I got to high school, and I didn’t connect to any queer kids until my last semester of senior year. Living in Kentucky and just being trans alone is a rollercoaster.

Even though I pass as cis, I still find myself avoiding going to the bathroom when I’m in public. It still scares me shitless if I end up really needing to go.

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

You don’t need to force a label on yourself. Everything takes its own time. Hell, I came out four different times before I figured everything out.

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

Becoming more accepting of my identity made me more confident in how I carry myself. I feel like I have this attitude of “Hey I’m here and this is me, if you don’t like it then you can leave.” I went to shabbat service about a month ago and the rabbi talked about Brother Daniel and his quote of “If I am not a Jew, what am I?” The rabbi later went on to talk about how we have identities and no matter how small we think we are, someone with those same identities is always looking up to us and we need to own our identities for them. Show them that we are proud of who we are and that they should be too.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

My biggest issue is that trans women don’t get the love they deserve, especially POC. Also for the cishet community, they are comfortable with white cis gay men and now it’s time for them to see the rest of the queer community in a positive light.

What do you think would solve those issues?

A start would be for queer folks that aren’t white cis gay men to kill it at whatever they’re doing. Singer, designer, scientist, whatever you are or want to be. Let the world know that you’re no different than cishets.

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

Not really? Whenever I do go into a gay place like Play, I find myself really out of place. I’d just rather be at a bar watching an ice hockey game. But not two gays are alike. Everybody has a different story when it comes to their queer life.

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

I feel most myself when I’m with my friends from college. They have all been super accepting of my coming out since day one. They will correct other people when they use wrong pronouns for me and it honestly means the world to me. As for an actual place, I feel really comfortable at the skatepark in Louisville. I always end up there with some friends. I get so distracted while skating and having fun that I forget everything else that’s happening in my life.

Who influenced the life you live now?

My friends at college for sure are the people who influence the life that I live now. They are just unapologetically themselves. Seeing their confidence in how they carry themselves made me realize that I’d rather be hated for who I truly am than loved for who I’m not.

Living authentically, JP Davis

JP Davis, Ashland, Kentucky

What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify?

For me, the term Queer signifies Freedom. Freedom to be oneself without fear of bias, discrimination, persecution, or hate.  For someone who proudly identifies as Queer is making a statement of strength, empowerment, and leadership.  For me, I identify both as a gay man and as Queer.  

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

I think it’s important to identify and be able to talk about it with others.  Our culture traditionally avoids the subject of sexuality and I think it’s our responsibility to remind folks sexuality is not black & white.  There’s a lot people don’t understand because we don’t expose it and we don’t talk about it- therefore it aids in negative judgement.  

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

Ashland, Kentucky.  I loved growing up in Ashland and I’m grateful to have that experience.  I was never comfortable admitting who I was in Ashland and I feared it most of my life.  I didn’t come out until I was studying abroad working on my masters and I met a beautiful person I called my boyfriend throughout the summer.  I pledged to never live unauthentically ever again.  I’ll never forget experiencing those feelings & emotions for the first time, and thinking, ‘Wow.  This is beautiful.  I’ve wasted so much time.’ Never again.

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

I’d say a lot of things.  I usually recommend a few books, including “Velvet Rage.”  I also reinforce the importance of what truly matters:  education, character, honesty, integrity, love, compassion, etc.  There’s so many people in this world walking around, making decisions, and yielding power- from a very insecure, weak, and troubled place.  Queer people are strong.  We yield power in our experience & knowledge.  We yield power for our love, care, & compassion for others.  We know what it feels like to be judged as a second class citizen.  Queer people are beautiful people.  

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

I’m confident.  Because of my past experiences, I’ve learned to not let others dictate who I am, how I should sound, what I should dress, who I should be, etc.  I do not ask permission.  I juggle being civically engaged in this city and it’s hard.  It’s especially hard when “powerful” people try to control you or shut you down. I am myself 100% of the time.  I love & live my life to the fullest every day.  No turning back.  

What issues do you see in the queer community?

I’d like to see LGBTQ people support each other more.  I see a lot of silos & clicks.  I’d love to see a more inclusive LGTBQ community.  I still see a divided LGTBQ community racially as well.  We still have a lot of work to do.  I’d also like to see more opportunities between older LGBTQ professionals & younger LGBTQ professionals.  I’d like to see more efforts to support internships, job placement, board leadership, community engagement & more.  

What do you think would solve those issues?

Engagement.  Just more folks getting involved- stepping up.  

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

I do not feel excluded, no.  I feel very included. But I’m also a very visible LGBTQ person living in Louisville.  I’m not worried about me.  I’m worried what I can do to make sure others feel included, especially younger LGBTQ people.  

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc) Who influenced the life you live now?

Owsley Brown Frazier has been the biggest influence in my life.  Keith Inman is a close friend.  Dr. Phil Laemmle has been an incredible friend & mentor to me.  Julie Kroger, Jenny Sawyer, Kathleen Smith at one time was a great mentor to me.  My current boss, Christen Boone has been an instrumental influence.  I feel my best when I’m exploring the unknown.  I’m a curious person and I love learning from others and understanding things from a unique perspective.  I love experiencing new cultures, foods, and places.  At the end of the day, I’m a very passionate person.  I pour everything into my work.  I feel at my best while doing my work in the community.  I LOVE making big shit happen in Louisville that impacts others in a transformative way.  

Kentucky’s Gender inclusive apparel brand gives back

What is BLoFISH?

We are a clothing company based in Louisville, KY. Known for our amazingly soft fabrics, All 4 All message, being gender neutral, and our 10% giveback program. We were founded in 2014 and opened our first store in Louisville in 2016. We are still small, but have a solid online presence and have sold to 20 cites, all 50 states, and 7 countries.

What is your mission?

Our mission is to ensure everyone has the same opportunities in life. Whether that be in traditional economic opportunities, education, racial equality, gender equality, or anything else. We believe in our “All 4 All” mission. No matter one’s sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or abilities everyone should have the same opportunities centered around equality. The message is deeply ingrained into our company’s culture and customers, with 10% of every sale going directly to social justice issues.

How do you financially give back to communities? How do you give back differently than larger corporations?

We believe in the power of grassroots organizations, particularly those who are on the ground doing the non-profit work that has a direct visible impact on the communities they are located in. We do give to national organizations, but we prefer to give to causes that support the communities we know our money will make the most impact.

Our business model is revolutionary and much different than what corporations are doing now, particularly in our industry. To put it simply for every $100 in sales we donate $10 to organizations we believe have an impact on the world. While 10% may not sound like a lot, it is exponentially higher than most corporations. Effectively, we created the ultimate Public Benefit Corporation before it was even a thing. How can we do this? We treat our accounting as if the 10% never existed, we work 10% harder, keep lower inventory counts, don’t take (and never will take) crazy bonuses or salaries, and don’t (and never will) have multi-million dollar campuses costing even more millions to maintain.

Here are some numbers:

  • At $100k in sales, we donated $10k to organizations.
  • At $1 million in sales, we will donate $100k to organizations.
  • At $100 million in sales, we will donate $10 million to organizations.
  • As a $1 billion dollar company (knock on wood) we will donate $100 million to organizations.

To put that into comparison, a company in the same industry (and pays their top 6 positions $21 million dollars a year) did $3.8 billion last year. They haven’t released a charitable report online since 2016, but on it they show their foundation has only given on average $400K a year. With our model, alone in 2018 we would have give $380 million to charity. https://www.aeo-inc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/AEO_CSR.pdf (page 9)

Another question we get often with this model and the look of our stores is “how expensive is it?” Our prices are in-line with all the major players, including Nike, American Eagle, Abercrombie, and less expensive than the likes of Lululemon and Bonobos while still using fabrics that are fantastic. I can’t tell you the amount of people who walk by and are surprised when they find out our prices despite the clean, expensive look of our stores.

Going a little off topic. I think one thing average Americans struggle with in terms to the wealthy in this country is just how big those numbers are. While it may seem like a company donating $400k a year, it’s all relative. Here’s what that looks like next to their 2018 profit.

$1,370,000,000

$400,000        

Try and type that top number in your phone calculator. Unless you turn it sideways it’s not even possible. That is 1,370 MILLIONS. No wonder we have a hard time comprehending just how rich the uber wealthy are.

How are your employees paid and how are you paid?

We are still a small company, but we’ve tried to build a culture here where we pay everyone a decent wage, but still work hard. Everyone we’ve brought on full-time has been paid the same, which makes for a cool work-place. Hopefully we can keep it up as we grow. One thing I really believe in is people taking responsibility for themselves, which includes taking as much time off as long as they can find someone to pick up on their responsibilities. It makes it tough being small, but so far we’ve been able to pull it off and should only get easier as we have more resources.

As for myself, I still haven’t taken a dime out of BLoFISH. Luckily I’ve been able to support myself enough in other ways. I don’t plan on taking anything out of BLoFISH so long as I see new products and expansion that needs to be done, which won’t be for a while. There are tons of designs and tons of people who haven’t been touched by BLoFISH, and until that’s done or we have enough resources I can’t see myself taking money out of the company.

What other communities would you like to reach out to?

We’ve hit on a lot of different communities, so there’s not one specific we feel like we need to reach out to. We obviously want to expand, and with that we will be able to copy some of the grassroots giving we’ve been able to do here in Louisville and extend our reach to other communities.

The LGBTQ+ community, the sexual assault awareness community, the trans community, the animal rescue community, human trafficking community, the veteran community, and many others have all been great to work with. It’s nice to be able to connect different types of people who may not otherwise meet. Many of these communities have goals that overlap, and it’s our job to not only give these communities the resources they need, but to connect them so there is an even bigger coalition to go forward and make changes the world needs, many of which aren’t that far out of reach or don’t require extreme resources.

Do you plan to bring your business to areas such as Appalachia, western Ky, etc.?

Yes. We want BLoFISH in as many places as possible, particularly in places that may not have the access to resources or support like many people here in Louisville have, and we know the power that one of our locations can have on a community. With that being said, we are limited in resources, and that’s where social media is amazing. We are able to reach people all over the country.

We recently did a podcast with a transgender veteran from Eastern Tennessee. He talked a lot about how he was surprised how many people were actually supportive of him when they found out about the transition, and while everyone was not supportive, many more than he thought were. So getting our message out in these places is so important to us, and until we can get the resources for physical locations we will do our best to reach out through social media.

What have some of the positive reactions been to your company? What have some of the negative reactions been?

The positive reactions have far overwhelmed the negative for sure. We’ve had people talk about how they wanted a place to feel welcomed, a place that is actually genuine, and some of the most emotional moments have taken place at our community events. The reaction to our products and fabrics have also been positive, which is important, because ultimately that’s the core and the reason we are able to give back so much. I would encourage people to check out our BLoFISH Speakeasy Podcast to hear some stories and see how we interact with the community.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-blofish-speakeasy/id1272938560?mt=2

As a company centered around social justice we’ve had our fair share of negative comments you might expect, but surprisingly we have had a little bit of push back from some people in the LBGTQ+ community saying our stuff isn’t gender neutral enough. Most of those people haven’t been in the store, but some are right we need to keep pushing boundaries. The key I have to balance is still making things accessible to everyone, while still being profitable on those products.  Being small is tough, and all the new designs are capital intensive, meaning we have to charge more for the products. Some of the same people complaining haven’t been in to test our more “fashion-oriented” designs so it makes it tough in this market to keep producing them. It’s still just my money so far, so we don’t have a multi-million dollar (or anywhere close) resource to tap in to. We’ve had a few people complain about price, but we try and stay in-line with the bigger brands like Nike, AE, and Gap. We will never be as cheap as somewhere like Aeropostale because of the quality of fabrics and products we have, but $46 for our joggers and $25 for hats is right in-line with the brands I mentioned. We have also had some people talk about our sizing system and how we display it, and it’s something we are looking into along with everything else, trying to be as accessible and inclusive as possible.

Why is gender neutral so important, and why does a white cis male care?

When I first started the company the idea of having a place where everyone could come in and buy what they wanted regardless of who they were seemed like a crazy idea (and to many still is today). I think gender neutral is the best way to describe what we are doing, but I’m not sure the adjective fits the way it should. I see what we are doing as label-less, we don’t care how you identify, we just think everyone should have the same opportunity to shop and wear awesome things without worrying about people looking down on them because they are in the wrong section or in the wrong class to buy things. In the past few years gender neutral has almost taken on a moniker of its own and people think it should look one way or another. I push against that, and think people should be able to buy and wear whatever they want, whether they identify as “gender neutral” or male or female or gender fluid, and that’s the perspective I design from.

As a white cis male I believe, and have since I can remember, a responsibility to step up and speak up for those who don’t have the same privileges as me. And that goes beyond being just a cis white male, into a cis white male who grew up with everything I needed. I didn’t have to struggle for a ride to baseball practice or worry about how I was going to get to school. I think we have a tendency to use labels as a way to build walls, and if everyone would look at each other in a sense of their privileges and access as opposed to their race and gender the world would be better for it. I will continue to stand up for all those who didn’t and don’t have the same opportunities I had, and am extremely lucky to have a platform and a business like BLoFISH to help spread that message.  

Who are YOU? What is Logan about?

I’m a crazy 31 year old person who is crazy enough to think it’s possible to create a new business model and flip the entire retail industry on its head while spreading a great message and making a REAL difference in the communities we are in.

What makes BLoFISH stand out among other retail companies in the nation?

You mean besides having better products, people, community, and business model? Not too much.

From Brazil to the Bluegrass

Matheus Rezende-McCubbins

What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify?

Queer to me means to embrace all parts of who you are, and being proud to be a part of a community that fights everyday for nothing but acceptance and recognition of our rights.

To be queer is also a part of a political, cultural and economic disruption of what is by some defined as “standard”… englobing the entire LGBTQI+ community as a family, and to know that you can be loved and accepted regardless of how you dress, how you look, or how you identify. With that being said, I identify as a cisgender gay man, who wants to contribute what I can to ensure inclusivity and to spread love to all my Queer community out there.

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

I am finally comfortable with the fact I am a cisgender gay men. It took me a while to figure out who I was, and where I would fit while growing up. I didn’t have any queer people around me…not even on T.V. (we had four channels back then), so you can imagine how lost I was when I started to feel attracted to boys…while being a boy! I had a to go through a lot before understanding the differences between sexual orientation, and gender identity.

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

I was born and raised in Brazil, land of soccer, Carnaval, and happy people. Also a country that kills the most LGBTQI+ people on the globe.

Unfortunately that had it’s role in one of the reasons I decided to move away. I was a little concerned about moving to the conservative state of Kentucky. Thankfully, I found Louisville to be a progressively Queer-friendly city, and I’ve met amazing people that helped me to finally fully accept myself for who I am.

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

You can be going through a rocky road right now, and you might feel lost with understanding the feelings you have about yourself. Be patient, try to find others that are going/have been through the same,  surround yourself with people that love and accept you for being your colourful self even if it’s not your “birth family,” and you will find nothing but joy when you learn to love YOURSELF.

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

I try not to let the way I identify myself to be the only way I live my life. Some days I like to just feel my oats and embrace more of the colors on the board, and that’s why I love the amplitude of being Queer, you don’t have to put yourself inside a four walled room… I definitely need more windows than that!

What issues do you see in the queer community?

It’s crazy to think we would have issues inside our own community that already suffers so much with everything else on the outside just for existing. But unfortunately, this is a very harsh reality. Growing up I remember always being bullied for being too girly, or for having a high pitch voice. Ironically, one of the bullies would come out as gay just a few years later.

There’s still a lot of internal homophobia within our community, specially when sub-categories are created to label people based on their own individualities. I can’t count how many times I heard someone was “too fem” or “didn’t have the Instagram body” therefore they were automatically not a “match.”

What do you think would solve those issues?

Acceptance is the key. The Queer community needs to grow together to be able to face obstacles daily, as well as to create more support systems to protect our own, while educating other people.

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

Being away from my home country and family has taught me that the “where” I feel at my best is not a place, but anywhere I can be surrounded by the people that make me complete.

Who influenced the life you live now?

My mom, my husband, Britney Spears and some of the most amazing people I met when I came to the U.S. back in 2014 for my study abroad program.

My mom for raising me to be a good freaking human being. My husband, that joined me on this life adventure, and that is the reason why I can call Kentucky home.

Britney for getting me through some tough times when I was just a baby gay boy, amen Blackout era.

As well as my Ohana, all the amazing people I met in 2014 that were my support system when I finally opened myself to who I really am.

Louisville Ballet Dancer showcases diversity through the arts

Sanjay Saverimuttu, Louisville Photo by Sam English (Headshot for Choreographers Showcase 2019)  What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify? Why? The word “queer” to me means expressing your gender or your sexuality in a manner that risks being disadvantaged by society. This world hasn’t been designed for our success, and yet …

Louisville Ballet Dancer showcases diversity through the arts Read More »

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