Interview

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.

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.

Remy, Writer for Queer Kentucky

 

What does the word queer mean to you?

What I love about the word “queer” is that it can mean anything you want it to; it can be as much or as little of a label as you need for your identity, and its fluidity and freedom I think are really beautiful. When I first came out, I identified as queer because I wasn’t really sure what I was, but I knew I wasn’t “straight.” Hanging on to an open and fluid orientation really helped me make sense of who I was without compromising any authenticity.

How do you identify?

I’m a gay cis male.

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

To me, my sexuality just started to really become clear once I accepted that I wasn’t “straight.” After calling myself queer for a while, I’m now confident in asserting myself as gay because that’s who I am and I’m proud of it!

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

I’m from this area and while I went away for college, the bulk of my adult maturation happened here. I think Louisville is an amazing place to explore your sexuality and identity, and it has ample resources in both organizations and individuals to help you do so. But I know that that’s rare for a state like Kentucky. I’m hoping with the work that important organizations like the Fairness Campaign are doing across the state, smaller town questioning folks will be able to discover themselves without fear or inhibition.

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

I would say that the first step is to just be open to the possibilities. I know how it can feel when you think you’re straight, or want to believe you are, and then you realize you’re not; unfortunately, there can be some fear with that realization, which of course is problematic in its own way. But once I called myself queer and then gay, I was able to take the deepest exhale of my life and I subsequently found such a beautiful community that I feel so fortunate to be a part of. Some of the best things in my life stem from being gay, and once you navigate past the anxiety of the unknown, you will find those things too.

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

I think it just helps me be more confident because I am certain in who I am. By embracing my identity, I inherently feel more at peace with myself, which I suppose can translate to confidence, comfort and even assertiveness at times.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

I think the biggest, or certainly one of the biggest, issues facing the queer community is that we do not always fight for each other. Yes, white gay males are perhaps more “accepted” by mainstream society, but what about trans folks, or LGBTQ people of color? White gay men are often the culprits of this: of feeling like the war is won because we can walk down the street holding our boyfriend’s hand. But we must continue to fight for those who still are uneasy walking down the street; we must give a voice to them and use our privilege to increase their visibility, which I hope will lead to a more inclusive, diverse and loving society.

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

I really don’t feel excluded because, whether I like it or not, I am pretty “mainstream” gay. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, but like I said, I have to be cognizant of my privilege and utilize it to make better the lives of those aren’t as privileged.

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

I am at my best when I’m on the couch with my boyfriend, at dinner with my best friends or in a theatre. My boyfriend Charlie is the greatest person I have ever known and he constantly pushes me to be the best version of myself, for which my gratitude is endless. My two best friends are always there for me – to hear me complain, to help me with tasks, to field my anxieties or to pour me shots – and I cannot express what that unconditional support means to me. And acting, directing or producing in theatre is where my truest passion lies. Being a part of creating the magic of live theatre is one of the most rewarding things I’ve discovered in life, and without it, I don’t really know who I’d be. Theatre, in its intrinsic collaboration and artistry, has also been a space in which I feel safest, and I think it’s provided me, along with myriad LGBTQ individuals, with a sort of haven.

Who influenced the life you live now?

I’d like to say that I’m a blend of myself, my parents, my brother, my boyfriend and my friends, but I know there are community role models I look to for inspiration on how to always be better. Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman has been pretty influential as far as using his position of privilege to give a voice to those who are relentlessly marginalized. Also, Theatre [502] Co-Artistic Directors Gil Reyes and Amy Attaway are two arts professionals I would be happy to emulate if I could find the talent, professionalism and creativity they both possess. I’m sure the list is endless of those who have impacted my identity, but for every single of them, I am truly grateful because, for better or worse, I kind of like who I am.

Fairness Director on Queer Kentucky

 

Chris Hartman, Louisville, Kentucky

Queer, while still steeped in a complicated history, and hurtful to many, has overall become what I feel is among the most inclusive terms—an umbrella that works to leave no one out. I definitely identify as a member of our inclusive queer community.

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

Louisville. Things were always interesting going through all Catholic schools for sixteen years running. I definitely found some inclusive pockets and spaces, but it was never particularly easy. A number of us ended up coming out at St. X in the late ‘90s, and we felt a decent degree of support from many faculty and students, but it still didn’t feel like an inclusive culture. Things were even tougher being out at Bellarmine University (then College) in the late ‘90s. LGBTQ folks were barely visible there.

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

Take your time. This is your journey. Seek others like you and know that whoever you are, you’re amazing and beautiful at any point in your journey!

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

Ever since coming out, I’ve felt proud to be queer, even when others sent me other signals. I’ve tried to carry myself and my work with that pride, and hope to always continue to do so.

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