Being Queer

Flowers In His Hair

Wesley Vaughn, Clay, Kentucky

Being gay has given me a more liberated attitude. I don’t concern myself with behaving in a way that is traditionally masculine, nor traditionally feminine. I feel that I can behave and express myself the way I want without any concern of violating some sort of rule about how I have to act or look. I often wear flowers in my hair. I also get dirty and do major home renovation. Many people would see these characteristics as being incompatible. However, I just see them as parts of myself and feel that they fit together very well. I would like to see more people shed their preconceived ideas on what it means to be a man, a woman, straight, gay, queer, transgender, and anything else we identify as. We are all humans and are capable of so much. Identify as whatever you feel, but don’t let that box you in.

Queer simply means “different” to me. I have to admit, queer often has a negative connotation in my mind. I realize that the LGBTQ community has repurposed the word, and I am comfortable using queer in this new context. However, each time I hear the word queer, I can’t help but hear the voices of kids on the playground calling one another “queer” as a way of tormenting one another.

I grew up in a small town in Western Kentucky called Clay. It had a population of two thousand or so and was somewhat isolated. Growing up in a small town was great. It was safe and quiet. My friends and I could walk around and hang out anytime we wanted without any real fear of some of the crazy stuff that can take place in a larger city. Once I was eighteen and came out as gay, I was fortunate to still feel accepted in my hometown. I have definitely been more fortunate than many of my friends who grew up gay in small communities. My family was respected and my coming out was well received, at least on the surface. I knew there was plenty of talk behind closed doors. I had no remorse about my decision to live honestly, and so the talk didn’t have much of an affect on me.

Be the person you want to be. Pursue the things in life that you want to pursue. Like I mentioned earlier, don’t let your identity define the way you live. You can be a makeup artist or a mechanic, or both. Forget about the labels society has placed onto everything and live the way you want. I also recommend never saying never. As i’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that every person is always changing and adapting. Things I once said I would never ever do I now find myself much more open to. Be yourself and stand by your beliefs. However, if over time you feel those beliefs begin to change, take time to evaluate and explore those feelings. Explore new ideas you are confronted with, so long as they are safe and healthy. Never be afraid to make changes. Staying the same on principal alone can make you miserable and full of regret.

I think that the issues in the queer community are very similar to issues in the local community around them. Having traveled some and interacting with various queer communities around the world, it seems like the real issues there are a reflection of the larger community around them. If an area suffers from racism, then the queer community seems to also display racism. Areas where the population in not sex-positive, the queer community will also suffer from its own version of sexual shame. If a city has a drug epidemic, the queer community there will also have a drug problem. Don’t get me wrong, there are probably some issues within the queer community that are disproportionate to the population as a whole. For example, I often see other gay men who are caught up in materialism. 

However, I think there is a bit of a misconception within the queer community. The misconception is in saying there is ONE queer community. People often talk about feeling ostracized from the queer community, and make broad blanket statements about the community as a whole. The reality of the matter is that we are extremely diverse and have formed many different communities. Queer individuals are so often guilty of making huge generalizations about “the queer community” that just plain don’t fit everyone, or even a significant portion of everyone.

I think we have to stop seeing ourselves as being so different from one another. After all, isn’t that what we’re fighting for? We want to be given the same rights and opportunities as everyone else – be seen as equals. We all need to stop lingering on the things that push us apart and embrace our differences with one another the way we’re asking to outside world to accept each of us. No, we will never all be best friends. There are too many of us, and we are all so different! But we can get along, watch out for one another, and stand together as a united group. Look past the difference in skin color, body types, gender identity, and see one another as humans with similar struggles. Queer individuals make up a significant percentage of the world population. If we could ALL be kinder, more patient, and understanding with one another across every sect of the queer community, wouldn’t that be a wonderful example to set for the rest of the world?

Queer, challenging and free

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

Queer means I am brave enough to try, it means freedom, it means the ability to imagine a world without racism, without sexism, without transphobia, and homophobia and brave enough to practice unlearning to see it come to past. It means that I brave enough to exist. It means I am Trans- GNC. I am divine. It means keep going, motivation. It’s a challenge especially the being part.

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

I identity with as many things as possible, and at the same none at all. I am a Chris. I am specific Chris type of Chris to my peoples. I am Black Chris-Anansi-Ellagua-Eshu-Slaughter Young-Duke-Butler- Thomas-Wilson. Years of information in my DNA. And so much more. To be Chris the being is hard, because we in society are attached to everything.

We are obsessed with body parts.

I am too because I live in this society, I make mistakes, then I correct myself. I correct myself when I am not around my gender-non-conforming friends and practice their pronouns. I practice correcting my thoughts, when I think about them in the wrong pronoun.

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

I am original from Florida. I lived in the Tampa Bay Area. I don’t know, I cannot speak for Black Queer Kentucky, because I am not from Black queer Kentucky. I can only speak on my experience, as an activist and organizer for Black lives Matter. If you want information about Black Queer Kentucky find them, If want information about artists, activist, poet, Chris than hear I am. I am want to find Black Queer Kentucky and build relationships with them. That is all, and do my advocacy work.

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

Shit accepting yourself is hard. Be gentle with yourself. It has taken me 28 years to accept who I am, and I am still accepting. It’s Challenging. Some days it easy, some days it’s just fucking hard.

I try to carry myself according to my principles.  My principles allow me to sleep at night.

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

Yes, there’s obviously not Trans-GNC in mainstream media.

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

I don’t think I ever feel at my best, I think I am always improving… that is purpose of human evolution in my opinion. I think if I accomplish the goals I set out to do I am winning. Winning in some area may not be my best in life though.

I am at my best when I am accepting that I am both light and dark. The dark parts of me, my skin color, the innocent part.. remember we humans started in darkness and we come out towards a light… in the middle.

I am feel best when darkness is understood, not as something always evil.

Safe isn’t a real word for me, safety is an allusion. Nothing is fucking safe. Secure for me is a better word. When I feel most secure sometimes is when I am speaking to my elders on the phone, they keep reassuring me that I am on right path. I am most secure in the arms of my lovers. My partners.

A lot of things make me happy, Ice cream, you can always bribe me with cream soda and pizza, and good head. I do like my nails to get done, etc. I am bit of a fem boy at times.


A poem to express me

I am that breeze that blows across your face, on hot summers day 

You know the one you was prayed to the Goddess for, 

I am the words that enter your mouth, when you think you have nothing left to say, 

I am resistance, been resisting since my creation, 

breed to be nothing more than what I am, 

And I am light, 

I am darkness, 

I am light wrapped in dark skinned, 

With a dash a of glitter star stuff, 

I am made from star dust, 

I am star shinning bright in the sky to give hope,

I am the rage that demands change, 

I am reason Masha P. Johnson throw the shot glass, 

I am the reason why, Harriet Tubman was a war strategist, why Langston wrote poems, 

And Zora spent time watching God, as she rained and blew her breath in Florida, 

That same breath that was, the breeze that ran across your face on those hot summer days, 

When you prayed for me, 

I am prayers answers, 

I am the reason why, our ancestor died, and were reborn, to died again

To rebel just to died, 

Because they knew fighting for freedom was worth dying for, 

I am their freedom, 

I am their broken bones put back together, 

I am their sorrow turned into joy, 

I am their unbroken hands, 

I am their unbroken spirit,

I am their culture reborn, 

I am free, from chains that enslaved them, 

I am their wildest dreams, walking, living, breathing, surviving, 

I am their hope, their star, their dreams, their sun, so naturally there I go rising, 

I am love, loved

I am Black joy, magic 

I am powerful,

I am living resistance, 

I am everything I need to be, in this moment,

I am enough,

I am water, constantly adapting to change 

I am worthy of all the love, I am trying to give away, 

I am free, 

I am me, 

I am Chris Black trans/gnc human being     

A trans man’s voice on queerness, privilege and intersectionality

Adrian Sibernagel

The label with which I most identify is “queer.” I also identify as trans (because I transitioned), bisexual (because I am attracted to more than one gender), and male (because that’s how I see and experience my own gender). But what draws me to the label “queer” is that it implies a fluidity, an open-endedness, and a critical dimension, that all those other labels lack. Specifically, I appreciate the way the term signifies a refusal to oversimplify my own body, desires, history, and experiences. It’s been a long journey for me to get to a place where I can admit that identifying as x, y, or z (gay, trans, bi, male, etc.) isn’t as simple as being “born this way.” While there is no denying the role played by biology in all of this, identities are not the direct or automatic outcome of a particular hormone, body part, or chromosome.

Rather, they are highly complex, invisible, socially-constructed yet remarkably real, structures composed of beliefs, experiences desires, memories, actions and reactions, accidents and choices.

While I’m not from here, and while it may not be your average queer’s dream destination, Kentucky, and Louisville especially, has been incredibly kind to me. It’s here that I grew to understand and honor my need to transition. It’s here that I found an employer and a work family that’s been nothing but affirming, accepting, and supportive. It’s here that I met my partner, who has stood by me and supported me throughout this difficult but amazing journey. Yes, I’ve had some bad experiences with transphobes and homophobes in my time here, and yes we have a long way to go as a city, as a state, as a world. But that’s the case pretty much everywhere.

To anyone struggling to come into their own identity I’d say take your time. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do until you’re ready. But if you’re ready, don’t let anyone stop you. No one knows you better than you, though there are plenty of people who think they do! If you’re questioning, try this thought experiment.

Ask yourself what you would do and what your life would look like if nobody else (your parents, friends, church family, significant other, etc.) was in the picture. If no one was pressuring you to be a certain way, who would you date? How would you dress? What name/pronouns would you use? Being honest with yourself and getting clear on your most basic wants and needs is the first step to “coming into your own,” and it’s a very important step!

First and foremost, as a white man who “passes” as cis, I try to remain aware of my privilege. Yes, I am trans, and it’s rough out here for trans people. But I also have a lot of privileges, at least in certain contexts, that women, non-binary people, people of color, gender-nonconforming people, and disabled people, do not. In contexts where I’m assumed to be a white cis man, I am careful to be aware of my white privilege and the way that privilege tips pretty much all circumstances in my favor. I’m aware of the space I take up. I’m aware of how my actions and words and silence might come across to others. I try to be an ally. I try to listen, and apologize when I make mistakes. If I can use any of my power or privilege to benefit others (assuming that gesture is welcomed) I try to do that. The operative word here is “try.” I am far from perfect.

In the queer community I see a lot of transphobia. I mean seriously, I wish I was joking!

There is also a good bit of misogyny, biphobia, and racism. I think the only thing we can do about this, and what I’m trying to do personally, is to be brutally honest with ourselves about our biases toward each other and toward ourselves. And from there try to figure out where these biases come from, and begin the long, grueling process of dismantling them. We need to get better about recognizing our blind spots and allowing others to fill them in. Men need to listen to women and trust them when they speak about their experiences. Same goes for white people in regard to people of color, and cis people in regard to trans people. There is no magic cure. The system is fucked. We’re all fucked. But we have to start somewhere, and a place where we can all start is by really listening to others and learning from them.

I’m naturally drawn to people with a more radical, critical perspective on gender and sexuality, so I tend to avoid “mainstream” queer spaces as a general rule. This may also be because I’m sober, and “mainstream” queer spaces normally equal bars and clubs. These things aside, I also just find that “mainstream” queer culture is often synonymous with “stereotypical” queer culture, which often mimics and perpetuates sexism, heteronormative gender roles, and other binaries that I find kind of boring.

Like I said, people in general need to be more critical of themselves, and not just cishet people.

I’m at my best/happiest when I’m alone at a coffee shop writing poetry and/or when I’m at the gym. You can normally find me in one of those two places when I’m not at Heine Brothers’ Douglass Loop, the coffee shop I manage. But I’m also really happy and “myself” at work too. I really am quite lucky!

Speaking of poetry, I have a poetry book coming out in April from The Operating System, a queer and trans-run small press and arts organization that’s based in Brooklyn. The book is called Transitional Object and you can preorder it by clicking the link.

The people who most influence my life right now include: my incredible partner (who is also my best ally) and my incredible friends, some of whom live here in Louisville, some of whom live elsewhere. I am very lucky in both of these departments. Also in the cat department. That’s right, I’m talking about you Wally and Flower.

Kentucky Artist, Joshua Jenkins

My parents have been separated my entire life. I was primarily raised with my mother (along with 5 other siblings) in Poughkeepsie, NY. I spent the Summers with my father in the Elizabethtown, KY area and eventually lived with him permanently during my High School years. I have been a Louisville resident since 2011 and currently live with my partner in the East End.

Growing up I’ve always felt different. In High School (and some of college) I went through so many phases and tried to fit into a variety of “clicks.” I tried being a nerd, a prep, a skater, an emo, and a hippie. I was always putting on these false personas just to fit in. By the end of the day I think I was really just trying to find “my tribe”. I never did find it with any of those groups. I always had more interests than what could be boxed in by a label. Then of course when I discovered my sexuality I thought that maybe the gay community might finally be the tribe I’ve always been seeking.

I officially came out as gay when I was 21. Unlike some gay men it took me a while to realize my sexual preference. I didn’t even question my heterosexuality until a year prior. This may of been due to my religious (Church of Christ) and somewhat sheltered upbringing (being homeschooled up until High School.) Growing up I (awkwardly) chased girls around, because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. As I later learned during my pubescent years my attraction to girls felt odd and forced. There was never really that sexual attraction for me that I saw other guys have with girls. I always thought maybe I just didn’t meet “the right girl”. Little did I know then that I really just never met the right man.

Today I can trace deep homosexual thoughts back when to I was a child, but I always ignored “those thoughts” and didn’t really explore them until my best friend at the time came out to me when I was 20. I think having someone close come out ultimately gave me a chance to discuss “certain things” with someone that I otherwise wouldn’t of felt comfortable doing so. It also made me question what being gay actually was. My friend coming out completely broke this boxed-in-stereotype I had wedged in my head growing up. Up until this point being gay meant being a man who was either extremely flamboyant or who was a creepy child molestor type. Little did I know then that being gay was far from being so black and white.

Like most gay men I came out with a bang. I started listening to only dance/pop music, wore fashionable extra small clothing, and even started frequently saying the word “girrl”. I tried hard to fit into a world that I really had little in common other than my sexual preference. Eventually I realized I was just putting on another false persona to try and fit in. I also realized that I would never find “my tribe” or ever fit in to any group. These realizations helped me accept that I was just Queer and being so was actually a blessing. I’ve learned that as a queer man I don’t have to live up to expectations of any specific “tribe” or play by any of their rules. I am simply free.

You can view my artwork at www.joshuajenkinsart.com.

Like myself I feel that my work is also queer. Although it’s definitely inspired by past art movements it still never really “fits in” to any particular one.

wallflower or a firework

Anya Lee

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

 A: Queer means on the fringe to me. Anything that isn’t white and straight. I identify as a queer woman and trans femme. 

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

A: I’ve done the whole “wow being a boy fucking sucks i don’t like this at all” thing my entire life, since I was maybe 3. Why not is the better question at this point. It was really a do or die kind of thing, although I still want to die. 

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

A: My mom is from Louisville but was raised in Los Angeles. We lived around there, San Fransisco, Pasadena, and Fresno until she needed to jump ship from the state after some bad relationships, and decided to run back home to Louisville to her mom. It was a big ole mistake and i’m eternally bitter. Growing up in Kentucky was honestly kind of miserable, kind of not. I’ve always socially acclimated well — either as a wallflower or a firework. As a kid, I hid my trans identity and hid amongst all the mean girls, and then when I came out people became more interesting. The hardest thing has been dating. Everybody wants to fuck me, but nobody is interested in being identified as queer with me. 

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

A: Just do it. Honestly, you aren’t living till you’re living as yourself. I lived a half ass, half dead live for so long. I’m so happy my depression and dread comes from other people instead of myself. 

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

A: It made me more defensive and confident. I try not to give people room to tear me down, because people who are insecure with themselves love doing that. At least, outwardly, I try not to, but once someone gets close enough, all bets are off. I’ve been living my life in pieces for a while, but I try to make sure people don’t know at a glance. Being fake confident lead me to get a lot of compliments since so many people aren’t living as themselves, it seems impressive. So, I guess I became impressive? I’m really not.

Q: What issues do you see in the queer community?

A: Lack of intersectionality. So many people don’t realize we’re only as strong as our weakest links, and there are so many factors that come into that. We need to broaden ourselves as a community because people who aren’t queer aren’t going to accept us. It’s just tragic to see scape goats scape goat someone else. like, get real? you aren’t one of them no matter how hard you try. Enrich yourself and your people. 

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

A: Since i’m a fairly passing transwoman, I guess I am the mainsteam. People find me acceptable because they like how i look. I’m the token more often than not. I’ve heard a lot of people who compliment me scoff at other transwomen or gender-variant people and it’s kind of annoying what people say in confidence. 

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

A: At home with my boyfriend used to make me feel safe and best sometimes, but since I had a really messy break up, I feel best in the office. I’ve really been focusing on working and making money. Everything else is kind of painful for me, especially at home. I rearranged my entire apartment but it still feels like shit. Don’t let other people into your safe spaces if you aren’t sure about their permanence. 

Q: Who influenced the life you live now?

A: My anti depressants and anti anxiety meds, for sure. I’m able to work well and pretend i’m neurotypical for my 9-5, so when I get home I have my little melt downs and start over. Occasionally I do music. I actually had my first show. I promote as “Tsumi” and I’m available on Spotify, but my music is kind of halted right now. More things are coming, though. Probably.

‘Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky’ executive director to receive Advocate of the Year Award in June

Since 2016, Tanner has worked incredibly hard to pass legislation to ban conversion therapy in Kentucky. Though in grad school AND working, he tirelessly devotes any extra time on BCTK. This year he went above and beyond, with the help of the board and volunteers, BCTK got record breaking co-sponsors and had a bill in the KY House AND Senate. Through his work with Ban Conversion Therapy KY, Tanner has have a voice to those who have suffered the abuse of conversion therapy. He is working to end these practices to protect the LGBTQ youth now and the future generations to come. He has been a fearless leader to BCTK and it has been a true honor to work alongside him. This year he was selected for an internship in D.C. with the Trevor Project helping even more of the LGBTQ community. I truly can’t think of anyone who deserves an award more than Tanner.

Tanner Mobley

For me the word queer is liberating. Growing up in Southern Indiana, where there was minimal support for LGBTQ people, I didn’t know what supportive LGBTQ spaces looked like.

Moving to Louisville, Kentucky, I started coming into my queer identity and learning how my other identities influence the way I exist in various spaces. For myself, the queer community has given me purpose.

Being involved in activism and fighting for the queer community is a passion of mine.

I am heading a project to make conversion therapy illegal for minors in Kentucky. Hearing the horror stories from survivors of conversion therapy, we wanted to take action to show queer kids that someone is fighting for them. No one should have to experience this torture and should be able to be happy and celebrate who they are.

Though we have made significant strides as a community in the United States– our fight is far from over. In addition to the work we have ahead of us as a country, we as community have so much work to do.

I believe that Queer people and all people will never truly experience liberation until we as a community actively address the oppression that still exists in queer spaces.

We will not truly be a community until we fully support queer folks who are black and brown, undocumented queer folks, our queer folks with disabilities, queer folks of all body types, as well as many other identities that intersect with queerness.

I am excited for the progress that will come with future generations — it seems that today’s youth are more caring and unapologetic in their queer identities than ever before.

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