Being Queer

QKY Writer Jordan takes on Appalachia

Queerness to me is the ability to talk about a marginalized identity across several cultural lines, it leaves room for identities outside of colonial standards and binaries, even for those of us who don’t have the words in our ancestral languages to talk about them. My identity continues to evolve as I come to understand myself, I’ve pretty much always known that I’m bisexual, more recently I’ve come to recognize that I’m non-binary. Through my journey to reclaim my identity I feel kinship to the Pan Indigenous role of being Two Spirit. Hopefully, as I reclaim more of my history I will be able to find what role my peoples would have had for me before colonization displaced some of my ancestors from here and enslaved those from Africa.

I use those terms because it’s kinda the easiest to convey where I stand, I always had these feeling I just lacked the ability to articulate what I’ve felt.

My sense of self is constantly evolving as I learn more, but I really didn’t think about my sexuality and gender identity until recently. I was kinda busy surviving and recovering from alotta childhood trauma. I’ve always had a very supportive Dad, so like that helps a lot. That part of my family is very pro Queer, and frankly anyone who’s known me for any period of time isn’t surprised when I come out to them. Anybody who is, wasn’t paying attention or way too uncomfortable with themselves to recognize, that’s their problem. For me and most people who really know me, this is not a surprise.

I feel very protective over younger people especially younger queer people. If anybody is mean to you or you don’t have any support, just know, I’m your big sib now.

Find me on social media, we can talk, I’m the much eldest of four kids so I got some experience. You don’t have to have sharp teeth or tongues, embrace whoever you are, if you are gentle, don’t worry people like me got your back.  Even if you aren’t sure what your identity is. You deserve room to figure that out. I hope that anybody who hasn’t found the space to come out yet can find people to become their true family. My advice to them is to take their time, I’m taking mine, there’s no rush, stay safe, and when you buck wild once you do come out, use protection haha.

I hope that when little queer kiddos and young people see me they see the badass I’ve grown into. I five feet tall and full of fury, I love without restriction, space is created around me, because as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to demand it. BIPOC, especially women and femmes are told we aren’t allowed to do that. I want create space where we can. I’m clearing the way cause I want to be a good ancestor.  My identity as I see it, is carried on the shoulders of the people who came before me, to do less than them wouldn’t suit me. When I was younger and didn’t understand myself, I tried to make myself less, shrink inward, I was born with these broad shoulders, it’s time to grow into them. That means I gotta draw some fire for those who have less privileged than myself, I’m not rising up without bringin the whole hood with me. The first fear I had to conquer was the one of myself and my own strength. People say they hear me before they see me, that used to embarrass me, now I say “Good. You had warning then.”

Things got better for me in my early 20s when I realized that there are many other Black and Brown queer people to be inspired by. Being marginalized within a marginalized community was very confusing to me for years, learning about and understanding intersection helped me out a lot. As far as solving problems in the queer community, basically I take my privileges of being lighter skinned than other Black folks, not being visible genderqueer, having a college education (for some reason people take you more seriously, which is nonsense) and stop bullshit in its tracks. All the time, not only when visibly marginalized people are around, hasn’t made me a ton of friends, but people understand I’m serious business, and humanization of people is serious business. People’s lives and safety aren’t a game to me. My ferocity is inspired by a deep and abiding love for people.

I’m kind of a rambler, I spent a large part of my childhood in central and north east Ohio. I’ve lived in South Dakota, Arizona, and a van as it travelled the country. Recently my partner got a job at a university here, a lot of my mom’s family is from the Ohio part of Appalachia so I was excited to come have this experience, adventures are always good. It’s only been a few weeks so I’m not sure how I feel so far. Last year post graduating college, I shaved my head, got back on reclaiming my Indigeny, took a break from pretty much everything. I let myself mourn things, my lost and miserable childhood, family members who died before their time, pain I had never had the room to articulate. I went to counseling to learn how to control my anger and to direct it into better things.  It’s a new start for me on the other end of these here mountains and I’m ready.

 

 

 

 

 

Gay, not lesbian

Lindsey Norris, Louisville, Kentucky

What does the word queer mean to you?

To me, it’s an umbrella for anyone who does not identify as heterosexual.

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

I identify as gay, just because that describes that I am interested in people of the same sex, but I could also identify as lesbian or queer. I am most comfortable with gay because it’s what I’ve always identified as. When I was growing up, people just said we were “gay,” I didn’t hear lesbian very often. Sometimes people are like “you’re not gay, you’re a lesbian” and I’m like “no, I can identify however the fuck I want to.”

I am fine with being called a lesbian, but I hate being told that I’m not gay, I feel like that’s an identity that I can, and do, claim. At first I said I was bisexual because I was still trying to figure it out and I felt like other people might be more comfortable with the idea of me being bisexual than me being gay. I think being bi-curious/bi-sexual was more accepted because it was, and still is, sometimes, more fetishized and objectified.

What matters most to me about how I identify is that people realize I’m
exclusively attracted to women, and they aren’t using a derogatory term. Like dyke, I would not want a straight person to call me that, but I’d be okay if another queer person called me that jokingly.

It really depends on who’s saying it and how words like “dyke” and “homo” can be
friendly or they can be meant to hurt.

Where are you originally from? What has been your experience growing up and/or living in Kentucky?

I am from Louisville, Kentucky. For the most part my experience has been good. I am a white, privileged female who grew up in the South. But, as a gay female growing up in Catholic schools, that wasn’t the easiest but it also wasn’t the hardest. When I said I was a bisexual, some people took that negatively. A lot of people just didn’t accept it. So I chose to conceal it. But, when I came out in college, most people accepted it. I felt free to be myself.

When I was 19 or 20 I started to get more involved in the LGBT community and realized that there are lots of people like me. Which there were in high school too, at least some, but they were ostracized or not out. I grew up in Fern Creek and felt more able to come out to my friends in my neighborhood than in my school. I told my parents I didn’t want to go to Catholic school, they said I could go to Male, but there was a waiting list, so I couldn’t go. I was popular at Catholic school. I had a lot of friends, but if I’d have gone to public school, I know I’d feel a lot more comfortable being myself sooner.

I still feel some prejudice because of my identity, here in Louisville. I work with kids and a parent said that they didn’t want me working with their child because I’m gay. I definitely feel prejudice here. Not that often, but it’s still there. I feel it less than I thought I would when I was a teenager. I was a little scared of how I’d be treated, but my family, especially my mom, really worried how people would view me and that scared me even more.

Me coming out to other people helped me, and my parents, see that most people don’t care. I am a therapist, and so there are boundaries with my clients, but I’ve chosen to share my queer identity with people no matter what their beliefs are, no matter what they’ll think of me. I don’t share tons about my personal life but I do share that I’m gay, because if I choose to hide it, that’s telling myself that it’s something that needs to be hidden.

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

No matter who you are, no matter who you identify as (not just sexuality, but all aspects of your identity), there will be people who support you and people who hate you. Depending on your community, it could be harder or easier. Hopefully every person can find at least one support person or community, whether it’s online or whatever. With that support, each person should figure out for themselves what they need to do. It’s my hope that everyone can choose to not hide their identity, but I also recognize the importance of hiding or not disclosing your identity for safety reasons or because you don’t want to or don’t feel ready.

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

For the most part it doesn’t, but in some ways I feel like I carry myself with more pride because I’m gay. For anyone who has a marginalized identity, they face some discrimination. With that, I think comes a heightened sense of pride. Pride for an entire community really. I’ve learned to be proud of who I am. Sometimes I feel like I need to prove myself. Like I am gay, but I do great work, as a therapist and with kids. I’m proud of myself, and so I want even the people who don’t like me or approve of me to like me and recognize my good work.

It’s hard because I am conscious that people sometimes see me differently, but that makes me even more proud of myself. I know I don’t have to prove anything, but I still want to.

What issues do you see in the queer community? What do you think would solve those issues?

The whole “gay vs. lesbian” terminology is problematic. We need to accept each others
identities.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
I don’t feel excluded, but I happen to have made friends with people who are heterosexual. Out of my close friends, probably two-thirds happen to be straight. Not that there’s anything wrong with seeking friends who are in the queer community, but I just haven’t really done that. It probably is harder to meet women if I’m hanging out with mostly straight people, and sometimes I feel like I’m missing out.

A lot of my straight friends will come to events like Pride with me, which feels
good because I have support and I’m not alone.

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

With my friends and family. And at work, actually, we have a great community that feels like family. Sometimes I go into work on the weekends, just because I feel comfortable being there.

Who influenced the life you live now?

This might sound like an annoying answer, but everyone. I think everyone around me has influenced me, whether I knew them for a long time or not so much. Teachers, fellow students, people who have supported me, people who were just jackasses and showed me who I didn’t want to be, random acquaintances. Everyone I’ve met has influenced who I am now.

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.

Beth Rich, Queer Kentucky Writer

 

I am thrilled to be a writer for Queer Kentucky, and excited to share my story here. This is the first time I’ve shared parts of this publicly, and I am excited to have the space and support to do so.

Queer-ness to me is about how I see, experience and interact with the world. It’s connected to gender and sexuality, sure, but it’s also more than that. To me, queer is not fitting into the boxes, queer is being on the margins, queer is feeling like an outsider. And those things are difficult. I’ve been hurt because of them, but there’s also so much beauty and opportunity there. Being queer presents me with the opportunity to see, discover, and embrace all parts of myself, no matter how desperate they might seem. Being queer invites me to celebrate myself in my entirety. Queer-ness, to me, is about integration, wholeness and discovery.

I identify as queer. I am a cis woman married to a cis man, so there’s a lot of privilege that comes with that. I’m in this place where I could choose never to come out and people probably wouldn’t know the difference. When I first realized I was queer, it felt more about who I am attracted to. Right now it feels more about the ways I think, the ways I experience my gender, my body, my mind, my self. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about balancing and embracing the femininity and masculinity within myself. There are parts of me that are very masculine that sometimes bring up defensiveness, fear and anger because I’ve spent much of my life fighting for those parts of my self, body and personality to be recognized. And then there are parts of me that are very feminine, that I’ve often downplayed or ignored because I didn’t want to be seen as weak, didn’t want to be sexualized and objectified any more than I already was, didn’t want to be left out because “I was a girl.” I am starting to see all of myself, embracing both the masculine and the feminine within me and giving each of them room to grow and thrive. I really want to accept all of it and make room for myself, so that I can harness the power and beauty that comes with full expression.

I am from Alabama, and moved to Louisville, Kentucky a little over three years ago. Honestly, there is much of my growing up experience that I don’t remember. I grew up in a Christian family, and was a sure, steady, believing Christian myself for much of my life.

Eventually, after college, I started having doubts, but before that things just stopped feeling “right.” I had no words for it, it wasn’t a conscious transformation in the beginning. But I stepped down from several positions of church involvement, started reading different books, started asking questions. And in the middle of all of that, I moved. I was on my way to North Carolina, dying to get a PhD in Comparative Literature from either UNC or Duke, but doors just kept slamming in my face, and I ended up living for the summer in my great-grandmother’s house in Central KY. My entire family, both my mom and my dad’s side, live in a tiny, two-stoplight town. I spent a summer with nanas, papas, grannies, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Though I don’t love everything about small town life, I am really grateful for the family support I received from them that summer, and for a quiet place tucked away in the middle-of-nowhere to read, rest, and figure out what was next. When my plans in North Carolina fell through, my family members suggested Louisville. They connected me with a couple of friends and I got a part-time job teaching English (ESL) to adults at Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

When I arrived in Louisville, I still considered myself a Christian, still felt like one, still believed. But I knew I had issues with the denomination I’d grown up in, and wanted to find something else. One of my issues was the racism I’d seen growing up, not always overt or conscious, but there nonetheless, so the first church I attended was an AME Zion church, a traditionally African-American denomination. I wanted to learn from church leaders who were people of color. I attended several services, and asked to meet with the pastor to better understand the church’s beliefs and practices. I had also chosen this church because the main pastor was a woman. I had grown up in a church that believes women can’t be in positions of leadership, and the most a woman can do is teach Sunday School or Bible studies to people younger than herself or other women. In that meeting, I asked the pastor what she thought the Bible said and what she believed about queer people. (Actually, I probably asked about homosexuality; I didn’t have the vocabulary and understanding that I do now.) As a woman, as a Black woman, I expected her to be accepting of queerness and homosexuality. Maybe that was assumptive of me, and I didn’t know then why her answer was so important to me. I had little conscious reasoning behind why I asked that question, I think the most I had a sense of was that I didn’t want to join another church community where I’d be taught, asked, required to look down on, police, or judge another group of people. When I asked, she immediately said something like “Well, it’s wrong. The Bible clearly says homosexuality is wrong and anyone who says differently is lying to themselves.” I remember feeling disappointed, like if I stayed I would just have to leave again because I’d be asked to see yet another group of people as wrong and less than. So I left that church too.

After that I tried what is, in many ways, the other end of the spectrum when it comes to churches; I attended an Episcopal church for several months. I rode my bike to an Evensong service where it ended up just being me, a church member, and one of the priests. I had coffee with them after the service, and ended up asking the same question. They were more accepting it seemed, and said something like they weren’t sure what the Bible says about homosexuality, but they did know that the Bible asks Christians to love, and so that was their focus. If I remember correctly, they seemed to disagree with each other a bit, but didn’t openly state their personal views. A few weeks (or months, I’m not entirely sure) after I began attending that church, the entire Episcopal church ruled to make the rite of marriage through their churches available to all people, regardless of gender. I don’t know all of the ins and outs of it, but the church I was attending split (or nearly split, again I’m not sure) because of that decision. Many members thought homosexuality was a sin, while others were convinced that the Bible asks Christians to love all people, and that that love freely extends to queer people. I didn’t stick around to learn more or take sides. I felt fragile, frustrated. It was enough work to hold space for myself to work through my own conflicting ideas, I knew I was unable to be a part of yet another community set on arguing over who is right and who’s wrong, who deserves love and respect, judgment and condemnation, and who doesn’t.

I know that there are queer people who are Christians, who are religious. I know that there are Christians and religious people who are fully accepting of queer folks. I know there are probably many people who were (and are) a part of my life and church experience who wished (or still wish) that I would have taken more time to talk things through, to understand their point of view, to be more gentle in my exit from the church and Christianity. (There are also Christians who love, accept, and understand me just as they did when I shared their faith, and there are those who are trying, and for that I am so very thankful and glad.) I also know that there are people who wish I would have stayed. People who want me to come back. But I couldn’t, I can’t, and I won’t. Though some of my reactions to Christianity have been motivated by hurt and fear, my decision to leave the church and identify as an atheist was driven by love and curiosity. (Note: I’m not completely happy with the word “atheist” or its associated identity, but it’s the closest word I currently have to define my worldview; humanist and nihilist also sometimes stick.) Love for myself, love for other people that I care about and refuse to judge, correct, convert, or convince. Curiosity about the world, and desire for an open, ever-growing worldview that has room for all of my discoveries, truths, and experiences. It’s taken three years for me to feel comfortable and safe enough to share this publicly, but this is my truth. Sometimes my experiences still hurt. Sometimes I miss pieces of the church community, practices, and beliefs. But I am free, I am healing, I am happy.

I don’t think it’s particularly notable that I had this experience in Kentucky, I think it could have happened anywhere. But I do find it interesting that I’ve wound up here and that this is where I left Christianity and discovered my queer-ness. I had always grown up visiting Kentucky (which as a kid, to me, meant that tiny town in Central Kentucky) but never planned to move here. When I moved to Louisville, people would tease me: “Why would you choose to move to a place like Kentucky?” When I said “Well, I came from Alabama,” they’d laugh and tease me even more. “Oh, well that makes sense. At least Kentucky ain’t Alabama.”

I am a strange Southerner, someone who’s often wanted to leave. Many days I still do. But, I’m also glad that I’ve stayed. That I’ve lived in both Alabama and Kentucky. That I’ve learned and grown here and grappled with what it means to be a queer, college educated, non-Chrisitan, white woman in the US South.

I discovered this interview in the Bitter Southerner with Lee Bains III when I was a senior in college. I was still attending church, still identifying as a Christian, still totally unaware of my queer-ness, but I LOVED every one of his words, and hung onto them even before they meant to me what they mean now. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the piece:

“The discourse of the powerful in the South has held Southern identity outside the grasp of multitudes. So, yes, I, personally, as a leftist, reasonably intellectual, open-minded Southerner, feel that I have been disallowed of my very identity by the discourse of the powerful, and, with this record, I am engaged in a process of reclaiming that identity for myself. But I hope too, and really more importantly, to invite other, more marginalized Southerners, and members of any culture anywhere for that matter, to engage in that same process — to refuse to be treated as strangers in their own land.”

That’s how I feel about being Southern, living in Alabama and now Kentucky. Even in Louisville, a city that celebrates its liberalism, openness, and culture. (No place is perfect, sure. But I think Louisville has a lot of growth to do, and it’s growth that I’m not altogether convinced will happen because the power in this city is nowhere near evenly distributed. In many ways the city is still segregated. Our laws don’t protect all of us, in fact they hurt many of us. So. I don’t want to live here forever. It’s not a place I want to raise my kids one day. It’s a place that’s difficult for me to live in. For those of you that feel that way and choose to make a life here anyway, you have my deep respect and gratitude. For those who don’t feel that way, good for you.) So here—in the US South, in Kentucky, in Louisville—I am deeply, passionately engaged in a process of reclaiming a Southern identity for myself and in creating and celebrating places that make room for Southerners more marginalized than myself to do the same. I refuse to be treated as a stranger in the land I grew up on. (Note: I’m hesitant to call it my or our own land. I appreciate the sentiment, but I think that it’s important to acknowledge the reality that this is not my land, our land. In many respects, this is stolen land.)

Later in the article, Bains says:

“It doesn’t matter where your parents were born or what religious tradition you follow or what type of person you find attractive; if you say you’re a Southerner, then you’re a fucking Southerner, and we need to hear about it. We need to hear what you love and hate about it. We need a real, open discourse about authentic culture and identity.”

I find this statement true about Southern identity, and true of queer identity. I am queer, and other people, queer and straight, can benefit from hearing what I have to say about my identity. I don’t really feel a part of “mainstream” queer culture. Because it’s very easy for people to assume I’m straight, and many do, I’m not always readily included or thought of in queer spaces or culture. Like the brilliant Hannah Gadsby said in her Netflix special, Nanette, “I don’t even think lesbian is the right identity for me…I identify as tired.” Queer is part of my identity. But I also identify as tired. As a bitter Southerner. As a million other things, a few that fit into mainstream, popular queer culture, and many that don’t.

Instagram has actually been a really big part of my queer journey, it’s been a way to find community and find people that I admire and identify with. I am studying to be a doula, a person that offers physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual support to people during times of transition (traditionally through birth, pregnancy, and postpartum, but I also want to offer similar support to people dealing with loss, academic and career transitions, cancer, other medical procedures and issues, and death). One of my favorite-ever doulas is a queer woman married to a cis man, Erica Chidi Cohen. Another doula I super-admire is Lindsey Bliss of Carriage House Birth, also a queer woman married to a cis man, and Vyana Novus-Magee is another amazing person that I’ve connected with through Instagram who’s a queer woman married to a cis man. Writing this makes me realize that I used to feel pretty lonely in my queer identity, and that it’s been empowering and encouraging to find queer people who share a similar experience to my own. Which takes me in two directions: issues in the queer community and a person who’s influenced who and where and what I am today.

Issues in the queer community: there’s a lot of cliques. Like any other segment of the population, we’ve created in-groups, we often stick with people who look and act like us and that can cause a lot of disconnection. I think it’s important to recognize and examine our personal experiences and specific privileges, and I also think it’s important to come together, to connect with queer people who don’t look like you, talk like you, act like you, identify like you, have sex like you. I think there’s a lot of healing that can, and I hope will, happen within the queer community. Racism and sexism are very much a part of this community, this culture, even if queer is already a marginalized identity. I’d love to see us heal some of our individual and collective wounds, and move into a more accepting, curious way of interacting with one another.

My person: I’ve mentioned being married already, I’ve mentioned being a queer cis woman married to a queer cis man. For most of my life, I was unable to imagine a person I’d want to marry. When I left the church and Christianity, I wondered if marriage meant anything to me. It does, but that’s meaning I’ve created, we’ve created. Meaning that would not exist for me if it weren’t for Bobby. Bobby is my favorite person, the biggest piece of my world. If it weren’t for him, I’m not sure when I would have realized I was queer and I am sure that coming to that realization and stepping into my identity would have been much more challenging and painful. I met Bobby soon after I moved to Louisville, and he was a friend, a listener, a support as I navigated moving to a new place, leaving Christianity, and defining my identity for myself. A 6’5”, 200+ pound person who studies Nietzschean philosophy, writes poetry that scares the shit out of many, and lifts thousands of pounds of what look like torture implements in his home gym every week, Bobby would not be described by all who meet him as friendly, loving, or open. But I am luckier than I imagined I could be that, since the day I met him, he’s shown me nothing but friendship, love, and openness. When he came out to me as queer, he texted me (I went back and read the texts, this is verbatim):

“I’m with you because I want to be with you. [Being queer] is something you need to know about me. Because you can know more fully who I am, and because I can be closer to you through being more open and honest. And also I want you to know because if you ever feel like you need to express or explore gender expression or sexuality differently, I want you to know you can. I have no expectations except for you.”

That’s proven to be true, and his acceptance of his own queerness has encouraged and inspired me to accept and explore my gender, my sexuality, my self. We eloped last summer in Cherokee Park, on my birthday (and had a second, bigger wedding ceremony upstairs above Ramsi’s cafe in October, on our second anniversary). We wrote our own vows and this is how mine ended:

“Your teacher, your friend, Nickole, and her wife wrote an essay about their marriage. In it, her wife, Jessica said:

What can be a greater act of self-definition than making you my wife, my chosen family?

I want to echo her words here.

I choose you as my family.

I choose to define myself as yours. Not because you own me or as someone forced to stay. But because this is what makes sense, more than anything else. Being your family, being your wife.”

And now, just a little over a year later, those words ring true. I imagine they always will. Bobby is the person who’s influenced me most and there’s no one else I’d rather define myself by, with, and alongside.

That’s my story. For anyone struggling to come into your own identity, I would encourage you that you’re not alone. And that, even if it doesn’t feel like it, you fit into the queer community. Your experiences, your feelings, your preferences matter, and there’s room for them. Stay curious. Whenever you can, reach out to people who make room for you, people who listen to you, people who love you.

Here is to chosen family, beautiful acts of self-identification, and the reclamation and celebration of our stories, as queer, as Kentuckians, as humans.

My name is Brandon Shaw. Thank you for reading.

 

The word “queer” wasn’t something I heard a lot of growing up. I remember watching “Queer As Folk” at my uncle’s place while he “watched” me after school, and I watched “Undressed” really late on MTV, and those were the first times I had seen anything gay on TV. The men on those shows were often skinny twinks with abs or just generally attractive, promiscuous men. Completely opposite of the soon to be fat gay goth kid I was.

The word “queer”, to me, was liberating. Being queer doesn’t leave you feeling like a checked box, the sky’s truly the limit on sexuality. I was doing the absolute most at times, too. Coming out a 11 at 6th grade graduation, losing my friends and switching middle schools, I was cutting myself, dad wasn’t around, and my mom and I were not in a good place. I went through an abusive relationship when I was 17-18.

I got through these things, I had to. All in all, I’ve become aware of who I am and the feeling as if two people fighting over this body has subsided, as if they’ve molded into one and that’s who I am. I love myself beyond words and it took me a long time to get here. I was born in New Albany, IN, so basically, Kentuckiana.

Growing up had its ups and downs. My cul-de-sac was all white except for my family, so I grew up surrounded by white faces and that was what made up most of my friend group. There wasn’t any racist behavior that I had to deal with growing up and I am thankful for that. My family tried to raise me Baptist, but I just despised going to church. When I came out, a few family members had some opinions they had to get off their chest and that was fine. I was already the black sheep of the family as it is, and as far as I know, the only gay member to boot.

Personally, I’ve recently come out to my partner, and now you, as non-binary. Through the years I’ve worn combinations of both women and men’s clothing and feeling as if this body isn’t my own. I know, I know, it all sounds strange, but I’ve also felt like I’ve been both men and women in past lives. Also, I feel as if I meet people by their soul or energy first, before gender, and I try to make out the rest of their being as the encounter goes on. My boyfriend supports any wild thing that comes to my imagination.

Seeing how we are charging one another for the better is truly a beautiful experience. It’ll be a year we’ve been together this month. If I had to give advice on how I came to love myself is to give yourself time. Take time to learn about who this person is, how to make this soul of yours truly happy, take yourself out on a date occasionally. Learn to love yourself before you pass that cup of your being to someone else to sip.

Also, none of those “perfect” looking people on IG, Facebook, the media, et cetera speak for you or are what you should aspire to be. Look up to and surround yourself with people that make you feel empowered and have beliefs that align with yours. Watching your friends grow and become successful alongside you is incredibly beautiful and rewarding.

Don’t let anyone take your voice away and leave those toxic relationships and people behind. Last, everything will be alright in the end, if it’s not all right, it’s not the end. My identity is a funny story. It’s hard to put it into words but I’ll start now. When I worked at Forever 21, yes THAT one, I got into a whole new lifestyle. The people I worked with allowed me to be completely myself, and I am grateful to them for that. I was surrounded by a lot of wonderful people for over 40 hours a week, yes, we were working but it was a melting pot that exposed to a plethora of people.

I was smoking weed, staying up til sunrise, drinking black coffee with aderall, working all day, going to house parties on molly any day that ended in y. I underwent a transformation and I named the product Freeda Slaves. Yeah, you read that shit right! FREEDA SLAVES. Bitch, she was everything. I hope I can cuss, I’m sorry. I apologize a lot. Ms. Slaves was wild, confident, funny, witty and just a good time for everyone, ya know? She shaped a lot of who I am today. It took some time but when I hit 23 I realized that Freeda is who I truly am.

Freeda is me in my element. She broke me out of just feeling like I was the black gay guy. Whether I was alone or in a crowd full of people, I was myself. I value my alone time. My time by myself allows me to recharge and collect, so I can be 100% me anywhere else. I am happiest when I was able to be myself. I found myself loving to travel alone and having one on one experiences with people and just the thrill of being surrounded by strangers and exploring somewhere new. It took a LONG time to become happy with who I saw in the mirror.

The only issues I ever really faced came from the hook-up apps. Ya’ll need to stop calling them dating apps because we know how the “date” ends. Guys covering up their racism under the guise of calling it a preference and having to see those guys that blocked you after asking for more pics out in the three bars we have. That’s fun. There’s also all the athletic, fit, sane, downto-Earth men and their muscled torsos versus my hairy, drive past the gym twice a week, average bod on Grindr.

I must remember that racism is everywhere but also that Kentucky’s still considered the south, but I do know that moving must be in my plan. There’s always this label that’s forced on you when you’re a gay person of color. Your cock must be monstrous, you must be hard or thuggish, and people assume we’re on the DL calling our baby mommas roommates. We are fetishized, and I get so tired of “I know you’re black but what are you mixed with…” Or “You don’t look fully black” like what the fuck does that mean? As if being black isn’t good enough on its own.

Bottom line, I want our community to support its black and trans groups. Gays want to basically portray black women with their mannerism and drag personas but not respect black women and their struggle. I know it’s corny, but I feel at my best with my friends. They allow me to be the best person I can and that’s myself. Shout out to them, they’re the real MVPs. They also kept pushing me to do this and pulled me out of my slump. Thank you for your patience. I’m tapping my feet to type out and think of who influenced me.

There’s a man named Dave who I always look up to. Whatever he aspired to do, he did it. He never lets me make excuses and calls me out on my bullshit. He also was one of many other great people that pushed me to go to school. This man even drove me up to the financial aid office and made me get that shit taken care of, so I could start. My grandfather is another person who influenced me. He’s the reason I have a love for photography and try to see the beauty in things.

I even watched America’s Next Top Model with him and learned to pose from models my grandad would photograph. He gave me these camera-like eyes and taught me to see the world on picture at a time. My name is Brandon Shaw. Thank you for reading.

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.

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