Being Queer

Genderqueer

 

Jess, Crestwood, Kentucky

To me, the word queer is like a safe space to define one’s gender and/or sexuality. It’s taken me a long time to figure out where I fit on the queer spectrum. I’m honestly still trying to figure it out, but at this time I identify as genderqueer (person who feels that his/her gender identity does not fit into the socially constructed “norms” associated with his/her biological sex), and I use male pronouns.

I try to present myself as male as best as I can, despite being female-bodied.

I was born and raised in Crestwood, KY. It’s approximately thirty minutes outside of Louisville. Growing up I was kind of sheltered, not having any concept of sexual or gender identities that weren’t heterosexual and cisgender, but I knew I was different from everyone else, somehow even though I had no words for it.

It wasn’t until middle school, thanks to the internet, I started learning about cultures and identities outside of my personal experience. I found the definition to the way I’d felt for so long and through that found a community of people who were just like me, and even found peers in school who were gay or bisexual.

In high school I was introduced to the Louisville Youth Group, which is a place for LGBT teens and young adults to hang out in a safe environment. I went nearly every week for three years, from the age of fourteen.

LYG was vital to my development as a young queer person.

Just being away from the narrow-minded worldviews and limited experiences of people in my hometown and being able to encounter kids from different backgrounds did so much to shape me into a socially-conscious adult.

I would say to them [people struggling with queer identity] that acceptance of who they are starts with honesty with themselves. They ought to try to find people they can trust who either identify similarly or are open-minded. They don’t have to go through this alone.

 

 

Artist John Brooks

 

John Brooks, Frankfort, Kentucky

On the word “queer”

I turned 40 in early March, so I grew up mostly in the 1980s. When I was a kid, I never heard the word queer unless it was a slur hurled by people usually my parents’ age or older. In my memory, queer was usually plural and preceded by the word fucking, and it most often seemed to be a general complaint or a way to scapegoat, rather than a denigration aimed at a specific person. But as a kid, you often don’t realize what is specific and what is general.  Adults have a way of coding language that feels confusing and dirty and forbidden.

Queer wasn’t a word kids my age used; if they wanted to insult they would do so with the word fag, and fag was an epithet that I got accustomed to hearing said about myself a lot.

Frankfort, yee-haw.

I was born and raised in Frankfort, which essentially functioned as a small town. I went to a small Catholic school and was mostly miserable. I was an earnest, smart, sensitive, somewhat effeminate boy who was naturally inclined to want to do well and please adults, all of which is a great recipe for being teased, which I was. Mercilessly. Thankfully I never suffered any physical bullying, but I was teased and taunted to no end. Those wounds cut deep and I still carry them with me. I cried a lot. I wanted to run away (I even did once, briefly) and start again.

I fantasized about moving to Iceland (which seemed remote enough that no one would find me) and either starting a new life there or (I have never told anyone this) living as a girl for a while before returning to Frankfort and my Catholic school as this new girl.

I did not want to be a girl, was not confused about my gender identity but the teasing was so relentless that it seemed a logical solution to my problems.

If everyone seemed to think I was so “girlish,” maybe it was better to just become the thing they thought I was.

I’m glad I didn’t do that, of course, because that wasn’t who I really was. I was just a boy who liked other boys. So simple! It took me a long time to realize that, or at least to admit it.

I neither understood the measure of my sexuality nor the measure of myself, but I just knew that the way I related to other boys was different than the way that they seemed to relate to each other.

As a kid, I knew no gay people, had no idea of visible gay role models, so being gay not only seemed like something that wasn’t an option, it was something that seemed terrible and forbidden (which was what the Catholic Church taught and still teaches). My only exposure to gay people was what filtered through cable television, mainly HBO, MTV, and occasionally on the Golden Girls, none of which I was technically allowed to watch.

Elton and Annie

I have two vivid memories that stick out: the first – I think it must have been broadcast on HBO – was catching a glimpse of  Elton John performing on his Live in Australia tour, dressed as Mozart in a costume designed by Bob Mackie. I remember being intrigued and befuddled. I asked my mom why he was dressed that way. She hesitated, then replied, “Well, John, he’s a homosexual.” My mom is a kind person (and has been supportive as an adult) and I don’t think she meant this response to be unkind; it was simply factual. But it stuck with me.

If I was a homosexual, is that what I was, how I was supposed to be? Flamboyant and sensational?

I didn’t think it felt like me. But there was an otherness in Elton which I felt drawn to. But it was Annie Lennox toward whom I felt the most affinity. Ironically, she isn’t (to my knowledge) part of the LGBTQIA+ community, but she is most certainly some kind of other. Perhaps all great artists are. The first time I saw the video for Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” I was completely transfixed. I had to know – who was this creature, dressed in a man’s suit and bright orange buzz cut? She sounded like a woman but dressed like a man, and did it all with confidence and the most incredible presence.

Annie’s image was the first time my eyes were opened to the weird, artistic other world that existed beyond the borders of Franklin County and Kentucky. Even thinking about that image now gives me the strength to remember to be as weird as I want to be.

But neither Annie or Elton were in my real life. And I was stuck with the ever-increasing weight of my different sexuality. I prayed it away, prayed to be relieved of it, to be relieved of myself. Prayed to be someone else. None of that worked, of course.

FORE! Gay Golfer?

The teasing continued through the early parts of high school, but thankfully a couple of things happened: I made some great friends who were supportive of my full self, even if I wasn’t yet out to them, and I also became known as a golf star (yes, you read that right), so my identity expanded.

I was no longer just that fag, I was that fag who was also really good at something, which caused my peers to start to look at me differently. That isn’t to say that the teasing stopped, but it lessened because, I think, I started being seen as a more complex human being. (The teasing really only stopped when one day I responded to my chief tormentor by saying: “Yes, I am gay. Why, are you interested in me?” He never teased me again).

My view of identity is that it is complex, and that complexity should be celebrated and cultivated. I describe myself as a gay man, but I have come to see the appeal of the term queer when applied to the larger community, and I’m happy to be considered part of that community, though queer is not a word I would use to describe myself. I don’t think my sexuality defines me, and it probably isn’t the most interesting thing about me.

I’m also an artist, a poet, a husband, a poodle-dad, a son; I’m interested in the natural world, literature, music, cooking, and am passionate about cars; I’m an agnostic and have suffered from severe depression most of my life; I like traveling; I played high school and college golf and participated in three USGA national championships and the prestigious Links Trophy Championship at St. Andrews, Scotland; I’ve lived in Charleston (South Carolina), Lexington, Orlando, and have spent 9 of the last 16 years in Louisville, with several years in between in London, England and Chicago, Illinois; my partner Erik and I have been together for almost 16 years, and we’ve been married for almost 4. All of those things – and more! – comprise my identity.

Dear youth

My advice to any young person coming to terms with their identity is to just let it develop, let it unfold. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t be defined by any one aspect of yourself. Being and becoming a human being is a complicated process and that is ok. As a member of the queer community, I am most certainly an other, but I don’t think am only an other. As a young person – most notably on my college golf team, where my perceived sexuality became a huge problem for the coach and many of my teammates – and even sometimes as an adult, my otherness has been both a hindrance and an asset – but I refuse to be defined only by my sexuality.

People often want to define and limit other people, to distill them down to the simplest form, in order to classify and categorize them.

Why does it have to be so? Because I am gay doesn’t make me any less of a golfer. Because I am a golfer doesn’t make me any less of an artist or a gay person. I am a part of all of those communities.

I would advise young people (and anyone, really) not to dismiss anyone outright because their sexuality, politics, religion, or any other number of variables differ from your own. (There are, of course obvious exceptions like outright racists, Nazis, and Donald Trump). It is wonderful to be able to highlight and celebrate our differences and our otherness, but we should also find ways to connect to other human beings because, like it or not, we are all connected. I try to remember our nation’s original motto: E pluribus unum – “out of many, one.” Our society and our planet would be much better off if we could find more ways to connect to each other.

“My scene is my studio…”

I’m not really sure what comprises the “mainstream” queer community, so I am not sure I am a part of it. Drag culture, bar culture, dance culture – none of those are really my scene, but I celebrate their existence. I’d like to feel I’m welcome at any of those places, and for anyone to feel welcome in any of my spaces.

My scene is my studio, my home, the woods. I feel at my best with my partner, or my friends, or in the mornings walking in the woods with my standard poodle Ludwig, listening to birds, watching the world as it is. I feel at my best when I’m writing or painting. I feel at my best when I’m in Berlin, or London, both of which I consider alternate home places, or at the top of a small mountain on a Greek island listening to the sound of nothing but the wind. I feel at my best when I am connecting with nature, with the natural world, with something grander and greater than myself. I like feeling diminished, unimportant, like a nothing. I think it’s grounding and very healthy to be reminded of all of the happenings in the universe that have absolutely nothing to do with me.

Becoming a human being is a lifelong process – ideally we never stop growing and developing. As a kid, I was influenced by my parents, my grandparents, particularly my paternal grandfather, who was a talented artist but wasn’t able to pursue his passion because of familial and financial responsibilities. He also fought in five major campaigns in WWII; his intelligence, decency, and strength continue to influence me even though he has been gone nearly a decade. Musical artists like Annie Lennox, Joni Mitchell, Michael Stipe, Natalie Merchant, Leonard Cohen, Marianne Faithfull, Patti Smith and Tracy Chapman, writers like Margaret Atwood, Hermann Hesse, Milan Kundera, Christopher Isherwood, Robert Walser, J.M. Coetzee, James Baldwin, William Carlos Williams, Matsuo Basho, Kobayashi Issa, Thomas Mann, Stefan Zweig, Nikki Giovanni, Mary Oliver, Joan Didion, artists like David Hockney, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann, Pablo Picasso, JMW Turner, Marlene Dumas, Philip Guston, Peter Doig and Mies van der Rohe have all influenced my life. And, of course, my partner Erik, with whom I have developed and cultivated a life.

 

XXX Worker pushes boundaries

 

Simon Spark, Mt. Washington, Kentucky

Growing up (mostly) in Bullitt County, I was thankfully introduced to transgressive artists like David Bowie, Lydia Lunch, Marilyn Manson, and Courtney Love at a young age. Even though most of them weren’t gay, they expressed and carried themselves in a way that inspired me. They confused my family and intimidated the redneck kids who bullied me.

I’ve always known I was a gay male, but, as I got older, I related more and more to the idea of being queer. I never felt part of any community or demographic, so the label “queer” fit me the best. I was an alternative, the Other.

Now that I’m shooting adult XXX scenes and exploring that industry, I feel the same way I did as an outcast growing up in a small town.

I approach it as performance art and feel empowered by it, which makes some people giggle and roll their eyes. I’m not physically the usual vision people have when they think of a gay guy in porn. So, again, I’m the outsider. The Other. But that motivates me and pushes me to prove people wrong. There’s nothing I’d rather be than an outsider at this point in my life.

“OUTSIDE OF SOCIETY IS WHERE I WANNA BE.” — Patti Smith

I don’t really participate in the “gay scene” in Louisville anymore, mostly because I’m so busy at the moment with work, cosmetology school, and pursuing adult work – but I definitely support it.

The scene has definitely evolved since I was a bratty 21 year old go-go dancing at Connections, thanks to “Drag Race culture.”

It’s become more embracing of cis females, trans women, and people of color, which is exciting (and long overdue)!

I’d like to see our community embrace something other than the steroid-addicted gym rat archetype and expand our knowledge of art from only female pop singers, though. I’d like to see more of us stand up for women’s and POC issues. I’d like us to become more open as far as sex work and the stigma that goes with it.

I’ve always felt extremely supported and inspired by women, and I want them to know I support, love and appreciate them just as much.

I’m inspired by the way the LGBTQ community as a whole supported one another and demanded action after the terrorist attack at Pulse in Orlando. I’m inspired by the trans community, who experience such ugliness and genuine hate just because they live their truth.

If you identify as queer in Kentucky (or anywhere in the South, really), you were born to be a rebel and push boundaries. It is your nature to be the antithesis of societal norms and break rules, because we have to in order to survive.

twitter: @simon_spark

ig: @fucksimonspark

Artist workin’ the fur

 

David J. Welker, Louisville, Kentucky by way of New Orleans, Minnesota and Ohio

I have this sad obsession with fur coats. But they’re so cheap at Goodwill sometimes.

One of them was real, but it was four dollars. It’s the one thing I feel I can pull off that I don’t see a lot of people doing these days. So its like a weird trademark of mine.

Life has taught me to have some attitude and I like to dress more bitchy, like wearing a fur coat and geometric jewelry. I just try to be as sharp and sexy as I can be sometimes. But oh my god, I will wear sweatpants and a drug rug and vans all day long.

I love wearing crop tops, and music festivals where I don’t know anyone is the perfect time to wear one; or when I’m modeling for someone. It was a cool experience modeling high-fashion for photographers when I was in school.

I’ve never modeled officially, but its nice to work with a photographer you’re comfortable with and being in front of the camera. I love seeing a photographers face glow up when they get the perfect shot. And being a photographer myself, I also know what that feeling is like.

It’s kind of fun to be you, but wear things you would never really want to wear. And I love finding things that I look good wearing.

Yeah, you could consider me an artist. I would consider myself more of a graphic artist. I love photography and doing weird shit in Photoshop. I work at a local advertising agency as a production artist.

My art for the most part, represents my mood at that moment to a certain extent. It’s my overly dramatic release to the world. It’s also my job.

Art also gets me out of the house to take photographs. Sometimes I see something that others might think, “oh, it’s just texture,” but I post it to my Instagram. I think it should be appreciated, so appreciate it!

For a project I made a whole calendar composed of happy foods that are in sad situations. I’ve always kind of liked that look and juxtaposition. I love stupid random little things like this sad ice cream cone.

She thrives and survives

 

Syimone, DJ from Louisville, Kentucky

Queer means independent to me. It means that you are standing up and claiming who you are and who you can be. I identify as trans, and as history has taught us, trans women were the movers and shakers of this movement. Trans women of color don’t get the respect we deserve.

I grew up in Louisville by Churchill Downs and I’ve always been who I am and that’s always been sort of a difficult sitch. I’ve just been pretty forthright about who I am as a person and when I was growing up there wasn’t a word for who I was – it was just called gay. No one knew what trans was. They knew what drag queens were of course, but it didn’t matter because I was on journey to discover myself. And although I was different I was looked after and protected by the community where I lived.

I’ve lived in all types of places, but the shows brought me back to Louisville. There aren’t a lot of girls that do the work I do. And as a DJ and performer, I’ve managed to exist and survive through the love and support of others. It’s very hard to be a trans woman of color in spaces that often times don’t want you there. Being able to thrive in those spaces is very rare. I have a natural defiance with people telling me what to do and I will call your ass out. I have no problem with confrontation at all. In fact, confrontation can sometimes change things for the better.

I’ve enabled myself to work in many establishments and I believe I belong to the whole community – the good and the bad. I’m seeing so much racism and homophobia and transphobia within our own community. But I also think that we’re seeing a lot of younger white gays leaving their privilege at the door. They’re acknowledging it and stepping up and stepping out. But these new ideas are being met with a lot of hatred from people who are set in their ways. It’s easier to be ignorant than be a progressive person and try to work past things you don’t understand.

I cannot be replaced.

I’m the only black trans woman in many situations and often times there’s a lot of intrigue, a lot of disgust, indifference, and it’s sometimes my job to educate people I don’t want to educate. But the fact that I am someone who is recognized in the community, I try to use my presence for good. I never wanted to be a role model. I just didn’t feel like my personal business is anyone else’s business. It’s frightening to see someone living their full truth, I am a constantly shaking things up. There are so many trans women that don’t want what comes with being well-known or living truly out loud. I’m a presence and everyone is gonna know who I am when I walk into the room. I love making people uncomfortable. I’m a good judge of character and there are good people and bad people…and I can figure that out really quickly.

There are some things you’re not prepared for when you walk into this community and there are people who don’t feel like they fit in and that’s difficult when you’re in a room full of white people and you’re the only black person.

Black people don’t have the privilege to sit back and see everything; we see it all. It’s just the truth. I’ve seen what this community is.

I’ve seen the phobias. With Grindr, nobody would hit me up besides undercover straight boys. Come 3 or 4 a.m. my Grindr would be blowing up! You get the whole, “don’t tell anybody we did this.” That’s fun for a little bit when it’s a boy you really want, but after a while you realize they’re fuck boys. With this horrible drug epidemic in our community and HIV infections, I took myself out of the race. Rejection can be the best thing sometimes. Rejection is what has saved my life. If I fucked half the boys I have the hots for, who knows where I’d be today.

Life is very short and you have to be the most important thing in your life. You can love people and people can love you, but you always have to practice self-care, never allow something or someone to come into your space and ruin that for you. I think I give everybody the same advice. This is your life and no one gets to live your life but you. Sometimes friends and family are ignorant and dismissive, but you get to choose how to live your life, and if you have to remove people form it, then you have to. I would rather eat alone than sit at a table I hate.

 

 

 

 

Joshua

 

Joshua, Meade County, Kentucky

I’m here, I’m queer, and I’m just trying to find balance.

I think it’s important to find balance with queer identity because it can’t be your soul self. It’s an aspect of who I am but it doesn’t need to rule my entire life.

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