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Living in Queer Kentucky — not always easy

“I live in Shepherdsville, KY. It is difficult living in KY. It was difficult growing up in KY. Being queer and living in Bullitt County, you always have to be alert of your surroundings. You can’t presume you’re safe just because you live in Bullitt county. You’re only safe if you’re white, redneck, religious, and heterosexual. The head of the KKK is in Bullitt county and that weighs heavily on my mind. I don’t feel welcome because I identify as a pansexual, intersex, and transgender man. Some people would consider me abnormal or weird. A lot of LBGTQ spaces are mainly designed and inhabited by gay men.” — Rey

‘Have you met another non-binary Filipino from Floyd County?’

Kathryn de la Rosa

What do you identify as? Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything?

Bisexual, genderqueer Pilipina. I use they/them or she/her. I write and work in theater and study astrology. I like what initially looks like a disagreement: a feminine -a ending on “Pilipina” looks very gendered. But what little I know about Tagalog is there is one gender-neutral pronoun, siya, so my mom misgenders things and people in English all the time. The letter “F,” the sound ph, the impulse to gender things -o or -a like Latino or Latina is entirely Spanish, entirely colonial.

I identify with femme and Pilipina in the work I try to do, strength and fight borne of empathy and healing. I claim a legacy in indigenous Pilipino healers, priestesses, often trans women you can imagine 16th-century Spanish explorers had thoughts about. The Philippines is one of the most Catholic countries on Earth but it was once a queerer, more colorful place. I gravitate toward “genderqueer” rather than “non-binary.” I think of binary gender as two poles to anchor myself to.

I define where I am on the spectrum on any given day relative to femininity (the Moon, Venus) or masculinity (the Sun, Mars). I have a gender that I queer, and I’ll never be totally beyond binary. I relate strongly to Mitski’s Be the Cowboy, to Tanya Tucker singing “When I die, I may not go to heaven / I don’t know if they let cowboys in.”

What does the word Queer mean to you?

It means too big, too multitudinous for heterosexuality or normative gender to contain.

Where are you from and explain what it was like growing up/living in Kentucky?

I mostly grew up in Paducah, Kentucky, which I’m happy and jealous to see at the center of the Western Kentucky Pride Festival — something I could have really used growing up. I was raised deeply Catholic and really only went to school or church, so I wouldn’t have been able to go, but I would’ve known I had a community and allies in McCracken County. I was born in Prestonsburg. I spent the first year of my life there.

My dad mentions it to me as if I’d remember, which I don’t. I’m sensitive to people co-opting West Virginia, eastern Kentucky ancestors for some kind of Appalachian or working class valor, so I don’t identify closely with my birth place. But I think living there for the start of their marriage, three of their earliest years in America in Floyd County, is something my parents carry with them, which lingers in my relationship to privilege and this region. Growing up I had trouble teasing out why I felt so wrong and alone and alien. Race was the obvious answer. I was one of the only people of color in my graduating class.

When I was 17 I learned a boy I’d known since elementary school thought I was Black the whole time. I didn’t want to come out as gay or bi for safety reasons, but I also remember thinking being brown AND gay is too much. I guess I’d only seen queer white people, or I thought I was too tedious to examine any further. I don’t like to think too hard about how anyone I grew up with would feel about me now.

I’ve been fighting authority figures and white supremacy my whole life, and the small, Catholic, Republican community I’d call home resented, tolerated, and eventually accepted that about me — they didn’t agree, it was clearly in the most bless your heart, you stupid liberal sense. Am I naive to cling to that tenderness? I’ve been to Fancy Farm, where those boys in Mitch shirts who look like the ones I loved like brothers did that bullshit with that AOC cutout.

It hurts more than fearing perfect strangers. I live in Louisville now — I’ve stayed in Kentuckiana, around the Ohio River. I’m coming from the extreme west and east of the state, I went to college in southern Indiana. I’ve stayed in much bigger cities long-term but Louisville somehow hits me as culture shock. It’s home-ish.

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

Take your time. You meet yourself again every day.

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

It’s seasonal. I’m a summer femme, a nearly agender winter blob. I cut my hair short as a freshman in college and every few days I imagine growing it out again, but I love barber shops. I think I’m brusque, and a little coarse. I was very quiet as a child but I talk so much now. I should speak a fifth higher. One of my major queer outlets growing up was singing — I took lessons with a mezzo-soprano who assigned me pants role arias, sung by women who wore binders to play men. I’m no good at all but my singing voice is high a bright while I speak low enough to be mistaken for a pubescent boy. I could train myself to speak higher, more naturally, but it is my voice now.

When I put on a dress or bold lipstick or glitter eyeshadow, I know exactly why I’m doing it. I wear heels and makeup with men’s clothes and practical shoes and a bare face with skirts and dresses. I think my voice is the same. I have a Moon-Mars conjunction in my birth chart, which I think of as quite androgynous: Martian aggression blended with lunar sensitivity.

I get angry a lot, and it starts with deep, overwhelming feeling.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

Racism, classism, biphobia, transphobia, an urban/metropolitan bias, ableism, misogyny — which everyone, queer or not, must work on.

What do you think would solve those issues?

Things like Queer Kentucky, Queer Appalachia, Kentuckiana Pride, Western Kentucky Pride. White queerios recognizing their privilege and making space for us. Mobilizing to help queer people outside cities, especially in the South and Midwest.

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

Have you met another non-binary Filipino from Floyd County?

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

At home with a candle burning, a mug of coffee and tarot cards, in a good outfit I have no intention of wearing out. 19 Who influenced the life you live now? 20 My parents, in the best but mostly the worst ways. bell hooks. Bobbie Gentry. St. Teresa of Avila, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Hildegard of Bingen — I’m into saints and nuns who were writers and philosophers and might have been queer. David Bowie was a giant to me for years. I’m influenced by Dudley Cocke and Hallie Flanagan, who created or toured theater in rural communities. When I was in high school I met and learned from some Affrilachian Poets, and that’s when I started loving home and my fantasies of New York or San Francisco or London shifted.

Climate change is important topic for this Queer Kentuckian

Casey

What do you identify as? Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything?
I am a non-binary lesbian because I personally do not subscribe to a male or female identity but sexually identify as lesbian.

What does the word Queer mean to you?
It means taking a weapon (a harmful word) from my oppressor and making it my own as to ensure they can no longer harm me.

Where are you from and explain what it was like growing up/living in Kentucky?
I was raised in Wilmore and currently live in Lancaster. Growing up and living in Kentucky has been challenging (and blood at times) but it has helped me build character. I started working on natural gas lines in Hazard at age 13 and became a volunteer EMT at age 19. Now, I currently operate the first and only residential and commercial curbside compost service. As a queer person who used to work in the fossil fuel industry, my identity as an environmentalist is parallel to my identity as an Appalachian.

What would you say to anyone struggling to come into their own identity?
Self care and safety is important. You might not ALWAYS feel prideful of who you are and your sexuality but remember that pride is fluid and ever-changing, but living out your true self is not always so.

How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?
I am seen as confident and blunt. My ability to be obviously queer in unfriendly spaces has helped me socially and politically.

What issues do you see in the queer community?
Climate change, fascism, and community connection.

What do you think would solve those issues?
Following your own interests and heart, whether it be focusing in climate change, veteran wellfare, racial justice, etc. It is important to do what fills your soul with purpose and joy.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
Absolutely because I am not particularly interest in club culture, pop culture, or even hipster culture. I enjoy being with my compost piles and other folks who enjoy talking about climate change.

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)
I feel at my best in the garden or in front of a classroom or group of politicians.

Who influenced the life you live now?
My mother, who helped gently push me out of the closet. She has always been my biggest advocate and has always pushed me to live a life of integrity and grace.

‘I remember growing up in Hardin County and only being attracted to white boys who didn’t know I existed’

Jordan Williams, Hardin County

Queer to me means to exist in an unconventional way. It’s the giant umbrella of ppl that understand that we need a come ground to communicate about similar experiences but we don’t need to agree with one another to respect how some1 else lives/expresses themselves. It’s like a community barbecue you accidentally stumble upon and all the ppl are friendly. Queer is the non denamonational church you go to when u just need to speak with source in a safe environment. I don’t usually like to identify personally b/c I don’t like “boxes” and I don’t like feeling limited in who I am and all the ways to experience love and life. But if I had to I would say I identify as queer. 

I remember growing up the world told me I was gay before I even knew I was. My mannerisms mimicked the woman I clung to a little too much for everyone else. “Why do you stand with your feet pointing inward, how come your wrist bend when you put them down” after awhile you ignore when females slip up and call you “giirrrl” in the middle of gossip. But all the boys wanna be Cool cause you got all the pretty friends and know they secrets 🤷🏿‍♂️💁🏿‍♂️. I remember growing up in Hardin County and only being attracted to white boys who didn’t know I existed. I wanted nothing to do with black guys let alone black gays. It was all just too problematic for me. However when I went to the University of Louisville the story literally switched. I saw a new image of what the black male is/could be and I fell in love. Black love. Don’t get me wrong I’ll never turn my back on love in any form it comes in but; in the process of learning and loving myself as a young black man I realized the kind of love I’m looking for is more than likely coming from another black male 

To anyone struggling with their identify I would say breathe. Take your time.  Smoke a bowl. But most importantly find a supportive safe friend/group that will allow you to figure out who you are and be that person unapologetically. One of my best friends who helped me in high school when I use to convince myself I was trade told me “those that mind don’t matter and those that matter don’t mind.” She had to remind me that over and over and over again until I slowly started to not care how hard my hips swish when I walk, or how high pitched my voice gets when I’m excited, or my admiration for the feminine. And once it didn’t matter to me the ones that mattered just started fallin in line or out of my life 

I describe my sexual expression or gender performance as the daddy that went to court to fight for custody and never misses a soccer game or violin recital, with a dash of drunk/high aunty who lets you smoke and drink in the basement. My aesthetic is bald headed daddy beard with Cardi-B press ons 🤷🏿‍♂️. Literally. Get you somebody that can do both. 

I honestly don’t know too much about the queer community. My experiences unfortunately were connected to social networking/dating/hookup apps and such so my perspective is somewhat limited. 

Unfortunately I see the same issues in the gay community as in every other community. A lack of knowledge & respect for self as well as others, an obsession with reality and not what is real, colorism, capitalism, hell all them other isms we made up as an excuse to not talk about the real reason I’m up at 3am on Grindr with no profile picture or info talking bout looking for friends and long term relationships. How sway??? And I feel the only way to solve the problem is the same as in every other community or modern institution. Tear down and reform anything the white man “established” and start all over🤷🏿‍♂️. 

Mainstream gay culture isn’t curated for little black queer boys like me. I was sold dreams of white knights on white horses but  they only like Mandingos and BBC. Gays tend to be more prejudice than str8s if u ask me. No fats. No fems. Like imma thick nigga who loves Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj. Like my favorite movie is dream girls. But I love being in nature. I love exploring shit. Given a YouTube tutorial I can fix/build just about anything. Sis, period, and biiiiiiiitch are my fav pronouns. At the same time it’s like… “yea I’m in his guts but he in mine too” type shit. I feel mainstream Gay culture wants me to wear heels and a wig and a dress and compete with the cis female but it’s like… Know thy limits. 

And in no way am I bashing anyone for expressing themselves but mainstream culture has become saturated with dated stereotypes of who the black queer male is and he ain’t me and ain’t never been me. So I gotta figure out who I am and be him. So the next generation can feel free enough to do the same 

My safe place is my bathroom. I can get away with smoking indoors in a bathroom. I can get away from ppl in a bathroom. Great acoustics for singing. And there’s usually always a mirror…I like mirrors 

I was raised by Mary J. Blidge, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and India Arie. I studied the teachings of Baba Dick Gregory, Dr.Sebi, Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan; I learned how to eat to live, health really is wealth, and the Black Woman is GOD, but I also like ratchet tv, and I tend to benge watch beauty  guru drama and tarot readings on YouTube. But mostly my life has been influenced by all the ppl and things that made my head and heart speak the same language. I must say I have been blessed with some amazing souls in the form of friendships. The type that teach you blood and water both drip. Overall tho I’m influenced by what resonates w/me. 

Thinking Queerly: Is it wrong to fetishize trans people?

Using critical reflection and lived experience to crack open concepts of gender, sexuality, identity, community, and more.

Is it wrong to fetishize trans people? 


Adrian Silbernagel is a coffee shop manager by day, poet/editor/philosopher/educator by night. He identifies as a queer transgender man. He has a master’s degree in philosophy, and has published a book of poetry (‘Transitional Object’) with The Operating System: a queer-run press based in Brookyn. Originally from North Dakota, Adrian now lives in Louisville with his partner, Hallie, and their two cats, Wally and Flower. 

The short (and obvious) answer to this question is “yes.” Fetishizing trans people, or any group of people for that matter, is problematic because, much like discrimination, the fetishization of a group of people always involves stereotpyes and generalizations of that group. For example: the stereotype that Asian men are more submissive, or that black men are better endowed, or that trans women have a special “forbidden” extra feature, etc. etc. 

Just as one cannot have a preference for black men without being racist, one cannot have a preference for trans women (or trans men, or nonbinary people) without being cissexist, i.e., without appealing to norms that result in the oppression of trans people. 

It’s one thing to prefer a certain type of genitalia, a certain set of personality traits, or a certain dynamic in the bedroom. Many of us have these preferences, and having them is generally healthy and harmless. What isn’t harmless, is assuming that all trans women (or all trans men, or all nonbinary people) have this or that type of genitalia, or prefer this or that in the bedroom, etc. Think about it. Why would we all be the same, or even similar to each other? Our bodies, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and preferences are just as diverse as cis poeple’s. To assume that we are all the same and also fundamentally different from cis people (which is what one does when one fetishizes us) is to view us through the lens of a stereotype.

If you are someone who intentionally seeks out trans people as romantic or sexual partners, whether on the regular or just on occasion, I urge you to seek out the stereotypes, biases, and assumptions that are underlying your desires. 

Some biases are blatant, others more subtle, but all biases result in the continued oppression of a group of people, and are therefore harmful. Here are just a few examples of biases that underlie trans fetishization (note: this list is not exhaustive):

  • Trans people have the same genitalia they were born with. False. Not all trans people have the same genitalia they were born with. They may have had lower surgery, and/or hormone therapy might have changed the structure or appearance of their genitals. You don’t know. So don’t assume. And for chrissakes don’t ask. We don’t ask you questions about what is in your pants! The only time it’s reasonable to ask questions of this sort, is when both parties are interested in one another as sexual partners.  
  • Gay/queer trans men are “bottoms” (i.e., sexually submissive / enjoy being penetrated.) Just like gay/queer cis men, gay/queer trans men can be tops, bottoms, or verses! These preferences might change or evolve after surgery and/or after more time on hormones, or they might not! Some trans men may never have lower surgery, but use other means of penetration. Some trans may have lower surgery, but have no interest in using their dick for sex! Genitalia does not dictate gender, and it certainly does not dictate preferences in the sack! 
  • Trans people are “the best of both worlds.” Ew. Gross. If you’ve ever uttered this sentence, please go wash your mouth out with soap and possibly formaldehyde if you’re thinking about saying it again. Trans men are men. Trans women are women. End of discussion.
  • Trans women have a penis/male genitalia. Trans women are women, regardless of whether they have had lower surgery, and therefore, regardless of whether they have had lower surgery, they have female genitalia. How they choose to use their genitalia is 100% based on their own personal sexual preferences, which are not dictated by the genitalia they were born with or their gender assigned at birth. And most crucially, what their genitalia is like or how they choose to use it is 100% not your business, unless they are interested in sleeping with you, which they most likely are not if you are a chaser (someone who fetishizes trans people.)     
  • Trans men are more sensitive, compassionate, in touch with their emotions, etc. than cis men. Cis women: it’s not just cis men who can be creeps. Cis women who fetishize trans men are also creeps, and this type of thinking is a type of fetishization (albeit a more subtle one)! Trans men, like cis men, come from all walks of life. Our upbringings, our transitions, our worldviews, our personalities, our values, and our capacities, are not all the same. Some don’t assume that we are! Even if you mean it as a compliment, chances are we aren’t going to take it that way.

In no way am I arguing that it’s problematic for cis people to be attracted to trans people. On the contrary, I am arguing that fetishizing trans people is just as problematic and hurtful as ruling them out as potential partners. Discrimination and fetishization are two sides of the same coin.

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