Feature: Queering the music industry in Kentucky

Collins Black

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

The word queer to me honestly comes with a negative connotation.. I grew up in a small country town an experienced this word in a derogatory manner repeatedly. I never refer to myself as queer bc of this and that the original definition of the word queer implies being strange or peculiar. I identify as Gay, and sometimes gender fluid based on some of my artistic choices. I like to create imagery in my music videos that push the traditional idea of masculinity and femininity out the door. I shy away from being easily categorized even within the LGBTQ+ community.

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

I am from a one stoplight town called Bedford Kentucky. Growing up here was difficult. I lived there in a time when our community was still widely seen in a negative light. I endured a lot of harassment and bullying for being the only male cheerleader & being involved in theatre & choir. It wasnt trendy or cool to be the gay kid then. I spent much of my time keeping my personal thoughts and opinions to myself. I only expressed myself openly in an arena where I could show off my talent. I knew nobody could give me as much grief over those things. Despite any hardships I went through I always persevered and was even class president my sophomore and junior years.. not from popularity but from my competitive nature & creative ways of fundraising & organizing special events. In all, I felt I was in a shell living there & looking back there were signs of someone despritely wanting to break out & be seen for who they truly were, without the stigma of being the obvious closet case.

How was it competing as the only Queer contestant in season 2 of the #1 competition short form series in America, Shine?

It was really great to be able to represent the LGBTQ+ community on the show and to be able to share part of my personal journey & how it has molded my art. It gave me a platform to allow people a closer look at the personal struggles I still face with acceptance from my family. This show gave me the chance to exhibit my art in a way that was about and for me .. not what I preceived my family would be comfortable with. It really made me step out of my comfort zone and be honest with not only everyone else about my truest artistic identity but myself as well. For years I would hold back from publicly expressing myself the way I felt compelled too inside, out of fear I would be ridiculed and rejected. The other side of the coin was tough being the only gay contestant.. I felt nurtured by our mentors but also felt that there still wasn’t enough of a place carved out in the industry for someone like me to read as marketable as some of the other safe choices. I have spent my entire life developing my skill set and brand bc I have to work harder to get half the attention of my straight competitor’s. I hope that my presence on the show does help open the door to future LGBTQ contestants to know they too can make it into the top 5 & possibly have a chance at winning.

Do you feel you inspired other Gay artists like yourself to take risks on discovery platforms like Shine?

I hope I have. I look around in the industry now and can only find a few recording artist that are openly gay and successful to relate too and even then I don’t truly identify with any of them. I’m a bit of an alternative gay & hope that there are some other “unconventional” gay artist out there that see a bit of themselves in me and it inspires them to put their unique brand out there. I only strive to help create a bigger place for us to celebrated in the music industry.

What was the biggest lesson you learned as an openly gay contestant on your season of Shine?

I learned that I as a gay man I was gonna have to bring out every trick in my bag, just being a talented vocalist or songwriter wasn’t going to be enough.. I crossed genres, utilized choreography and had to show the deeper vulnerability I was experiencing in my personal life to be considered. The real industry is still like that for openly gay artist.. we have to work harder & combat stereotypes left and right. We have to stay true to ourselves, yet constantly think about what the rest of the world wants from us. It feels like a constant tug of war between being open & guarded.

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

Well I am not one to give advice since I’m still on the journey of self love and acceptance.. but if I had to say anything it would be to remember that you are living for yourself. Honor what is in your heart and be the person and artist you truly feel compelled to be. I have to remind myself of this all the time.

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

My own identity effects me everyday. Some days I look in the mirror and I see someone I always wanted to be, then other days I struggle with my self worth and value. Do people really see me? Do they truly like me? I spent so many years trying to please others that it makes me unsure some days what parts of me are good & what parts of me I’m ashamed of… And furthermore, why I’m ashamed of those parts. The music I create helps sort those things out. It helps get a lot of those hurt feelings and anger outside of me & in a lot of ways helps me heal. Having a tangible product to hold onto and listen to allows me some self acceptance and pride about the journey I’ve been on.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

I see a lot of exclusivity in our community and unsupportive behavior between one another. I’ve mostly been an outsider in our community. I was never one to have a ton of gay friends who gym together, do brunch on Sunday or pre game together before going clubbing. I’ve dated those types and it never made me comfortable. I found anytime I tried to run with that crowd I was talked about behind my back, made fun of for my ambitions to be an entertainer & betrayed. I’ve never been part of a pack mentality, I’m more of a lone wolf in that regard. I wish I did have more gay friends I could trust and relate too though… That would be nice.

What do you think would solve those issues?

I am not sure, many don’t see it as an issue they face I assume. I always chalk it up to me being a weird artsy type.. also I grew up being independent and alone alot. Maybe this observational side of me is what makes me a good songwriter? .. I do think we should try and be more kind to one another in our community. We already face so much separate but equal mentality in the real world, we don’t need to thrust it upon on another.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community?

In lots of ways yes, like I stated before.

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

On stage is where I feel best. I can become whatever character I want on stage and have always felt safe hiding behind my talents.

Who influenced the life you live now?

Nobody has influenced the life I’m living now.. I had never had an example of being a young, engaged gay man pursuing the music industry. Johnny Mathis is my gay inspiration though in the business. I am obsessed with his voice and inspired by his bravery to come out in the early 80’s.

What makes you standout as a Queer artist in music?

Oh I don’t know… I wonder that myself all the time… But I will say that the fact that I write my songs, play multiple instruments, produce all my own music and shoot all my own music videos is pretty unique. Other than that it might be that I’ve already written and sung on 4 studio albums with one reaching # 1 on billboards electronic charts that makes me unique.. I don’t see a lot of others in our community diversifying and putting out the various content I have over the years. I’m still trying to figure out where exactly I fit in to be honest. Alas, I keep creating and trying to find myself amidst all these songs & attempts to be recognized.

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