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

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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.

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