Kentucky poet Hannah Drake says no to silence

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

I had to really give this some thought because I never really identified myself as anything. At least not openly. I was always just Hannah. I have dated men and women although when I look back over my life, I believe had my life been different, I would have more than likely just dated women.

I am attending a conference and they asked to opt in to giving information about yourself and it was one of the first times that I did. Being able to say I am a Black woman that is a lesbian is incredibly freeing. I have always considered myself a very private person. With my writing and speaking I give a significant part of my life to the world and there are some parts that I wanted to hold on to for just me. However more and more I would see things and think, “Hannah you need to use your platform to say something about that,” and I never would. Then I had to ask myself, “Hannah are you being private or are you being silent?” There is a huge difference. I made a decision not to be silent about who I am anymore.

What does the word Queer mean to you?

For me, being queer means being true to who you are, however you define that.

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

I am from Colorado and have lived in Kentucky for a little over 20 years. My family is from Louisville, Kentucky and the fourth generation of my family is growing up in Smoketown — the oldest continuous African American neighborhood in the city. While I didn’t grow up as a youth here, I certainly became a woman in Kentucky. I have experienced some of my greatest joys here and some of my greatest loses. Living in Kentucky shaped me. I became a writer, spoken word artist and poet here. Kentucky helped me to develop my voice and has contributed to everything that I am becoming.

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

Be honest with yourself about who you are and that can be one of the most difficult things you will ever do. And do it in your own time. To be honest, I just wrote a blog entitled, To Thine Own Self Be True, and it was a blog about me coming out. I knew who I was for a long time and I recall years ago I called and spoke to my mom and she said, “To thine own self be true, Hannah.” Her words stayed with me for years. As my life and writing begin to change I knew that I just didn’t want to lie about it anymore. I challenge people to speak their truth and to live their truth and there was a part of me that wasn’t. Finally, I was ready to. Hitting publish on that blog was one of the hardest things that I have done but also one of the most freeing. I didn’t know what the response would be but I knew that I didn’t want to hide anymore. I just wanted to be able to live. Eddie Murphy once said something like, “If you are lucky enough to live until you are 70 that means you have 70 summers, 70 winters, 70 falls, and 70 springs.” When you look at time like that is nothing. I have already spent 40 of my seasons. I was done wasting seasons. I am in my 40’s and I thought, “Hannah at what point are you going to live?” Even more, at what point was I going to start living for myself? I am done living for others. This is simply who I am. People may love it, people may hate it but I am okay with me.

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

First and foremost, I am a Black Queer Woman. I am not nor will I ever be seen as a Queer Black Woman meaning my Blackness steps into any space and speaks before I even state my name or any other label I give myself. The pride, determination and resilience of being a Black person impacts every single area of my life. However, there are many intersections to my life as a woman and as a queer woman. I cannot simply be one thing. I am many things and have the ability to stand up in all of them.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

Let me first say I was always on the periphery of the queer community because I was never completely out. However, I notice many things because when I see injustice something on the inside of me rises up and if we are honest many LGBTQ people are not treated fairly. However, one issue that I noticed on the periphery is that certain struggles did not seem to intersect. I would see many Black Straight and LGBTQ people fighting for the rights of so many people. Too often, when people think of LGBTQ the default image is typically a White male and very rarely do they see Black or People of Color in those spaces. Identifying as LGBTQ does not erase racism. It is possible to be LGBTQ and to be racist. It is possible to be LGBTQ and support policies that seek to harm people that look like me. If you truly stand up for LGBTQ people than stand up for LGBTQ people in all shades.

What do you think would solve those issues?

One way to resolve this is to broaden your thinking and that is in all communities. Because I was not out I would see people close to me that are one hundred percent pro-Black yet be one hundred percent anti-LGBTQ. I would try to explain to them if we are saying that Black Lives Matter then ALL Black Lives Matter not just the ones that we accept. I fight for ALL Black people. Similarly, if White LGBTQ people are going to stand up for injustice in the LGBTQ community then they must understand and speak up, stand up or support those that are fighting against injustice across communities.

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

Quite honestly, I know nothing about the mainstream queer community so I do not feel excluded. I never really felt a need to be a part of “mainstream” anything. I was always the misfit and the rabble-rouser.

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

If anyone knows me they know that I am huge on spaces and being cognizant of how we can curate spaces to be inclusive or exclusive. Being a Black woman in Kentucky many of the spaces that I enter are not going to have people that look like me in them. Very rarely do people pause and think Black people have to enter a world every day that was not designed for them and learn how to navigate in those spaces. That is a very mentally draining thing to do day in and day out so when I have time to sit at home and just breathe that is what I do. I love being at home writing, listening to music and being my full self. But make no mistake, I am learning to enter the world fully as myself. How could Kentucky want to miss out on all this fabulousness?

Who influenced the life you live now?

Without a doubt, Maya Angelou impacted my life as a writer and woman that lived fully! She wrote in such a way that was freeing and so inspiring. She lived her truth unapologetically! I am not there yet but I am getting there each day. Also, locally, Dr. Kaila Story and Talesha Wilson influence my life and they probably do not even know it. I love to watch them from afar. Their wisdom and Talesha’s awareness of who she is at such a young age is amazing. They are proud of who they are and they are fully themselves. Finally, if I can say anything to anyone reading this be true to you, make noise and take up space! You are here and you belong here!