When Queer Kentucky reached out to me to create this series, I admittedly felt hesitant about accepting the task. On the surface, the task was simple: find five writers across the state who identified as Black, Brown, Indigenous or person of color, and curate the platform for them to tell their stories. It sounded easy, but I was fresh off of the launch of another project, Black Genders Archive, where I experienced the exact opposite of ease.
Whether for shelter, safety, acceptance, opportunity, or all of the above, all of the once-rural queer folks I knew had moved to metropolitan areas such as Louisville and Lexington. The series was supposed to reflect Black, Brown, and Indigenous queer Kentuckians statewide, the instructions were specific. Frustration became an ocean of curiosity with sediments of rage on the floor. I understood why the people I knew had moved away from rural areas. Part of my childhood was spent on the fine edge of the city limits in a small country town. My neighbors up the street had horses, and when we moved there racially motivated attacks became common. I understand why we must move away from certain spaces. What I didn’t understand was how white-led publications expected Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities to overcome the profound isolation implemented to prevent us from telling our stories in the first place. The colonial project was effective. Connecting with Black, Brown and Indigenous queer Kentuckians was like swimming through honey; slow, sticky, and sweet. For this project, I resorted to sliding into the DMs of national organizations to find writers that walk the same soil as me. To my surprise, it worked.
I composted my grief about this disconnection into sheer determination to find other Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Queer Kentucky writers statewide. Our stories were worth it. I am truly in awe of the artists, visionaries, and storytellers I’ve met on this journey of remembering each other. As I listened to each of their stories, what came to mind was a prism. A transparent body bounded by two parallel planes, refracting a beam of light, only instead of a rainbow, I saw a spectrum of brown. I saw how even Kentucky as a state demonstrates the liminality of borders. It’s not quite considered the South, it’s definitely not the North, and no matter what people tell me, I’ll never consider it the Midwest. It only makes sense to me that the seeds of Kentucky would be equally prismatic, not bound by the shape of identitarianism or societal expectations. We are a prism that refracts specks of light that are ebony mahogany, bronze, honey and gold. We wear liminality like fine garments.
We are the children of Kentucky soil. Our histories will not be swept into a corner. We are made of it and it is made from us. The stories in PRISM are merely a glimpse of this refracted light, but it’s a damn good angle. I wanted the visionaries in this series to experience their voice being cultivated without being erased, so I offered guidance without messing with the integrity of their art. Revel in the skill and talent being presented here, but more than that, support these artists, writers, and educators in ways that are fundamental and meaningful to us, and to each other.
Austen (they/them) is a masculine-of-center, non-binary wordsmith, editor, community facilitator and radical imagination doula.
Their work explores healing spiritual impacts of oppression, postactivism, gender proliferation and play, black queerness, and co-imagining liberation as a somatic experience in addition to an environmental reality.
Austen’s thought lineage includes their ancestors, Zora Neale Hurston, Octavia, E. Butler, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Akwaeke Emezi, and Dr. Bayo Akomolafe. Learn more about Austen’s work here.