QKY Feature: ‘Growing up in Kentucky felt lonely’

Valentina Ashurova

What does the word queer mean to you?

I’ve always viewed attraction and love as something that isn’t controlled by a checkbox, that people find one another and there is a chemistry or attraction that is independent of what is between someone’s legs. It is in that sense that I Identify as queer.

How do you identify?

I identify as a queer woman of color.

What are your pronouns? Why are they important?

She/her/they/them – it is important to me that I am seen by others as how I see myself In this world.

Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything at all?

I identify as female in terms of my gender as I find a connection with the divine feminine through my physical form. I do not however have a gender expression and I find it important that expression should not be associated with gender identity. I am also aware that gender in and of itself is a social construct so I don’t find anything wrong with being referred to by They/them pronouns.

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

I am originally from a small town in southern Russia, a town made up of mostly Jewish and Muslim communities. Growing up in Kentucky felt lonely as there aren’t many folks out there with such a specific background as larger states, so it was hard to fit in as my true self and I felt like I had to dilute myself to fit in.

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

Honestly, I am still coming into my identity. But as I move through spaces filled with all walks of life, I find that I am able to allow my identity to come forward in the spaces that consist of people who simply respect me as a person. So if anything, my advice is: be mindful when others make you want to hide your identity in fear – those are not safe spaces.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

Heteronormative culture is still affecting our community. I see some queer folks not being heard among others solely because they don’t fit some type of expectation of queerness or check box. There is a frustration that some of us are not thin enough, or trendy enough, white enough, or “visibly queer” enough (or whatever that means) I’m tired of being judged for how I look, not being queer-looking enough or white enough or thin enough, being too busty or being too feminine. I want to be heard because what I’m saying is important and how I look or what I wear should not diminish my voice.

What do you think would solve those issues?

Simply hearing what people have to say and providing them with your attention & time as you would to folks you may find yourself more attracted to (not just romantically or sexually but overall attraction to the things above such as being thin enough or trendy enough). Even then, question yourself like, “are you really just listening to folks you are attracted to” because that diminishes the importance of their voice and what they are wanting to say as well. If we’re going to normalize queerness, why are we creating borders and stipulations on how to be queer?

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

Definitely. I’m in a straight passing relationship and on the surface don’t appear “queer enough” to some folks. I’m also falsely assumed to be Indian or Muslim based on my appearance, which people automatically assume is straight. Stop doing that to brown folks please – regardless if I am, there are queer Indian folks and there are queer Muslims. Let’s stop perpetuating a heteronormative culture and normalize being queer already!

Who influenced the life you live now?

More like what and that’s literature and reading. I found comfort in establishing how I value my life and what ethics I live by first, everything else is experience and the people around me.