To Mary, Alli, Shaye, Kristen and Kami: I love you to the moon and back.
When I came out as gay in my junior year at Eastern High School, I was very dramatic. Not only was I aggressively leaning into teenage angst by slamming doors and arguing about the color of the sky — being what my parents called “a little shit” — but I was also figuring out that I was a big ol’ homo. And my being a homo in the East End faced a lot of rejection, gossip and harassment. I remember smoking those pink Camel cigarettes and scream-crying the hit “Boston” by Augustana —
— on my way home from work as a Barnes & Noble barista, thinking: “I will leave this shit town of Louisville behind!”
Coming out in 2007 was hard enough for queers. When you add in the conservative East End of Louisville, which was my home (yes, I know I’m very privileged), affirmation of self from others was hard to find. I resented Louisville. It wasn’t cool enough for me, and it certainly wasn’t queer enough. I needed to be elsewhere — you know, a place like Boston.
I don’t think I knew of any gay teens at the time, other than the one boy at Eastern whom I would eventually sneak into my basement every time I could. My family didn’t love the idea of me being gay, but they were also doing the best they could with the knowledge they had about queerness. It was an adjustment for everyone, and now, my family supports the shit out of me. Do you remember Debbie, the diner mom on Queer As Folk? Yeah, that’s my mom, now. The magazine you’re reading was shipped to you by my mom. Your name and address are written in her handwriting.
I will leave it at this: I was one of the luckier ones. Many of the gay boys I met as a teen are either dead from overdoses or left Louisville behind because of their coming-out trauma. There are few of us here intact.
Because I couldn’t run away to Boston at 17, I found home dreaming about big-city lights and an Andy Warhol-themed future with my closest fag hags and fruit flies. My friends Shaye and Alii and I would watch Factory Girl (with Sienna Miller playing Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick) on repeat, and then I’d dress them up like some Silver ’60s superstar so I could photograph them. These girls allowed me to explore my queerness through art and imagination. They loved being the “Edie” to my “Andy” fantasies.
My Juicy Cotoure’d girlies would beg me to talk about the boys I crushed on while they did their best to blow smoke rings from blunts, meticulously rolled with weed from their drug-dealer boyfriends. Between inhales and blunt passes, the girls would ask things such as: “But, like, how does gay sex work? Is there, like, shit?”
We’d geek out in laughter because…well, stoned. But I also laughed because I didn’t know how to answer. I hadn’t had sex with a guy yet and no one had taught me how it worked.
I felt lost.
Remember, I came out in 2007 — yes, a fantastic year for the bands My Chemical Romance and Yellowcard, and the songs that fueled my gay teenage angst with lyrics like, “Give a cheer for all the broken / Listen here, because it’s who we are.” But 2007 wasn’t that far removed from the height of the AIDS Crisis, and was only about 10 years after the murder of Matthew Shepard.
“Home” became a place of fear and rejection for many queer kids in the East End during this time, and still does to this day. So I found home in those late-night blunt rotations with the best girls I could ever imagine. They were my sisters. They protected me from harm. Mary would always be the first to physically buck up to any person who dared even slightly to poke fun at my femininity. “I will fuck you up,” she’d say with her head ever so slightly cocked, with a just-GIVE-me-a-reason-to-hurt-you smile. This group of young women created a cocoon of love that kept me alive.
We piddled around ear X-tacy and blasted Rilo Kiley and Sublime while riding around in one of the four Honda Civics in our group of friends. We would eat and drink at Karma Cafe in the Highlands or smoke hookah at Cafe 360, where we’d pick up a LEO Weekly to see what other cool shit we could get into. We’d put on our Vans and head to Tim Faulkner Gallery (when it was on East Market Street, and where I even had my first photo show at the age of 18) to discuss whatever was on his walls that month. We’d sneak into the Connection nightclub (RIP), braces on my pearly whites, and still be served Sex on the Beach while watching shirtless men dance in showers and cages.
And the city I was so resentful toward because it wasn’t gay enough…the girls and I made it our own.
Eventually, though, I did leave Louisville several times. Once, for Bowling Green, where I received my bachelor’s degree in journalism at WKU. I went on to work for several newspapers for several years. But I hated it. I didn’t care to write about straight people or small-town zoning meetings. (Sorry not sorry.)
My name also became a byline for an earlyish version of Louisville.com (owned by Louisville Magazine). I was the new, self-proclaimed LGBTQ+ reporter. The seed for Queer Kentucky had been sewn, and I became dead set on creating queer content for Louisville and beyond. In 2018, Queer Kentucky was born, and it wasn’t long before we were widely known as the voice for queer Kentuckians (mainly Louisville) and also for queer DEI experts. We’ve spent roughly six years solidifying an imprint in Louisville.
I left Louisville a second time in early 2023 for the bright lights of…Bushwick, in Brooklyn. I lasted about four months — there’s something about the Bluegrass that tends to bring us all back home. The rolling hills with black fences, the big gold naked David statue in downtown Louisville — something always boomerangs us back.
And after all of the love, laughter and heartache Queer Kentucky has documented here in Louisville, it’s time for a new chapter. Let’s face it, y’all: Louisville is saturated with us, and there are queer people beyond Jefferson County who need their voices heard. Starting in 2024, we will begin uplifting more of those voices. Don’t get it twisted, we’re not ignoring Louisville. We are simply working to uplift more voices.
We’ve also hired Northern Kentucky nonprofit Queer, Missy Spears as our new executive director. She will be leading the charge for our growth in the NKY area.
With that being said, and as a nod to my Louisville.com origins, Queer Kentucky has partnered with Louisville Magazine for this issue. We asked Louisvillians about their queerness and its relationship to the city, where they feel at home, who was there for them when it felt like nobody else was, the biggest issues facing Louisville’s queer communities, and much more.
We would love it if you — whether you live in Louisville or not — would answer the questions too. If you’d like to, you can find the interview here: Louisville.com/Queer-Kentucky-Interview
In this issue, you will find stories of Queer Kentuckians telling tales of their beloved safe spaces, paying tribute to the loved ones who uplifted them when no one else would, laughing about their coming-out stories, and so much more.
Kentucky, and Louisville, have a lot of work left to do when it comes to embracing the queer community. But hey, it’s not as bad as people think it is. Read on, you’ll see.