Stop the Pan and Bi erasure

Kalee Johnson

What does the word queer mean to you?

Historically I’ve been called queer in ways that were detrimental and harmful to me, and I know that many, many others have shared that experience. There’s a lot of hate that lived behind the word queer, and that hatred fueled those who used it against me. When I think of the word queer now, and how it applies to my life and transformation, the first concept that comes to my mind is strength. Queer people continue to fight for fair and equal treatment. There are struggles all queer people have lived through whether it be societal, mental, or emotional. I think openly identifying as queer shows incredible strength in choosing to live as authentically as possible. By taking back the word queer, I feel I’ve been able to take back the parts of myself that were damaged by others.

How do you identify, Why?

I have spent a lot of time exploring who I am, and I feel, for maybe the first time, that pansexuality fits with my identity. I have lived most of my life identifying as bisexual, however four years ago I began researching pansexuality for a grad school project and it was like a lightning flash of positive feelings. Sexuality is a spectrum and identifying as bisexual was a big part of my queer experience. Now, however, I truly feel like pansexuality aligns with how I live and love; with a fierceness that is not limited to biological sex, gender, or gender identity. I am new to this part of my identity. I don’t have it all figured out just yet, and I’m okay with that.

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

I grew up in Southern Indiana, actually, and only visited Louisville occasionally as I grew older. I lived closeted until my early twenties. I moved back from out of state and Louisville felt like where I wanted to be. I never felt comfortable to be truly myself before Louisville. Maybe it was a combination of age and the inclusiveness of the city. For me, the LGBTQ+ visibility was such a positive and overwhelming circumstance of living in a progressive city. Not to mention the nightlife was magical, and the women were entrancing.  The vibes of the city made me more comfortable with my sexuality.

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

First and foremost, be patient with yourself, even as difficult as that may be. It may not all happen at the “right time,” but it will happen as you learn and grow. Love yourself, because you are worthy and valid no matter how you present or what you identify as. As cliché as it sounds, I implore you to be true to yourself, because no one knows you better than you and it’s ok to not have everything figured out. And try to have fun, because in the end, you’ll thank yourself for stepping out of your comfort zones and diving head first into self-love.

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

I work in mental health, so it’s important for me to promote visibility by creating a safe space for my clients. I keep LGBTQ+ magazines in my office. I talk drag race with clients in session to help them feel more at ease and supported. I am open to talking about my sexuality to clients if I feel it could help the therapeutic relationship. Queer people are so likely to experience mental health issues, so one of my biggest priorities is to foster an open and accepting environment.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

I am married to a man, however contrary to popular belief, my current partnership in no way negates my sexuality or identity. This erasure of Pan/Bi identity is a huge problem in the queer community. Misconceptions that people who identify as Pan/Bi as being just gay, straight, or maybe “haven’t figured it out yet.” I’ve had my identity questioned and denied, and I know others in the queer community share these experiences.

What do you think would solve those issues?

Identities are fluid, and no one should ever be shamed for moving in and out of the bisexual or pansexual community. The more visibility and nurturance we can create, the better. We need to accept each other’s identities in full. Our voices need to be present, supported, and visible. When folks speak out and openly discuss their pansexuality or bisexuality, awareness and understanding increases. I think we’ve come a long way in terms of acceptance, but that doesn’t mean this issue isn’t still very nuanced and complex.

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

My entire life I struggled to understand how I could be so open to love, when all I was taught was how to be straight. Entering the LGBTQ+ community changed my life for the better, but it was still really hard to open up to my friends about who I am and then I was met with concern about if I “really meant it” or if I was “just confused.” I have struggled with feeling like I belong and being part of the community since I have been with my husband. I’ve been mislabeled as an ally and while that’s a great thing to be it’s been hurtful to me because I feel like my experience shouldn’t be invalidated and that I am queer too.

Where do you feel “at your best”

My heart is with theater arts. I love singing, dancing, and creating. Recently I started acting again, and I’ve been in two musicals in the past year. Being on stage is so freeing to me. I struggle with anxiety and while learning a role and being part of a production is anxiety provoking, I have never felt so at ease as when I am performing. Aside from being in shows, I have always loved being in the audience at plays and especially drag performances. Drag is an obsession of mine. I have been going to drag shows since I was 18, and I am so grateful for what that did for my tiny queer heart. As a more seasoned and queerer adult, going to Play means so much to me. It’s the only place where I truly feel comfortable and I have a great community of friends there, too. Talking drag race with people is nice but supporting local drag is most important to me.  

Who influence the life you live now?

I am very close with my grandparents. I had my first mental health episode when I was 19 and my grandparents really helped me through it. They live in Evansville, so we don’t get to see each other as often as we would like but we do talk on the phone almost every day. My grandparents have loved and supported me through many life challenges and I am so thankful for their kindness.  My grandparents had differing opinions on LGBTQ+ issues and for a while that was hard on our relationship. I was not out with them for most of my life, however we worked through difficult conversations and I am proud of their growth. My Pepaw always asks for pictures of the queens I’m going to see, and my Memaw tells me of any queer issues in the news. They’re pretty cute, and I am lucky they’re mine.