interview

A Western Kentucky Queer

Austin Norrid, Hopkinsville

The word queer to me is about chosen family. For many queer folks, relationships with our given families can be strained at times, but we have the opportunity to create families of our own within the queer community. What the word queer offers that LGBTQ* doesn’t, is one word for our entire family to embrace and call our own.

I identify as queer.

I’m originally from Hopkinsville, KY. Growing up I had no examples of out queer people who were my age, and very limited examples of older people who were out.  I went to a small school with only 33 people in my graduating class. I was the only one to come out before graduating, which at times was isolating.

To people who are struggling to come into their own identity, I’d say that living your authentic self doesn’t require a specific label first. Experiment. Experience. Try new things and meet knew people. Ask questions. Finding yourself is an act of liberation and rebellion against heteropatriarchy. The tendency to compare yourself to others is neither queer nor liberating.

My identity influences my teaching praxis as I strive to be a positive example of a queer adult, which I didn’t always have when I was in school.

In the queer (and especially gay male) community I often see folks being shamed for being “femme.” This is just an aspect of heteropatriarchy. Queer bodies that are masculine are valued over those that are femme, much as our culture values male bodies over female bodies. Until we as a community can learn to value queer femme bodies, we will continue to be enacting the violence of heteropatriarchy on ourselves.

I don’t feel a need to search for a “mainstream” queer community because I feel I have made my own queer community.

I feel my happiest when I am making music with my students in South Louisville and when I am relaxing with my partner, Sanjay.

All of the queer pioneers like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Harvey Milk have definitely influenced me the most. As a teacher, I feel that it is my duty to advocate for the needs of my students, especially the needs of my queer and POC students. When they are in my classroom I want to make sure they know they are safe, respected, loved, and valued, and that I will fight to make the world a better place for them.

Friday Flowers

Kenyatta, 24, Louisville

What does the word queer mean to you?

The work Queer to me means someone who’s not afraid to be themselves and live free without a care in the world.

How do you identify?

I identify myself as a non-binary pansexual.

I’ve came to a point in my life where where you not only have to accept the masculine but you also have to accept the feminine to be aligned with what the universe has to offer.

I also don’t really like to label myself but I do to help others try to understand but everyone isn’t meant to be understood. When you label yourself I feel you just put yourself in a box just to fit society but I commend those who don’t identify.

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

Born and raid here in Louisville, Kentucky. I grew up in Clarksdale Housing Project. I was always loved playing outside and very fascinated with nature. I didn’t play too well with others I was the one throwing sand and had all the popsicle sticks in my behavior pocket at the end of the day so school was never cake for me at all. I always enjoyed art class my favorite thing to draw was flowers when it was Friday.

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

Do it on your own time. Don’t let anyone for you to do anything you’re not ready to. Go within and love yourself and due time you’ll be ready.

How does your own identity run how you carry yourself?

Coming into my identity allowed me to not follow societies ideal of what I should be. My sexuality allowed me to realize I don’t have to fit one specific role in society I can play multiple.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

Some people here build their own categories and stereotypes about each other which builds a “wall” and puts tension within the community.

What do you think would solve those issues?

Some people should try to step outside of their comfort zone and actually get to know someone before you make assumptions about them.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community?

I feel excluded from mainstream queer community cause I’m not a sir, a twink, an otter, a bear, and you catch my drift. Sometimes I got out and they throw specific events for main categories I just don’t fit into at all and would never classify myself as one just to fit in.

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

I feel happy when I’m on the go I’m a Capricorn so I like to stay productive especially when I’m working. I’m the night owl and the early riser. Who said you need 8 hours of sleep? That’s for lazy people. I love to catch the early morning fresh air before everyone gets out and hop in their cares and start polluting the air.

Who influenced the life you live now?

Dr. Mufundishi Baba Serikali. He’s my spiritual father and Mufundishi. He not only introduced me to meditation but he also introduced me to Tai Chi which taught me to be more mindful and conscious. Tai Chi is an ancient, yet modern, form of meditative exercise, effective regardless of age and physical ability, and practiced by millions of people worldwide. The study and practice of Tai Chi is based on the belief that health is not just the absence of disease, but is a true balance of physical, emotional and social well-being.

Tai Chi

• Improves balance to prevent falls

• Lowers high blood pressure

• Improves shallow breathing

• Facilitates curing respiratory illnesses such as asthma, colds & bronchitis

• Strengthens joints in knees, ankles, wrists & hips

• Aids in physical & emotional adjustment during menopause

• Improves posture, aligns the spine & strengthens the lower back

• Helps to metabolize blood sugars

Making an LGBT+ Hub in Appalachia

by Jordan Roach-Calderone  

Kyle May has always wanted to help people at some capacity, in college he studied counseling. Now he’s currently working in mental health at the Mountain Comprehensive Care Center, as their Healing Program Clinical director, focusing on getting grant assistance to help people in this region who have survived trauma. That’s pretty much just the tip of the iceberg of Kyle’s dedication to helping create a more healing environment in Appalachia. May talked about the stigma of mental health struggles and how people in this area, even though largely affected, are simply just not getting the help they need. From this dream and motivation to sustain and uplift rural Appalachian people he has recently begun another journey, The Big Sandy LGBT+  Safe Zone.

  What’s interesting about the creation of this center is, it was not something he had always planned on doing. His idea grew from a class he took a few years ago while getting his Masters degree, during a class on grant writing they had to create a program they wanted to get funding for.  About a year ago, after hearing from and meeting like-minded people he realized that this center could be made into a reality. Folks around here, both allies and queer people saw a need, so the work came off the page and into the world. May said he’s been very excited by all the support he’s getting from the community, and that when he started putting together real plans and telling others about the center, “It just snowballed and got way more traction than originally thought,”

Kyle said he didn’t receive very much support growing up and realizing he was gay and it didn’t really make him feel any less isolated. This center could change that for many younger queer people in the community, who just need a place to go to find help and support. May hasn’t just thought about the immediate future of getting the center started, he has a whole plan for the future and hopes of what could be.

“My goal is to have a brick and mortar location that people can come to that will house a variety of different services like events or resources in that location.” May said. “Eventually if it grows big enough, have different locations so that there are different services and resources across the region.”

  Currently, the goal is to service the Big Sandy region, which includes Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin, Martin, and Pike counties. Now, he is only a few days away from being officially incorporated, he and a board of three people will then file for not for profit status. Even while the dream has not been fully realized, he and his center have also come in to support Pikeville’s first Pride celebration. He hopes that next year once the Big Sandy LQBT+ Safe Zone is really off the ground that they can do more by either being the parent organization or a financial sponsor for the event. It’s not just the center that Kyle sees as being his goal, it’s creating a sustainable and supportive community for people in this region. He hopes one day it grows beyond him, maybe even being able to hire staff and creating job security for some of the folks around here. By creating a hub that all the various LGBT+ groups, clubs, and organizations can maybe find a home together.  

  As for now, their small board is looking to expand from three to nine members, and maybe some folks who just want to help actualize this dream. Right now they are keeping a low profile, and building a strong foundation. The organization’s Facebook group is private, but Kyle said if you find him on Facebook and message him about wanting to help he’ll add you to the group. If you aren’t on Facebook and still want to throw your hat in the ring to help, email them at BigSandySafeZone@gmail.com.

Gay, not lesbian

Lindsey Norris, Louisville, Kentucky

What does the word queer mean to you?

To me, it’s an umbrella for anyone who does not identify as heterosexual.

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

I identify as gay, just because that describes that I am interested in people of the same sex, but I could also identify as lesbian or queer. I am most comfortable with gay because it’s what I’ve always identified as. When I was growing up, people just said we were “gay,” I didn’t hear lesbian very often. Sometimes people are like “you’re not gay, you’re a lesbian” and I’m like “no, I can identify however the fuck I want to.”

I am fine with being called a lesbian, but I hate being told that I’m not gay, I feel like that’s an identity that I can, and do, claim. At first I said I was bisexual because I was still trying to figure it out and I felt like other people might be more comfortable with the idea of me being bisexual than me being gay. I think being bi-curious/bi-sexual was more accepted because it was, and still is, sometimes, more fetishized and objectified.

What matters most to me about how I identify is that people realize I’m
exclusively attracted to women, and they aren’t using a derogatory term. Like dyke, I would not want a straight person to call me that, but I’d be okay if another queer person called me that jokingly.

It really depends on who’s saying it and how words like “dyke” and “homo” can be
friendly or they can be meant to hurt.

Where are you originally from? What has been your experience growing up and/or living in Kentucky?

I am from Louisville, Kentucky. For the most part my experience has been good. I am a white, privileged female who grew up in the South. But, as a gay female growing up in Catholic schools, that wasn’t the easiest but it also wasn’t the hardest. When I said I was a bisexual, some people took that negatively. A lot of people just didn’t accept it. So I chose to conceal it. But, when I came out in college, most people accepted it. I felt free to be myself.

When I was 19 or 20 I started to get more involved in the LGBT community and realized that there are lots of people like me. Which there were in high school too, at least some, but they were ostracized or not out. I grew up in Fern Creek and felt more able to come out to my friends in my neighborhood than in my school. I told my parents I didn’t want to go to Catholic school, they said I could go to Male, but there was a waiting list, so I couldn’t go. I was popular at Catholic school. I had a lot of friends, but if I’d have gone to public school, I know I’d feel a lot more comfortable being myself sooner.

I still feel some prejudice because of my identity, here in Louisville. I work with kids and a parent said that they didn’t want me working with their child because I’m gay. I definitely feel prejudice here. Not that often, but it’s still there. I feel it less than I thought I would when I was a teenager. I was a little scared of how I’d be treated, but my family, especially my mom, really worried how people would view me and that scared me even more.

Me coming out to other people helped me, and my parents, see that most people don’t care. I am a therapist, and so there are boundaries with my clients, but I’ve chosen to share my queer identity with people no matter what their beliefs are, no matter what they’ll think of me. I don’t share tons about my personal life but I do share that I’m gay, because if I choose to hide it, that’s telling myself that it’s something that needs to be hidden.

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

No matter who you are, no matter who you identify as (not just sexuality, but all aspects of your identity), there will be people who support you and people who hate you. Depending on your community, it could be harder or easier. Hopefully every person can find at least one support person or community, whether it’s online or whatever. With that support, each person should figure out for themselves what they need to do. It’s my hope that everyone can choose to not hide their identity, but I also recognize the importance of hiding or not disclosing your identity for safety reasons or because you don’t want to or don’t feel ready.

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

For the most part it doesn’t, but in some ways I feel like I carry myself with more pride because I’m gay. For anyone who has a marginalized identity, they face some discrimination. With that, I think comes a heightened sense of pride. Pride for an entire community really. I’ve learned to be proud of who I am. Sometimes I feel like I need to prove myself. Like I am gay, but I do great work, as a therapist and with kids. I’m proud of myself, and so I want even the people who don’t like me or approve of me to like me and recognize my good work.

It’s hard because I am conscious that people sometimes see me differently, but that makes me even more proud of myself. I know I don’t have to prove anything, but I still want to.

What issues do you see in the queer community? What do you think would solve those issues?

The whole “gay vs. lesbian” terminology is problematic. We need to accept each others
identities.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
I don’t feel excluded, but I happen to have made friends with people who are heterosexual. Out of my close friends, probably two-thirds happen to be straight. Not that there’s anything wrong with seeking friends who are in the queer community, but I just haven’t really done that. It probably is harder to meet women if I’m hanging out with mostly straight people, and sometimes I feel like I’m missing out.

A lot of my straight friends will come to events like Pride with me, which feels
good because I have support and I’m not alone.

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

With my friends and family. And at work, actually, we have a great community that feels like family. Sometimes I go into work on the weekends, just because I feel comfortable being there.

Who influenced the life you live now?

This might sound like an annoying answer, but everyone. I think everyone around me has influenced me, whether I knew them for a long time or not so much. Teachers, fellow students, people who have supported me, people who were just jackasses and showed me who I didn’t want to be, random acquaintances. Everyone I’ve met has influenced who I am now.

Queer Folks

Amelia Pantalos, Louisville, Kentucky

What does the word queer mean to you?

I like the word queer, it’s expansive to me. It describes the attitude of being indifferent to, dismissive of, or in direct opposition to mainstream expectations of beliefs and behaviors. And “queer” doesn’t have the word “sex” in it, which I like, because queerness is about a lot more than sexual attraction.

Where are you originally from? What has been your experience growing up and/or living in Kentucky?

We moved from Utah to Kentucky right after I turned 12, and Louisville is my home—I went away for grad school for four years, and came back here on purpose. (Although Louisville is my home, I love this whole damn commonwealth and all the many, many people working to create change here).

I keep needing to say something here to acknowledge that short be being male, I have all the privileges a queer person can have—I’m white, cisgender, straight-passing, etc. Have I had negative experiences that were a direct result of my queerness? Absolutely. But my list of grievances is shorter than one might expect. So instead of telling you about what cis men have approached me to say while on a date with another queer person, I want to tell you about the loving queer community I have found here. That community was one of the things I missed the most about Louisville in the time I was away at school. I wish everyone were as fortunate as I am to have multiple people in my life that make me feel so seen and heard.

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

Don’t panic! It’s okay to not know, or to find that something that used to be true isn’t anymore. It’s okay to be afraid. Always be open to making discoveries about yourself, over and over.

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

It’s been a part of me for so long that in some ways it’s hard to say. I think that in some ways being queer has freed me from the pressure to meet certain expectations or have specific ways of being—like, if I’ve already fucked up the foundation, why bother? But also, my queerness intersects with my millennial-ness, my privileges, and probably lots of other factors that shape how I move through the world.

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

I’m not exceptionally visibly queer, so making connections with other queer folks in the wild can be challenging—especially since I don’t really enjoy the sensory experience of “mainstream” queer venues like bars, clubs, or Pride. I consume a lot of queer news media, which makes me feel connected to queers elsewhere (but not necessarily locally), and that is something that I’ve found to be really affirming to my own sense of queer identity when I’ve been single a long time or in a relationship where I’m read as straight.

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

In the kitchen, cooking or baking for people I love.

Coming back to self

 

Jon Tenholder, Louisville Kentucky

What does the word Queer mean to you?

Queer for me is knowing, existing, embracing that I am part of a minority, outside of the
heteronormative stories we have been told year after year about human life, survival, purpose.

Being queer is my heart saying my journey is different, more creative than roles, societal messages, behaviors surrounding my body and its purpose for existing. I am here to connect, to create art, to breathe, to learn, and that is affected by more than a filtered image of what consumerism, capitalism has instilled in us about gender, sex, and avenues to live as a human.

I am greater than someone else’s imagined life for me. Being born with XX chromosomes came with assumptions about what I was supposed to do, what trajectory I would take in life, and those ideas do not apply to me! I never identified with womanhood in a Western, cultural sense. I never have been. I played those roles as best I could and harnessed those energies and still do. I am human, with soft and firm traits, passive and assertive, passionate and caring, boyish, talkative. Queer is claiming my body, my mind, my spirit and setting it free from beliefs that have agency over my purpose or my image.

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

I identify as trans-masculine, the term implying an intentional change to present and live within an historically understood view of masculine bodies while also allowing myself the flexibility of queerness for my body, how it moves, how I use it. Not restricting myself to Western masculine roles, but also taking them on and becoming what I want with them, reclaiming them.

I now know that this journey is an internal exploration of childhood dreams, of breaking free from a patriarchal, authoritarian family and community culture, while also trying to nurture what I appreciate about masculinity. I can now walk like, look like, exist like role models and humans that matched my spirit and interests as a young kid. That includes a mixture of female and male individuals from actors Leo Dicaprio, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hayden Christensen, to soccer heroes Ericca Todd, Mia Hamm, Landon Donovan, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Where are you originally from?
I am originally from Cape Girardeau, in the “bootheel” of Missouri. I consider it the south and it is still a vastly conservative place.

What has been your experience growing up and/or living in Kentucky?
I have lived in Louisville since 2014, Mississippi for almost 2 years before that, and I grew up in Missouri so my life has been under a Southern umbrella. My experiences as a queer person stretch from affirming and embracing to threatening, scary, hostile, rude upon coming out to people or being in public, from curiosity and genuine interest in my personhood. As early as I can remember, I identified openly as a boy and was criticized, laughed at, beat up by boy neighbors, ostracized by girl peers.

I always felt like I did not feel safe being me, or at least without experiencing resistance. On 7 out of 8 place of employment, I have experienced harassment, demotion, fired, transferred, lied to, gaslighted, written up, ostracized by customers and co-workers alike. These actions were not related to a lack of character or work-ethic, but directly connected to the openness of my identity, the bias and misunderstanding about my personhood, my persistence to address these issues, and the fact that I am naturally open about my thoughts and opinions.

This is my experience as a white, trans-masculine person with panic/anxiety and with a lack of sensitivity to it. With that said, I am grateful that I have had amazing, kind, patient friends who validate my pain, my feelings, my perspectives on the job and in the world from both queer and cis-het identities.

What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity?
I would say be brave and dig into past memories and feelings, validate and explore them. Find ideas, feelings, and descriptions for self that resonate deeply, intuitively and try them out. Personify them. Talk about them with trusted friends. Find role models, seek to meet your individual needs relentlessly: housing, health, emotional and social and take it a day at a time.

The whole process of coming back to yourself should be cherished, the dark and light and everything in between. Know that it may be painful, even dangerous, but we are capable of overcoming these pains with wit, passion, connection to others and self-love.
How does your own identity affect how you carry yourself? Or does it?
My identity does affect how I carry myself. When I am most anxious or working through panic attacks body dysphoria, I slouch, hunch, take up as little room as possible and try not to draw attention to myself. Recently, I have been walking in sync with my breath, my shoulders back, chest open, even though I am still waiting to have top surgery. Some of this is to maintain alertness and high energy for my safety, some of it to show that I am here and alive and worthy.
It is scary as hell to walk with courage and grace. It is vulnerable and empowering all at once. You tell the world its ok to be ok with you. Now being perceived as a masculine person, public life has changed for me. Femme people are coy with me, less open to socializing with me, which does make me sad because I grew up with women and I feel safest with them. But I understand their fears of course! Before coming out, cis-men harassed me to flirt or assert themselves inappropriately. Those memories and experiences have stayed with me, but now men still approach me thinking I will automatically welcome their presence and this creates anxiety for me so I sometimes step up my bro-ness to help me safe, but I hate it! So I try to maintain some type of queer edge, no matter what.
What issues do you see in the queer community? What do you think would solve those issues?
I think the queer community has to function from spaces of poverty, betrayal, internalized hate, lack of adequate or sensitive healthcare to no access at all to doctors or hormones. I think this sets the stage for daily living to be a continual challenge. Trauma changes you. It changes your brain and your body. Being marginalized deeply affects us; abuse, homelessness, ostracization from family and friends, change, grieving old identities and the way we used to function are all issues we deal with to varying degrees and with intersecting identities. I think focusing on healing ourselves, body, mind, and heart, whatever that looks like to each individual could help us immensely. Not just existing, but really working through our trauma and pain so we can be loving to ourselves, so we can thrive. Speaking out for ourselves, advocating for others, living
boldly, supporting each other politically, communally, learning about and listening to black, brown and non-Christian human experiences may help us develop legal, social, political, spiritual spaces and resources that are not present without intentional creation.

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)?
I feel at my best when playing music and performing. When I am releasing my voice into the world, I feel bigger than my thoughts, my worries. I become my inner self for others to see and feel. Even playing my guitar by myself soothes me. I also love coffee shops because of the smells and destination for connection. In nature, I feel the most loved and rejuvenated; I am alive without talking or explaining myself. I am nurtured by the sounds and beings and smells. I love art galleries and craft stores because I can get lost in the colors and figures and messages from others worlds.

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