non-binary

‘The simplest thing is – You are not alone’

What does the word queer mean to you?

To me queer has always equated with “outside of the other categories you’ve given me to choose from.” Which I like personally and I have always admired those who had adopted the label early. But then I catch the juxtaposition of choosing the “other” label (behold, it’s still a label) and wonder about the irony.

How do you identify?

Definitely queer, but my vernacular has always leaned toward “I’m gay” in conversation. The girl that I had a crush on in second grade called me gay, and I thought she meant happy. I had never heard the term before. She was right, and it stuck.

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

Right. I don’t think about much day-to-day anymore. I’m very fortunate that I live most of my life in a set of environments that I contact more acceptance than judgement for behavior related to my sexuality.

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

I’m originally from a small town of 3,000 people in WV, called Weston. It’s very similar to small towns here in Kentucky. I had a very good childhood, with very loving family, but I perceived a lack of gay men and women in town – and the ridicule and judgement that seemed to be part of the lives of those I knew. I certainly knew my predilections were something to hide or repress. I had to move away from home to feel like I could be myself openly. I transferred to Centre College after my freshman year of college. Kentucky has been home ever since.

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

Shew. It feels presumptuous to even try! It’s so personal. The simplest thing is – You are not alone. The right people will love you for being exactly who you are. It takes time. It’s time worth taking.

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

I think I had so much early teasing and ridicule for acting/looking “like a tomboy,” or dressing in a way that doesn’t match my personal gender, that I have learned to be confident in a fluid or non-binary gender aesthetic. I’m comfortable with my androgyny, but it’s been an evolution of years, and is still evolving really.

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

No, I don’t feel excluded. I’ll quote Margaret Cho here on a somewhat related topic: “You feel left out? It’s like a group outing! Nobody’s invited. Everybody just knows to come!”

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

At my home, and with my loved ones.

Who influenced the life you live now?

Family (given and chosen), and a plethora of art and artists.

Kentucky’s Gender inclusive apparel brand gives back

What is BLoFISH?

We are a clothing company based in Louisville, KY. Known for our amazingly soft fabrics, All 4 All message, being gender neutral, and our 10% giveback program. We were founded in 2014 and opened our first store in Louisville in 2016. We are still small, but have a solid online presence and have sold to 20 cites, all 50 states, and 7 countries.

What is your mission?

Our mission is to ensure everyone has the same opportunities in life. Whether that be in traditional economic opportunities, education, racial equality, gender equality, or anything else. We believe in our “All 4 All” mission. No matter one’s sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or abilities everyone should have the same opportunities centered around equality. The message is deeply ingrained into our company’s culture and customers, with 10% of every sale going directly to social justice issues.

How do you financially give back to communities? How do you give back differently than larger corporations?

We believe in the power of grassroots organizations, particularly those who are on the ground doing the non-profit work that has a direct visible impact on the communities they are located in. We do give to national organizations, but we prefer to give to causes that support the communities we know our money will make the most impact.

Our business model is revolutionary and much different than what corporations are doing now, particularly in our industry. To put it simply for every $100 in sales we donate $10 to organizations we believe have an impact on the world. While 10% may not sound like a lot, it is exponentially higher than most corporations. Effectively, we created the ultimate Public Benefit Corporation before it was even a thing. How can we do this? We treat our accounting as if the 10% never existed, we work 10% harder, keep lower inventory counts, don’t take (and never will take) crazy bonuses or salaries, and don’t (and never will) have multi-million dollar campuses costing even more millions to maintain.

Here are some numbers:

  • At $100k in sales, we donated $10k to organizations.
  • At $1 million in sales, we will donate $100k to organizations.
  • At $100 million in sales, we will donate $10 million to organizations.
  • As a $1 billion dollar company (knock on wood) we will donate $100 million to organizations.

To put that into comparison, a company in the same industry (and pays their top 6 positions $21 million dollars a year) did $3.8 billion last year. They haven’t released a charitable report online since 2016, but on it they show their foundation has only given on average $400K a year. With our model, alone in 2018 we would have give $380 million to charity. https://www.aeo-inc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/AEO_CSR.pdf (page 9)

Another question we get often with this model and the look of our stores is “how expensive is it?” Our prices are in-line with all the major players, including Nike, American Eagle, Abercrombie, and less expensive than the likes of Lululemon and Bonobos while still using fabrics that are fantastic. I can’t tell you the amount of people who walk by and are surprised when they find out our prices despite the clean, expensive look of our stores.

Going a little off topic. I think one thing average Americans struggle with in terms to the wealthy in this country is just how big those numbers are. While it may seem like a company donating $400k a year, it’s all relative. Here’s what that looks like next to their 2018 profit.

$1,370,000,000

$400,000        

Try and type that top number in your phone calculator. Unless you turn it sideways it’s not even possible. That is 1,370 MILLIONS. No wonder we have a hard time comprehending just how rich the uber wealthy are.

How are your employees paid and how are you paid?

We are still a small company, but we’ve tried to build a culture here where we pay everyone a decent wage, but still work hard. Everyone we’ve brought on full-time has been paid the same, which makes for a cool work-place. Hopefully we can keep it up as we grow. One thing I really believe in is people taking responsibility for themselves, which includes taking as much time off as long as they can find someone to pick up on their responsibilities. It makes it tough being small, but so far we’ve been able to pull it off and should only get easier as we have more resources.

As for myself, I still haven’t taken a dime out of BLoFISH. Luckily I’ve been able to support myself enough in other ways. I don’t plan on taking anything out of BLoFISH so long as I see new products and expansion that needs to be done, which won’t be for a while. There are tons of designs and tons of people who haven’t been touched by BLoFISH, and until that’s done or we have enough resources I can’t see myself taking money out of the company.

What other communities would you like to reach out to?

We’ve hit on a lot of different communities, so there’s not one specific we feel like we need to reach out to. We obviously want to expand, and with that we will be able to copy some of the grassroots giving we’ve been able to do here in Louisville and extend our reach to other communities.

The LGBTQ+ community, the sexual assault awareness community, the trans community, the animal rescue community, human trafficking community, the veteran community, and many others have all been great to work with. It’s nice to be able to connect different types of people who may not otherwise meet. Many of these communities have goals that overlap, and it’s our job to not only give these communities the resources they need, but to connect them so there is an even bigger coalition to go forward and make changes the world needs, many of which aren’t that far out of reach or don’t require extreme resources.

Do you plan to bring your business to areas such as Appalachia, western Ky, etc.?

Yes. We want BLoFISH in as many places as possible, particularly in places that may not have the access to resources or support like many people here in Louisville have, and we know the power that one of our locations can have on a community. With that being said, we are limited in resources, and that’s where social media is amazing. We are able to reach people all over the country.

We recently did a podcast with a transgender veteran from Eastern Tennessee. He talked a lot about how he was surprised how many people were actually supportive of him when they found out about the transition, and while everyone was not supportive, many more than he thought were. So getting our message out in these places is so important to us, and until we can get the resources for physical locations we will do our best to reach out through social media.

What have some of the positive reactions been to your company? What have some of the negative reactions been?

The positive reactions have far overwhelmed the negative for sure. We’ve had people talk about how they wanted a place to feel welcomed, a place that is actually genuine, and some of the most emotional moments have taken place at our community events. The reaction to our products and fabrics have also been positive, which is important, because ultimately that’s the core and the reason we are able to give back so much. I would encourage people to check out our BLoFISH Speakeasy Podcast to hear some stories and see how we interact with the community.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-blofish-speakeasy/id1272938560?mt=2

As a company centered around social justice we’ve had our fair share of negative comments you might expect, but surprisingly we have had a little bit of push back from some people in the LBGTQ+ community saying our stuff isn’t gender neutral enough. Most of those people haven’t been in the store, but some are right we need to keep pushing boundaries. The key I have to balance is still making things accessible to everyone, while still being profitable on those products.  Being small is tough, and all the new designs are capital intensive, meaning we have to charge more for the products. Some of the same people complaining haven’t been in to test our more “fashion-oriented” designs so it makes it tough in this market to keep producing them. It’s still just my money so far, so we don’t have a multi-million dollar (or anywhere close) resource to tap in to. We’ve had a few people complain about price, but we try and stay in-line with the bigger brands like Nike, AE, and Gap. We will never be as cheap as somewhere like Aeropostale because of the quality of fabrics and products we have, but $46 for our joggers and $25 for hats is right in-line with the brands I mentioned. We have also had some people talk about our sizing system and how we display it, and it’s something we are looking into along with everything else, trying to be as accessible and inclusive as possible.

Why is gender neutral so important, and why does a white cis male care?

When I first started the company the idea of having a place where everyone could come in and buy what they wanted regardless of who they were seemed like a crazy idea (and to many still is today). I think gender neutral is the best way to describe what we are doing, but I’m not sure the adjective fits the way it should. I see what we are doing as label-less, we don’t care how you identify, we just think everyone should have the same opportunity to shop and wear awesome things without worrying about people looking down on them because they are in the wrong section or in the wrong class to buy things. In the past few years gender neutral has almost taken on a moniker of its own and people think it should look one way or another. I push against that, and think people should be able to buy and wear whatever they want, whether they identify as “gender neutral” or male or female or gender fluid, and that’s the perspective I design from.

As a white cis male I believe, and have since I can remember, a responsibility to step up and speak up for those who don’t have the same privileges as me. And that goes beyond being just a cis white male, into a cis white male who grew up with everything I needed. I didn’t have to struggle for a ride to baseball practice or worry about how I was going to get to school. I think we have a tendency to use labels as a way to build walls, and if everyone would look at each other in a sense of their privileges and access as opposed to their race and gender the world would be better for it. I will continue to stand up for all those who didn’t and don’t have the same opportunities I had, and am extremely lucky to have a platform and a business like BLoFISH to help spread that message.  

Who are YOU? What is Logan about?

I’m a crazy 31 year old person who is crazy enough to think it’s possible to create a new business model and flip the entire retail industry on its head while spreading a great message and making a REAL difference in the communities we are in.

What makes BLoFISH stand out among other retail companies in the nation?

You mean besides having better products, people, community, and business model? Not too much.

Queer, challenging and free

What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify?

Queer means I am brave enough to try, it means freedom, it means the ability to imagine a world without racism, without sexism, without transphobia, and homophobia and brave enough to practice unlearning to see it come to past. It means that I brave enough to exist. It means I am Trans- GNC. I am divine. It means keep going, motivation. It’s a challenge especially the being part.

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

I identity with as many things as possible, and at the same none at all. I am a Chris. I am specific Chris type of Chris to my peoples. I am Black Chris-Anansi-Ellagua-Eshu-Slaughter Young-Duke-Butler- Thomas-Wilson. Years of information in my DNA. And so much more. To be Chris the being is hard, because we in society are attached to everything.

We are obsessed with body parts.

I am too because I live in this society, I make mistakes, then I correct myself. I correct myself when I am not around my gender-non-conforming friends and practice their pronouns. I practice correcting my thoughts, when I think about them in the wrong pronoun.

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

I am original from Florida. I lived in the Tampa Bay Area. I don’t know, I cannot speak for Black Queer Kentucky, because I am not from Black queer Kentucky. I can only speak on my experience, as an activist and organizer for Black lives Matter. If you want information about Black Queer Kentucky find them, If want information about artists, activist, poet, Chris than hear I am. I am want to find Black Queer Kentucky and build relationships with them. That is all, and do my advocacy work.

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

Shit accepting yourself is hard. Be gentle with yourself. It has taken me 28 years to accept who I am, and I am still accepting. It’s Challenging. Some days it easy, some days it’s just fucking hard.

I try to carry myself according to my principles.  My principles allow me to sleep at night.

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

Yes, there’s obviously not Trans-GNC in mainstream media.

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

I don’t think I ever feel at my best, I think I am always improving… that is purpose of human evolution in my opinion. I think if I accomplish the goals I set out to do I am winning. Winning in some area may not be my best in life though.

I am at my best when I am accepting that I am both light and dark. The dark parts of me, my skin color, the innocent part.. remember we humans started in darkness and we come out towards a light… in the middle.

I am feel best when darkness is understood, not as something always evil.

Safe isn’t a real word for me, safety is an allusion. Nothing is fucking safe. Secure for me is a better word. When I feel most secure sometimes is when I am speaking to my elders on the phone, they keep reassuring me that I am on right path. I am most secure in the arms of my lovers. My partners.

A lot of things make me happy, Ice cream, you can always bribe me with cream soda and pizza, and good head. I do like my nails to get done, etc. I am bit of a fem boy at times.


A poem to express me

I am that breeze that blows across your face, on hot summers day 

You know the one you was prayed to the Goddess for, 

I am the words that enter your mouth, when you think you have nothing left to say, 

I am resistance, been resisting since my creation, 

breed to be nothing more than what I am, 

And I am light, 

I am darkness, 

I am light wrapped in dark skinned, 

With a dash a of glitter star stuff, 

I am made from star dust, 

I am star shinning bright in the sky to give hope,

I am the rage that demands change, 

I am reason Masha P. Johnson throw the shot glass, 

I am the reason why, Harriet Tubman was a war strategist, why Langston wrote poems, 

And Zora spent time watching God, as she rained and blew her breath in Florida, 

That same breath that was, the breeze that ran across your face on those hot summer days, 

When you prayed for me, 

I am prayers answers, 

I am the reason why, our ancestor died, and were reborn, to died again

To rebel just to died, 

Because they knew fighting for freedom was worth dying for, 

I am their freedom, 

I am their broken bones put back together, 

I am their sorrow turned into joy, 

I am their unbroken hands, 

I am their unbroken spirit,

I am their culture reborn, 

I am free, from chains that enslaved them, 

I am their wildest dreams, walking, living, breathing, surviving, 

I am their hope, their star, their dreams, their sun, so naturally there I go rising, 

I am love, loved

I am Black joy, magic 

I am powerful,

I am living resistance, 

I am everything I need to be, in this moment,

I am enough,

I am water, constantly adapting to change 

I am worthy of all the love, I am trying to give away, 

I am free, 

I am me, 

I am Chris Black trans/gnc human being     

A trans man’s voice on queerness, privilege and intersectionality

Adrian Sibernagel

The label with which I most identify is “queer.” I also identify as trans (because I transitioned), bisexual (because I am attracted to more than one gender), and male (because that’s how I see and experience my own gender). But what draws me to the label “queer” is that it implies a fluidity, an open-endedness, and a critical dimension, that all those other labels lack. Specifically, I appreciate the way the term signifies a refusal to oversimplify my own body, desires, history, and experiences. It’s been a long journey for me to get to a place where I can admit that identifying as x, y, or z (gay, trans, bi, male, etc.) isn’t as simple as being “born this way.” While there is no denying the role played by biology in all of this, identities are not the direct or automatic outcome of a particular hormone, body part, or chromosome.

Rather, they are highly complex, invisible, socially-constructed yet remarkably real, structures composed of beliefs, experiences desires, memories, actions and reactions, accidents and choices.

While I’m not from here, and while it may not be your average queer’s dream destination, Kentucky, and Louisville especially, has been incredibly kind to me. It’s here that I grew to understand and honor my need to transition. It’s here that I found an employer and a work family that’s been nothing but affirming, accepting, and supportive. It’s here that I met my partner, who has stood by me and supported me throughout this difficult but amazing journey. Yes, I’ve had some bad experiences with transphobes and homophobes in my time here, and yes we have a long way to go as a city, as a state, as a world. But that’s the case pretty much everywhere.

To anyone struggling to come into their own identity I’d say take your time. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do until you’re ready. But if you’re ready, don’t let anyone stop you. No one knows you better than you, though there are plenty of people who think they do! If you’re questioning, try this thought experiment.

Ask yourself what you would do and what your life would look like if nobody else (your parents, friends, church family, significant other, etc.) was in the picture. If no one was pressuring you to be a certain way, who would you date? How would you dress? What name/pronouns would you use? Being honest with yourself and getting clear on your most basic wants and needs is the first step to “coming into your own,” and it’s a very important step!

First and foremost, as a white man who “passes” as cis, I try to remain aware of my privilege. Yes, I am trans, and it’s rough out here for trans people. But I also have a lot of privileges, at least in certain contexts, that women, non-binary people, people of color, gender-nonconforming people, and disabled people, do not. In contexts where I’m assumed to be a white cis man, I am careful to be aware of my white privilege and the way that privilege tips pretty much all circumstances in my favor. I’m aware of the space I take up. I’m aware of how my actions and words and silence might come across to others. I try to be an ally. I try to listen, and apologize when I make mistakes. If I can use any of my power or privilege to benefit others (assuming that gesture is welcomed) I try to do that. The operative word here is “try.” I am far from perfect.

In the queer community I see a lot of transphobia. I mean seriously, I wish I was joking!

There is also a good bit of misogyny, biphobia, and racism. I think the only thing we can do about this, and what I’m trying to do personally, is to be brutally honest with ourselves about our biases toward each other and toward ourselves. And from there try to figure out where these biases come from, and begin the long, grueling process of dismantling them. We need to get better about recognizing our blind spots and allowing others to fill them in. Men need to listen to women and trust them when they speak about their experiences. Same goes for white people in regard to people of color, and cis people in regard to trans people. There is no magic cure. The system is fucked. We’re all fucked. But we have to start somewhere, and a place where we can all start is by really listening to others and learning from them.

I’m naturally drawn to people with a more radical, critical perspective on gender and sexuality, so I tend to avoid “mainstream” queer spaces as a general rule. This may also be because I’m sober, and “mainstream” queer spaces normally equal bars and clubs. These things aside, I also just find that “mainstream” queer culture is often synonymous with “stereotypical” queer culture, which often mimics and perpetuates sexism, heteronormative gender roles, and other binaries that I find kind of boring.

Like I said, people in general need to be more critical of themselves, and not just cishet people.

I’m at my best/happiest when I’m alone at a coffee shop writing poetry and/or when I’m at the gym. You can normally find me in one of those two places when I’m not at Heine Brothers’ Douglass Loop, the coffee shop I manage. But I’m also really happy and “myself” at work too. I really am quite lucky!

Speaking of poetry, I have a poetry book coming out in April from The Operating System, a queer and trans-run small press and arts organization that’s based in Brooklyn. The book is called Transitional Object and you can preorder it by clicking the link.

The people who most influence my life right now include: my incredible partner (who is also my best ally) and my incredible friends, some of whom live here in Louisville, some of whom live elsewhere. I am very lucky in both of these departments. Also in the cat department. That’s right, I’m talking about you Wally and Flower.

Pronouns Matter, using them with respect saves lives

by Sarah Gardiner

Pronouns matter. Apart from name, they are the main way we address other humans in conversation, thought, and identity. So understanding them and getting them right is vital.

Let’s start by defining the concept. Pronouns are the words we use when referring to another person. The three sets you will hear most often are:

The feminine: she/her/hers

The non-binary/gendered: singular they/them/theirs

The masculine: he/him/his

While other sets exist, these are the ones by far most utilized in everyday language. The feminine and masculine are the most commonly used because of the ingrained binary that society has faced prior, but it can be harmful to guess pronouns. If you have not been expressly told someone’s gender, do not assume it.

The singular “they” (which has a long history of non-gendered use within the English language, dating back to the 1400’s and used by authors like Jane Austen and Shakespeare) is the most commonly adopted gender-neutral noun, though others do exist. We already use “they” in everyday language. Think of the phrases: “Who do they think they are?” or “You showed them!” We use this language daily, so we have all the skills already. We just need to learn to use them.

Learning new pronouns when your brain has been wired to the binary normative of feminine and masculine can take practice, but learning and growing are an important part of our community and being a human in general. Don’t be afraid to mess up — messing up is part of life. As long as you learn from mistakes, get better, try harder, and be more considerate.

Pronouns are some of the most fundamental ways we can be good allies and considerate humans. To respect someone’s pronouns is to respect them, their experience, and their identity. Pronouns can evolve as well, both situationally and because of the fluidity of gender. Respecting pronouns is one the simplest, easiest, and most fundamental ways to show respect and consideration for others.

Listen and respect when someone tells you how to refer to them and understand that they owe you no explanation if their pronouns or identity do shift. Believe and respect what people tell you. It is not for you to question. It is not yours to decide. What people say about who they are is valid. No questions asked.

QKY Writer Jordan takes on Appalachia

Queerness to me is the ability to talk about a marginalized identity across several cultural lines, it leaves room for identities outside of colonial standards and binaries, even for those of us who don’t have the words in our ancestral languages to talk about them. My identity continues to evolve as I come to understand myself, I’ve pretty much always known that I’m bisexual, more recently I’ve come to recognize that I’m non-binary. Through my journey to reclaim my identity I feel kinship to the Pan Indigenous role of being Two Spirit. Hopefully, as I reclaim more of my history I will be able to find what role my peoples would have had for me before colonization displaced some of my ancestors from here and enslaved those from Africa.

I use those terms because it’s kinda the easiest to convey where I stand, I always had these feeling I just lacked the ability to articulate what I’ve felt.

My sense of self is constantly evolving as I learn more, but I really didn’t think about my sexuality and gender identity until recently. I was kinda busy surviving and recovering from alotta childhood trauma. I’ve always had a very supportive Dad, so like that helps a lot. That part of my family is very pro Queer, and frankly anyone who’s known me for any period of time isn’t surprised when I come out to them. Anybody who is, wasn’t paying attention or way too uncomfortable with themselves to recognize, that’s their problem. For me and most people who really know me, this is not a surprise.

I feel very protective over younger people especially younger queer people. If anybody is mean to you or you don’t have any support, just know, I’m your big sib now.

Find me on social media, we can talk, I’m the much eldest of four kids so I got some experience. You don’t have to have sharp teeth or tongues, embrace whoever you are, if you are gentle, don’t worry people like me got your back.  Even if you aren’t sure what your identity is. You deserve room to figure that out. I hope that anybody who hasn’t found the space to come out yet can find people to become their true family. My advice to them is to take their time, I’m taking mine, there’s no rush, stay safe, and when you buck wild once you do come out, use protection haha.

I hope that when little queer kiddos and young people see me they see the badass I’ve grown into. I five feet tall and full of fury, I love without restriction, space is created around me, because as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to demand it. BIPOC, especially women and femmes are told we aren’t allowed to do that. I want create space where we can. I’m clearing the way cause I want to be a good ancestor.  My identity as I see it, is carried on the shoulders of the people who came before me, to do less than them wouldn’t suit me. When I was younger and didn’t understand myself, I tried to make myself less, shrink inward, I was born with these broad shoulders, it’s time to grow into them. That means I gotta draw some fire for those who have less privileged than myself, I’m not rising up without bringin the whole hood with me. The first fear I had to conquer was the one of myself and my own strength. People say they hear me before they see me, that used to embarrass me, now I say “Good. You had warning then.”

Things got better for me in my early 20s when I realized that there are many other Black and Brown queer people to be inspired by. Being marginalized within a marginalized community was very confusing to me for years, learning about and understanding intersection helped me out a lot. As far as solving problems in the queer community, basically I take my privileges of being lighter skinned than other Black folks, not being visible genderqueer, having a college education (for some reason people take you more seriously, which is nonsense) and stop bullshit in its tracks. All the time, not only when visibly marginalized people are around, hasn’t made me a ton of friends, but people understand I’m serious business, and humanization of people is serious business. People’s lives and safety aren’t a game to me. My ferocity is inspired by a deep and abiding love for people.

I’m kind of a rambler, I spent a large part of my childhood in central and north east Ohio. I’ve lived in South Dakota, Arizona, and a van as it travelled the country. Recently my partner got a job at a university here, a lot of my mom’s family is from the Ohio part of Appalachia so I was excited to come have this experience, adventures are always good. It’s only been a few weeks so I’m not sure how I feel so far. Last year post graduating college, I shaved my head, got back on reclaiming my Indigeny, took a break from pretty much everything. I let myself mourn things, my lost and miserable childhood, family members who died before their time, pain I had never had the room to articulate. I went to counseling to learn how to control my anger and to direct it into better things.  It’s a new start for me on the other end of these here mountains and I’m ready.

 

 

 

 

 

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