With so much happening in the world, it feels difficult to process anything. The environment blazes and melts, Europe bursts into conflict, The United States are less stately and united everyday, and for some reason, conservative politicians work tirelessly to throw Queer rights back into the Nixon Era.
Sometimes it feels like global chaos erupted overnight and we’re now left confused and desensitized with our foggy COVID brains and no real sense of time or empathy. On the days I dredge up a sense of joy, I often feel guilty — like I somehow managed an almost unattainable and privileged survival.
How can we give ourselves permission to feel happiness when everything is shitty? Permission to smile and laugh even when the world won’t reciprocate? How do we face a world so miserable that happiness feels almost taboo? This isn’t the first time a generation of Queers has found themselves in the middle of painful crises. And it certainly won’t be the last.
Thanks to the beautiful Kentucky-based drag queen, Sydni Hampton, and her “Reely Queer” movie nights, I recently started diving into the works of smutty Queer icon, John Waters. The controversial filmmaker and journalist is known for his outlandish and provocative works which launched the careers of other Queer icons like Divine and Debbie Harry. Society at large believed his works were perverted, but to me, he made groundbreaking films whose messy, bombastic characters offered future Queers permission to live authentically. Maybe most of us don’t eat shit, but we’re defying the status quo nonetheless. Waters walked, so we could run. Or prance.
Waters’ generation lived through the Vietnam War, the AIDS Crisis, early Russian conflict, and an unimaginable world of discrimination against LGBTQ+ lives and other marginalized voices. I truly can’t imagine watching my closest friends, lovers, and chosen family deteriorate and die from a disease labeled “gay cancer.”
Waters and his generation existed during a tumultuous time, especially for Queer folks. But what did he do? He created art with his friends, laughed, and breathed life into the world with his filthy humor. He lifted his community and embraced his life despite what was going on around him. I think he knew life could be cut short with a single diagnosis and never wanted to take a minute for granted. Shouldn’t we take a note from Waters? Shouldn’t we, as Queers, cherish every moment we have?
In the book Crackpot, the Obsessions of John Waters, he said, “I’m so lucky to be having a happy childhood as an adult.”
I love that quote so much because it resonates with my own life. As Queer people, SO many of us endured trauma in our youth. Rejected. Bullied. Beaten. Ridiculed.
As adults, a lot of us at least, have been able to take back our lives, process our traumas, and live authentically and unapologetically Queer. Anti-Queer legislation may pass, the Southern Baptists may condemn, but our community will never water down. We deserve happiness despite the world’s evil characters and their hatred of us.
During my four years growing Queer Kentucky, one of the most impactful lessons I have learned is that Kentucky (yes, even Louisville) is miles and miles behind other similarly sized areas of the South and Midwest. I don’t think I need to convince Queer folks of this fact, but cis-hetero if you’re reading-o, I wish I could tell you how many times a corporate representative, chamber leader, or political candidate has danced around the idea of letting Queer folks live authentically in their presence.
Let me put it this way: If a bearded GNC (gender non-conforming) cis-man can’t wear a dress and heels to work because it makes your leadership uncomfortable, you’re $5,000 pride float rolling down main street is just an act of affirmation to palatable buttoned-up gays. I can acknowledge that effort, but you can do better.
By our very nature, Queer Kentucky and our associates cannot water ourselves down. This online magazine lifts us up in the midst of a modern culture war and in the shadow of a new world war. We express our views and our stories to create visibility unmatched by any other publication. We will continue pushing the envelope of what is “palatable gayness” and continue the work begun by generations behind us.
During a 2001 CNN interview Waters said, “There is still such a thing as subversive. Subversive makes hip people nervous. It’s something new that scares you in a good way. I mean, subversive to me is a compliment. Subversive is something that influences people to do something against society that they haven’t thought of before.”
We’ve created a community of like-minded progressive Queers that know they have permission to live authentically. Think of what will be possible when more and more Queers find their permission to exist.