Queer Appalachia is more than a website or an Instagram account you should be following. It is a politically active and socially conscientious community, vining out like honeysuckle and thriving in hard to reach places. It’s just one example, and proud proof of, the everyday lives of LGBTQbillies. Of people who identify themselves in a way that rebels against conventional gender roles and societal norms, and simultaneously identify as Appalachian.
Queer Appalachia reminds the world that queers tumble down from the mountains and crawl up out of the hollers, too. They’re homegrown. They exist and love and live. They’ve always existed. They have roots in Appalachia and tend to those roots thoughtfully. They work and pay their taxes and grow their gardens. They buy homes and have families. They get married, too!
No matter how many denim-skirted, pinch-faced bureaucratic villains try to stop them.
Electric Dirt, an independently published ‘zine by QA, is a celebration of Queer Voices and identities from Appalachia as well as the South. The about section of their site sounds like a list of magical but not-so-mythical critters I respect and adore. The ones born out of mountain mists and red dirt, mysterious swamps and trickling creeks, made of wood smoke and patch work and chiffon:
The Electric Dirt Collective is a network of individuals identifying at the intersections of:
Fag Hillbilly • Dirt Femme • Chocolate Spoonie • Latinx • Queer • Farm-Her • Two Spirit • Affrilachian • Swamp Diva • Muslim • Indigenous • Thaibilly • Faggot Farmer • Veteran • Black • Dirt Witch • Farm Femme • Granny Witch • Positive • Lesbian • Trans • Dreamers • Disabled • Dirt Goth • Transexual • Fat • Poor-Op • Dirt • Femme • Dyke • Farmer • Swamp Witch • Dirt Princess • Crip • White Trash/White Treasure • Undocumented • Nonbinary • Gender Fuck • Feral • Bi • Faerie
It also sort of reads like a list of folks I’d love to have in my kitchen for coffee and apple fritters. And I’d keep the pot brewing and keep my mouth shut and listen. Just listen, to the stories and experiences of my friends and neighbors. That’s a skill I learned in a country kitchen and one I wish more people would pick up on. I’d listen and take it all in. Sure, I believe gender is a social construct and that human sexuality is as fluid as a waterfall way down in the cliffs, but I can’t speak for the waterfall. While I may be an ally, I’m also a mostly-straight woman who dates men when my dance card isn’t all filled up by books and yard sales and celibacy. The Appalachian LGBTQ+ community doesn’t need me to say a damn thing for them. Their voices are ringing down the gravel roads and bouncing off twenty story buildings. If you listen you might learn something…
Living OUT in the mountains? It’s like being a multiflora rose. People seemingly think it’s fine in passing, but secretly hate it and try to eradicate its existence in practice before it ‘invades’.
Toni Hobbs is an artist and professor from Eastern Kentucky as well as a current member of the National Consortium of Directors of LGBT Resources in Higher Education.
My brother was the first person to call me fag, I believe. A boy named Q (for the purpose of anonymity) was perhaps the second. I’ve been bitched up and down for my free use of the term now, about 15 years later. I tell people this: if I didn’t call myself faggot right now, I’d feel the same as I did when my “peers” called me fag during my formative years. If I hadn’t reclaimed fag, fag-bashers would have claimed my life. Almodóvar says fag, the English say fag, and Dustin Hall says fag. Hello, it’s nice to meet you! My name is Dustin and I’m a Faggot. It’s simple Temple-Black; curls and all.
Dustin Hall is a self identifying Faggot from Fleming-Neon adjacent Jackhorn, Kentucky.
One of the saddest facts of my life is that my Great-Granny Davis will leave this world soon without knowing that I have found true love in the heart of another woman and plan to spend my life with her. My Gemaw (Granny’s daughter and my grandma) had forbidden me to tell her because she “doesn’t want [me] to put that hurt on her heart just before she goes to Heaven.” But I know in my heart that Granny would love me regardless, and would still feed me and pet my head and tell me to take care of myself and my partner. Yet, I still can’t bring myself to go against Gemaw’s wishes. I grew up thinking I was straight because that was the only option when you were raised up in the Southern Baptist Church that your great-grandparents founded in the forties and that your uncle still preaches at. Around college I left the church and found myself. I just wish I could share that part of me with my kin without knowing that they’ll think of me differently.
Raina Rue identifies as queer and hails from Irvine, Kentucky where the bluegrass kisses the mountains.
Sure, there are lots of folks appalled by LGBTQ in Appalachia- but my experiences were lucky ones. I was raised in the mountains by hippy hillbillies that taught me how to rebel and live naturally. They never batted an eye to my being gay. I’m a folk singer now, and singing about gay love and living out in Appalachia is just a blessing for me. I want to use my comfort in myself to live wholly in these hills and show the younger LGBTQ folks that there’s love and fire in the hills for people like us too.
Andrew is a songwriter from Van Lear, Kentucky. When he isn’t touring with his band, The Woodsheep, he spends his time playing old school Nintendo, hiking, and hanging out with his cats.
When you come out to yourself, you look back and find all these “I should have known” moments. Playing with Barbies and my sister’s toys as a child, dressing in women’s clothing as a teenager when no one was around, painting my nails, and buying lipstick and saying it was for my (fake) girlfriend. It’s not that you are exactly oblivious the whole time – deep down, you know who and what you are – but living in a small southern community where everyone knows you, it makes you push all that down, deny it without even realizing you are doing it. The fact that I didn’t fully accept myself for who I was until I moved speaks volumes to that. Before you accept it, you fight it, trying to be “normal” like everyone else. What I have learned, however, is that there is no real normal. Everyone has something that they feel makes them different than everyone else. Normal is just as unique as everything else is in this world, and in a way, the one thing we can say we all have in common is that we are all unique. These days, I hear about people coming out back home, and it makes me happy because those people are brave enough to embrace their uniqueness at a younger age than I was. The more people that do this, the less strange it will seem, and that will only lead to good things for LGBTQ individuals in small towns.
Katherine Waddell is a pansexual transgender woman from Sandy Hook, Kentucky.
Well I’m glad you’re writing about the LGBTQIA community in the South/Appalachia because I think people forget that we exist outside of San Francisco and New York. We’re everywhere, and we’ve been here since the dawn of time, and we ain’t goin’ nowhere. Earlier this year a friend of mine who is a stripper/burlesque dancer here in Louisville took me with her to discuss costume designs with this girl from San Francisco who owns a shop downtown. They were talking about the upcoming show she was designing for. Apparently it was going to involve a drag queen. I overheard the girl from San Francisco say “I really wanna push the envelope with this show. I mean it has a drag queen in it. People here don’t know how to handle that. I’m from San Francisco so I’ve seen it all.” Let me tell you that I had to leave the store or else there was gonna be murder. First of all Louisville/the south/Appalachia has many many drag queens. It ain’t nothing new. My ass has seen a drag queen jump into the splits while eating fried chicken. I bet y’all haven’t seen that in San Francisco. Also, that girl was straight, so don’t be tellin’ me, a queer person what I have and haven’t seen. Don’t assume that just because you’re in the South that there is no gay culture. I feel like when people think of Appalachia they don’t think of the LGBT+ community, like, at all. They think we all moved far far away to escape the oppression. Well guess what? There is oppression everywhere we go.
Ricki Redman, born and raised in Buffalo, Kentucky is a pansexual cis female, who uses queer as an umbrella term.
The only talk of queers in my community was about them burning in hell. Calling someone gay derogatorily was the norm. It was terrifying to recognize myself as gay, come to terms with it, and decide to tell others. I had “faggot” yelled at me so many times. And that was before I even knew for sure that I was more than different, I was gay. I didn’t want to be gay because I didn’t have any positive role models to look up to. The first adult I came out to told me to keep it a secret from everyone until I got out of the county. After high school, I came out to everyone, because I couldn’t live with the secret. I just wanted to be myself. So many people judged me for being something other than their perceived normal. You never knew when you’d have something thrown at you, when someone would yell at you out a window, for being gay. For being yourself. It wasn’t easy. But it’s only made me stronger. I wouldn’t be raised any other way if I had a choice to do it over. I just feel like my childhood taught me so much. About living off the land and doing work no one wanted to do because it had to be done. About appreciating nature and the little things. Identifying with the little farmer instead of the government or the corporations. Being gay made me really see the struggles everyone else goes through but growing up in Appalachia taught me to see and appreciate each person for who they are. Most people don’t have that.
Brian Stephens is a farm-raised chef who lives in Ashland, Kentucky with his husband and three dogs.
I honestly feel more comfortable being queer with my mom’s hillbilly family than with my Californian father and his family out west. I’m kind of butchy, but I think a lot of it came from being expected to learn chores and help out on my Mom’s farm. My Papaw’s a Baptist preacher and loves his family, including the nonreligious and LGBT members. He supported my hobbies that weren’t girly. We watched sports and fixed machinery together. I’m really happy I was raised with the more accepting side of the family.
Rachel Sheldon grew up about an hour southeast of Knoxville in the boondocks of Tennessee and identifies as bisexual.
I had sex with girls when I was younger, had girl friends, etc. but felt like with each female relationship that, ummmm… something was missing. I remember having masturbatory fantasies that started involving dudes and after I was done I would feel ashamed because I was like, why did that turn me on? My dad was super anti everything. He didn’t like blacks, didn’t like gays. So I was afraid to come to him when I was maturing. I was afraid. And I was afraid to ask questions because my dad would not know how to have the sex talk with me. So, I learned everything about sex from porno mags and videos.
Jerry Wilson is a gay man who was raised up out on a ridge in Elliott County, Kentucky.
I grew up in north Georgia and I don’t think anyone knew what being transgender was. Even when I eventually saw folks on TV, it was all bad jokes or “we knew little Jimmy was a girl because he likes dolls and wearing makeup” which just confused the hell out of me even more as someone who would eventually identify as non-binary.
Now that I’m out and presenting, it’s scary. I’ve done some activism work and I know how dangerous it is for folks like me. I was asked by a rude customer at my work just last night if I was a man or a woman. I spent the rest of the night frazzled and wondering if she or someone else would come in to harass me more, if they’d be waiting outside for me when I left.
I’m lucky enough to know I’ve got folks in my corner, too, though. Down in Atlanta we’ve got Southern Fried Queer Pride this week. I’ve got a ton of friends and supporters across the Deep South and Appalachia who know there’s more than one facet to a person and that a person doesn’t have to be what they expect to deserve their respect. I’m unbelievably lucky to have those people in my life.
Ambrose Morgan is an artist, writer, and former UNG student living in Acworth, Ga. They’re passionate about the outdoors, gardening, and otherwise getting their hands dirty with community organization and human rights activism.
I can’t remember when we first moved over the mountain. Granny Miller must’ve just died, and we moved out of her and granddad’s house in Excelsior after there was no one left for mom to take care of there. We came over the mountain maybe three miles, to the holler where Mom’s folks were from. Everybody around was related some way or another. We all kept the big garden at Mawmaw’s alongside our own. Soon as you could walk you could drop potatoes. Soon as you could walk good, you could foller along and hoe up the rows. It goes on like this every year. The whole family together— aunts, uncles, cousins, grannies we weren’t strictly related to. It’s always been a big thing, my family, and it’s pretty easy to get lost in if you keep quiet when the old folks are talking and don’t sass no matter how much your tongue wants to. Don’t make no trouble in school. Don’t fight on the school bus. Keep your head down at all times and if you can, ‘cuz you’re smart, get gone as soon as you have your diploma. I never thought I’d stick around. Men on Scruff tell me I sound smart for someone from West Virginia. Too smart, they say, what are you still doing there? Like it isn’t my home. Like it isn’t the place my queer bones feel best. Like I’m not allowed to live here and love it too.
Evid Miller: Small town Queer. Poet. Grump. I think things. I knit stuff.
Misty Skaggs, Rabble’s Appalachian Features Editor, is an author, artist, and activist from Eastern Kentucky.
Follow her on Twitter @mistymarierae.