Since moving out two years ago to Pomona, California (A small town just east of Los Angeles) from Louisville, Kentucky for my first year in college, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned how to manage a college schedule, make friends on a commuter campus, use new software programs for my design major, and how to use public transit in the sprawl of Los Angeles County. Most importantly, I’ve learned how folks back home in Kentucky aren’t so different from folks here.
The weather stinks out in Kentucky right now (I hear it snowed last week? In MARCH?) Yet, people don’t talk much about the weather when they ask me where I hail from. People who can’t place Kentucky on a map say a lot of things and make so many assumptions, especially when I mention my queerness. People ask, “Is it better here?” “How did you SURVIVE?” “Do people wear shoes there?” “Wait, isn’t that Kansas?” “You must be so culture shocked.” “You’re SO BRAVE for living there” “There are much better people here, it’s just better.”
Better this, better that, better weather (that I agree with, and know you do too). But nothing ever positive… Except maybe bourbon and horse racing (albeit we have that too in Southern California.)
Along with this, some of my new friends (even queer folks) have even gone as far as to post maps of the red states and say, “why don’t we just leave them to rot?” Only to get a lot of “haha” reactions and “likes” on Facebook. In these times, I have to ask, “I’m your friend, I’m from a red state, there’s a lot of queer folks back home. Why leave us to rot?” Usually I get a “You’re not like them!” response. Them, meaning: anti-queer folks and Trump voters. The thing is, not everyone “not like them” can move to a progressive coastal blue state.
As for telling queer people to leave red states, this is where I call folks out. I am privileged to be a Point Scholar, an out-of-state student, and especially a white, able bodied, and “passing” trans masculine person. Yet, back home in Kentucky, the communities of queer folks in the South that helped me to come out and to find my voice had other identities. Identities that lessen the privileges that they hold. Identities that may not allow them to get up and leave right after high school just as I did. My community back home is and was black, white, brown, disabled, poor, neurodivergent, transgender, gay, lesbian, pansexual, non-binary, “out” queer folks, and folks who couldn’t be “out”, and overall: resilient. Resilient toward the current regimes in place that wish to set queer and other marginalized folks back, furthering the systematic oppression we’ve faced for years. So no—we’re not just going to up and all move to the “promised lands” that are the coastal blue states of yonder, for we cannot.
Living in Kentucky gave me some important lessons too; I was taught about implicit bias and racism from an early age. I also went to an incredibly diverse set of public schools, despite my city’s suffering from largely socioeconomically and racially segregated neighborhoods. I was taught by some incredible educators who recognized that even as a youth, I mattered and could stand up and discuss all of the systems of oppression that we collectively face.
Living among queer folks in Kentucky taught me how to stand up to my school administrators to use the bathroom I felt right in, and to call out their obsession with my genitalia. With the rescinded Title IX guidance, this is more important than ever. States unlike California with little to zero policies on transgender students in schools like North Carolina may take advantage of this. Standing together and making a positive example as blue states, we have the power to influence the “backward” states everyone keeps telling me I hail from.
I keep going back to Kentucky to see my friends and family, and what I notice most is that there, along with other red states I’ve recently visited to present workshops — is queer and trans resilience. That’s something folks should start asking me about, huh? I see it at Queer craft nights where we simply talk about surviving, going to rallies at state buildings, and at art workshops with youth I teach. I see it visiting my old high school GSA, where several teachers have just come out in saying that they “cannot respect transgenders and gays,” and yet still seeing trans kids and even our first non-binary homecoming royalty in all of Kentucky thriving there. Since coming out as transgender five years ago, I’ve seen and shared that communal bond of southern “Kentucky-Fried” (or extra crispy if you prefer) queerness. It isn’t perfect, but guess what? Neither is California. Some food for thought: Kentucky’s own University of Louisville has had trans inclusive dorms since 2012 and my school in #Liberal Cali didn’t have those until I arrived after my 2nd year! My point is, my red state of Kentucky is home to some of the most awesome queer resilience I’ve known and encountered.
And I promise, I’ll mention that resilience the next time another person looks at me and asks how tortured my soul is from living in a red state all my life.
This post was written by Wells Fargo Point Scholar Casey Hoke.
Casey currently studies Graphic Design at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Casey combines his passions for art and the study of LGBTQ identity through speaking events and contributing to media. Casey plans to take his innovations and activism further to help others tackle marginalization with creative solutions. Read more about Casey here.