Friday, March 4, 2011

Camouflage

"I'm queer, trans, a femme boy, fat, and a pervert." Wyatt says to me as we sit at my kitchen table over looking five acres. Wyatt's known for his heartfelt positivity, a cheerful disposition and self loving attitude. A rarity of positive representation and visibility for the queer community, he is known for drawing people to him wherever he goes.

Wyatt and I had known about each other for a few years in Portland before we actually began hanging out. But upon our first actual friend date, it was love at first bite. Talk about instant LTR. It really was like finding your new best friend at the first day of school and wanting to do everything together. So we did. We ate everywhere we could go in the city, we performed at open mics, warded off creepers--we were kind of a tranny super hero duo for one another. Once I left Portland, it was just a matter of time before the team got back into trouble making action.

As Wyatt has been traveling for the last few months, I get to be his last stop before he returns to Portland. Once Wyatt arrived, his concern for his safety became more prevalent. Being from the land of Fred Phelps I found that after exiting my queer bubble of Portland--becoming re-accustomed to the reality of the Mid-Western queer experience did not take much effort. For Wyatt, however, it was a different story.

As we spoke on the phone about plane arrival times and the joy of getting BBQ soon, we came upon the issue of airport security. I told him of an incident where I had recently been harassed by police at the airport; how I figured they must have seen me kiss my boyfriend goodbye as I sent him off through security.
    "If you almost get arrested for kissing your boyfriend goodbye, I'm going to be arrested for just existing and being flamboyant." He says to me through the phone. So I wonder if maybe I had made a bad decision in telling him. Then I decided no. No I hadn't. "I exist in a queer bubble in Portland and I sometimes forget just how that fear feels."He finally explains. I didn't want my friend to be scared, but I also felt that it was vital information for him to know the kind of space he would be stepping into once he got off the plane.

When Wyatt arrives he's just as I would have expected him to be; engineer overalls, gold and white glasses, a small bit of curls that are dyed purple, a pink shirt that states, "Make It Happen", and an ever present smile. We literally skip to each other--not thinking of who's looking or even caring--slamming into one another, hugging, and giggling like we're five.

As we drive the two hours to my cabin I ask him how he's feeling about being in the country. "I'm nervous for my safety," he says, "as someone who has a gender presentation that may not fit into general stereotypes--and as someone who has had top surgery, but is not on T--and who adores bright colors, pink, and sparkles...not to mention very tight things and short shorts...yeah, I'm nervous." I do my best to reassure him, but I hear his concerns loud and clear. "I not only fear for my safety out in the country, but if I lived here I would fear I would never have sex again." He laughs, saying it tongue and cheek.

The next morning Wyatt looks at me in his pink shirt and overalls and says, "I'm going to need to borrow something."I was ready for us to go sit at a diner, looking like ourselves as we always do; ready to take on any rednecks that may want to start something. But this is Wyatt's choice, it's his safety, it's what he feels he needs to do in order to feel safe. So we search through my closet. First a camo shirt...and it just goes on from there. He borrows a pair of Carhartts, a belt buckle that says 'RUSS' on it, a tooled belt, a camo cap, and a thick jacket. All of a sudden Wyatt doesn't look like Wyatt, Wyatt looks like Bubba. "WHO AM I?!" He's says over and over as we take photo after photo--both of us intrigued by the intense change in his image just by the difference in his clothes and taking off his glasses.
"Just looking for kool-aid in the store...and even in my camo getup, I feel like there are all of these eyes on me. Like they know." He says to me as we stand in a checkout line. It's easy to forget these real fears when we go away to cities or places with queer meccas and live amongst lots of folks like ourselves. These spaces are necessary and I find them beautiful, but I also find it becomes easy to get lost in them and to forget about how many queers and queer youth are still struggling to exist with any sense of safety and self security outside of these places.

A photo shoot occurs shortly after and he inevitably posts the pictures on Facebook. Then confusion begins to settle in for the both of us as the comments start swarming in around the "Bubba photos". We understood the astonishment that other people were having around the drastic difference in his transformation, but alongside that both of us were  having separate reactions to how folks were feeling.

"It's like I became invisible as myself," he says to me as we burn some cardboard in a barrel out back. Out of all the comments that were coming in about the drastic difference in his appearance, most of them had to do with, "I wanna do ya." We were both astonished that no one was asking, "why"; why he was dressed like that, or how it felt to be seen as "butch"--and more importantly, something that you are not. I had begun to wonder if Wyatt had traded places with a rural queer for the day; I wondered how many queers existed out there that felt inside the same way Wyatt expressed himself outwardly all the time. These were the questions that came up for me, yet I felt I was the only one asking them. And it broke my heart. The fear of being noticed and seen as who we are easily turns into Carhartts and torn a-frames for safety sake.

To camouflage oneself is a survival tactic--whether you are the hunted or the hunter. The hunted camouflages to not be seen and not die, but the hunter camouflages to not be seen so to eat and therefore thrive. Perhaps this was an illustration on how queers are far less the hunted than the hunter; how so many folks feel sorry for rural queers and think that we make ourselves easy prey by living outside of a queer mecca. We are creatures with an innate ability to cloak ourselves and mimic lives that are not our own. Through this we avoid being prey.

 Wyatt had been dying to get on the tractor and to go chop some wood. I told him to go put on clothes he'd be comfortable in and I'd let him drive the tractor. In a blur of color and trailing screams of glee,  Wyatt sped off on the tractor towards the woodpile. In his tracks lay any previous fears of gay bashings as he...

                   RECLAIMED HIS WILD!
          
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      * Wyatt is the host and co-creator of Put It In Your Mouth With Wyatt Riot.
          Check it out here! * http://www.putitinyourmouthwithwyattriot.com/

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Country By Default

So here I am in my cabin, by a lake, out in the boonies and I couldn’t be happier. But that happy took me a long time to get back to.

Growing up in a small town in Kansas was lonely, difficult, and at times very painful. So I did what most rural queers do…I left. I went to school, I worked on farms, I ranch handed—I did what I needed to do to get by. It was while living in Oregon that I started up a company called Bare Bones Press and Productions with a friend of mine. When Bare Bones first started, this current project was always somewhere in the development process. As I worked on our company and remained in the city the more I came to miss having access to my roots. It was through this internal struggle that I realized something; no matter where I was or what I did, I would always be a dirty, rugged, badass country queer—that the country was where I came from, that it was where I belonged, and that I was pretty damn proud of it.

My decision to return to the Midwest came from a few different reasons, but among them was the opportunity to create change where it was still lacking. See, upon re-arrival it hit me that in ten years I had changed, grown, moved forward—but that my homeland had not. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly it was that I had expected to have changed so drastically, or at what rate; all I knew was that upon my visits to various schools (both secondary and university), reading numerous articles, and just looking at the organizations that DID exist, that the rural queer youth today were still lacking access, support, and visibility. The struggle that existed in my hometown when I was fifteen, was still very much alive and kickin’ today.

During my time in Portland, OR I mainly utilized Bare Bones for youth projects. These projects succeeded and worked well in urban areas, but the problem for me was—that they were urban areas. I understood that many rural queers run to the city to get the hell out of the line of fire. I support this process as I believe that finding ones self, and gathering community is an imperative part of the coming out and coming of age process. But the reality remains that once you leave (coming or going), you are still left with your roots, with your inherent strength, ingenuity, and wild animal instincts.

See I believe all queers are country by default. I don’t care if you live in the city or the country, the fact of the matter is that we are all determined, bare knuckled, gnashing at the teeth survivalists that will out fight, out soul, and (many times) out smart you in the most overwhelming of situations. And rural queer youth are the most hardy of this breed.

And this leads me to the point of this blog. I write this for queers everywhere, but especially for the queer youth. It isn’t meant to be a call to action, but it is an-arm-around-the-shoulder validation. Consider it a weekly letter to all of my fellow folks on reclaiming their independence, their self-sufficiency, and their personal confidence that no matter where they are, they can survive—even when the odds look against them.

I'll post projects, book reviews, or tid-bit of info that will be based on rural practices, but will also provide suggestions on how you might apply them to your own wild and unique existence. Some posts may just be commentaries, but I feel that those are just as necessary as anything. So send me your comments, your questions, or your whatevers and we’ll get you to…

                                        RECLAIM YOUR WILD!