On love, place, and the queer experience.
Today is Valentine’s Day, as I am sure you are already aware. I have complicated feelings about the commercialization of love, but I think it’s a nice holiday over all. It’s also a day that can be incredibly complicated and difficult for people, for a variety of reasons.
For me, I’ve always struggled with the ways in which it seems to push a specific ideal for love that caters to consumerism and overlooks the small, minuscule acts of showing up daily for one another. It also promotes a heteronormative brand of love, and ignores that there are just as many valuable connections in platonic relationships.
In light of this, today I want to highlight a new project from the Rural Youth Catalyst Project and Rural Assembly. Love Notes is a project compiling letters from individuals written to LGBTQ+ youth in rural communities that will run throughout the entire month of February. You can read the first note in the series, written by Kim Phinney, co-founder of the Rural Youth Catalyst Project, here.
As a queer woman working in rural communities, I understand the importance of this project and what it can mean for youth growing up here. One thing I don’t think we talk about enough is how many LGTBQ+ identifying individuals— and especially youth— there are living in rural areas. I know how many of my students see themselves in me, and vice versa. More than 60% of LGBTQ+ Americans live in the South, the Midwest, and Mountain states, with the South holding the highest percentage of anywhere in America at 35%. It’s past time we start telling these stories. Especially important to me is to tell the stories that don’t just involve the individuals leaving. Growing up in the South, trying to figure out what I was and what I wanted, every narrative I could find myself in told me I would have to leave my home in order to be who I was. When I actually did leave, all I could think was that there was never going to be a place in the world where I could feel comfortable. The damage of being told my home could never feel like my home is something I will be unpacking for the rest of my life. Or that I could never be myself and be loved within my home. That is false, but the damage is lasting. Even now, back here, I am not sure I will ever fully allow myself to let it feel like home, that I will always hold on to an escape plan, a way out.
Today I am trying to remind myself to pause and look for love in all the small places around me. To let myself become tethered. It is everywhere if only I am willing to let it find me.
Here are some great resources for learning about the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals in rural areas:
UCLA’s Williams Institute has an awesome interactive data map about queer experiences across the country.
The Invisible Histories Project documents the history of LGBTQ+ individuals in the Deep South.
One of my personal favorites is the Country Queers project, run by Rae Garringer, documenting the experience of queer life in small-town, rural America.
On that, this is a great NatGeo piece about queer experiences in rural communities, with a focus on the Country Queers project.
Southerners On New Ground (SONG) is an organization focusing on community building to empower Southern rural LGBTQ+ people of color, immigrants, and working class humans.
Here is a 2020 report on LGBTQ+ resilience, resistance, and leadership in the South.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a start— and more to come.
I hope you all are celebrating love today, even if that just means treating yourself to the fancy coffee or taking a moment to stand in the sunlight and just breathe. We are all in it together.