Ethan. 22. Gay’s Creek, KY.

Interviewed on August 11, 2013 at the third annual STAY Project Summer Institute at the Highlander Center in East Tennesee.

Also, be sure to check out Sam and Ethan’s incredible and hilarious blog: http://downhomedivas.yolasite.com/

To listen to an excerpt of the audio click here:

 

The Down Home Divas in Ireland

The Down Home Divas: Ethan and Sam in Ireland

Yes, I don’t mind if you put it on the blog, but do stay away from Facebook.  The grandmothers of Appalachia consistently stay on Facebook, you  need to know this, it’s important.  They live there and they see things, and when they see things they call, “What is this I see on Facebook?”  Or as my favorite story is, of Sam and his grandmother Brenda, Sam wrote a song about how in Kentucky they passed this religious freedom bill, and when he posted it on Facebook his grandmother emailed him and said, “Um, I’m so glad that you have such strong views, but I think you should stick to singing the old time music.”

I’m Ethan, and just because I don’t think you know this, I’m so glad you’re…you and I are gonna have a little moment!  My full name is R. Ethan Taylor Hamblin.  R period. It’s just a letter.  Something you didn’t know about me.  Yeah.  R. Ethan Taylor Hamblin.  It’s a family thing.  Lots of men in my family, in my daddy’s side have R names, like my dad’s name is Ronald.  Both of my grandfathers Raymond and Robert, lots of my Dad’s family have R names and instead of just giving me one, they gave me the letter.  And my mother, bless her heart, she was still drugged when my Daddy was writing this down on my birth certificate, so I ended up with that.  And then Taylor is the name of a great uncle of mine.

But anyways, so that’s my name and I am 22 years old, and I am from a little place called Gay’s Creek, Kentucky in Perry County which is in the southeastern part of the state, it’s a beautiful little place.  Just, you can’t see nobody from my house, and, the place that I grew up in, the house that I grew up in is the house that my grandmother grew up in, and it was built in the 40s.  And actually it used to set up, so like, the road is here, and then it kind of swoops down to another little platform, then there’s the bottom goes down near the creek.  Well, the house used to sit up on that flat, up close to the road, and then in the 60s, in 61, they moved it straight back, while my family was still living in it, and set it down on a brick foundation down near the creek, which is very interesting I think, but we built that house and um built a home there, and uh, they call it “the big house,” a lot of our family do, and a lot of people still know it as the big house, which is where Mawry  and Jeff Price lived, and that was my great grandparents.  Her name was Elmira, but they called her Mawry, and they called him not Jeff Price but they called him Slim, Slim and Mawry Price.  And anytime you say I’m from Gay’s Creek and I live in the big house, they’ll say “Oh down at Mawry and Slims, yeah we know exactly where that is”  But um, my parents have lived there since 88? 89?  So, I’ve lived there all my life.

So I come from a real small place, I mean Gay’s Creek is tiny, but the area is really rural.  The closest town is Hazard that we would consider town, and Hazard has about 26,000 people total.  Or Perry County has, sorry, Perry County has 26,000 people total, the county that I live in, Hazard has probably 10,000 or probably 8,000 in the city limits, I would think.  Not very much to do in Hazard, I mean we have Walmart and some new restaurants are starting to pop up, but the think that I think is most characteristic about the place, it’s very community based.  Everyone knows everyone, and every little community is important.  So there’s like eight elementary schools in the county, so every little place there’s an elementary school, that’s a community.  Every little holler, every little branch, every little creek is important.  Like for example, Ivy Brashier, she’s here and she’s from the left fork of Macey’s Creek, which is on the other end of the county, but now that’s a big difference than the right fork of Macey’s Creek.

So like, you know, that’s real important that you distinguish which fork of Macey’s Creek that you are from, and so it’s saying like I’m from Gay’s Creek and then on down the road’s Buckhorn.  Well, um talking about Buckhorn that’s where I went to school, it’s about 15 minutes from my house, and there’s a K-12 school there, it’s public, Buckhorn School, and that’s where I went to school at for all 13 years of my growing up, and we only have 500 students K through 12.  And what’s interesting is, those students, um, we knew everything about each other, our families a lot of times had went to school together, our grandparents had went to school together, 13 of us had been to school together since preschool, so we really knew each other, and we became a family.  And I think that, have you ever read Loyal Jones’ book Appalachian Values?  In that he talks about how Appalachians have an extreme sense of family and sense of place, those are very extreme where I come from, I mean those are very obvious.  Every, you know, family is not just your blood kin, it’s everybody that you grew up with, everybody that you know.

And then sense of place is you know where you’re from and a sense of pride around that.  And I think it’s very obvious and that is an example.  For example, Buckhorn, because we’re such a small little school, you know if something happens in our group per se, we know about it and it really affects us.  So about two weeks ago, a boy who graduated from Buckhorn two years ago, he and his brother, his brother was one year ahead of me and he was two years below me, they got in a real bad car accident, and Andy the older one was in pretty serious condition, but he’s finally home now, but Scotty, the younger one, he got killed, and um as soon as we found out about it the Buckhorn family knew all about it, and two days after that we all ganged up at the school and had a meal together and we were there in support.  Their family didn’t come cause they were still at the hospital in Lexington, but just to know that we had that sense of support and that we were there for each other as the Buckhorn family.  I think a lot of small rural schools, especially in Central Appalachia, do get that type of feel, but I think it’s very extreme at Buckhorn, because our families have been to school together for so long and, there’s just, I mean even at the visitation and wake we couldn’t help but notice that, the Buckhorn spirit was there.

So, describing where I come from, that’s where I come from, is a place that has that strong sense of family and community and place, and that love around that and pride, which I think really has in a way motivated me to do community development work because I think that anywhere you go you have to be able to really love the place that you are, which is why I’m an Appalachian Studies major, which is why I’m here at STAY, you know those themes keep on raising up through with all that I do.  So, that’s where I come from.

My family is also small, there’s 5 grandchildren on one side, I’m the only grandchild on the other side, my mother only has two siblings a brother and sister, my dad has one brother.  I’ve grown up having Sunday dinners with my family for forever and a day, and everyone is within driving distance from me, except for my dad’s brother, he lives in Fort Meyers Florida, but everyone else is really close.  It wasn’t until last summer, that all four of my grandparents were still living.  The oldest of the four, my paternal grandfather passed away from cancer last summer.  My grandmother, who is Miss Independent, has gotten her life together and is forging right along.  She’s been to Florida, Lord, who knows where she’ll go next, but she’s a wild thing.  And then the other two are feisty as ever, so I see them, and talk to them all the time.  And then my mother and I are very very close, as are Daddy and I are too, but mom and I specifically.  I’m an only child, and so because of that, that sense of closeness and our relationship is very important to us.  So I talk to her every day.  Oh God yes, and if I do not call it is a struggle.  Yes, I get the “why didn’t you call me yesterday?”  Which is good, which is important to me.  Oh yeah, Valerie Hamblin and I, we are best friends, very much so, couldn’t do it without her, she couldn’t do it without me.  Growing up, any time she’d go somewhere  I would go, and any time I had to go somewhere in school, she would go right along right along with me, so we have been attached at the hip forever.

They always joke at Berea, that when I first went to do an interview there, that um, now I went for five tours of Berea before I even applied, I mean it was stupid, but we went several times cause I just loved it so much and I wanted to make sure that they knew who I was.  And our admissions director, Luke Hodgins, has always joked with me, he said, “I was afraid if we didn’t let you in here your mother would burn this place down.”  I said, “don’t you think for one moment she wouldn’t have, honey.”  I said “Valerie Hamblin would have come right down here if you didn’t let me in.”  Now when I first told that to her, she said, “Did they really think that?”  And I said “Yes, of course they did!  Because if they hadn’t let me in there…” “I’d a went right down there!” she said, “And told them off!”

So, we’ve been talking about Mom.  Mom is a postmaster, which is interesting because she has her associate’s degree, she didn’t go on and finish her bachelors, I’m begging her to, Lord knows she needs to, but she has her associate’s degree in Fashion Merchandising, which cracks me up, cause she did that for a few years, but then in 1991, the year I was born, she took over as the postmaster of Gay’s Creek post office, and then when she took over, her aunt, my aunt Annalee had been over it before her for 20 years, and then mom took over, and when they switched they knocked Gay’s Creek down from and 8 hour with a route, to a two hour with no route.  So mom worked at Gay’s Creek for twenty years for two hours a day, six days a week, as the full time post master.  Yep.  No P.O. boxes, we were all general delivery.  Little old tiny post office.

My dad was a medical technologist, so he worked in the lab, he was a lab tech at the local hospital for 15 years.  So if it come from out of you or from off of you, he smelled, tested, everything in the world of it, you know, which thank god somebody does it, cause I sure couldn’t do that, um, but he’s really good at it.  If you ever had to have blood drawn, I’m telling you he could put an IV in or draw blood better than any human being ever should be able do that, but he was really good at it, and loved it.  Um, very intelligent man, he, Daddy is um, one time I brought my Anatomy and Physiology book home from school, and he looked at a picture on a page of these cells, and he knew exactly what cell it was without reading the caption and knew what it’s function was.  It’d been 20 years since he’d been in school…I know, he’s just a really really smart man, very intelligent.

But, after working for 15 years he um got hurt, and he ruptured a disk in his back.  He um, we have a woodstove in our basement, and now we have central air and heat, but we have this little woodstove that helps heat the bottom floor of the house.  We live in a 3 story house, so the bottom floor, which is like our basement, its  just the concrete basement, if that is heated the rest of the house will heat better in the winter, so ew have a little woodstove down there, and he bent down to put a piece of wood in there and it just went.  Just like that.  So, long story short, that has led to a lot of problems, um, a surgery that was not effective, another blow to the back:  he stepped in a hole, we were out walking one day and he stepped in a hole by the road, and that blew his back out again.

It’s also led to a lot, Dad is a very active person always has been always will be, loves being outside um and when he couldn’t do that anymore as he had in the past, you know, he could go out and dig a ditch in a day and it wasn’t no big deal, but when he couldn’t do that anymore, and he couldn’t work in the garden, that led to depression and anxiety problems.  And so, which runs in our family, my grandmother, his mother, ahas the exact same problems, she got in small car accident when she was young, well, it was in the 80s, so in the mid 80s right after Mommy and Daddy had gotten married.  So she basically, it sent her into a state of depression and they both have bipolar, are bipolar, so um anyway, she did the same thing.   Laid in bed for a year, has always had anxiety problems, and can easily fall back into a state of depression.  So that alone is a problem, not to mention the fact that, um, Daddy has also had problems with prescription drugs, only because, in Eastern Kentucky, and this is a Central Appalachian problem, they overprescribe to patients, especially to people who have pain problems, especially back pain, and so they overprescribed which caused prescription drug problems, those, he doesn’t have those problems anymore, he definitely had worked through that and that’s been a long journey of our family’s.  But still he definitely battles depression, it is a disease, it is a terrible, terrible disease.  And mom and I both see how it can completely destroy a human being, I mean it is very obvious.  But, Dad hangs in there, and he holds down the fort, and um, it just wouldn’t be right if I didn’t see him on that back porch every day when I go home:  just hanging out, and going out and getting the tomatoes, whatever he decides to do for the day, but still always a big joker daddy is, and still smart as ever, so, anyway, that’s what both my parents have done.  And my mother is still a postmaster, not at Gay’s Creek, they finally shut our post office down, two July’s ago.  And now she’s the post master at Avalon which is about 45 minutes away, so yeah, mmm hmmm

[How do you identify]

“Sexually?”

[Yeah.]

“I love that!   I thought you was gonna ask if I was a Democrat, cause I am, and a Presbyterian!  I’ll usually joke when people ask me that, I’ll always say, “Well, my religious beliefs are um, Democrat, and I am politically Presbyterian.”   I love that, somebody joked about that one time, but anyway, um, and I mean otherwise, I’m also an Appalachian, and a Kentuckian, and a Perry Countian.  But I also, I do have to say this since you’ve asked me how I identify.  There’s a big debate over the word “Appalachian” a lot of times, and I am very leery about that word.  Now I’m an Appalachian studies major at Berea college, and having been in the academic world it tends to be that people who use the word “Appalachian” are educated.  And I don’t mean high school, I mean like college education, or are involved in “the movement” in some way.  Cause I mean, people from home, including my mother, and including me, up until coming to Berea, we were mountain people.  Simply mountain people, and that’s whats important to us is that we are from the mountains.  Not, you know, we are from the Appalachian Mountains, but we’re just good old mountain people.  And so a lot of times when you’ll ask mom is she an Appalachian, she’ll say, “No, I’m just a good old mountain girl.”  And so a lot of times I’ll say that, “I’m just a mountain boy,” but I know that I’m an Appalachian, but there’s something too very strong about saying that you’re a mountain person, I think, so anyway, I just thought I’d throw that in there.  And a lot of people from home don’t use the term Appalachian and when they do hear the term Appalachian there’s this sense of offness about it, you know like people are like, “Oh.  You’re referring to us all as Appalachians.  Ok.  Well, we know we are, but”  You know there’s just this weirdness about it, which I think it should be analyzed and investigated.  I think it’s interesting.

But anyway, I identify as a Fabulachian, which I love using that term, which is a term that my good friend Sam Gleaves and I coined the word, um you know, putting the words fabulous and Appalachian together.  That term has been used by other groups, after, make sure that’s in there, AFTER, we used that for our research.  But the term is Fabulachian and it is used to represent the queer community in the Appalachian region, um.  It has since been used by others who don’t have the rights to that term, to represent the African American, female, urban Appalachian experience. Which I love that group of people, and we are honored that they would consider using that term, but that term was originally used to represent the queer community in the region, so anyway, I identify as a gay male form the mountains.

Just a really close family was my childhood and still is, I mean, I haven’t talked to my mom yet today, I’ve got to call her, but I’ve talked to my aunt and both of my cousins today, and got a voicemail from my grandmother, so I mean, you know, very close family.  Also, growing up, we had this extreme sense of imagination.  We could always do something fun, and we were outside all the time, you know in Gay’s Creek, or even if we were inside, we would always play games, and dress up and play school, and play imagination travel, like, oh I love to travel!  And so we would line up, now I’m an only child, and so because of that I had to play by myself until my two younger cousins were born:  Hannah and Natalie, I may refer to them a lot in this, because they’re basically like my sisters, they live two seconds from my house, we all went to the same school, their mother and my mother are sisters.  Natlalie’s the youngest of all of us, she’s 14.  Hannah’s 16, then there’s me, I’m 22, and then my two older cousins are both 23, so the five of us have always been really close, but me and Hannah and Natalie specifically have just always…we’ve been together…honey, we were wild 3 musketeers forever and a day!

But before they came along I would play by myself, so I would take all my stuffed animals, this was probably the most like toyish thing I did, because my mother loves puzzles and I love puzzles, and like matching games, and um coloring books and workbooks:  I loved that type of stuff, I was kind of a nerdy child, kind of but not really, like I also loved fun things, like I loved playing with Barbie Dolls for god sakes and dressing up as Scarlet O’Hara from Gone With The Wind, I mean you know?  So that was all fun.  But my favorite game that I ever played was Travel, and um,  I would take, these toys, all these, my  stuffed animals…my grandmother decided that I needed to get those beanie babies, and she kept buying me some of those every time they’d go to florida, So I would line all those up and line up chairs in our dining room.  So there’s this one big room in my house that’s the kitchen, dining room, and the living space, which, you’ve gotta come visit me!  I’d love to have you come.  Mommy would too, she loves visitors.  And so we’d line the chairs up and I’d place all those toys on them, and I would have a big map of wherever it is, cause Mother taught me to read a map from when I was two years old because it was important, and I would map us out a thing and we would go on a trip!  And I’d tell them all the little stops that we were making, and all the little towns that we were going through, and I’d be the conductor on this train, and here we go.

Well that evolved, as I grew older, my grandparents ended up buying this golf cart, to go…so, we live in the valley, my grandparents and my aunt live on the hill, and so up on the hill, you get on, their little road off the main road is Ridge Lane.  My aunt lives at the main road, she lives right off the main road, and then you drive up Ridge Lane, out to my grandparents house.  Well they got that golf cart to go back and forth from my aunt’s to their house, and the reason any of this is important, is because the house that my aunt lives in was the house that my mother and her grew up in.  Well the house my grandparents now live in was my grandmother’s sister’s house, so when she passed away my grandparents moved up there, and honey, my grandmother, moved them from their house to the new house on that golf cart.  She’d back one or two little boxes at a time.  And it took her months and months and months!  But she finally moved out of that house.

But anyway, when we got that golf cart, then we would do, me and Hannah and Natalie, when they were young, I’d take them on little, you know, imaginary trips, and I’d get out, I had a set of maps from all 50 states.  And so I’d get one out and I’d pretend we was going through Illinois, or going through Georgia, or going through Texas, or going through Washington state, and I’d plot out a little thing.  And we’d get on that golf cart, and here we’d go and we’d get off and, uh, the two houses were rest areas, and we’d get out and we’d have a little beverage, or use the bathroom or whatever, and then we’d get back on and go for a little ride.   There was a graveyard out past my grandparents house, we’d go out there and come back.  We had a good time.  We had a very fantastic childhood.  All of us.  Cause we were together all the time, and we always had a good time.

My family has always been fun.  We love good wholesome fun, just, we can always get together and sitting around talking is just a good enough time for us usually, I mean really it is, but we also play games.  We play card games, like Rook, and then we play a game called Dutch Blitz, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that game?  Oh my gosh!  That’s a very aggressive game.  Yes.  Everyone is playing at the same time, it’s a really fast game, um, very violent, it gets very violent but so much fun, and we play phase 10 is a big game we play, and we played canasta for awhile, but we always have a good time.  And, oh one winter, so in the winter time at home, you know there didn’t used to be a bunch of school cause of snow.  Like for my last year, we missed thirty days of school, and so snow days are fun days, cause you know, everybody works, so all us grandkids would go stay with Nan and Pap or whatever.  And so those would be days we’d play cards all day, or watch television or whatever, but and play outside, but, we would always.  Well there was one winter that my grandmother decided she was gonna pick up and learn how to play poker.  And so we bought poker chips, and new cards, oh my god, it was so elaborate and outlandish, but we had the best time, learning how to play poker together.  And I always make little cheat sheets so we know what’s the order of what, and what trumps what, what beats what, oh my gosh we had the best time.  It was fun.

And food is always central to our family.  We eat every time we get together, all the time.  And my grandmother is a very good cook, and so is everybody in our family really, and so we do a lot of recipe exchanges and story telling.  Because we’re so close, and I mean both sides of my family are close, together.  Like my dad’s side, its just him and his brother.  His brother is um gay, and lives in fort Meyers with his partner, but my grandparents live just one county over from where we are, and so I mean you know they were with us, they were always with us, and when I say family I mean both sides, because we were always together, for all holidays, and.  We would have our separate holidays, like my maternal side would do stuff on Christmas eve, and then paternal side on Christmas day, but later, in these past few years, we’ve all gotten together on Christmas Eve and my other grandparents would come and stay with us.  So it’s not been this separate thing.  Family is family and all of my grandparents are very good friends and have been for years and years.  Even my uncle, whose recently divorced from my aunt Janet, lord god we could talk about that for days, which now he’s dating some girl (whispering:) who’s a distant cousin of ours!  Lord god, it’s a struggle!  And so, but anyway, when he, Janet’s family always have been part of our family too, we would go to their Thanksgiving dinner, so familly’s family everywhere, but for us a very extended family, very much so.  Friends are always welcome, our pastors always come.  I went to Buckhorn Presbyterian Church, and so whoever’s the pastor at our church has always been involved with us.  But we’ve had a good time.  We’re fun.  We’re loud!  We are very loud.  I talk a lot.  So do all of my people. And you never know what in the world’s gonna come outta my grandmother’s mouth, for sure!  But we always have a good time, so.  You must come!  My mom would love it, we’d all love it.  Well, I’ve had a lot of friends come home from Berea, and they have all loved it.  See a lot of people see Gay’s Creek as an oasis, cause it really kind of is, especially if you get, you know wrapped up, and we’re all there, and we just, its pleasant to be with us, and we love people.  Cause we’re people people, so.

[When did you first know you were gay?] Oh god, So, I’ve always, you know,  I have, I have thought about this a lot.  Even in like, when we were young like in kindergarten, when they would say family, I would always wonder why it couldn’t be two men or two women, why it had to be just a man and a woman.  And then a little bit later on when they would say you know, “Imagine your family, or Imagine when you were an adult.”  Well always when I imagined myself as an adult, I would always be married to a man, in my head, but I always had children too, and had a family.  Then in sixth and seventh grade was when I, kind of in the fifth but really in the 6th and 7th grade.  7th grade is what I usually tell. 7th grade is when I finally figured it out, knew, and it was fine!  This is where I get very interesting and I think that I have a different experience than other people, um, and I’ve discussed this a lot with people, because I’ve been interviewed about this several times.  But I didn’t struggle with a identity crisis, at all, actually.  It didn’t bother me, I was just like ok, but I think that that’s because that’s how I was raised.  My mommy and I are very like you know if this is how it is, this is how it’s gonna be.  Now you can say that Appalachians are very fatalistic, I mean, and very like, pre-destination is a big thing for us, like what’s gonna happen’s gonna happen, whatever.  Well, I don’t know, I just think that me and mom are like way extreme in that sense, because like, whatever it is, that’s the way it is and it’s all great.  We’re gonna move, we have to move forward, we’re gonna keep on keeping on.  So like, when I figured out and I was like ok yes I like the boys and I was like, you know what?  ok, I’ll deal with that.  Whatever.  And so I also didn’t come from an over religious family ever.  We are.  We always went to church, Sundays.  My mother’s been over at vacation bible school we were just talking about it in that van today and I’m always been in the choir at church, and on and on and on.  But religiously I don’t think it really would have had an impact on me so I didn’t worry about that.  I knew that my family would be supportive.  My grandparents would be supportive but it would be a very silent thing, we would never talk about it.  I’m not out to them.  Um, so yeah, 7th grade is when I would actually say.

So, when I figured all this out in the seventh grade, I made the personal choice to not come out.  There were many factors in that, number one, I decided not to come out, not because I was afraid to come out, but because it would have caused a lot of commotion that we did not have time to deal with.  This was also the time when dad was having a lot of problems, and our family did not need any more stress whatsoever, none, especially my poor mother.  Because it wouldn’t have stressed her out that I was gay, it would have stressed her out that people would say something about it, or that somebody might find out.  Which is still her concern, that somebody’s talking about us, or talking about me, and that stresses her out, she hates that.  I mean, she constantly says, “Oh my god ethan, I cannot believe, I don’t want people talking about us, or talking about you.”  And I’m like, “Well honey if they’re talking about us, they’re not talking about somebody else, and that’s just fine with me.”  You know, I’d rather them talk about me than somebody else.  So there was that, I was also extremely active in highschool.  Like you know how I am now, I’m in everything coming and going, and I usually have some sort of leadership role.  I was that very much in the community, and in the church, and in the broader sense of the community, and at school.  And so, that would have caused a lot of, unnecessary dialogues at the time, that I was not ready to have, that no one, we did not need to spend time on doing.  I was completely comfortable being in the closet, so, it wasn’t an issue.  So that was my entire high school.  I didn’t come out at all.  I will say that senior year I got a little restless, because I was just ready to be done with school.  I mean we had been together for 13 years, Lord have mercy!  I mean, you know?  All of us, were so done with each other.  Love and love and love em to death.  Talk to them, specially like 6 or 7 of us, we are in constant communication.  But you just get, we were done, we were ready to move on and do something new.  So that’s when I was like, “ok I’m ready to come out, like really ready to be out.”  I didn’t come out while I was still in high school though.

Then when I came to Berea I knew that I was gonna come out when I got there.  I knew that it was inevitable, that it was just gonna happen.   And I was ready for it, you know I, for goodness sakes, twenty years, it was time.  And so, got to Berea, didn’t really know how it would happen or how I would come out, what this big deal was gonna be.  And one night me and my very good friend Katy Downing were walking, this was like the 3rd day we were on campus,  so Katie and I were walking, I walked her to her dorm, and we were standing outside and I was saying goodnight to her.  She and I became immediate best friends as soon as I got to Berea we are very similar personalities.   Very over the top, fabulous, ferocious, you know, larger than life monsters.  And so, this other girl walks up and we were just talking about the show Truplet, now I don’t know if you’ve seen that or not it’s a vampire show, it’s based off the books, the succki Stackhouse novels, which I’ve read a lot fo those.  But anyways theres a specific character in that storyline and in that show, his name is Eric Northman.  Lord have mercy jesus, Eric is just beautiful, just beautiful, I loved him in the books, I love him in the show, I love the man they got to play him on the show, I mean he is a very attractive character.  And so anyways we ended up talking about that and at the end of this conversation, she just finds it to be her place to ask me if I was gay, and that was the first time I’d ever been asked and I did not know how to respond.  It was like a, “oh!” And it was also a moment where I was just like are we really in that open of a space?  Cause that would never happened at home.  People do not do that where I’m from.  You can talk, oh now, calling somebody a faggot is a different thing, you can do that, but I don’t really take the people who say faggot like that, I don’t take them seriously, we can talk about that later.  But, people who actually like, are interested or not if you’re gay, or who would have an opinion about whether you’re gay or not, they would never say anything to your face.  They will talk about you behind your back, and wonder if you are, but they would never say it to your face, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever.

Ethan

Ethan

So, she just asked me that and I was completely blown away.  I was like oh my god, how am I supposed to respond?   and so I just responded, “Oh!  Well.  Yeah!”  And so that led into a conversation that Katie Downing and I had that evening, and I came out to her and told her the whole situation and pretty much from that point on I was out at Berea.  There was no like grand big thing, it just was like, “ok!  People know.  Whatever.”  So, um  carried on carried on, so did that for the whole first semester.  So I knew that I needed to come out to Mommy and Daddy, and I knew I would that I would figure out when the right time would be, it would just happen, it would naturally happen.

Well, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day came and my best friend from home texted me and said, I’m coming to Berea.  Now, she had done this many times the first semester.  Lindsay came frequently to see me.  We were very close.  Her and her husband got married the July after we graduated, and he immediately went into the army.  So she was home alone, and so she would come and visit me for the weekend or for a night, or whatever, and we had the best time.  So, she texted me and she said I’m gonna come down and we can just have dinner for the evening, and we’ll hang out, I was like, that’d be perfect.  Well, it just so happened that I had started dating someone.  He and I had started talking before Christmas and kind of gotten together after we got back in January.  And by the time that Martin Luther King Jr. day rolled around, we were kinda pretty much together.  And, so anyway, after I told her she could come it dawned on me, “oh that’s right, I have to go to Eric’s soccer game”  So I had to go to her soccer game, I was like oh my god, I have to be there, but I also like have to tell her because it’s gonna be so obvious.  Because like he’ll, we’ll, you know, it’ll be very obvious.

So, we went to eat before the game, and I said Lindsay we’re gonna go to a soccer game after this, and she’s like “oh that’d be fabulous.”   It was indoor soccer.  And I’m like, “we’ll go.”  So over dinner we were laughing laughing laughing joking and what not, and I couldn’t tell her to her face, so I texted her.  As we were sitting across from one another.  And we were right in the middle of this big joke when I texted her, and sent it to her.  And she was dying laughing when she got the text, and she opens it up to see I’d texted her, and she was like, “Oh my god you texted me.”  And she opened it up and she literally went from like dying laughing, to like mouth hit the table.  And she was like, “Are you serious?”  And I was like “Yes.”

Now.  This is interesting, cause I have always been the exact same person.  I have never changed.  I have been this loud since I popped out.  Loud, ferocious, fabulous.  Like, I have never changed.  I have always been the same, very larger than life figure.  So like, I was, she had no idea.  She had no idea, she was shocked, this girl has known me since preschool.  we have been best friends since middle school.  Like, we’d known each other for 14 years.  She had no idea, no idea whatsoever.  But she was great with it, she was like “Praise the Lord!”  She was all about it, she was so excited, blah blah blah.  I also had to be like, “Ok, I’m also seeing somebody, so that’s why we’re going to the soccer game.”  And so she found out then, and then also that semester word got back to home, and I found out about it.  Not to my family, but to my friend group.  It wasn’t her, I know it wasn’t her.  But my roommate from freshman year and I had also been to school together for 13 years, and he and I went to Berea together, and I’m pretty sure that it got back through him.  I don’t think he meant to, cause he would never do that to me, but it did get back.  Did I care?  No, I didn’t care.  But word got back to Lindsay and she called me and she said, “People know, just letting you know.”  And I was like oh whatever, they’re not gonna ask me to my face, I know em better than that, they’ll talk about it, and they’ll ask you, and they’ll ask everybody else, but not me, and when they do ask me I’ll tell them, but until then, they can all go to hell, even though I love them tremendously.  Cause I know how they work cause I can work that system too!  I grew up in that system, I know how it works, cause we can talk about you behind your back but we wouldn’t dar say it to your face.  But anyways,

So, March comes along, and long story short, I ended up just writing my parents a letter, and telling them and leaving it for em after spring break.  And, um, just wrote em a letter, and I left it for mom, somewhere that she would find it, cause I wanted her to know first.  And, I didn’t get a phone call for three days…very unusual…we speak every day.  So I finally got the gumption up and called the house, in the day cause I knew she’d be at work. And Daddy answered, and we were blah blah blah blah, we were talk talk talk talk talk.  And of course I was just like, “How’s mom?  What’s she doing, I haven’t talked to her in a few days?”  And he said, “Fine, blah blah blah blah” and we were getting ready to hang up the phone and he said, “Oh, what’re you doing this weekend?” and I’m like, “Well, I’ll be here, I can’t come home.”  I said, “I need to be here for something on Saturday.”  I had an event or something, and I said, “but I’m free the rest of the weekend, probably just work on homework.”  And he’s like, “Well, um, yeah I think me an your mother are gonna come to Berea.”  And I’m like, “You are? Ok. Why?”  And I mean which was not unusual, cause I mean my family would come and visit for goodness sake, and I’m like “well that’d be great, you know, are you gonna come down on Sunday, and we’ll do dinner, or lunch or whatever” and I said y’all can, we can hang out for awhile, and maybe hang out at the coffee shop, and he was like, “Yeah, we need to come and like, have a discussion.”  I’m like, “Oh!  Ok.”  And he said, “yeah, um we need to talk about this letter.”  And I’m like, “ok, so you did get it?”  And he’s like “Yes.”  I’m like “Well when did you get it in your hand?”  And he’s like, “well about two days ago.”  And I’m like, “so, how’s mother?”

And he, cause I knew Daddy would not have one problem with it at all.  Dad is like, easy going, he was kind of a hippie in college, like easy going, fabulous.  So he was like, he didn’t care, but I was like “How is mom?”  “Well she’s fine”  I’m like, Oh my goodness, ok, what does that mean?”  And he was like, “Well she seems ok, but, I definitely think we need to have a sit down conversation about this whole situation.”  I was like “Ok.”  Which was fine!  You know, we have, people have questions.  And so, I said, “Well come, come and we’ll do dinner, and we’ll talk, and we’ll have all the questions we need to have, whatever.”  And I said, you know I just want to make sure that they didn’t get offended that I wrote them a letter, like was that an ok, cause I didn’t want to, I knew that they would need time to like work through it, especially mom…especially my mother.  So, they ended up not coming, because it snowed.  So we did a skype session, and so, I went to the library and went to a private room and we had a skype session.  And I know Valerie Hope Hamblin better than any other human being in the world, I knew what her two concerns would be.  I knew through and through.  She swears to god that I didn’t, she’s like “You didn’t know that’s what I was gonna say.”  I was like “I knew exactly what you was gonna say cause that’s who you are.”

She thought that I was abandoning them in some way, or that I didn’t need them, or that I didn’t want them in some way.  That was her first concern.  That I, as though, as though I was saying, “I can do this on my own.”  You know?  I knew she would have that concern, and the other concern is that she thought that I was living some other separate life, and was being secretive.  Which I really wasn’t.  the only thing that I hadn’t told her was that I had a boyfriend.  Everything else?  There was nothing had changed.  Nothing had changed.  I was still overactive.  I was still the same old Ethan Hamblin, like I’ve never changed, 22 years, same person.  But you know I just, and then her main concern, which I know that she never really vocalized, but this is her main concern, is that in some way this was going to bring a barrier between me and her.  Not that she had any issue with it, but in some way, she thought that I was like needing space, which freaks her out, because we are best friends, and so like, she thought, that like in some way, I was going to like, have this whole other life going on that like I didn’t feel like they were gonna be a part of, which was never part of what I wanted to do and she knows better than that, but, that was her concern, it’s always her concern.  And it would not have mattered if I was gay or not, if I was to bring a girl home, if I would have ever brought a girl home…strugglesome!  Because it would be, that would be, that would be someone else who had something with me that mom didn’t have, relationship wise.  You know?  And I think its also because I’m an only child.  She had two miscarriages before me too, which makes it even more intense, our relationship.

So there’s, oh god, its been a struggle, it has been a journey.  Not the whole gay thing, just our relationship, and how we communicate, and like she wants to know everything, but she doesn’t want to know everything, and it’s, how do I balance that, like…so if I don’t tell her everything, then she gets pissed, so if I don’t tell her immediately that I am going to a party she gets really upset, she’s like, “oh my god, who are you with?”  I’m like, “the same people I’m always with mom, the people who have been to our house, Katie and Sam, it’s the only people that I party with,” and I’m like “I always tell you when I go and party.”  “Were you drinking?”  “Yes, mother I was drinking, you know that.”  You know?  So its this whole thing, it’s a parent child thing.  That’s the struggle!  That is the struggle, not the whole gay thing.

So anyway, but I came out to them, and it all went fine and fancy, um, there is still, the only thing that we don’t talk about, me and mom, me and dad talks about everything, we don’t really talk about everything, cause I don’t really talk about stuff, I’m not a reflector, I don’t need to like process things out loud, cause I, mom also trained me to be that way, she and I both process things internally.  So like I just, I deal with it myself, and I move on, I dno’t have to like deal with it out loud, I’m a very good person to deal with it and move on.  And so, she um, the relationship stuff, we don’t talk about it, because of the parent child relationship.  And she just, she wants to know but we are not to a point where we can talk about it yet.  I’m not in a relationship now, but I was in a relationship then, when I came out to them, and then I’ve been in a relationship since then that I was in for several months.  But it’s just, that would be really hard for me and her to talk about.  I think that if I really needed her, if it was a situation where I just really like needed her advice, she could handle it and she would do it, um, but whoever ever ends up with me is gonna, the Valerie, will be the barrier.  Prepare ye the way.   But, anyway, dad’s been really good about it too.

Now I’m out to a lot of, most of the family, my grandparents don’t know and then Hannah and Natalie are left, the two younger girls.  They’re the two that are left, and so, yeah.  I think Hannah has figured it out, Natalie’s oblivious to life, she’s just a 14 year old child who just wants to skype or facetime her boyfriend everynight, whose like 14 too, and they’re really agravatin, so that’s her world.  But, Hannah’s a very mature person, she and I are very similar, she’s not as over the top dramatic as I am, but she is very mature for her age, and we’re very similar personality.  I think she knows, and I just can’t tell her.  It’s not a her issue, it’s a me, um yeah, it’s a, it’s a me issue with her.  Because she and I are extremely close, she and I have always been the closest in the family, and so it’s really difficult for me, I’ve tried several times, I’ve tried to build up the gumption, I just couldn’t do it.  I’ve tried all summer, and I just couldn’t do it.  I might before I go back to school, I don’t know.  I’m sure she’ll come and spend the night with me sometime this coming week, but, it’s just really difficult for me to talk to her about it.  I don’t know why.   I don’t know why.   She’s been the hardest.  All my friends from high school know now, and they’re all fine with it, of course.  A lot of my friends have come to Berea and partied with us, you know, and are, very much part of my life.  A lot of people I think know at home.  My grandparents, I think my grandmother, one of my grandmother’s knows.  For sure, she’s on Facebook.  And I just think she knows, like for example, Sam and I are really close, of course, and he’s been to the house several times, but um like one time, when we were talking about going  to Ireland, and sam of course was already there, and I was like “Well I’ll be really glad to see him” and my grandmother looks up, she was at the kitchen table, and she says  “Yeah, I know you’ll be glad to see him to, and you give him all my love, but why are you all always just so glad to see each other?  And y’all are together all the time!”  I mean she just like throws that in, and she like throws those little comments in there just to insinuate.

So that’s you know, like I think they know, but we would never talk about it, hmm mmm.  But Hannah will definitely know, and so will Natalie, at some point, but that’ll be a process.  Hannah and I will need some time together to really discuss it, because I think she’s gonna have a lot of questions, um, not that she’s like completely oblivious or that she doesn’t have thoughts of her own, but I think because its me we’re gonna have to really have a conversation about it, um, so yeah.

[Do you think being from the country made it harder to come out?] Being from a rural place?  Yes, yes, compared to an urban place?  Yes.  However, it works for me, and the reason being is because being from the country and being gay are very similar, and here’s the reason why, because they’re both marginalized groups.  When you’re gay and in the country, you’re a marginalized group in a marginalized group, but the reason I think they’re very similar, is the idea of community.  Because in a rural place community is the main thing, which I’ve already talked a lot about, when you are a gay, or in the LGBTQ community, in the queer alphabet world, you’re part of a community, and I have found those two communities to be very similar, which is why I love the Fabulachian movement, because what better way to bring my mountain culture and my queer identity together.  Because both of them are like these wild crazy very communal ways of thinking, and when you put those together, it’s powerful, very very powerful. But anyways so, yes I think it would have been compared to an urban area, but I think that country queers can handle thing a lot better than urban queers can.  We’re very, we are survivors, country queers are survivors, and I have yet, like despite the fact that we sometimes have to go through the rut and back, we are survivors, so.

[What do you think is the largest issue facing queer people today in general?] …Oh my Lord God…We have started a dance party down the road, have you heard that?  The club music is starting!  How intense!  Ok, so anyway, the biggest, what we have to face?  I think that the rural queers don’t have a network, we don’t know how to network together, I mean I think we do on like small basis, but like there ain’t that many gay people in Hazard, where I’m from, and so you know like that lack of the gay community in rural areas is a struggle, and that’s, we really have to face about networking, which I think is really good about organizations like STAY, and that we really put an emphasis on the LGBTQ community, especially the youth LGBTQ, and how we’re networking all together, and so, um, that’s what I think we really have to struggle with is creating a network, social network of LGBTQ.  And then I think after that we can deal with what, I think is the bigger problem, which is that there’s this big struggle…like the gays will show up for the parades.  The gays will show up when we get to wave the rainbow flag, but are we actually doing things in an activist way, or are we just showing up to, you know, like walk around half naked?

So, like I mean, you know, like, I just think that there’s like, we have to be able to balance us actually working for true activism and us just like representing the community.  Both are important, but I think that we really need to be kind of pushing this activism, as the gay community a little bit more, so we can get stuff passed.  And I don’t think that it is just, we want marriage rights, I think its about education, I think its about human sexuality education, learning about all types of forms and ways of sexuality, and I think that you know, we should be pushing for better education systems that represent who we are, and help other people understand who we are.  And then learn about other people!  For god’s sakes.  I mean there’s plenty of stuff I wanna know more about straight people, for goodness sakes!  But, you know?  I just think that we have to get over the fact that it ain’t just about showing up to the gay parade, it is not just about showing up to pride, it’s about actually putting in and implementing plans, and doing stuff, so.   So I think really that is a big problem within the gay community.  And I could also talk about, and I won’t talk about this, but I could also talk about…like, the gays hate on the gays, a lot. Like you’re too feminine, or your…I mean, I’m really bad for it too, cause I hate the straight gays, but, like I mean you know, who’s in who’s out?  Like it’s such a struggle within the group, like, you’re too feminine; I became gay because I wanted to date a man.  Oh my god how many times I’ve heard that, I wanna punch em in the face, so.  And let’s not even talk about the gay republicans, cause then I’ll get pissed, but.

[How do you feel about being a country queer?] Oh, I love it!  Yeah, I mean, I think, going back to what I talked about with the community, both identities have such a strong sense of community, and so I think it plays very well into it, so I’m able to be a better gay person, because I’m a better Appalachian.  I think it’s very together.  Um, they play into each other very well.  I also, um, I think we see the world in a very different way, like I think we can appreciate…you know, the gay community at large has this really weird interesting, obsession with like…country music queens, like Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton, and Tammy Wynette.   Cause they speak to us, the gays in general, but I think, see, the country queers can appreciate it a little bit more, because those are our girls.  Them girls was raised where we was raised, so we have this, we have a little more in, you know?

So I also think that we also see…we are also able to survive.  We can live in areas where there’s not a lot of stuff and not a lot of people, even though its really hard for us to like lose the social network of the gay community, we do it because we had to, and because we continue to do it, and so we have this innate ability to just, wherever we are, we can, we can make ourselves feel at home, a lot of places.  And adapt very easily, and so when, if we do have to leave or if we do have to move, or if there is something a hard circumstance that comes up..we can handle it, we can cope, a little bit better than other people can, I really do believe that.  Um. I think that being a country queer has really helped me really embrace my Appalachian spirit a little bit more, much more so, because as a country queer, I see things, like so for example, these chairs that we’re sitting in, I notice those a lot more, and I notice them because I’m gay because I really love colors and fashion and patterns, not saying that that’s just a gay characteristic, but it kinda is, let’s be real!  But because I’m a country queer…oh!  This would be the best little quilt that there ever was!  So like, you know?  There’s just something fun about seeing it that way, and going into a place where there’s gingham on the table, you know, we can appreciate that just a little bit more than everybody else can.  And so, um, it’s made me appreciate my Appalachian heritage a lot more, and really appreciate family in a very broad sense of the word, because as a gay person you really have to find family, and because I have good country family whose very supportive of me, it’s also, that has enabled me to quickly find family other places, so find my Berea family, find my STAY family, I mean, I was in Seattle for two days and I feel like I made a family there, you know, like I just feel like we have that ability, which is very important as a gay person.  We have to be able to find that community somewhere.

When am I most happy?   When I am with people that I love, period.  Anywhere that I am with people that I love.  So I’m very happy here, despite the fact that we have to sit through these stupid sessions while being here that are a waste of time, but like I um, being with people that I love is when I’m most happy.

All the time, the same, I’m most proud when I go other places and people are genuinely interested in who I am, and where I’m from.  And I think its, being a country queer, really makes people even more interested, cause they’re like “Oh you’re gay and in the mountains!  Oh my god!”  I mean, not that people say that, but I get that feeling when you’re talking to them, and I’m just like yeah,” let me just tell you like all the shit that I do, and like how fabulous I am”  You know, and then it gets into good conversation, and so then I’m most proud about the region, it’s not about me really.  I mean I think I’m a catalyst and example of the region, and like I represent the region in a lot of different ways, but it is about the region for me, and representing my people, the Appalachian people, wherever I go.  And then also the gays.  Cause the gays are fun!  For god’s sake, the gays are so much fun!  And like the other night when I got to Seattle, I literally walked up to the desk and I asked about my room and got my key, and I asked about taxi services and good restaurants, and then I was like “Listen, let’s be real, where are the gays?”  And she was like, “Oh, Capitol Hill.”  And I was like, “Perfect!  I just needed to know!”  And I also think, it’s not just being a country queer, it’s a southern queer thing, like the southern queers have it together, we are like gentile, like we are like very ferocious, like no one rocks a front porch like a southern queer.  Period.   Period!  Cause we get it.  We are Scarlet O’Hara’s.  And so like, living is so much more fun as a country queer, so much more fun.  And so yeah, you just experience things in a lot better way.  But most proud is very much when I’m getting to share about my experiences and then most happy is when I’m experiencing, with especially the people I love.

[Do you feel like there is a particular sense of humor that country queers have?] We do, yes, so like for example most people would just go to the 76 truckstop and eat, like truckers stop there to eat, or somebody just stops for a cup of coffee, but the country queers experience it just a little bit different.  Like we notice that there is a um patriotic flag that says Welcome Home on the wall, and that right below that there’s a plug in where somebody was charging an electric cigarette the last time I was there.  Like, who?   Nobody else would notice that crap!  But we do, and we appreciate it, or that also that like, we know every waitress there by name, and that’s important, because like they’re country girls just like we are trying to survive.  You know I think we see it in, and people love it, like Sam and I wrote this article, and I’m sure he talked about it…if he didn’t I’ll…[He did not.]  That bitch!  Shameless self promotion!  We write a article for our paper called Dispatches from the Down Home Divas, and it’s turned into a blog.  But, we write about, we’re, it’s funny, it’s a comedic thing about, you know…”we as country queers we have to be always prepared to go out in the day, so in our handbag, you know in our pocketbook of life, we have to have a Bible, a gun, and a hankie… and a church fan on Sundays, cause lord knows it gets muggy!”  And like who else the fuck appreciates that crap?  You know? Like who else appreciates that as much as we do?  Because we notice stuff like that and we really take it to heart, because that’s who we are.  Like, for goodness sakes in my bag I’ve got a fan that has the Lord’s prayer on it from Deacon Funeral Home in Jackson, You know?  It’s just fun, and so we can write about that and then we can, what’s interesting is that we use the comedy a lot of times, country queers have this great way, because I think that mountain people in general, especially Central Appalachian people, are funny.  They have a real backwards way of doing stuff.  And they’re real kind of sarcastic sometimes, and real witty.  And good jokesters and good storytellers.

The Down Home Diva:  Sam (L) and Ethan (R) at Berea College.

The Down Home Diva: Sam (L) and Ethan (R) at Berea College.

Well because the country queers are that way, and because we’re gay then on top of it, because we’re queer and we’re all activists, so we have this really good way of using the comedy, to use as activism. Which really brings people into the circle, so the articles that we write, we’ve been told by many people, while they’re very specific about our country queer existence, they’re very universal.  And they really bring people who…like, you know, we may talk about our Aunt Doris, who works at a beauty parlor, and always wears sparkly glasses, and always has bleach blond hair that she has teased to the nines, you know, like we can talk about her, but somebody else out there, whether her name’s Aunt Doris or not, has somebody that’s similar to her in their family, and they identify.  They identify with that very inversely, very global.  And so, when you’re able to connect comedy and activism like that, and humor and activism, it’s very powerful.  And the country queers are able to do that, because we grow up being very humorous and good story tellers, especially funny stories, and then we are able to use that in our storytelling.  As well as um, shedding light on the fact that we’re very proud of who we are.

No, I don’t feel pressure to move to a city.  I have interest to move to a city, not a big city, I do not like big cities at all.  I have to have very quick access to the country.  So, um, I would never move to New York City, it’s a god awful place.  I like other smaller cities, like Minneapolis and St. Paul are beautiful and they’re like a 50 minute drive till you’re in the middle of nowhere.   Same with Louisville, KY, I really love Louisville.  So, yeah, I’d, no pressure, no pressure at all.  I will say that the social network is very appealing there.  But you know what I’ve got me, and I’ve got people here in the region that I love, so, no pressure, at all.

[How do you find people to date/sleep with/etc. in the country?] Finding people is very difficult, and I do struggle with it a lot, but I’m also very independent, so I can be by myself.  But I do say, that the loss of companionship is very difficult for me.  Now that’s why I do a lot, and I surround myself with people all the time, cause then I don’t really think about it.  But when you’re alone, this summer especially, when I’m home and by myself a lot, I’m just like…it would be so great if I had a boyfriend, you know?  I don’t sleep around a lot, I don’t sleep around a lot at all…sometimes, but I just you know, it, it’s just not my thing.  Like that’s not my world.  Yeah, I would love to be in a committed relationship though.  I don’t think I’m ready for it.  I don’t think that someone’s ready to be in a committed relationship with me.  I’m kind of a powerhouse.  Like I have a lot more things that I want to do in this lifetime!  So I can’t be…so if I was in a relationship, children would have to come way later, I do want children though.  I do want children.  And I would be a great dad.  I would be so much fun.  But, yeah.  So, would it be hard living in the country and doing all that?  Yes, I think it would, because it’s hard to find someone who wants to move to the country, unless they’re already from there…which is why we need a better network of gay people in the region!  To find us a man!  What else is there?  No, I’m kidding, activism is much more important.  But, yes it would be easier if there was a better social network, to find a partner, to find a companion.  But yes, I would love to have a family.

[Is there anything you want to say to other LGBTQ people in rural areas who are struggling?]  You are not alone.  You are not alone.  There are other queer people in rural America there.  It may be difficult to find them, but its also, it’s gonna be fine.  It’s gonna be fine!  You are not alone.  Believe in yourself.  Very much believe in yourself.  You don’t need other people to tell you that you’re fabulous to know it.  You do not have to have that.  And you will find your community, and um, I also want to tell you, you don’t have to move away from rural areas to be gay.  That is so stupid.  Um, you may have to move away to find community, but you can live in rural areas and do that, you just have to seek it out, find it.  And don’t rush it.  Time…things will happen in time, I really believe that.  If it’s gonna happen it’s gonna happen.  Just believe in it.  Everything’s gonna be fine.  So, yes!  And find, join STAY!  Central Appalachian gays, join STAY for God’s sake, we need more people to show up to the LGBTQ gathering!  Lord have mercy!  So, there you go.

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