Ivy. 26. Viper, KY.

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To listen to an excerpt of the audio click here:  

My name is Ivy, and I’m from Viper, Kentucky in Perry County, in the far southeastern corner of Kentucky.  I’m 26, and I currently live in Lexington, Kentucky.  I’ll talk about Viper, since this is about rural places and I’m back there frequently.  Well, it’s small.  Viper used to have sort of like a community center and a post office and a gas station, and there was a little print shop there.  Those were, I mean the post office was always there, but the other businesses were gone long ago.  They recently brought a new road through the community center, and they just like leveled everything that was there.  Moved the post office to a neighboring community, in with another community’s post office.  And that was a sad time for Viper, but, Viper has been, it’s sort of a large place.  And it has lots of different smaller communities within it.  It’s kind of weird, it’s not like a regular small town or small community.

What I mean is, um, so I live on the left fork of Mace’s Creek, and there’s also a middle fork and a right fork which are completely different communities than the left fork.  And there’s also sort of just outlying areas that are not on the forks of the road.  But, it’s small and there’s a lot of, probably 5 or 6 families that make up Viper, and I couldn’t name them, but I could name a couple.  There’s a school, Viper Elementary School that has maybe 150-200 students K-8.  That’s where I went to school, that’s where my mom teaches, that’s where my aunt is the principal.  So it’s just sort of one of these typical communities, where everybody knows everybody, and everybody knows everybody’s business, and things like that.

So, I was born in Hidan Kentucky, which is in Wesley County, at the Frontier Nursing Service…not at the Frontier Nursing Service, but I was birthed by midwives that were trained there, and born in Mary Breckenridge hospital.  That was mom’s choice she was really, uh, I refer to her as a hippie but she wouldn’t refer to herself that way.  But, at the time that was sort of atypical.  So my mom is a teacher and she wasn’t always a teacher.  She didn’t finish college right after high school.  She got two years of college at the local community college, Hazard Community College, um, and then she sort of dropped out and moved to Lexington for awhile, and hitchhiked across the country, and all these sorts of things.  But she went back to school when she was in her thirties, and got her teaching degree.  Before that her and Dad owned a gas station called Jeff Mart ? in a neighboring community to Viper, that was sort of a interesting place.  We could do a whole interview just about Jeff Mart!  But, I sort of grew up playing in, you know, cases of pop.  Like we would build these little forts, and I would sort of hide in these pop case forts and you know, watch the customers and stuff.  But I sort of grew up in Jeff Mart, and being in there, and all of the family worked there, so it was really a neat kind of thing, and getting to like, steal candy off the shelves, and all that kind of stuff.

But then mom went back to school.  Before that, she was a, in between Jeff Mart and teaching for public schools, she was a Montessori School Teacher for awhile, and so I did Montessori School and my brother did too.  But my dad, he didn’t go to college, he went to college for two years at UK and didn’t finish, and he came back home and he worked as a strip miner for a little bit, and he worked in a factory, that has since closed, for ten or eleven years, something like that.  But after this factory closed, they paid for him to go back to school.  And so he went back to school and he got his repertory therapy license and he does that now, at the Hazard hospital.

Ivy and her parents

Ivy and her parents

I identify as a lesbian. [When did you first know?] Oh, that’s always a tricky question, isn’t it?  It’s sort of one of those things where you’re like, you don’t know and then you do, and you’re like oh wait!  Hindsight is 20/20 kind of thing, but I guess I would say, I first came out when I was 18.  Um, and before that I sort of had no feelings one way or the other I guess.  But, um, my girlfriend at the time, who was in high school, was like, I don’t want to say pressuring me, but sort of helped me realize this part of myself that I may not have realized for a lot longer if she hadn’t been there.  And we had been friends all through high school.   So, I was in high school and I was, I don’t want to say popular, but I had a lot of friends and was sort of seen by my peers, and the administration, and teachers as this, you know straight A student, and played sports, and was well liked, and, the good girl I guess, typical good girl.  And so when I started dating this girl, my friend in high school, it was um, I think people didn’t know what to think about it?  It was interesting.  It was really interesting, because a lot of people just sort of ignored it, a lot of people ignored me, who wouldn’t have before.  But no one was particularly mean to me in high school, and the thing was it was the last semester of senior year when all of this happened and so it was kind of like, everybody had all of this other stuff going on and I did too.

But like there was this one instance where I was in the bathroom, and this other girl who was my friend came in, and was like asking me all these questions about, “So, is it true?  Is it true that you’re dating this other person?”  And I was like, “yeah.”  You know, I mean it was really weird and it was sort of like she was gathering this information to go out and tell these other people, who were like outside the bathroom.  And so when I walk out and I see these people, and they’re just like, no we don’t see anything, it was like, oh, ok, ok.

But then there were also times like there was this girl, I was also in the bathroom, odd place to be having conversations like this, but I had just come out of the stall and there was this girl, who I didn’t know, and she was younger than me, and I had no idea who she was, and she said, she asked you know, “Are you dating this person?”  And I was like, “yeah?”  And she said, “Well I just think that is the greatest, like good for you, I’m so glad that you’re doing this.”  And I was just like, “ok.”  It was really a surprise, like I had no idea who she was.  But I’ll never forget that, cause I thought, how brave of her to come to me and say something like that.  Yeah.

Well, in high school, like my experience wasn’t that bad as I just talked about, but with my family it was a lot harder.  Um, my parents have always been very liberal and open minded, and very um tolerant of people who aren’t like them and people who are different.  You know I was raised to accept others as who they are, and that whole schpeel, but um, I guess its different with your own kid or something?  And you know they have gay friends, and have had, always, since they were in high school, um, but, you know when I was going through this and I was sort of like…and me and my mom were always really open with each other, and could talk about lots of things, and did, so of course, I brought this to her and was talking to her about this, and she was really upset, and we had lots of conversations about um, you know, “Well you’ll never have children.”  And just like crazy things that she doesn’t really believe, I know she doesn’t, it was just this sort of regressive thing that happened for her, because now, it’s fine.  You know my relationship with her and my family is really great.  I think it was just sort of the shock of this thing happening that you know they had these ideas of who I was and that’s not who I was sort of thing.

So, um, I, that was a gradual process of coming out to certain people, so my parents knew, and my brother right away, because that’s just immediate.  But a lot of my extended family didn’t know for a long time and it wasn’t because I didn’t want to tell them or I was afraid of what they’d think, it was just like, how do you talk to people about this?  Cause I’ve never really been a person who is afraid of what other people think about me, and um, but, I think that almost everybody in my family knows.  Probably everybody actually, because a lot of my family is on Facebook, and I’m not really very censored on Facebook.  So, um I don’t make a secret of it, but I also don’t broadcast it in my work place.  Um, I mean I don’t work at like a really repressive organization, it’s really progressive, and most of the people know there, but I mean I think like, it’s not my job to go around telling people, like, “Oh by the way….” You know?  So, if someone asks me, I’ll talk to them about it, and that’s fine.  I don’t actively try to keep it secret, but I don’t actively try to broadcast it, and I think like, that’s sort of the way that I view being equal with other people.  You know, like a straight person wouldn’t go and broadcast that, as soon as they went into a room, so, yeah.  That’s my philosophy on that.  But, yeah, most people in my life know.  And I think the people that I would actively not tell, is like, older people, just because I think like, um, and I don’t…maybe this is just my own prejudice about older people, but I feel like they might not get it, or they might be upset about it, and it’s, I don’t know…I don’t like upsetting old people.

Ivy and her family

Ivy and her family

[Do you think being from the country made it harder to come out than if you’d been from an urban area?] No.  I don’t.  Because I know people who grew up in cities, who had a harder time than me, you know?  And in some ways, I think growing up where I did made it easier, and made it better, because people, really knew who I was, and knew where I was coming from.  I recently, so Vicco is a really small town, less than 400 people, um, that’s close to Viper, and they recently passed a Fairness Ordinance. They have an openly gay mayor in Vicco, I mean it’s yeah.  It’s really, it’s this strange little pocket, of like progressiveness.  But, um, I recently wrote this piece about Vicco for this blog that I worked for, before I was working at MACED.  And um, just sort of talked about how in small communities like this people are supportive of other people, because you’re in this small space and you know these people, it’s not like a complete stranger.  And it’s hard to look at someone that you have grown up with and you’ve known all your life, and sort of shun this person, when you know who they are and you love this person.  So, um, that’s how I felt about it, I mean it was a struggle with my parents, but I think that’s just because they were my parents.  But other people it wasn’t, I mean, you know family members, and, you know I had an aunt who is, um really conservative, and republican…not that that means you don’t like gay people, but, um, was really conservative, is really conservative.  And just completely, when she knew, was totally accepting and would say these really supportive things to me.  And you know my friends in high school were really supportive, and were like, “Ok, let’s move on with our lives.”  I don’t know.  But I think that support system, in a lot of ways, made it easier for me, than a lot of people I know, both where I’m from and larger places.  So I don’t know, maybe it’s just the people that I knew, and the connections that I already had.

[Vicco, KY has recently received a lot of mainstream media attention about the Fairness Ordinance and their Gay Mayor, Johnny Cummings.  Media portrayal of Appalachia continues to be complicated and problematic, for more about this check out:  http://www.thestayproject.org/about-us/central-appalachia/

 If interested in the coverage of Vicco, KY check out:   

The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/29/us/vicco-kentucky-passes-ban-on-gay-bias.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

and The Colbert Reporthttp://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/428601/august-14-2013/people-who-are-destroying-america—johnny-cummings?xrs=share_copy]

[What do you think the biggest struggle facing LGBTQ people is in general, and then, do you think it is the same or different for rural LGBTQ folks?]  I don’t know.  I mean obviously you have like, uh, fairness ordinances and things like that happening.  Um, marriage equality is big right now.  But I think, those aren’t necessarily huge struggles anymore.  They’re just, I mean people are just really not as close minded about LGBTQ people as they used to be.  I don’t know, I mean, I think our struggles are the same as everybody else’s struggles.  Beyond, of course, political things, and um, you know, we’re all just trying to make it in this world.  Well, yeah, I mean, that’s just how I feel!  You know we’re trying to find jobs, and we’re trying to have families, and we’re trying to…well yeah, and families, you know, having kids is a struggle for gay people.  That’s something that I’m thinking about recently, but um, that’s just the way it is.  I mean, that’s not like, insurmountable or anything.  But, yeah, I don’t see our struggles as any different than anybody else’s.  I mean maybe if it were 10, 15 years ago I would, just because we’ve come so far in such a short amount of time with visibility and um, political activism.  That we’re, we’re in a good place right now.  I feel like, you know, I mean, I feel that tides are turning, so I don’t feel like these huge struggles that gay people have had for a long time are still there necessarily.  They are, but they’re not as large as they used to be.

Ivy and Courtney

Ivy and Courtney

But in terms of rural versus urban, uh, I don’t know.  I mean I think, I think sometimes the thing that hurts gay people a lot in rural areas, is religion, and peoples’ religious beliefs.  I was lucky because my family’s not very religious, but a lot of other people aren’t.  My partner, for instance, is a, comes from a rural place, and her family is, her mother is really religious, and is really anti-gay.  And it’s just, that’s a struggle for a lot of rural gay people, just because, religion is so tied to being in a rural place for a lot of people.  So I would say that’s one huge difference, in my opinion, between rural and urban gay youth.  Because it’s not, I mean, and there are obviously different struggles for urban youth who are gay.  Yeah, I would say that’s the biggest struggle, in my opinion.  Or the biggest difference.

When I think about, well, when I am the most happy, I am at home in the mountains with my family, at my homeplace, on Mortfield, is what we call it.  Um, that’s a family thing, but um, yeah that’s when I’m happiest, and you know that includes having my brother there with his wife and two kids, and having my partner there, and having my dog there, and just being with my family.  And um, getting to visit and be around them and laugh and eat lots of good food and drink lots of good wine!  Yeah.

[Do you have any funny stories about being queer and country?] Sure, um, I don’t know, I’m sure, there are some, but, I don’t know there’s been like really strange things, not strange things, but,  sort of awkward moments.  So there was one time when um, mom, me and mom were watching TV and there was this woman on TV who had these really big boobs, and she likes makes comments about women’s boobs all the time.  I don’ t know, she’s a strange person, but she made this comment about it and I was just like, “I didn’t even notice that.”  And she was like, “Oh, well, I thought that you and your dad were similar.”  And I was like, “What are you talking about?”  And she said, “Well, you know, he’s a boob man.”  And I was like, “Ok?  That was just like the most awkward thing!”  But, she, yeah, mom has, I don’t know, this really really on point way of just being like the most awkward person.  She has no filter whatsoever and just says like whatever comes to her mind, but um, yeah, that’s.  Yeah.

Um, yeah, I don’t know I’m sure there are lots of funny thing, but I don’t know.  Um there have been lots of things that, like, when I was in high school, that like weren’t funny but were, sort of things.  When I was still in high school and I was dating, my friend from high school, we were out at this Mexican restaurant, and this waiter comes over and was asking if she had a boyfriend in Spanish, because she knew a little bit of Spanish and they were talking.  And she was like, “no, I have a novia” which is girlfriend in Spanish, and he was like totally confused, and kept asking about it.  And so we were leaving and um, there was like all of these waiters at the checkout, you know.  And they were just sort of like, trying to figure out this situation, like they couldn’t wrap they’re brains around it, they just couldn’t understand.

And then um, there was another time when I was in college, when I was at the Kentucky Derby with some friends.  One of my friends lives just a few blocks away from Churchhill Downs, and so we were, and this was the year when the Queen was there, the Queen of England.  And so we were, there were um, these Westboro Baptist Church protesters there, because you know they’re everywhere.  And because the Queen was there and they had just, um, I think this was right after they had legalized gay marriage in Britain?  Or something like that, but they were there, and so, we um, made this huge anti protest, me and my friends, walking by holding hands, and you know, doing this whole let’s be an anti-protest, for the Westboro Baptist Church which was a lot of fun.  So that was, maybe not funny, but kind of.  [We were] determined [to make it funny.]  Yeah, it was just, it was great.

[Do you know of other queer people have who lived in your community before you?]  Yes.  There is a lesbian couple who lives just down the road from where I grew up.  They are probably in their 40s?  Maybe?  And um, they have two sons but they are from one of the women’s previous marriage, and they went to um, Viper Elementary School, and my mom is a teacher and so she taught both of those boys.  And, I don’t know, much about them other than that.  They um, they came to our church for a little while.  But, I think they just sort of, everybody knew that they were together, and they were living in this house, but nobody ever had an issue with it.  It’s sort of, what I find the most, from the mountains where I’m from, is it sort of, people um, if they know you’re a good person and all of this, they just like stay out of your business.  And it’s like you stay out of my business, I’ll stay out of yours, and you don’t um, harm my family, or do wrong by my family, and we’ll be fine.  And they just sort of like, let you be kind of thing.  But they, um, live there, I mean it’s probably just like 4 or 5 miles, up the road.

But then also the mayor of Vicco, who is openly gay, Johnny Cummings, has lived in Vicco his entire life and been out his entire life, almost, and people just don’t have an issue with that.  And he is loved among the region!  Everybody knows Johnny, and he cuts everybody’s hair and all this kind of stuff.  So yeah, there are a couple of people…And also, a couple of my cousins, but they would never admit that, so I won’t name them.

You know, it’s kind of like, I never really thought about kids, and then all the sudden I did.  And I always tell people that I never believed in the biological clock, until it happened to me, and I’m like sitting here, like kiiiiiids!  Where are the kids?  But that is something that me and my partner have talked about, but it’s sort of this thing, where we are absolutely 100% not ready to have kids right now, and so we are um, sort of going with the flow and seeing what happens kind of thing.  But um, a thing that, is a real struggle, and this is absolute…is money.  It costs so much money, to adopt, and also to do insemination.  I mean it’s like, ridiculous amounts of money, you have to be, um, in a really good place financially.  Which frustrates me, because I feel like it shouldn’t be so difficult, not just for me, but for everybody, you know?  Um, that’s a big struggle.  Uh, I don’t necessarily think that it would be an issue where we live in Lexington.  I think that if we were living back in the mountains…I don’t know that it would be an issue, but I think people would have a hard time accepting it sort of.

And also, like, my partner works in state government, and nobody in her office knows that she’s a lesbian.  And where I work is a liberal place, and progressive, but I also sort of have this fear that people won’t understand, um.  I think its like, like I have this person who I work with, who has clearly never ever before interacted with a gay person, because every time he talks to me, he brings it up in some way.  So we had to do this road trip the other day, and it’s like, it’s crazy!  But we went on this road trip the other day to Richmond which is just like 10 miles down the road.  And he was asking me something like, “How long have you and your partner been together?” And all of these sorts of questions.  And I was just like, telling him, and he was like, “So, did you like, did you have like a ceremony?”  And I was like, “no, we just decided that we want to be together.”  And he was like, “So you didn’t have a ceremony?” And I was like “no.”  It was like he couldn’t understand that you know two people could be in this committed relationship without having some kind of like official way to say that.  It was really strange.

And then, we were leaving and there was this guy running without his shirt, and he made this comment like “Oh this guy is obviously trying to show off,” or something like that, and then he was like, in the same breath, “But the funny thing is, neither one of us cares about it.”  And it was just this comment that was like why would you ever say that to a person.  I mean it was just really strange.  It was strange.  So I think, in a lot of ways people still think about the world in very traditional ways and its hard for them to accept other ways of being and other ways of living.  And its not a fault or anything like that, I think its just the way people are.  Does that make sense?  I don’t fault this person because he has never been around gay people before, which is totally obvious, but.  I think people just they are in their situation, and its sort of our job as different people, as gay people to not shun those people for being in those different places, but to sort of try and understand where they’re coming from, so that we both can understand each other a little better.

[Did you feel pressure to move to a city?]  I didn’t.  I mean I did, I did because what I wanted to do in college, I had to, you know.  I wanted to do journalism and that wasn’t really an option at any of the local schools.  And I didn’t really want to go to any of the local schools, I did want to go out and have a typical college experience, you know living in the dorm rooms and partying and all that.  And that was not something I could do at the colleges back home, because there was only, Alice Lloyd College that is not a community college close to where I live.  So, um, I felt pressure in a sense, from personal pressure, like I want to go and get these experiences and I’m not gonna be able to do that here.  But I didn’t feel pressure from um, my immediate family, that you have to move away to a city to be successful and have opportunities, you know.

If anything I got pressure from them to Stay!  But I did um, I did at one point have an aunt tell me that there was nothing for me in Appalachia, that there was nothing for me, and that I would have to move away, to have the life that I wanted.  And it was total, advice, like she was telling me this to help me in her mind.  Um, which is really sad to me, and I know I’m not the only person who is hearing this story.  And I was thinking about it, you know, we’ve been doing this educational justice thing, [one of the STAY project’s focuses is on educational justice in Appalachia] and I’ve been thinking about it, and you know, the kids who are told this are the kids who are, um, most likely to be successful anyway.  And so they’re all leaving and not coming back.  But I have to say, now they are coming back, there’s a lot of people who are coming back.  But anyways, that’s a whole other story.  But yeah, I, I did not necessarily feel pressure to move away because of that. And anyway, I didn’t want that, like I always wanted to go away and do things, but come back home at some point.  That’s still my plan, but that would have always been…nobody has ever been able to tell me what to do or anything, so it wouldn’t have worked, even if they’d pressured me, cause I would have not listened anyway.

[When do you feel the most proud to be gay?  And the most proud to be from the mountains?  And is it ever at the same time?]  It’s always at the same time.  It’s always at the same time.  Because that’s those are both such huge parts of who I am that I can’t separate those, so I think like, being proud of either one of those things, is being proud of the other.  That’s really sort of like vague and mystical, but, yeah I think um, you know I’m really proud, always to be an Appalachian.  Like there’s, I don’t ever have moments where I’m ashamed or I’m not proud of that, that’s just I carry the pride of that with me I think, um, so and also I think that like everything else in my life, sort of is filtered through that, but.  Um, I’m trying to think of like specific examples.  So, you know, when I see people who are, so like when DOMA, when the DOMA case was happening, and that was processed out.  Like that was a moment when I felt really proud to be LGBT, but also there are other moments when I hear about young people who were way younger than I ever was when I came out, who are like these brave strong people!  In small places, you know, and that, that really makes me proud, because I think, these people are just the future, and that is something to be proud of.  And I think you know a lot of that is because older people than me were out, and were paving this path, and were making it possible for myself, and other people my age, and kids younger than me, to be as open as we are, and to not have it be an issue.  To just have it be normal.  I mean, I think that, that makes me really proud.

Ivy and Courtney

Ivy and Courtney

[Is there anything you want to say to other LGBTQ people in rural or small town areas?]  Um.  I would say, that, you don’t have to look outside the region to find a place where you belong.  I think a struggle for Appalachian LGBTQ people, young people especially, is that they feel like this place is not where they belong, but they also simultaneously, do belong, and feel that belonging…so, its sort of like, you know, we, we have this part of ourselves that is always wanting to be in the mountains, and always wanting to be home, for the most part I mean some people don’t.  And so, I mean I know for myself it’s a struggle, not because of being gay, but because of being outside the region.  It’s always a struggle to sort of like, not be home.  And I think like that pull to be home is really strong, and is you know really amazing, but um I think for young gay youth in the region its hard.  Because they feel like there are not many people who are like them and so, they feel like they have to go someplace else to find their place where they belong.  But I don’t necessarily think that’s true, I think um, just sort of like, understanding your place a little bit more, and looking for those support systems, because they are there.  I mean, even I was surprised that the people who were um, supportive, and who were just you know, like that strange girl who stopped me in the bathroom!  I mean there are so many people just like her, for every one of her there are 10 more.  You know and I think, I don’t know, it’s hard, it’s hard, it’s always hard, as a young person coming out, and realizing this part of yourself, and accepting this part of yourself.  But it doesn’t have to be that hard, and I think, I don’t know I wish it were easier.  But I think, I also think it’s really important for young people to um, to come out, and to be open, because it helps the people who are around them…not only the gay people to see oh there are other people, but the straight people to see oh well I know you and you’re not this strange thing, that I don’t understand, because I do.  That’s really important.  And it gets better.  It always gets better.  Yeah.  It’s hard and it’s isolating sometimes, but, oh gosh, if there was just a way to help people keep the faith, and keep hope, that life will get better.  That’s a struggle for everybody.


Interviewed on August 10, 2013 at the third annual STAY Project Summer Institute at the Highlander Center in East Tennesee.

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