Editor’s Note: This interview first appeared in Path Finders, a new email newsletter from the Daily Yonder. Each week, Path Finders features a Q&A with a rural thinker, creator, or doer. Like what you see here? You can join the mailing list at the bottom of this article and receive more conversations like this in your inbox each week.
KT Taylor is a nonbinary lesbian from rural Idaho, and a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, who studied rural queer communities in college. This combination of identities means that the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t KT’s first brush with isolation.
As a part of Springboard for the Arts’ project, Artists Respond: Combating Social Isolation, KT started a zine for rural queer people entitled Not Alone, Never Was. The title reflects the idea that, even in places where queer people are—out of necessity—quieter about their identities, there’s always a queer history, or even a queer friendship, to be unearthed.
Enjoy this conversation about KT’s merging of rural and queer identities, and their journey to combat rural isolation through art, below.
Olivia Weeks, The Daily Yonder: When did you become aware that there was a history of queer communities in your area? That you weren’t the first and you likely weren’t the only queer person currently in your hometown who felt the way you did?
KT Taylor: Technically, the first time I really discovered a bit of queer history from my area was in high school when a friend and I were looking at the Wikipedia page for our town and under “Notable People” was Paul Popham, an American gay rights activist. But the first time I discovered queer history from my area and it really stuck out to me was in doing preliminary research for my undergraduate senior thesis. I knew I wanted to do something on rural queer history and was surprised to stumble upon the book The Boys of Boise by John Gerassi. It’s a book about this incident in the Boise, Idaho area, about an hour from Emmett, Idaho where I grew up, where gay men were heavily policed and prosecuted.
DY: What was it like to study the history of queer people in your area from afar? How did it change your understanding of your home and your place there as a rural queer person? What’s it been like to return? Have you?
KT: I think it was really therapeutic to study the history of queer people in my area from afar. I lived in the same small town my whole life, and went to Virginia for college, basically as far away from Idaho as I could get. However, I was really surprised, when I got to college, by all the things I really missed about living in a rural area. The space, the openness, the community, the sunsets. Studying queer history in Idaho allowed me to connect with a sense of rural ancestry while not feeling “trapped” like I did when I was young and living at home. It allowed me to not view my rural identity and my queer identity as intrinsically opposed. I returned to Idaho in January of 2021 to live with my parents as a result of financial instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The work I’ve done studying and creating art with rural communities has allowed me to return home and not feel like an outsider, or some strange thing that doesn’t belong. I now know deep within my being that my existence as a queer person is just as much a part of rural community and life as anyone or anything else. There have still been gut wrenching instances of homophobia I have experienced since coming home, that serve as a reminder that the fight towards equality is still not done and of the uniquely rural challenges that rural queer people face.
DY: When did you come up with the idea for Not Alone, Never Was? How has your project been received?
KT: I came up with the idea of Not Alone, Never Was about a month into quarantine. An unexpected result [of lockdown] for me was feeling a deep and sudden sense of disconnect from the queer community. I was living in Minneapolis, a place I moved to in part because of the queer community, and suddenly found myself unable to go to workshops, gay bars, poetry nights, art exhibits—all the places where I found queer community and connection. During this time I couldn’t help but think back to the isolation and loneliness I felt living in Idaho as a queer youth. This feeling felt so familiar, and I knew if I was experiencing it in a city, then my siblings in rural spaces were no doubt feeling it doubly. I have always been inspired by the history of zines as radical educational tools and tools of connection for oppressed communities, and I felt like this was the perfect time to utilize my passion, artistry, and personal experiences.The feedback on the project has been nothing short of breathtaking. I ended up sending out over 100 copies of the zine to folks who requested it all over the country, and two copies were even sent abroad. I received so many messages expressing how necessary this work was and how important it was to people. I still can’t believe so many people could be impacted by something I created, but that’s part of why I love being an artist. The feedback has also been so positive that I am working on Not Alone, Never Was volume 2 as we speak!
DY: Why is it important that people learn about rural queer history? A lot of LGBTQ organizations focus on pride and visibility. Why does making rural queer history visible matter too?
KT: One key thing you will notice if you do research into queer rural wellbeing, is that most queer rural people feel such a deep sense of isolation and loneliness. Part of what contributes to that loneliness is a lack of queer representation in the immediate world around them, but another part of that isolation comes from a perceived lack of history, a lack of ancestors. And for those people, urban queer representation isn’t enough. It’s not enough to think “oh, well at least there’s queer people somewhere out there, just not where I am.” Working on making rural queer history visible helps communicate to queer rural people that they’re not alone, they never have been, and that they can do this.
DY: The zine, by the way, is beautiful. What role has art played in your own understanding/expression of your sexuality and gender identity? Has queerness always been a subject of yours?
KT: First of all, I love this question. I identity as a lesbian and nonbinary. I have struggled with gender dysphoria since I was young but did not have the language or understanding to really know what I was feeling until the past few years. I personally feel that the concept of gender as it is popularly understood is so limiting to me, and as a native person—I am an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma—I often feel like gendered expectations and norms are a form of colonial violence. Art has been a way to free myself from, and express anger at, that gender violence. In one way, art allows me an outlet. I can make zines or comics about my experiences, my thoughts, my questions, and just breathing that into the world feels freeing. I also am a fan of wearable art–jewelry, fashion, patches, etc. are things that help me feel like I am becoming a work of art myself. I don’t feel like I am wearing masculine or feminine clothing or accessories, I just feel like art, and it is thrilling to no end.
Queerness has always been a subject of mine. I like to explore it in a few ways in my art. I’ve created a series of shirts and bandanas that are hand printed with the bold words “I AM A HOMOSEXUAL,” which is my form of protest for a world that often demands queerness be quieted or hidden. I also like to use horror to explore aspects of queerness that can seem confusing and frightening, because it allows me to express these feelings that I rarely have adequate words for.
DY: Correct me if I’m wrong but my understanding is that you currently live in Minneapolis—what does the city provide, in terms of community, that the country can’t? Do you feel a pull to return home? Would that be possible for you?
KT: Yes, I moved to Minneapolis after college. I feel that Minneapolis has many queer organizations that have funding to provide services and opportunities that you don’t see in the country. For example, I am a community consultant for TransFabulous, a series of trans-centered workshops offered through Hennepin County Libraries. I also feel that the size of a city allows queer people to exist without feeling so watched as they do in the country. Now that I am back in Idaho, for safety and comfort reasons I cannot always leave the house dressed the way I feel most comfortable. Whereas in the city, strangers in the street aren’t going to care what one person is wearing. However, now that I am home I am trying to make a conscious effort to—even if I feel afraid—present the way I want to and remind everyone here that I am just as much a part of the community as they are.
DY: Lastly, what are you reading and listening to right now? Do you have any recommendations?
KT: Okay the horror and sci-fi nerd is about to jump out here! Reading: The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin and Smashed by Junji Ito. I listen to podcasts a lot while I work, and lately have been chugging through The Magnus Archives, a horror fiction podcast. I also tell everyone who asks me for music recommendations to listen to the album Pony by Orville Peck!
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This interview first appeared in Path Finders, a new email newsletter from the Daily Yonder. Each week, Path Finders features a Q&A with a rural thinker, creator, or doer. Join the mailing list today, to have these illuminating conversations delivered straight to your inbox.