We’re Here! We’re Queer! Celebrating Pride Month
When my son was in middle school, he became obsessed with cryptids, those mysterious and probably nonexistent creatures which have been identified by witnesses, often under the darkness of night and sometimes under the influence of substances. The Appalachian region seems to claim a disproportionate number of cryptids, among them Mothman, the Skunk Ape, the Hopkinsville Goblins, and the Flatwoods Monster. Growing up in rural Appalachia in the 1970s and ‘80s, LGBTQ+ people, when they were discussed at all, were discussed like cryptids, as mysterious, shadowy beings who because of their extreme otherness, were objects of fascination and fear.
Just like with cryptids, the “facts” about LGBTQ+ people were based on second- or third-hand accounts. So and So’s first cousin had seen that bagboy from the IGA parked in his truck out by the lake with another boy, and they had been kissing. And you remember X, who moved Up North after high school? Well, So and So saw her in the Walmart, and she was dressed just like a man and was with some woman who looked about as mannish as she did.
But here’s where my cryptozoology analogy gets a little shaky. As a kid, when I heard these sotto voce bits of gossip about LGBTQ+ people, the mixture of fascination and fear I felt was because I feared I might be “one of them” myself. Surely no kid, when hearing adults talk about how scary and gross the Skunk Ape is thinks, But what if I grow up to be a skunk ape?
As I grew older, I gained the ability to spot possible LGBTQ+ folks myself—a butch math teacher in high school, a dapper femme boy who worked in a store in the mall I sometimes visited in Knoxville. A few years later, as a student at The University of Tennessee, I met other LGBTQ+ folks who openly identified themselves as such; there was even a student organization for people like us. It was as a student at UT that I attended my first Pride March. We gathered downtown at Market Square on a Saturday afternoon. There was maybe three dozen of us, but to me it seemed like we were legions strong, and we were out in the open, downtown in full daylight, not skulking in the shadows like Mothman. We marched down Gay Street (How perfect is that?) chanting, “We’re here/We’re queer/Get used to it!” If these words sound a little defensive or even hostile, bear in mind that we were outnumbered by counter protesters carrying signs scrawled with misspelled Bible verses and hate speech. By contrast, Knoxville’s current Pride events have participants in the quadruple digits, and far more spectators show their support than their contempt.
LGBTQ+ people have always been part of the Appalachian region; they just haven’t always felt safe making their voices heard. This special Pride-themed fiction section of Still celebrates Appalachian LGBTQ+ voices, and what remarkable voices they are! We are delighted to include a story by Jeff Mann, whose many works include the 2005 poetry and essay collection Loving Mountains, Loving Men, a revolutionary book in the canon of LGBTQ+ Appalachian literature. We are also privileged to feature stories by some of the region’s most gifted younger LGBTQ+ authors: Jonathan Corcoran, Savannah Sipple, and Haley Fedor. Each of the stories included here shines a bright light on Appalachian LGBTQ+ identities and proudly expresses an enduring truth: Unlike cryptids, we definitely exist. We’re queer, and we’re here.
~Julia Watts, guest fiction editor