I was born and raised in Kentucky, near the foothills of Appalachia. I could drive twenty minutes in any direction and find myself square in the middle of abject poverty. Every spring, winter-hardened homeless men reappear to beg for change by the end of most interstate off-ramps.
The people here don’t love me. I’ve been glared out of nearly any kind of establishment you can think of. The south is a place where there are crosses in sight nearly everywhere you go and Mitch McConnell has been voted repeatedly back into office since 1984. They play country music in the Dairy Queen and everyone has a Ford pickup (“because they’re made in the USA!”). It’s a place where speaking in tongues isn’t crazy but being transgender sure is.
Everyone I know wants to leave. They set their sights on Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon. Out in the west where everything is bigger, more open, more open-minded. A place where they might feel safe.
But Kentucky is my home. I love it from deep within my bones. The hills nestle you into them, lovingly, nurturing. In the summer, the air presses into your lungs like it has something burning to say. The forests here are more alive than any other place I have seen; the cicadas sing nonstop and the greenery is so lush that it holds you. A teacher once dubbed it “the sacred yoni” and I have since longed for nothing but mother earth’s embrace. I feel her magic everywhere.
Y’all. I can’t leave. I love these people the way you can only love the people where you come from. I love all of the brave queer kids and the scared queer adults and everyone in between. I love the homeless men begging for the kind of change that you can’t pull out of a wallet. I love the hills and the rivers and the trees.
Someone has to stay. Someone has to make it a better place.