[DISCLAIMER: THE PHOTOGRAPHS HEREIN ARE PROOFS. FINAL EDITS WILL BE MADE IN JUNE.]
These are stories of people who grew up Queer in the South and chose to live life beyond the limitations set upon them by political, social, religious, familial and other persecutions, thereby exiling themselves, making families and homes elsewhere.
CAROLINE LACEY : ALABAMA : EXILED 46 YEARS AGO
I have always said I have been living in exile. When I talk about this, I almost always cry. It's so sad to have to leave your home. I felt the need to leave the South, but still feel so much for the place and just recently realized how much I left behind. I am the first of my family to leave the South permanently and left because I had a need to go to a place where I could be myself. I always knew I was different but didn't label myself as such because all the lesbians I knew of either wound up in jail or in mental institutions. There are so many layers, conflicts and confusions of being gay in the South. My father's brother (Uncle Joe, whose portrait is in the photograph) and sister were both gay. My mother's cousins were gay. We would visit relatives in Mississippi who were gay. We had gay people in our family, but no one ever talked about it. The negative messaging I got was the fact that gay people were absent from everything, even when standing right in front of us. When I was young, my self-esteem was very low, especially by the time I was in junior high. I went out with boys, pretended, and it was around that time I discovered drugs and alcohol. I abused alcohol. I felt like I was a broken toy. Somewhere in my brain was I'm a bad person, I'm a dirty person, I'm an illegal person. I spent a lot of time numbing out. There was a huge streak of crazy in me as a child. I would sit in my room, listening to my radio, crying my eyes out because I knew I would never have what they were singing about. Somewhere Over The Rainbow was a really tragic song for me because it gave me this little bit of hope that things would be okay. But overall I had the drama of thinking I was less than, I was a bad, sick, disgusting person who deserved to be in jail or in a mental house. A combination of things have made me feel joyful and not ashamed. I feel so lucky, so fortunate that my life has turned out this way. Being in Olympia, being out, having a family. There are times I'm around gay people and I'm so happy to be part of that. I've been to numerous Pride Marches going back to when I had to wear a bag over my head for fear of being fired, to the present where I'm there with the kids and we're waving the Rainbow Flag. I don't call that a celebration of being Queer, so much as being a civic duty. I need to do those things.
HANK DOYLE : ARKANSAS : EXILED 22 YEARS AGO
I left the South as soon as I could. It's hard to describe a place that viscerally is home, but isn't in so many ways; weird to talk about a sense of belonging, because we were never an appropriate match. No matter how much I wanted to leave the South, I still love it so. It's always bittersweet to meet other Southerners who have left because they understand. Southerners are story-tellers, one of the greatest gifts I've been given is to both hear and tell stories. The world would be such a better place if we could all tell our stories. The characters we grow up with in the South are outrageous and outlandish. They are both admired and vilified. That balance is always precarious. It doesn't matter who you are, you can always fall out of balance at any time. In that is a lack of safety. My job growing up was to never be a character, to never be identified as different, to fly as low under the radar as possible. I just needed to be a very quiet, good person. That was the only way I wanted to be recognized. Being Queer was the ultimate secret. I lived in absolute fear of being identified as one of these characters that are, in some ways, so beloved and, in others, subject to spectacle. Even when we celebrate these characters, we always make the point of saying: I'm not the same as them. It was always frightening to me. It took me years to stop trying to control what character I was to others. So, when I left the South, I 100% came to the West Coast to transition from female to male. I came here, specifically, because I didn't know anyone. If I needed to get lost, this is where I knew I could do it. At the same time, with people back home, I was trying to be the same person I had always been. So, there were these two personas that I was constantly putting in and out of play. On the one hand there was Henry and, then, there was Molly until, finally, I just had to tell all these folks: I'd really love for you to know who I really am, because I haven't shown that to you for 37 years.
JAY MOHR : TENNESSEE : EXILED 31 YEARS AGO
I was an only child and entertained myself. My parents were older. Mother had me at 40. My parents were insular. Secrets were big in my family. We talked about things in hushed tones. My mother was a child of Jewish immigrants. Both my parents grew up during the Depression. My father was a soldier in the Philippines during World War II. He was a sweetheart. He died when I was 18. I grew up next door to an orthodox rabbi and his five kids. There was an us versus them in my neighborhood. The Jewish kids were scapegoats. I always felt really different, never part of the community as far back as I can remember. Yet, I did have friendships with the Jewish kids. They were more like me. The boys weren't macho. I had feelings for a boy as a teenager, but he didn't know. I didn't get together with anyone until I was 21. My first relationship was with my partner. We were together for 27 years until his death in 2004. I took part in the very first Pride March in Memphis in 1979. When video of that aired on the local news that night, my mother saw it. It took a long time for her to come to terms with the fact I'm gay. Both my parents worked. Mamie was the woman who raised me. She was personable and straightforward, had a wonderful sense of humor. We hung out, went to movies. She persisted in my life. She grew up picking cotton. She was part of that wave of Southern African-Americans who moved northward and, at some point, came back South. She had community there. She lived to be 102. I was, most of the time, before school, after school and on Saturdays, with Black women. Misogyny never made sense. Women ran things. They ran my school, were role models, they were the doers, the towers of strength. They had integrity. I was aware of Dr. King and remember his assassination in my hometown. I had begun to think independently and pick up sociopolitical ideas in the '60s. The South grew close for me, culturally and socially. I got tired of random strangers pushing their racism onto me. I am Semitic, Jewish and white. Other people assumed I was racist. That got to be a big issue. The religiousness was intolerable and oppressive; my partner was ready to move, so we left.
MICHELLE FAYARD : LOUISIANA : EXILED 8 MONTHS AGO
I grew up on the bayou. My parents kicked me out of the house when I was sixteen after my sister told them I liked girls. Later on, my folks hired a private investigator and found out I had a girlfriend. That was it. They told me: You're not welcome here anymore. I didn't have a relationship with anyone in my family for 17 years because of that. I was homeless off and on, living with a bunch of Queer kids in the French Quarter. There's a dynamic. If you play sports really well and make your mama proud, that's one thing. If you're a sporty dyke, that's cool. Not so much if you're a girly girl. People don't love that. It's tricky. My girlfriend and I went into a grocery store where a guy attacked us. Walking around holding your girlfriend's hand is risky behavior. Because it's so oppressive in the South, people tend to pack up and be together more. There's not a need for that here so much. So, it can be lonely. I've been sober 23 years. I knew a group of men I'd been going to meetings with forever. They are old Cajun guys, sweet, good people. My kid wore traditional boy clothing there. To go swimming, she would wear boy trunks and a t-shirt. Those men could not get over it. I had to tell them to leave her alone. It's a real hard dynamic, that misogynistic behavior, because they just don't get it. And it's hard for them to understand a woman like me would date other women. A butch woman, they get, but not this. They would constantly try to set me up with men, try to get me married off. There was a lot of disrespect for my girlfriend. My kid brought me here because, at the very least, she is gender questioning and has been since she was four. I did not want her to grow up in Texas, where we were living at the time. I didn't want to go back to Louisiana because it probably would have been even worse for her. It's hard to be liberal-minded in a red state. There just comes a point where my kid is the age when it's hard to compromise because you just need to get by. That's what living in the South is like.
[PHOTO TO COME]
MIAN BOND-CARVIN : TENNESSEE : EXILED 36 YEARS AGO
I grew up in Memphis, the youngest child and only girl. My mother relished the fact she could dress me up and do my hair (I had my first perm at 18 months!). But I wanted to be more like my brothers, have short hair, play baseball, be independent. I knew from a very early age that I liked girls. It was something I didn't fully comprehend but was sure it was wrong. I felt a kinship to Black people, knowing they were being unfairly judged and worse, and feeling certain the same could happen to me because I, too, was different. I fell in love with my best friend when I was 14. Her parents recorded our phone conversations and ended our friendship because it just wasn't right. I dated boys throughout my teenage years, but all the while knew I wanted to be with girls. I started drinking and doing drugs in junior high, anything to quell the pain of loneliness and confusion. I began a relationship with a friend, during which I turned 18. She was under the age of consent. Her mom find out about us and threatened to have me arrested; another bitter end to a relationship with someone I truly loved. It wasn't until my second year in college that I met other lesbians, a deeply cathartic experience. I came out at 20. As a result, I was disowned by my father. My mother casually said to me: You do know you're going to hell. I moved to California in 1981 and had no real relationship with my family for several years. My folks came around years later, after I became a mother. Their tolerance fluctuates, a result of their political and religious conservatism. Mostly, the topic of my being Queer is not open for discussion. I am censored, unable to talk about issues deeply important to my life. And a lovely life it is.