Wildcrafting Our Queerness: Travels with Maxwell (Update #2)

20190628_193846

One of Bob Morgan’s assemblage sculptures on display at the 21C Lexington Pride tent

While the most exciting element of my trip was meeting, talking to, and generally surrounding myself with scores of interesting people, these folks didn’t just come to my little apartment in Morgantown.  Rather, I spent a lot of quality time with the highway as I drove all over West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky.  One major perk (and one of the reasons I chose to do it) of driving to places to talk in person instead of staying home or talking online is the opportunity to explore the new areas I’m visiting and learn from my surroundings as well as the people. Moreover, many of the individuals and groups I talked to expanded beyond their online presence to host events—concerts, art shows, meetups, etc. Driving around all heck and creation was the only way I could attend these events and participate in them.

Listing off every single thing I did on my trip would be tedious and boring and useless, so here’s a quick rundown (in chronological order!) of some of the places and events I visited.

 

 

West Virginia University Downtown Campus Library: One of the first places I visited after arriving to Morgantown. This library (not quite as nice as Swem but still lovely) houses the West Virginia and Regional History Center, touted as one of the largest collections of historical texts relating to West Virginia and Appalachia. My first instinct was to come here and search for any and all material related to LGBTQ+ history and culture in their archives but, unfortunately, there was only one such document: the constitution for the Homophile Awareness League of WVU from 1975. While interesting, these archives were unfortunately not the most helpful for researching the historical context for the groups and people I am talking to in the present day. This is a prevalent problem in government-run archives of queer life, something I hope to investigate in my research going forward.  There was some silver lining to this lack though as the absence of any material drove me to look elsewhere, resulting in me finding the Faulkner-Morgan Archives, which I will discuss in a moment.

Coopers Rock State Forest: Not all of my trips were with an academic goal in mind. Many weekends that I was not researching, I would try to find some way to occupy my time with local attractions. Coopers Rock State Forest was recommended by many locals I encountered as the best place to take a day hike. This was evident in the many beautiful views and natural rock formations and dense forested areas that I encountered for the afternoon I was hiking.

A quick thought: National Parks are always an interesting space of conflict for me. While I think it’s important to enjoy and preserve the natural beauty of your surroundings, many National Parks do so at the expense of the indigenous groups that once occupied the land. I was saddened (though not surprised) to find little mention on the park’s website of the indigenous groups from whom the land was taken. Thanks to lovely Native Land Map (https://native-land.ca/), I learned that the park I was hiking was at one point a part of the Osage Nation.  The Osage Nation is still active and doing good work towards cultural preservation and education, both historical and contemporary. More information and donation resources can be found at their website, https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/.

20190612_183822

Pro-gay pamphlet spread by Peter Taylor and the GLF throughout the University of Kentucky–an example of proto-zine culture.  Part of the Faulkner-Morgan Archives’ collection. 

20190612_184619

A flyer for an upcoming “Gay Rights Cha Cha” on the UK campus, from the Faulkner-Morgan archives’ collection. A bold use of academic space, especially in the 1970s.

Faulkner-Morgan Archives: Found through an article in the first issue of Queer Appalachia’s magazine Electric Dirt, these archives are directed by Jon Coleman and contain thousands of documents ranging from photos to paintings to pamphlets to letters to oral histories, all documenting the queer history of Kentucky from just after the Revolutionary War to the present day.  The archives began once Jon Coleman and Bob Morgan met and began thinking about what to do with Morgan’s extensive collection of photographs, art, and other texts from people that he had known and from the collection of his mentor, Henry Faulkner.  I first visited the archives on June 12th to look through their collection of material related to people from eastern Kentucky, which is a part of Appalachia.  Among these artifacts included pamphlets from University of Kentucky’s burgeoning Gay Liberation Front, an organization headed up by Peter Taylor and forbidden by the school, leading to an intense legal battle. I also saw numerous flyers, many of them very *raunchy,* from numerous art shows at Lexington’s famous Crossings Bar, one central hub of the city’s gay scene.  My favorite piece in the archives that I saw (though unrelated to my research) was a pair of Andy Warhol’s underpants, drawn on with a sharpie.  Apparently, these underpants were a gift to Shae Metcalf, a Kentucky resident who and heartthrob among many gay celebrities, including Warhol. Metcalf wore these white briefs to a party hosted by Keith Haring back in the 1990s. I’ll talk more extensively about the archives in a future post on the different ways of rural queer folks preserve their legacies.

Appalshop: Appalshop is an art, cultural, and community center in the little town of Whitesburg, Kentucky.  For half a century (2019 is their 50th anniversary!), they’ve worked to preserve the cultural heritage of eastern Kentucky and Appalachia as a whole, often paying special attention to the marginalized groups within in the region. I first visited Appalshop on June 13th to sit and talk with Dustin Hall (@birdsdeadbutshesnot on Instagram), a painter from the Whitesburg area who is the youngest person in the center’s history to have an independent show of his work.  Appalshop’s contemporary work can be seen on Instagram @appalshop.

20190614_191253

A homemade Operation game from the Harm Reduction Carnival. The pieces in the body represent the different aspects of life that are removed when abortion access is restricted. Note the gender neutrality of the person!

Reproduction Justice & Harm Reduction Carnival: On June 14th in Charleston, West Virginia, the Queer Appalachia Project (@queerappalachia) and Holler Health Justice (@hollerhealthjustice) hosted this public event to raise awareness, money, and community solidarity for both abortion rights in Appalachia as well as harm reduction for the mounting opioid crisis in the region. Complete with abortion-themed carnival games, popcorn spiced with ramp seasoning, and plenty of stickers and art for sale, the event served as a publicly accessible introduction to many of the issues currently facing the region. Most importantly, the event had a series of tables set up where condoms, Plan B, Narcan kits, and pamphlets containing important information on various harm reduction topics such as methods and sites for safe injection. As I will discuss further in a future blog post on the Queer Appalachia Project, harm reduction clinics are few and far between in West Virginia, so events like this can literally be a lifesaver for many people who would otherwise have nowhere to look.

20190620_141231

One of Bob Morgan’s assemblage sculptures on display at the Lexington Art League

The Loudoun House: The Loudoun House, now home to the Lexington Art League, is one of the five remaining examples of Gothic Revival villas in the United States. Built in 1850 for the millionaire Francis Key Hunt (cousin of Francis Scott Key), the building became public property of the city of Lexington in 1984 and has since been the site for dozens of art exhibitions and public festivals.  I first visited this building on June 20th, where I met with Bob Morgan to conduct our oral history. Bob had a series of sculptures based on the life of Siddhartha Gautama showing at the time in an exhibition called “Portals and Passages.” Part of his oral history session involves his process and inspiration behind these many striking pieces.

Travelin’ Appalachians Revue Summer Tour – Beckley, WV: The Travelin’ Appalachians Revue (@travelinappalachiansrevue) is an art collective based out of Morgantown, West Virginia that works to encourage arts and culture and activism that includes voices contrary to stereotypical expectations of Appalachia, including artists and activists that are people of color, indigenous, queer, and left of center.  During the month of June, the group travelled all around West Virginia and Kentucky to give a free show of music and poetry readings for the public while also connecting different artists and giving them a space to sell their work.  I first went to one of their events on June 26th in Beckley, West Virginia.  Here, I purchased some books of poetry from Ezra Mars, the narrator of one of the oral history sessions I conducted, as well as a copy of the TAR magazine of arts and literature.  Much like the Harm Reduction Carnival, the Queer Appalachia Project also had a table at the show full of condoms, Plan B, Narcan kits, and harm reduction pamphlets free for anyone to take.

Travelin’ Appalachians Revue Summer Tour – Lexington, KY: After driving for many hours from Beckley to Lexington, I found myself at the Green Lantern, a bar downtown that Jon Coleman described to me as “pretty queer.” A bit more music-heavy than the night before, I got to hear the very raucous and very wonderful stylings of Bralette (@noisebarbie), a “queer industrial” duo from Lexington, as well as numerous other country, folk, and old-time performers. I also had the good pleasure of reconnecting with Raina Rue and her partner Vann (@junipermoonfolkarts) while they sold their pins to the visitors.  Another standout performer from the evening was Misty Skaggs, a no-nonsense Appalachian poet with an incredible knack for biting verses about a broad array of topics from former lovers to public perceptions of Appalachia. The Queer Appalachia Project was absent that evening (Mamone was headed to DC for an exhibit opening of theirs at the Hirshhorn) but the table of harm reduction supplies was still in full operation, underscoring the mission of social outreach that TAR is built on.

Institute 193: My final trip to Lexington was a particularly eventful one. The day after the show at the Green Lantern, I returned to Institute 193 (@institute193) to attend the gallery opening for the work of Eric Rhein (@ericrheinart), a New York photographer and sculptor with roots in Appalachia. Much of his photographs are incredibly intimate portraits of lovers and friends that highlight an almost angelic purity in some cases, a bold way to portray gay men in the 1990s at the height of the AIDS crisis.  Along with meeting Eric Rhein and seeing his art, this gallery opening was a reunion of sorts of many of the people I had met so far. Bob Morgan and Jon Coleman were both there and introduced me to Peter Taylor, who I later conducted an oral history with, Silas House, a gay Appalachian novelist who very kindly gave me a signed copy of his recent book Southernmost, as well as a few oral historians working in Appalachia who pointed me to numerous invaluable resources. Bralette also made an appearance, as they were putting on a show right down the street for Lexington Pride. Speaking of which…

20190619_175205

Lexington’s rainbow crosswalks: all ready for Pride!

Lexington Pride: Immediately after the gallery opening, I stepped right outside onto North Limestone Street, where the center of the Lexington Pride festival was just getting underway. More of a party than anything particularly academic, I got to wander around the dozens of booths with pride flags and greasy food and drag queens and poets and artists. I even managed to impress the directors of the 21C (a hotel/art gallery in Lexington) tent by correctly identifying one of their sculptures on display as Bob Morgan’s.  This massive block party rounded up my final long trip to Lexington and I spent the five hours driving home to Morgantown giddy with leftover energy and academic excitement.

 

This rounds up the two introductory posts about my research in the hills. Coming in the next few days will be a more academic (though I’ll try to keep the language deflated for my own sanity as well as y’alls) overview of a central concept to my research, metronormativity. Keep an eye out!