Issue 09/Summer 14

Queer Pioneer

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Steve Squall

Julie Wilson

Megan Wilde

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Gunnar Deatherage

Isidro Valencia

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Beauty queen. African American. Queer. Three strikes? Or three is the magic number? Labels, as Djuan Trent sees it, are a necessary … well, not evil, just a necessity sometimes. “When it comes to labeling yourself, it’s hard to get away from that,” she admits. “As much as most of us are like, ‘Don’t label me, I’m a human being’ - but labels are things that help us define and understand things, that’s how you can look in the refrigerator and tell the difference between Miracle Whip and mayo.”

But deciding how to define yourself after coming out of the closet isn’t as easy as choosing your favorite condiment. Especially when your “past life” has a following all its own.

Google Djuan and you’ll find many things: - Djuan Trent, Miss Kentucky 2010 - Djuan Trent, who finished in the top 10 of the Miss America competition in 2011

And then a string of reports on her coming out; articles in People, on Huffington Post, New York Daily News and the one that started it all, the post on her blog, Life in 27, where she outed herself. No disrespect to Djuan, but why all the fuss? It has to do with one label in particular: queer. “There’s been a lot of hoopla about me using the word ‘queer,’” she says. “When I was going through the whole process of my journey, I went through the terms ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ and those were fine, but when I discovered the term ‘queer,’ it just kind of stuck with me.”

You can upload a photo online to see what you would look like as a brunette with a pixie cut. You can try on a swimsuit to see if it’s the right style for your body type. But defining your sexuality is quite different - there’s no off-the-rack option or one-size-fits-all choice, especially when you defined yourself as heterosexual for the first 25 years of your life. “I like the term ‘queer’ because I think it’s one of those things that encompasses and embraces the fluidity of sexuality,” she explains.

“There’s been a lot of hoopla about me using the word ‘queer.’”

She realizes that identifying herself as queer can result in even more questions. “I’m also very welcoming of questioning, so people who don’t know what queer means or want to know my personal definition, I’m totally open to that.”

Yet if you do Google Djuan, you will see some media outlets identifying her as lesbian. It’s not incorrect, just not her personal association. “I had a hard time just saying I’m a lesbian because a lot of the lesbians I knew were women who felt they never had any kind of connection with a man; they could never be with a man because it felt completely unnatural to them, and that wasn’t my story,” she says. “I have been with men, and it was never something like ‘Eww, this feels so unnatural.’”

Sexual fluidity - you’ll find blogs and books written on the subject, but for Djuan it’s about being open to love, pure and simple. “To me it’s understanding that we as human beings reserve the right to be attracted to a person, to a soul, and not necessarily the sex that’s attached to that,” she explains. “You could go through your whole life being attracted to only men or only women and then you meet that one person who’s not what you had been attracted to, but that’s OK because you have that connection and it works.”

She realizes that her newfound realization may take some by surprise. I mean, an African-American beauty queen who is now gay? But the opposite is just as divergent for Djuan. “There are some lesbians who I went to college with who were 100% lesbian all day, every day,” she says. “Now I see them on Facebook and they say ‘I’m getting married to Prince Charming and we’re having all the babies’ and that’s totally fine. They found love, and I’m not mad at that.”

It would be a hollow sentiment if she was perturbed by it since she’s not exactly the same woman she was when she attended Berea College. She danced around the idea of a relationship with a young woman at school, finally repressing the notion when her Christian roots kept deflecting the possibility. “Eventually I was like, ‘We can’t continue on at this because it’s not of God, and I have prayed and prayed about this and I am not gay and I cannot do this with you.’”

And she didn’t stop there, steamrolling her instincts to try and get her friend to deny her sexuality. “I said ‘I will continue to pray for you, too. Because you need to change your life,” she says. “And she looked at me like ‘Girl, I know about myself. You need to come out of the closet to yourself.’ So that was that.”

“So if I tell her, she is going to say something unfiltered and in five minutes she won’t remember it … but for the rest of my life I will.”

For a while anyway, until Djuan remembered a piece of maternal advice she had held onto since the fourth grade. “I remember asking my mom one day ‘Is it wrong to like looking at women’s bodies?’” she says. “My mother told me there is nothing wrong with the human body, it’s beautiful. It’s the human mind and thought that perverts. I kind of took that and put it in my back pocket.”

She references that sage wisdom even now, at 27, when thinking about how she finally came out to her mother, Lafondra Gaudette. Although the fourth-grade Djuan told her mother she was gay, her mother thought it might have been a phase. Then right after New Year’s 2013, Djuan put any doubts to rest. “She basically already knew, but she wanted me to admit it to her. When I did, she said she already knew, so I said ‘Why are we having this conversation?’

“She did express that she thought since I continued to date men since the time before I had come out to her, that it was a phase that I had gotten past,” Djuan continues.

Relationships with men had indeed been a part of Djuan’s past, in part due to her continuous denial. “All of the guys I dated, I would tell them ‘So I think you need to know this about me. I used to be attracted to girls but now I’m not anymore. I prayed it away and that’s a part of my life that doesn’t exist anymore,’” she says.

OK, time to get real, and it was a former boyfriend who pushed her to look in the mirror. “So toward the end of my last relationship with a guy named Mike, I met a girl and I was obviously interested in her. He and I talked about it and he just told me, ‘I really think you need to stop denying yourself and this is something you need to open yourself up to and figure it out.’ So I was like OK? OK!” To this day Mike, now a good friend, is one of her biggest supporters.

As is her brother, Xavier Gaudette, and one of her aunts, the one who dubbed her “Superbaby” when Djuan was a child. “She just called and told me how much she loves me and said ‘I believe I have always called you Superbaby for a reason because you really are just super, you live the way you live and you don’t let anything stop you and you inspire people in that way.’ That just really encouraged me. Well, all right, superbaby’s on her way!”

Raised by her grandparents in Georgia, Djuan has a strong sense of family. So strong in fact that it’s deterred her from actually coming out to her grandmother and grandfather. “I’m still putting a lot of thought into that for the simple fact that 1) my grandmother has dementia, which means a couple of things: she has no filter and she remembers things in cycles of five minutes. So if I tell her, she is going to say something unfiltered and in five minutes she won’t remember it … but for the rest of my life I will.”

This is not her grandparents’ first brush with homosexuality; their son/Djuan’s uncle is gay, and her grandfather still questions if he played a role in his son’s sexuality. “He still asks himself to this day what he did to make my uncle gay,” she explains. “I have tried to explain to him many times that there is nothing he did or did not do.”

Even after enduring an internal tug-o-war of her own, she has come to this reconciliation but doesn’t think her grandfather can. “So it’s not something I would want to hide from him because I’m ashamed but it’s one of those things like, they’re my grandparents and I don’t know how much time they have left, but I want to enjoy that time with them and if there’s anything I can do to relieve a stress from them I will.”

Having lived most of her life as a straight, Christian, African-American beauty queen, that is a lot to mask. When asked if she feels she missed out on a different life than what she had, Djuan is pensive. “I believe everything happens the way it’s supposed to, so the way I’ve lived my life and the way things are unfolding now are the way things are supposed to happen.”

Even if that means putting her personal life under a microscope. “At first I thought ‘This is great, visibility.’ But now I’m thinking like my personal life has been put on blast for the world.” And it has. A sonic blast … an unexpected, en masse double-take so powerful that bystanders could feel the wind gust as heads turned. All because of the blog post. “It’s not one of those things that I really ever thought about because, No. 1, I never knew that this blog was going to do what it did,” she admits.

So now finding a balance between her personal and private lives is high on Djuan’s radar, but she’s also ready to take advantage of the spotlight while it’s still on her. “I really do think about every move that I make - I know I’m not Beyonce even though sometimes I think I am,” she laughs, “but at same time I know there are eyes on me.” And what do those eyes see? “A queer woman of color who now has a little bit of a platform to make some difference with.”

A platform built in Kentucky. “A lot of people when they think of Kentucky they think we are backwards or incredibly conservative or not very progressive,” Djuan proclaims. “In some ways I can understand why people would think that way, but there is this amazing grassroots effort and community that is happening in Kentucky.”

And part of that community has openly expressed their gratitude to this multi-labeled Kentucky girl. “I’ve had people approach me and say ‘Hey, I really love your blog, and I’m so glad that you did that and thank you.’ And I’m just like …” (she clutches her heart). “That melts my heart and that’s another sign that I’m doing the right thing.”

Right on.

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