Each week the Honey newsletter includes a column from women and LGBTQ folks in the South, in collaboration with See Jane Write. We’re always looking for more stories from you. Click here to learn more about how to get published.

By Joi Miner

Southerners like their food deep fried, their liquor on the rocks and their marriages straight. Being queer in the South, I find myself faced with the “ewwww you’re gay” mindset more often than not. The flip side is just as bad, being fetishized like my love is a six-minute porn clip for men to fantasize about. Now it’s my turn to say “ewwwww.”

Being gay in the South is an ostracized existence, where I must carry “Black Lives Matter” on my right shoulder, “Love is Love” on my left and “No Means No” around my waist. Parents think they broke you or “it’s just a phase.” Men swear you just haven’t had the right man to take you out of your gayness, and churches want to drown you in holy water and feed you partial scriptures like bread and wine on first Sundays. You’re an abominable-embarrassing-threating-phantasmal gumbo every day.

To clarify, I live in the great state of Alabama, where magistrates stopped conducting courthouse nuptials merely for the sake of avoiding marrying homosexuals. Now, all you do is sign this yearbook-style register “Me + You = I Do” and boom, your “’till death do us part” is finalized.

[Southern Black queer icons you should follow along with Lil Nas X]

If my description sounds a bit juvenile, it was intended that way. Shotgun weddings were okay. But homosexual marriages shut things down. For most, that may make them shy away from the idea of loving who they love openly. I get it. I was there. But for me, it was an indication that there was something special and powerful about being lesbian and openly expressing my love for my partner. It took me 30 years to come out of the closet and going back in was not an option for me. So I picked up the boulder of my sexuality and hoisted it up to tote around proudly. I mean, I was already Black and proud, proudly a woman, so why not be a whole, in yo’ face, flaming lesbian, too. Add it to the spice of the recipe of me.

Since coming out, I’ve been asked why I stayed in the South. To which I coyly reply, “good eatin’.” But I didn’t leave because there’s work to be done here. So many times, people up and leave a place that doesn’t suit their lifestyles. But for someone like me, I’d rather stay here and make others uncomfortable for their judgment of something that has nothing to do with them at all. Who I love is my business. What’s it to you? So instead of tucking my tail and running, calling some other place home, I chose to stay where my heart is and plant seeds for future growth. Leaving the problem doesn’t make it go away. And I knew that this was something that wasn’t going away without the voices of those who were enduring the struggle.

What if MLK had chosen to just go North? What if Harriet Tubman hadn’t come back to free others? To be fair, for every MLK and Harriet, there were thousands of others who made the choice to leave for a place that was better suited for them. And there’s nothing wrong with that. However, for me, I wasn’t going to be run out of my home because of what I did… inside of my home. Injustice is rooted in ignorance, and the South has always been known to be well behind any learning curve. So I sharpened my horn, spit shined my rainbow and stepped out into the Deep South as 30-something, lesbian single mother of two.

Whew child, let me tell you… being a unicorn ain’t easy. My first step was to look for community. I went searching for other unicorns who were existing in this space, longer than I had been, who could offer advice and camaraderie through this journey. In my unrealistically hopeful mind, I thought that I would emit some kind of gay ray and would start being recognized in grocery stores, at the gym, and at parties as a lesbian. That bubble was burst rather quickly, unfortunately.

[Minnie Bruce Pratt on being targeted by anti-LGBTQ laws in North Carolina]

Finding other out individuals was like, well, looking for a unicorn in a metro city. Almost impossible. They were in hiding, I thought. Or maybe I was looking in the wrong places for them. But after I’d raised almost every boulder, looked in every cave and crevice, I realized that I might just have a lonely existence. Not only could I not find anyone to date in my area, but there weren’t any real places that we congregated.

Now don’t get me wrong; there’s a whole month of events dedicated to us. But it wasn’t for the ebony-toned unicorns, if you get my drift. All of the organizations that I found on Google were geared towards white lesbians. There was nowhere for a Black unicorn to socialize with other Black unicorns, it seemed.

And then… it happened. I met a girl. I was invited to perform at a Pride poetry event. I was introduced to 3L SSC, a lesbian Social Savings Club. And I ran into a dear friend that I had lost touch with over the years who hosts lesbian events called Meow Mixxx. Soon after, I was introduced to the Magic City Acceptance Center and The Hub: Birmingham, now known as El Centro, both safe spaces for gay, bi, and trans youth. I was in there like swimwear! And I dove in with both feet.

[Black woman-owned rideshare app launches in Atlanta to offer female, LGBTQ safety]

Since I came out, Birmingham Black Pride has been founded and is going on its fourth year this August. I have attended parties, rallies and events focused on our niche group specifically. I’ve auditioned and been cast in an LGBTQ+ web series, been a storytelling feature for AIDS Alabama and OUTSpoken, delved into the lesbian fiction genre in my writing career (because representation matters), and most recently, I was recruited to be part of the Community Advisory Group, for a lesbian study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

A common mindset amongst all of the activists and leaders in our community that I have had the pleasure of knowing, interacting with and calling friends, is “there was no space for us, so we created one.” That’s something that I’m humble to be a part of, even if not actively. Being present to watch the growth and OUTness of Queer People of Color (QPOC) in my state and throughout the Deep South has been inspiring.

The only thing that truly separates a change and things staying the same, is someone being willing to step out of line, and tread a path in a new direction. And I’m so glad to say that I see steps being taken every day for those who are currently out and the future generations. We have a long way to go, both in, and out of our community, but I’m so proud to be able to say that we’ve started.

There have been hiccups along the way. Many men are still trying to make me “un-gay” since I have children, which means that I’d been with a man at least twice in my life. I don’t fit any of the labels that were out there, so I coined my own — Stud In Stilettos— that doubled as my debut lesbian fiction novel. I’ve even been told that I am “a lesbian passing as a straight woman,” which loosely translated to mean that I don’t look gay enough. But I take all of that with a grain of salt that added spice to this life that I had been waiting my entire existence to live and enjoy— openly.

I stand proudly in my Queerness. In my Blackness. In my Uniqueness. And every time I’m faced with a naysayer or a judgmental comment, I push my shoulders back, hold my head high, and strut right on by, serving the conundrum of my Black Queerness up to them Southern-Style.

Joi Miner is a full-time author-preneur, editor, performance poet, storyteller, and sexual assault and domestic violence activist who loves spending time with her family, hosting shows, and listening to good music. The mother of two beautiful daughters, she’s from Montgomery, AL and currently resides in Birmingham, AL.