EM J: Hello, Rachel! Thank you for joining me in my late Pride celebrations corner of the internet. I’m really happy you were able to make some time in your schedule to talk with me about what you’ve been up to lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersections between queerness, domesticity, and U.S. Southern culture, so I was hoping, as someone who shares some of these same identity markers, you would let me probe your brain about it.
RACHEL: Hello, Em J! I’m thrilled you reached out and I’d love to chat on these topics.
EM J: Great! I have found, over the years, that carving a space for queerness in the context of the rural South is something that requires you to rework many of the metropolitan stereotypes of what queerness is/looks like, even those that have been created by queer folks. Have you experienced anything like this? What has that looked like for you?
RACHEL: Oh, absolutely, and I think it goes both ways. Dating is really hard for queer folx in small towns. It’s not that there aren’t a lot of us; it’s that outing ourselves is difficult in places where hetero-individuals have limited understanding or experience in (knowingly) knowing us. It’s scary, whether locals don’t mind our sexuality but won’t defend us, or if they group us as big ol’ sins waiting on a baseball bat and/or a bus to Hell.
I’m straight-passing but not on purpose. I don’t fit in any boxes, except the Southern one. I don’t claim a straight life and will not deny myself if asked. Minding my own business is what keeps me safe, both physically and financially. All that said, because us rural individuals aren’t always loud about our existence, folx in metropolitan areas sometimes don’t think we exist and we can’t find each other in the boonies. Dating is hard, near and far, all because a rural identity has preconceptions from both directions and both sides are hesitant to see rural queerness as a reality.
EM J: Absolutely. A lot of the time “passing” also just has a lot to do with anonymity, which is more difficult in rural areas. You also do editing work for several journals (Screen Door Review, Hobo Camp Review, cahoodaloodaling), and Screen Door Review in particular caters to Southern queer voices. One of the tragic things that I feel like I see happen over and over, is that queer magazines end up having to close up shop because of lack of funds, staff, resources, etc. Do you have any thoughts/tips on this phenomenon?
RACHEL: It’s not easy, honestly. Our first year or so at Screen Door Review was bumpy. We’ve settled on a solid staff at this point–which ultimately came down to finding a mutual connection among everyone who wants the same thing from our journal. Both Alesha Dawson and Emma Bolden are a dream to work with and between the three of us, we have a wide-reaching aesthetic that allows us to host a warm home with diverse voices in our issues.
Developing a readership is the big thing. We’re still small but we’re good to everyone we publish and our reputation is expanding as both eager and honest. We don’t care about acclaim; we want, instead, to get queer writers heard and noticed. It’s about them, never us. We want the queer South to be amplified and celebrated, for the world to know we won’t be hushed to protect outdated notions.
EM J: Having a good relationship between editor/writer/reader is always more important than acclaim, for sure. Okay, on a fun note: you and I are both big fans of cooking. I don’t know about you, but I have certain dishes that are kind of my go-to’s to cook for friends. What’s your favorite dish to cook for others? Have you found any new, fun ones during quarantine that you’d like to share?
RACHEL: The funny thing is I cannot follow a recipe! I make up everything I cook on the fly and only gained an interest in concocting my own creations when I became a vegetarian several years ago. I really enjoy the flavor combinations a veggie-based diet offers and am forever experimenting with different spices. I’m kind of obsessed with cabbage lately! From cabbage steaks to frying it in chili powder and vinegar, I love making meals around such a budget-friendly and healthy vegetable.
EM J: Lastly, as the purpose of this little series of interviews is to create some queer community where we can, I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on how to keep up company with fellow queer folk while still being socially responsible? RACHEL: I mean, there’s always Screen Door Review. Read our journal and follow us on Twitter (@Screen_Door_R). We’ll introduce you to a beautiful slew of LGBTQIA+ writers.
Other than that, I’m a bit old-fashioned and stick to postcards/letters. It feels good to reach out, especially in a way that’s still personal and takes effort. It might also save the post offices and come on, how great would it be for the history books to say the basic needs of Americans prevailed by way of our neighborhoods’ friendly queers? I’m here for that future.
Texts and social media are life-savers, also. Don’t cave on the basics that held us all together pre-quarantine; we still have the tools to stay in touch. I have to have the interaction. I know who I am, but without the camaraderie found in the queer community, it’s easy to feel forgotten or diminished. I encourage everyone to reach out. Jump in on a conversation thread online. Read books by queer writers, and DM them to say you love their work. Speak to friends as often as you ever did, and don’t be hindered by the pandemic. We’ll need the relationships intact when this is all over, when we can see each other face-to-face and gripe in-person about the absurdity of dating apps!