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For queer youth, gender violence & opioids more urgent than recipe swaps

For queer youth, gender violence & opioids more urgent than recipe swaps

Remember zines, those gritty, handmade magazines that were the hallmark of the punk scene?

At least one is still alive and booming. Electric Dirt: A Celebration of Queer Voices and Identities from Appalachia and the South might have a vaguely academic subtitle, but inside, it’s all heart. Fear, hope, pride, humor, and anger blare from its pages, representing the gamut of queer concerns.

Textile art from Alexander Hernandez, published in the zine.

Textile art by Alexander Hernandez, published in the zine.

“One of the first things I think about when I meet up with friends and we are going to walk somewhere,” writes one queer, disabled person, “is if they are going to leave me behind.”

This worry makes me pause. I qualify as queer too, but I’ve rarely considered the dread disabled people must feel over a simple walk.

Flipping through the zine’s pages, I also stop on a photo of a bearded person wearing eye shadow and cradling an autoharp, seemingly enrapt with the instrument, the performance, or maybe both.

A few pages later, I’m chuckling at the “Trillbilly Crossword,” which includes the words “Antifa,” “Elegy,” “Mothman,” “Neoliberal,” and “Smut” and, then, I’m wincing at words from a queer, Southern, Muslim who was raped at age 19. “This is what happens to us,” she says, “Everyone I know has been through this or another kind of violence.”

It’s disorienting to encounter so many perspectives this way, smushed together in the tight, seemingly haphazard layout common to zines. Imagine sticking your face right up against the contrasting fabrics of a crazy quilt. It’s overwhelming, but that’s kind of the point, according to Gina Mamone, founder of Queer Appalachia, the project behind the publication. Mamone (who goes by a last name) says the group intentionally published work from professional writers “right next to a trans Muslim of color who has a GED and has never seen their name in print.”

Photograph by @ErinOly, published in the zine.
Photograph by @ErinOly, published in the zine.

Even for me, a gay guy from the region, it’s a powerful reminder that there are thousands of ways to be queer in Appalachia, and this “everybody under the tent” approach is reaching a lot of people. The first run of Electric Dirt’s premiere issue has sold out, and Queer Appalachia has nearly 50,000 followers across Instagram and Facebook.

But the project isn’t just about giving voice to the voiceless. It also follows the lead of young activists—the heart of its readership—by tackling some of Appalachia’s most pressing issues. “Queers in their 20s,” says Mamone, “they're fighting bathroom laws that police their bodies and gender presentation in real time...They're starting needle exchanges and narcan workshops in their backyards.”

From Global Inheritance Installation, published in the zine.

Hazel Dickens Rubiks Cube from Global Inheritance Installation, published in the zine.

Though this generation draws from Appalachia’s progressive history, which encompasses early 20th century mine wars and the 1960’s back to the earth movement, Mamone sees important differences.

“Passing along a recipe for a stack cake is not something they're interested in, [but] creating a space for dialogue about why more black trans women are murdered in the South than any other place in this country—we’re going to show up to that.”

There are actually a few recipes in Electric Dirt, but the point stands. Most of the zine’s pages focus on overlooked Appalachian people and big Appalachian problems. For Mamone and the other leaders of this burgeoning movement, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

“No one can enjoy that stack cake if they are dead.”

Born Of It

A poem by Xander Stewart, published in "Electric Dirt"

I rose from low tide
and weak tabernacle oors
I rose from brine-preserved beliefs
and hymnals hoisted up like sails
I rose from oyster bed
raw, shucked, and fucked
no pearl to be found
I rose from a gulf gospel
echoed by gulls overhead
I rose from parched tongue proverbs
and a pilgrim’s perseverance
I rose from swollen stern
swells strong
shouting of saints
I rose, already sinking
I rose not knowing the way
navigating only by the
and knots in our navels
by guess and by god
I rose from driftwood deliverance
between the devil and the deep
i’ll cut the corn off the cob for you
because you swear it taste sweeter
that way
and that’s how your grandma did it for you
in the kitchen on sundays
barefoot boy in a dress
honey thick for a biscuit
thicker than the blood that proved
when you decided no more dresses
honey sweet, honey slow
like the hymns you hum still
while the collards reduce
we break biscuits like they tried to
break you
tried to bridle their boy with satin
and “she”
tried to pray away pieces of you
on this particular morning your smile
like leaven
is making it easy to rise and continue
through the heat of the summer
last night, I came to you with an
alabaster tin
grew my hair long for anointed your
so next time you have to go home
you can remember me when you
remove your shoes
as if on holy ground
yesterday afternoon, you entered
your old home
you sat in the living room
and took inventory of the changes
made since you left, seven years ago
a photo above the replace serves
to preserve the image of you they
to the version that sits before them
in the photo, you wear femininity like
a veil that is worn for mourning
you come home exhausted
today, in the unblinking eye of the
I want to take you out on the
eyes squinted from the bright
press you against the ivied wall of
my house
and kiss you until the cicadas sing
of us
and the frogs croak out their vespers
I want to kiss you until the yard is
swallowed in reed and rush
until the kudzu weaves blankets over
the door
until no one can deny the holiness of
our love
or determine any gender as divine
as if the hand of god wrote your dead
name on the wall
they hang your shame over the
contain you to a gilded frame
remember you as you are not
cherish only the earliest memories,
that are mostly gone already
like a tattered covered hymn book,
dog-eared, worn
but tomorrow I’ll remind you that my
banner over you is love
it is love budding like aaron’s rod
it is love for the laceless, graceless
barefoot boy