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Being LGBTQ in Appalachia

Kyra Soleil-Dawe
Kyra Soleil-Dawe

Do people who identify asLGBTQstruggle for acceptance in Appalachia? In this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia, we explore how ideas about gender are changing across the country and in the region.

 

Still, some people, like 20-year-old Soleil-Dawe, who lives in Shepherdstown and identifies as gender queer, have found that coming out to their family isn’t easy.

 

“Do you care about your perceptions of girl and boy more, or do you care about your kid more?” Kyra told West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Liz McCormick. “And I think that those are the lessons my family’s learning right now, that I’m learning right now as well. But I love them dearly; they love me back. We’re working out the kinks in between.”

 

How Does Appalachian Culture Affect Gender Identity?

“In Appalachia culture, which is a valid culture, they have very strong views on what is masculine and what is feminine,” said Dr. Darlene Daneker, an Associate Professor in the Counseling Department at Marshall University. She’s had several peer-reviewed publications on gender identity, and for the past three years, she’s worked to counsel transgender people, both adults and teens.

 

At the same time, Daneker says transgender people are finding acceptance here in the Mountain State. “It's not like these people aren't loved by anybody. Their moms and dads and their family love them, and so they're not outcasts. That's one really big benefit for Appalachians in West Virginia.”

Daneker recently spoke with Inside Appalachia’s Jessica Lilly to discuss how changing attitudes towards gender are affecting teens and adults in West Virginia.

  Q Daily

 

This NPR story from WNYC'sYasmeen Khannfollows the story of a child who was biologically born female, but started identifying as a male at 3 years old. He is right on the cusp of puberty, and is now starting to face the reality that they have to make a decision before puberty really sets in. Q is a vibrant, happy child with many hobbies and interests. But he has some tough choices to make on the road ahead of him.

 

Bill Richards

 

As a small child, Bill Richards remembers always feeling sort of feminine. He grew up in Rainelle, West Virginia, and spent lots of time with his family. Although once he got to high school, he thought that he was just a normal, sexual guy. Later he found a book called City of Night, which he claims changed his life forever. He started realizing that he really had an interest in gay life, but his family didn’t accept it. When Bill returned to West Virginia after being in Chicago for some time, he relinquished his gay identity and married a woman. He quickly found that he couldn’t live a lie, but the law caught up to him even faster, as he told Trey Kay for the Us and Them Podcast.

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The Struggle to Stay

 

It’s nothing unusual to think about leaving your hometown after you graduate high school, but sometimes it’s not an option to leave, and sometimes, as we’ve heard, leaving can be difficult and expensive, too. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

 

The past few months, we’ve introduced you to three Appalachians onThe Struggle to Stayseries.Recently, we’ve heard from 20-year-old Kyra Soleil-Dawe in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, who, at the age of 17, started a small theater group calledWhiskey Shine and Pantomime Productions, or WSP. Kyra hopes WSP will become credible theater group – one that’s recognized and taken seriously. Achieving this dream is part of  Kyra’s struggle to stay.

Kyra identifies as gender fluid and prefers they, them, and their pronouns. In this episode, we’ll talk more about changing attitudes toward gender.  

  

Opening night of Hamlet. Lydia Johnson and Kyra Soleil-Dawe sit together at a table selling tickets. October 20, 2016.
Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
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Opening night of Hamlet. Lydia Johnson and Kyra Soleil-Dawe sit together at a table selling tickets. October 20, 2016.

 

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from WNYC, NPR’s Weekend Edition and the Us and Them podcast. Music in today’s show was provided by Marisa Anderson, David Mumford, Michael Howard and Kaela Drew.

Inside Appalachia is produced by Jessica Lilly and Roxy Todd. Jesse Wright is our executive producer. Scott Finn edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Claire Hemme helped with our digital correspondence. We’d love to hear from you. Send us tweet @InAppalachia.

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Copyright 2017 West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Jessica Lilly
Jessica Lilly covers southern West Virginia for West Virginia Public Radio and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning, the station’s daily radio news program and during afternoon newscasts.
Roxy Todd
Roxy Todd is a reporter and co-producer for Inside Appalachia and has been a reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting since 2014. Her stories have aired on NPR’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Marketplace. She’s won several awards, including a regional AP Award for best feature radio story, and also two regional Edward R. Murrow awards for Best Use of Sound and Best Writing for her stories about Appalachian food and culture.