Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment of Spectrum South Snapshots, a Spectrum South original series highlighting southern queer folks and the communities in which they thrive.
By Josh Inocéncio
Names: Laura Bullard + Kayla E.
Hometowns: Charlotte, NC + DeSoto, TX
Current town: Durham, NC
How do you identify?
Laura: Jumping right in! I identify as a queer, southern, Indigenous American woman. My father is Indigenous American and my mother is of European descent (my maternal grandmother would want you to know that she’s Czech and makes an excellent stuffed cabbage). I am an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, a tribe that is currently and actively fighting a 130-year-old battle for federal recognition.
Kayla: I grew up in DeSoto, TX, a small town south of Dallas. I’m a queer Latina of Mexican-American descent. My dad and his family are from the Valley in South Texas and my mom, who is white, grew up in East Dallas. Although I’ve lived in the Carolinas for the past few years, I still very much identify as a Texan.
What’s a day in Durham, NC like for you?
Kayla: I’m a freelance designer, artist, and editor and I work from home. Laura and I have a very cozy house in Durham where we live with our three pets. A day here typically looks like mornings in jammies with good coffee, then all day spent on the computer either working on design gigs for clients, working as editor-in-chief and art director of Nat. Brut Magazine, or making art. I’m vegan, so our evenings are usually spent looking up new vegan recipes to try. I also manage chronic pain, so I spend a lot of my day dealing with that the best I can. My life hasn’t always been this cozy and stable, so I am often overwhelmed with gratitude for the mundanity of my days.
Laura: Yes! Kayla is very correct. Our days are super cozy. What she neglects to mention is that sometimes, after we start the morning in jammies with good coffee, sometimes we leave them on all day, into the evening, and then it’s night time again and we’re already properly dressed. Freelancing does have its perks (I’m an editor and fact checker). We’re also working on establishing some community here, so we try to prioritize hanging out with the few people we’ve gotten to know (shoutout to all four of our friends!). We also both prioritize mental health. I’ll speak for myself here when I say that therapy and support groups are an integral part of my routine as well.
Kayla: Totally. My mental health routine is pretty intense and super important to me, too. I also go to a support group a couple of times a week and have free trauma therapy in Durham (most towns, large and small, have organizations that offer free support to survivors). Laura and I both take a lot of homeopathic supplements to keep our various issues in check and have a nightly tea time routine for sleep support.
What are the greatest challenges of living (as an openly queer person) in North Carolina?
Laura: I grew up in North Carolina and attended a small, incredibly Calvinist high school. Needless to say, it was not the safest environment to be queer (or to be a woman in general). Thankfully, somehow, I played softball and the acoustic guitar and no one seemed to put two-and-two together.
Growing up evangelical is, for a lot of folks, something that comes along with growing up in the Deep South. There were a lot of heartbreaking messages communicated to my child-self that my adult-self is having to very intentionally unlearn. Getting out of North Carolina is just as much a part of my story as moving back.
That said, my partner and I fell in love in rural South Carolina, which is a far cry from the liberal enclave that is Durham, North Carolina. In a strange twist of fate, I ended up back in my home state because I wanted to be around more queer folks.
As far as challenges go, we’ve picked a pretty easy place to live. And honestly, it wasn’t even all that bad in South Carolina. I think the young people living as openly (or not so openly) queer folks in North Carolina have it much more difficult, particularly those living without the support of their families or educational institutions.
And, in case any of you young North Carolinians are reading Spectrum South in an incognito window, keep it up! Also, I get it. You can come find me or Kayla over at Nat. Brut. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, the ‘Gram, and Tumblr and we’re down to talk and down to listen.
Kayla: Laura’s answer is just so sweet and thoughtful I’m afraid to mess up the flow! I will say, because I love to vent about this, that the biggest challenge of being a queer person in the South is getting “sistered” all the fucking time. I can’t adequately express how much it bothers me.
Laura: Don’t ask lesbians if they are sisters. Why are you asking anyone if they are sisters? It’s bizarre. Just stop doing it. Here are a few more appropriate conversation openers: “Wow, I like that sweater!” or “Sure is hot today!” or “What level are you on in Candy Crush, I’m on 1,054!”
That last one is true for me. I’m on level 1,054.
What keeps you there?
Kayla: I left both Texas and South Carolina for similar reasons. I was so exhausted by living in communities that were not openly progressive and queer-friendly. I’ve found good, open-minded people in both states, but it was work. Hard work. Living in Durham has been the respite I’ve needed after many years of fighting in less progressive parts of the country. I have a deep affection for my home state of Texas and my former home of South Carolina. I will defend them ‘til my dying breath, but I think Laura and I desperately needed to feel like we belonged. Which is why we chose Durham and plan to stay here a while. Plus, it’s nice to finally live in a swing state!
Laura: Oh yeah. Kayla and I get a little rowdy when we hear people bad mouthing South Carolina. And I can attest to the fact that she literally thinks everything is better in Texas (from avocado prices to dollar stores). I’ve just learned to defer to her when it comes up: “Texas has the best vegan Thai food in the world? How fascinating!”
That said, North Carolina is pretty amazing this time around. One of my favorite perks is that I’m a lot closer to my family (Hey mom! I’m gay on the Internet! You mad?), who I adore. As soon as I can drag my youngest sister out of New York and back to her home state, we’ll all be within driving distance again for the first time in over a decade (Come home, Tootie!).
Also, like Kayla said, living in a swing state is really important to us. There’s a lot going on right now in North Carolina and it’s good to be back.
Finally, living in the South makes it a hell of a lot easier to be a freelancer. Both of us spent a few years in New England and I’m 100 percent sure I would not be living in my pajamas if I was still in Massachusetts (which is where Kayla was living when we met). I do miss that poppin’ healthcare, though.
What would you want outsiders to know most about the region?
Laura: I think North Carolina (and the South in general) is at its least understood when it’s perceived as a monolith. There are queer people in North Carolina and there probably is good vegan thai food in Texas. We’re not all the same!
The South has a complicated, painful history. The ways in which we are reckoning with that differ from person to person, family to family, city to city, town to town. I guess I just want folks to know that, like anywhere, most of us are doing the best we can.
Also, Eastern Carolina barbecue sauce is the best.
Kayla: Hear, hear, boo boo. And the best vegan Thai food is in Dallas, specifically.