Whether it’s feeling secure in our queerness and desire for other women, dancing to country music at a bar to find lovers, or staying in the South – according to popular imagination, us queer trans women aren’t supposed be here. But we are: living, loving, and wrestling with the messy contradictions of it all. That’s the short answer to why I wrote Stay Open: A Queer Trans Girl Love Story.
As a lesbian femme-identified trans girl who lives and loves in the South and has no plans to ever leave, I have a hard time finding stories in TV shows or movies where people like me find love. In the handful that do exist, the queer women are cis and the trans women end up with men. And in the few stories where trans women fall in love with other women, they’re not in the South.
At the heart of it, I wanted a story where a queer trans woman who lives in the South falls and stays in love and doesn’t die. A story like that sometimes feels like speculative fiction, even though they’re the very lives we’re living.
While Stay Open isn’t autobiographical, the main character Rose is definitely a fictional version of myself. I love whiskey and country songs, desire and love other women, daydream about meeting other femmes in butch/femme bars and watching the sun rise over a river, and carry my own insecurities around being trans and not feeling like the easiest woman to love.
The other characters and settings in the story aren’t being pulled from a single place or person, though my own experiences with lovers, friends, and partners as well as the places I’ve lived (Georgia and North Carolina) absolutely inform them. It felt really important to not just say “we live here and we get to find love, too,” but delve into the not-so-pretty parts, too: the jealousy, the fear that queer love and romance is scarce, trying to pull apart whether the frustration is about a particular person or the larger social conditions of our lives or both.
Living in the South as a queer white trans woman kind of requires that you get good at wrestling with messy contradictions and complicated stories, because you have to in order to make sense of this place and keep on calling it home. And that’s where the playlist comes in. It’s mostly filled with country songs and only a handful of the songs are explicitly about or by or performed by queer folks (Karen & the Sorrows, MeShell Ndegeocello, Des Ark, Dyke Drama). Country music reminds me of long drives to and away from home, of long conversations on porches with friends and lovers, of something we’re told in a million and one ways isn’t for us and still — we make it ours anyways. Like the South itself, as southern queers, we find and insert ourselves into stories and places we’re not supposed to exist all the time.
I keep on bringing up the South because it’s so important to me to tell this story from this place that I call home. Even though sometimes our loved ones and community members have to leave, I refuse to cede to the dominant narrative that to be our full selves and live our full lives, we can’t stay in the South. My dear friend Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, who works as the Executive Director of the Highlander Center in Tennessee, said it best in her powerful essay “How We Can Organize The South To Save The Country” :
Our people deserve the world we envision, and that world requires us to birth and build it. I deserve to experience that world in the place that I was born. This beautiful, fertile, sacred place shouldn’t be abandoned or conceded to the right or to white supremacists, and doesn’t have to be. So many of us, choose to stay and fight and build.
And sometimes, some of us queer trans women who chose to stay fall in love, too.