Okay. I'll begin. Today's date is September 24, 2020. My name is Tina
Madison-White and I am talking with Keith Robinette. Keith was born in 1966 in
Bristol, Tennessee. His preferred pronouns are he, him and Keith has been living
in Asheville for five years. Keith how are you?
I am doing fantastic this morning. It's a lovely rainy day. But, doing really good.
Well fantastic. So, Keith, we're here just to get a sense of your story as a
person, as a member of the LGBTQ community and let me just start by saying when
you tell your story to someone, where do you like to start?
I mean, for me I start at the beginning. So I'm a very emotional person. So I
may cry, so I'll try to keep it [inaudible 00:01:02] together. But I think that
00:01:00my journey to where I'm at today has ... it's different and sometimes for me it
helps for me to start at the beginning. Growing up in the South, with a very
religious southern Baptist family and trying to experience what I went through
growing up and then transitioning as I got older. So I think it's important to
talk about what it was like as I grew up in the rural South, small town.
Transitioning to different environments, and ending up here in Asheville which
has opened up doors for me to be more accepting of myself. So I think that
that's crucial to start at the beginning.
Okay. But let's start at the beginning.
Start at the beginning. So like I said, so I was born in Bristol and then within
00:02:00a year we had moved to the small town Roachville which my parents still live in
the same house. So, grew up like I said in a very religious family. My dad is a
deacon we went to church every time the doors were open. We were always there.
... understand a lot. But I always knew that I was different early on because
even before we went to kindergarten and everybody was talking about the girl
next door I was attracted to the boy next door. So, I didn't really understand
those dynamics. I even remember writing a little note to my next door neighbor
do you like me? I like you. So, it was very different and I never really
00:03:00understood what was going on with me.
As I grew up in this going to church everyday I did start to hear the preacher
talk a lot about homosexuality. It seemed like it was every other service dealt
with homosexuality and the sin. In the beginning I didn't really understand what
they were talking about. My mom and dad were very closed off to that. They were
homophobic. So, I never really fully understood what it meant and what I was
feeling. As I went through grade school it was the same thing. I was always more
interested in the boys than I was with the girls, even though I was supposed to
have a girlfriend. That was the normalcy of life.
The first experience that I really had was when I was in the seventh grade and I
00:04:00remember I was in the hall and at that time seventh grade started with high
school. I remember running up and down the hall and I had on this little outfit
that my momma had made me and it was polyester bell bottomed pants with a little
vest that matched. I was running down the hallway and one of the older kids
said, "Look at that faggot running down the hallway." So it just hit me and I
didn't know what that meant. I had no clue, so I actually started talking to my
mom. Then that started the whole process of, "Well that's about gay people.
That's a sin and you shouldn't live that life, you shouldn't want to be that
life." So I had that thought process when I went into high school in eighth grade.
Then when I got into high school it was probably the worst four years of my
life. I was teased a lot. I was bullied because I was different. I was a little
00:05:00bit more effeminate. I started hearing more about being called gay and faggot.
So all of that stuff started to really hit home with me, even though I still had
all of these feelings and still attracted to the boys in the neighborhood. It
was at that period that coming from a religious background, I went through
phases of really bad depression and just prayed to God to end my life so I
didn't have to deal with this because I didn't understand and I didn't want to
be scrutinized and made fun of. But I didn't know how to stop it.
So, it was just a really dark time for me. Always feeling different. I was very
introverted, afraid of everything. Afraid of somebody going to beat me up or
00:06:00continue to the bullying. So I was very afraid to go to school everyday. So I
started to have girlfriends and hoping that that would help. And it still
didn't. I still had the same feelings and it was just for show and I started at
that point with some people in the neighborhood having that experimentation with
some of the boys in the neighborhood. I enjoyed it, but it scared me at the same
time. It was like, "Why am I doing this? This is wrong. This is against the
Bible. This is sin." So it just really left a mark on me. Growing up in that
religious background in that small town and small minded people, I really wished
00:07:00at that point that I was dead.
So, it was just a long process to get through that. Then when I went to college
and started college I started to come out, not come out a little bit, but
started to be more myself. I started to stop noticing slurs or language against
being gay. So it didn't affect me as bad. When I was in college I had my first
gay experience and in that moment completely freaked me out. I went home and I
took four or five baths and I was like, "This is so dirty. This is so wrong. I
can't live this life because it was a really bad experience." And so, in that
00:08:00moment I pushed it all away. It was shortly after that, that I met my ex-wife. I
just went home and I said, "This is the girl I'm going to marry." To myself I'm
like, "I finally broke the cycle. I can change. I can live the normal life that
you're supposed to live."
So we got married and it was just an absolute horrible experience. She was not a
very nice woman. She's still not a nice woman. Very controlling. Really just
messed with my head. So over the course of a couple of years all of the barriers
started to break down and I just started to feel extremely lost, unwanted,
00:09:00unloved. And didn't know what direction to go. As I was driving back and forth
to work everyday I started passing a car on the other side of the road. In that
car there was a guy and everyday that we passed for about two weeks he would
stare at me. And I was like, "That's really weird, what is happening?" Then he
started flashing his brake lights. It intrigued me because I didn't really
understand what it was really all about because I didn't know what cruising was.
I didn't know what all of that was about.
So we actually wound up at a gas station at the same time and he just introduced
himself and started talking. We started to build this friendship and then one
00:10:00day it just happened and he invited me to his house. I went to his house. There
was a sexual interaction with us and it was the first guy that I had really
kissed that was gay and in that moment it was just like I had this sense that
came over me and it was like this is who I am. So I had to deal with a lot of
struggling with that being married and having these feelings. So I had the
discussion with my ex-wife at the time and it wasn't, "I'm gay, I'm leaving you
tomorrow." It's, "I've met this man and I think that I'm gay." So we went to
counseling and it was gay counselors. I mean it wasn't gay counselors it was
Christian counselors is where we wound up going.
At that point my ex-wife would never accept any of her wrongs. It was all me and
it's the fact that I was gay and I was destroying our marriage. So, none of the
00:11:00counselors would continue conversations with me and after three or four they all
said, "If you're going to be gay, if you're going to continue this path we're
not going to have this conversation." So, I continued on and at that point
conversations with my ex-wife is like, "I don't know if I can stay married. How
are you going to feel being married to a gay man?" It was just very awkward.
Then a couple months after I came out to her, I came out to my family. So
everybody knew and then a couple of months later she became pregnant. That
started to compound even more of, "Oh, my gosh now I'm married, I'm having
children. And then she didn't tell me until a couple of months after, probably
the second trimester that she had went to her doctor to get on fertility pills
00:12:00to get pregnant so I wouldn't leave her." That's the reason that we have twins.
So that just compounded everything even more. So now I felt very trapped and I
always wanted children and never thought that I really would because I was never
attracted to a woman, really. I never thought that I would be able to have any
type of sexual relationship with a woman due to that. So, the thought of being a
father was fantastic and it was so overpowering to me. But at the same time,
where I was at in life it was not a good place for me to be able to enjoy that.
I still continued to see the guy that I had met behind her back. So it was just
that secret and all of the other stuff compounded. I got to a point to where I
could no longer eat. I had to have home healthcare come into hook me up to IV's
00:13:00because I couldn't even keep water down. I began going through a cycle of
self-mutilation. I was smoking so I would burn myself with cigarettes. I would
punch walls. I was just so overwrought with so much trauma, I didn't know what
else to do so I just self-punished myself.
And so after the girls were born I had the discussion with my ex-wife and I was
like, "Either I'm going to stay or I'm going to leave. I'm not going to wait
four or five years. I'm not going to ... we have to make a decision." So a
couple of weeks after my daughters were born I left. And so that caused a huge
disruption within my family. I lost a lot of family members. My mom and dad were
not accepting of it at all. I was the abomination at that point. They loved me,
00:14:00but I was an abomination and I was going to hell. I was never going to have a
life. I was going to wind up dead. I would never have friends. I would be a very
lonely existence for myself.
And dealing with that, within about six months of dealing with coming out
feeling like a failure as a father because I left my children behind, I tried to
commit suicide because I didn't think it was worth going on. So, in that process
I wound up of course in a mental institution because of the suicide attempt and
I started to finally look at things a little bit different. I realized that I
00:15:00had to start accepting who I was. The journey to get there was still a long way
off, but I was gay. I had to come to terms with that. It did not mean that I was
a bad father. I was still a good husband, I was a good son. I had two daughters
to live for.
So that started the journey to transition, to start having some acceptance of
being gay. I slowly started to develop some friendships with gay men which is
something that it was very different. Unfortunately, the guy that I was with and
the same guy that I had been with while I was married, we were together after I
00:16:00divorced. The experience that I had with him coming out was not a great
experience because he took me to every [inaudible 00:16:17] side of being a gay
man. He's the one that showed me about the cruising and the hookups and three
ways and that was what I had always thought being gay was all about. It was a
sex thing, that if you're gay, especially a gay man it's sex, sex, sex and
that's all your life revolves around. And so that was my experience coming out
was it's exactly what I thought it was. It's just sex and I never thought that I
would ever make friends because I didn't want to sleep with everybody to become
their friend. Unfortunately, that's where it was in the beginning. Started
00:17:00abusing alcohol quite a bit. Still continued to burn myself because I still just
didn't understand the dynamics of what was going on.
So I mean life started to slowly turn around. I started to find friends who were
accepting. I did find a few gay men that supported me. I found a lot of females
and even their husbands, they were accepting of my lifestyle. Didn't care.
Didn't matter. I was who I was. I was a good father. I was a good friend and it
didn't matter to them that I was gay. So, they started to help me with that
transition piece of okay. It's really okay. Sorry, my nose is running. So, they
started to help me to start believing in myself and I never really even thought
00:18:00that I was different at that point. I was just who I was. I didn't notice people
saying anything negative. I didn't notice the gay remarks. It just wasn't a part
of my life at that point.
So I started to feel really good. I wasn't in a relationship. Started to really
focus on myself and so then things really started to turn around after that. And
as my kids were growing, becoming getting older, they started saying things that
made me realize that I was a good person, I was a good father. One of my really
emotional experiences was my daughters were five and I had the flu. So it was
the first Christmas since they had been born that I wasn't going to be able to
00:19:00see them. At that point I was transitioning between jobs so I didn't have a lot
of money. So, talking to them I was like, "I'm not going to be able to buy you a
lot of things and I'm probably going to miss Christmas." And so they were on the
And they were like, "It doesn't matter. Our best Christmas would just be for you
to be here." So, that really touched my heart and to them it didn't matter. They
didn't know what gay was their selves either. But it didn't matter. I loved
them, they loved me. So that really started this path of self acceptance. I say
00:20:00a lot that we helped save our children, but my children helped save me. So, as
we progressed I always still found that there was something missing. One of
those pieces was Logan and so we've been together for 16 years. He was the first
person who wanted me to just be myself, be the real me. It didn't matter about
having the perfect body or super blonde hair or tanned or whatever. He just
wanted me to be my natural self. So through him I started to build that persona
as well and so that was missing. I always needed to be superficial and it was
00:21:00super blonde hair and a tanned body and going to the gym all the time. To him
that wasn't important. He wanted me to take out the colored contacts and take
all that stuff off and just be raw and be myself.
So that helped me to my journey when my daughters were 14 to actually come out
to them. Because I started and I always felt that I needed to be honest with
them because I always told them to never hold back. Be honest, you can tell me
anything. Nothing is going to bother me. So I did finally tell my ex-wife who
didn't ever want them to know that it was time. The reason being is we started
watching television and there started to be shows to come on where fathers were
coming out to their daughters and issues that were coming on of coming out. As
00:22:00we would watch these shows I would see them watch television and then they would
look at me. Then they would watch television. So I knew they were starting to
wonder because I wasn't with another woman. Hadn't been with another woman. They
always told me, "We don't want you to be with another woman because we want you
all to ourselves, so we don't to have to compete with somebody else's time."
So I knew it was time to tell them and I was nervous, stressed me out because I
was afraid they wouldn't love me. So we had a weekend together. We were driving
around and I was like, "We got to pull over." So we pulled over and they were
like, "What's the matter?" I was like, "Well I just needed to talk to you for a
minute." And of course at that minute I just broke down. I was crying everywhere
and they were like, "What is wrong?" And they were crying. I was like, "Well,
there's something I need to tell you to be honest and I'm gay." And it was just
00:23:00a split second and they were like, "We don't care. You're a fantastic dad and we
love you. We want you be happy. We do not care at all." And so we all just cried
for a bit and we hugged and we drove off and they both looked at me and said,
"Yeah we knew two years ago. We were just waiting for you to tell us."
So that was like that piece that was gone. The burden was gone. I started to
find peace. I was so happy they met Logan. We took our first vacation together.
We went to Florida and we bonded as a family and my kids have just embraced it,
loved it. I mean we went to school they were just like, "Oh, look my dad he's
00:24:00guy." They were like, "Oh, he's so great. We love our dad he's so much fun." So
they helped me to realize that it wasn't bad. It wasn't bad. So, my kids
accepting me and loving me it didn't matter if anybody else in the world did. I
mean I had Logan. I had my daughters. Life was really great. My parents were
still not there. Logan wasn't allowed to come to my parent's home. My dad still
just could not handle the fact of me being gay.
So that was hard on Logan and he was like, "I don't understand why I can't go to
your house that you can come to my house." Because his family was totally
different. They just welcomed me with open arms and it was a great experience
with his side of the family and he couldn't understand and really disliked my
parents, which is understandable. I mean he wasn't allowed to step foot in their house.
So, as we continued to go and the girls graduated and Logan came to graduations
and all of that. So he participated with what he could. As we continued when my
kids turned 18 we took our first trip to go to Athens. This was the first time
that we lived away because his family is from Knoxville. So that was our first
time moving away and was an okay experience. We didn't like Athens. It wasn't
our place. Then this Asheville store, because the reason we moved is because of
my work. So, the store here in Asheville opened and it was like, "Let's move to
Asheville. It'll be the area we're both close to home." So we moved. During that
process my daughter Sierra was my first daughter to get married and her husband
called me and did the whole thing of, "I'd like to ask for your daughter's
hand," which I thought was really cool. Because he and his family are extreme
00:26:00Republicans. So I was like, "I don't know if he would ever accept me." But for
him to even come to that point to ask me for her hand in marriage.
So her getting married changed a lot and that's why I say my daughters have done
so much to transition thoughts. So when my daughter was planning her wedding, of
course she's like, "Logan's coming, correct?" I said, "Yes." And I was like,
"Well I don't know how your papaw is going to feel about it." So Sierra had a
conversation and said, "Logan's coming to the wedding. He's just he's our
stepdad. I want him to be there." She told me dad, "You can either accept that
00:27:00or not come and I want you to be there, but Logan is going to be there as well."
And that changed my dad's perspective a little bit. I don't really know if he
was just trying in the moment just to be supportive of Sierra. But he called the
year my daughter got married and asked Logan to come to Easter.
So that's the first time my dad ever had reached out and he actually asked
Logan. It wasn't through me. When he was there my dad had conversations with him
and as he left he was like, "Logan's really not a bad person. I like him." So I
was blown away at that moment. I was like totally unexpected and even said the
same thing when Sierra got married because Logan came and he helped and he was
serving food. My dad invited him to spend the night because he had to drive back
00:28:00to Knoxville. So that was a total different view of my father who is so Southern
Baptist, of being ... and he may not be 100% accepting of it, but he still asks
about Logan. "How's Logan doing?" Even to this day. So my daughter helped
transition his thought process that Logan's really not a bad person.
Of course my daughter Taylor she's my wild child. She's very much into colored
hair and tattoos and her and her husband have always been accepting. When she
got married she's just a supporter. She came last year, was after 53 years, last
year was the first time that I had ever attended a Pride. So she came with her
husband and friends and they came down to support me to be a part of Pride. So
00:29:00Taylor has always been an extremely supportive child. Sierra is slowly
transitioning a little bit because I think of the influence with her husband and
all of the Republican side that she has to hear. She's become a little bit more
standoffish. But still loves me and still communicates. But it's been a little
bit different of a struggle with her.
Of course we have two grandkids, so she's had two of our grandkids. We have a 19
month-old grandson and a two-month old granddaughter. So they're just precious.
So, as I continue on, so there was still something that was missing. I had my
daughters. I had a job that at that point really loved. I had Logan, but there
00:30:00was still something missing. I didn't really understand what it was until we
have met this phenomenal group of friends and we call ourselves the seven dwarfs
because there's seven of us. We did have two more, but they have unfortunately
moved away. But, they have created this amazing support system and knowing these
five people that make our group seven, the two that have moved on, they have
brought the sense of pride in me because they are who they are. They live their
life everyday just being who they are and they just love and accept and want
00:31:00people to be the best. And this group came to my daughter Taylor's wedding.
There we were, seven gay men in a little small town for a wedding of my
daughter. It was the most amazing experience. My mom and dad came and met them
all, talked with them all. Never had anything negative to say about them and to
have a group of gay men who I never thought that I would have a friendships like
this to support me in a way to travel and spend a weekend, rent a cabin and have
just this amazing time. So, as I've journeyed through my life and I've seen and
heard of how being gay and what your life is going to be, it's really not that
00:32:00way. It's the same as everybody else. Struggles are the same. The happiness are
the same. Our life experiences may be different, but the outcome is basically
the same. We're normal. We love, we laugh and we enjoy life. And I think for me
finally having this group of friends has completed that circle for me.
I'm becoming very proud of who I am. I'm not perfect. I'll never be perfect. But
I know that I am a good person and I am a good father and I'm becoming a strong,
gay man. But above all else, I just feel like I'm a good human and I think that
00:33:00really comes from one person and that's Butch [inaudible 00:33:25]. He's just
been a really strong inspiration. He's truly an amazing human being and I'm
fortunate to have met him because he is one of the few people that has changed
my life, all for the better.
So even last year I was taken back a little bit when I went to Pride for the
00:34:00first time. There was somebody walking around and I think they were talking
about the rural history at that point. There was a woman and she was walking
around and she was like, "Can we sign you up to get your story?" I was like,
"Sure I would love to be able to talk about my story." She's like, "So are you
here?" I was like, "Yes it's my first time coming out. I mean coming out to
Pride. My daughter is here and her and her husband." She said, "Oh, you have
children?" I said, "Yes." And she said, "Okay, I'm sorry for that." I'm like,
"I'm not sorry that I have children." She said, "Well I really would like to
hear your story as long as it's not a heteronormative gay story." So, I was
00:35:00like, "But what does that mean? I mean yes I was married, but I've always been
gay. This is just how my life went." She pushed me off, which upset me in that
moment because I'm like if we're building a sense of community my story
shouldn't mean that I'm not valued because it was different.
Because I felt that way when I first started coming out because I noticed that a
lot of gay men that I would talk to once they found out that I had been married
and had children, then they didn't really want to get to know me. So that
started to make me feel very excluded in that moment from being gay because
okay, I was married and then I felt excluded for being in the straight world and
00:36:00now I'm excluded for being in the gay world because I was married and had
children. So that took me back a little bit to have that experience the first
time I was at Pride. But eventually that just went away and it is what it is. My
story is my story. It's not going to change. My experiences has brought me to
the point where I'm at today. I'm at peace. I am proud of who I am and I look
forward to what's to come because I think there's still so much life out there
to experience and I have a loving family. I have a loving husband. I have loving
friends and life right now is really great, other than the pandemic. Other than
that everything is fantastic. So that's my story.
A beautiful story. I have to tell you yesterday my wife and I were interviewing
00:37:00for our story, but in a very different context. I published a book and-
I do apologize, I can't hear you very well.
You can't hear me?
I can't. It's gotten softer than it was before.
Yeah I think I know why. Let me play with the recording settings just a second.
Audio, microphone. Is this any better?
No, it's still real light. That's really odd.
Let's try that. Is that any better?
Mm-mm (negative). We just had difficult getting this thing going haven't we?
Well importantly, God I hope ... Now how's this?
Doggone it. I'm testing the microphone. I wonder if you've got the volume on
your phone turned down, because it's showing that it's working at this end.
Ah, now say something to me.
No I'm getting-
There you go.
Is that better?
It must have turned itself off because I hadn't touched it.
Yeah we originally connected on the cellphone and in fact, 25 minutes into the
00:39:00interview I suddenly realized we were still on the phone and I think that that
may have ... But you may get when we send you the transcript, there were about
five seconds when I couldn't hear you and then your voice cut back in. I don't
know if that was just my computer or if we lost the recording. But if you get
that you'll probably know what words to insert in there and we can at least put
them into the transcript.
But a couple of things and then we'll get back to a couple of questions. And by
the way, it'll be up to you. We can always cut this part out if you feel it's
not relevant to the story or you can leave it in. Yeah when I heard about that
incident at the festival I was furious and we had a bit of a meeting about that.
00:40:00I do want to apologize personally. Sadly, I think we have even in our own
community, which just disappoints me, prejudice and judgment and you would think
our community of all would get how hurtful that is. So it led to quite a
discussion. So I'm glad that you persevered because your story is incredible.
It's hard to say it was yesterday my wife and I were interviewed for a very
different purpose. I published a book about my story and so they were
interviewing the two of us about our story.
Listening to you, almost word for word even you use the word transition and I
00:41:00felt like ... you were talking about your children and the pain I felt with my
children. It's so similar and what I find behind all that is that is why we need
to have a great variety of stories is I think in that we discover we all share
humanity and it's the same struggle for acceptance and a sense of self worth.
But anyway, I just had to that was very beautiful. Let me ask a few more pointed
questions or specific questions. You mentioned in your intake form that you
think one of the most important priorities in the LGBTQ community is to build a
stronger sense of community. Could you tell me more what you're thinking?
I think that's what we we were talking about earlier with there's still some
different prejudices that are out there. I mean when people are sharing their
experiences or whatever. Even life's journey they're taking right now, I still
see that we still turn our heads to certain things. We don't accept certain
things. I know as we transition and there's the pronouns and all the different
things that define who we are, I think that sometimes that can turn switches
off. This community already has its built in struggles and whether it's
political, religious whatever. Those struggles are there, have been there and
unfortunately will probably always be there. But if our community as a whole is
00:43:00not there to rally and empower and to accept this is who you are, we love you
exactly the way you are. We're here to strengthen you, empower you, support you,
then the community is always going to be fragmented.
For me I think that's why it's really crucial. We all have different stories. We
come from so many different backgrounds, political, economic, whatever. We all
have different experiences to share and I think it's important that we as a
community just rally behind each other. Just looking at the tea dances that
started or you needed the support groups that are better out there whether it's
WinCAP or just people in general. The older community, the younger community
that are coming out. What are we doing to really support them? To help them in
their journey whether they're coming up or whatever their life is. So I think
00:44:00that's why it's important about the community is that we're really there to show
that we've got each other's back.
Have you ever personally had to struggle with, even if only temporary, with
accepting perhaps some of the other letters of the alphabet or other groups that
are within our community?
So that's a really good question. When I was first coming out and started going
to the bars I guess for the first few times going to the gay bars that were in
Knoxville, I had bad experiences with a few lesbians. They were very much into
your face. They were very confrontational and at that point I was scared of
00:45:00lesbians. So I really didn't. So I guess to your point, I pushed myself back
from that aspect of our community. Once again it really wasn't until I got to
Asheville that that perspective changed. I had a woman that worked with me, Gale
and her wife and she invited me to tea dances. I started meeting Rosie and
Alicia and other people. I realized that that was just my few experiences.
So that was an experience but that's not how everyone is. So, that changed that
perspective. And then meeting Jessica, I had never met anyone who was
transgendered. But it was amazing to me. I was just like, "You're really going.
You're accepting who you are. You're going with what you need to do." I never
viewed her any differently. So I think as I've gone through I've started to meet
more of the letters in our community. It was just that one that took me that was
difficult for me at the beginning to get around. But no, not now. I love them
00:47:00all. I'm just like woo, I want to squeeze them.
What about I'm curious when I talk to gay, lesbian, transgender, people of a
certain age and we talk about younger members of the community, particularly
those who identify as queer and introducing new language and ideas and
challenging a lot of old ones. What's been your personal experience and exposure
to that part of the community?
I haven't had a whole lot of experience with that side. Now some of my daughter
Taylor's friends they go with different pronouns and I'm almost 55. So some of
00:48:00it I don't understand. So it takes me awhile. I think it's maybe just to get a
better understanding of it and an explanation of getting to know more about that
from individuals. But I really don't know a whole lot or had a lot of
experiences with it. And then I always wonder if I said the wrong thing. Did
they go by this pronoun? Did I say the wrong thing? Is it going to stress me out
because I didn't use the correct one? But no I haven't had a lot of experience
with that yet, other than what I've seen on TV. But I've not personally had that experience.
Okay. There's been a lot of discussion in the past few months about racial
equity, racial inclusion and well it's focused on race I think and that of other
00:49:00ethnic religious. In your experience of the community, I mean the people you've
hung out with or the bars you've been to, what has been your experience of the
degree or lack of inclusivity or integration in western North Carolina and
eastern Tennessee of the LGBTQ community?
I'm so sorry. I heard the first ... So you're talking about the inclusion of
friends and how that have I?
In your personal experience, meaning whether it's the bars you've hung out at or
the friends or the festivals, I was curious how you would describe the LGBTQ
community in terms of does it feel diverse? Does it feel inclusive or does it
00:50:00feel very segregated? Does it feel accepting?
I think there's various components to it. I think there is a point that I feel
that there's inclusiveness. I don't sense a whole lot of racially motivated
within the group as far as ethnic to me and my experiences to the friends when I
came out. I think that sometimes for me, going to bars, I think sometimes even
the gay bars sometimes want to pull themselves back in. So they themselves
creates their own form of not being inclusive, if that makes sense. I think that
there becomes this competition, "Well I want you to come here. I want you to
come here and we're going to do this." And the group of people that go to this
00:51:00bar don't want to go to the other bar and they're going to say something about
that bar. So that in its own way starts to divide the community because we
should be able to support all the establishments that are here to help it grow.
So for me that's the only thing that they start this nitpicking like, "Oh, I
can't believe you've gone there. I can't believe you supported that when we're
supporting this." So I think that's where I've seen that part come from. I don't
think there's anything about not being inclusive. I think it's more of it's
almost like when you're growing up and you have these niches of people and their
little clan and they're just together.
When I first started coming or when we first moved to Asheville I didn't see
that. But it seems like now as it's progressing over the last couple of years
it's starting to have these little bitty subgroups that are I'm only going to
support this place and everything that they support, but I'm not really going to
00:52:00branch out and support everything that's a part of the community if that makes sense.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now that you're living in Asheville do you feel generally,
now moving beyond the LGBTQ community, but just roaming around the city working
in your store. Do you feel generally at ease?
Absolutely. When we moved here after a year or so Asheville reminds me of Key
West in the mountains. I mean I never feel threatened and the reason I say that
is because it's always nervous when you move to a new place. I mean you're
always wondering what's going on. I remember when I was first moved here and was
hiring people for my store I was hiring over at the Asheville mall. I was
sitting outside smoking and somebody who worked in the mall was standing outside
00:53:00with me. We were just talking and talking about how I just moved here. And I
remember his comment was, "Well you'll really get to love Asheville because if
you think you're weird or different, behind you is somebody who's even weirder
and more different and behind them is even more weird, but we all just accept
and move on. And to the point that we don't care that they're different. We
support their difference.
So I think that's just been the experience. I think that you can ... it is, you
can be who you are. I mean there's always going to be those one offs, but I've
never felt unsafe here. It's probably the first place that I've lived that I
00:54:00feel completely accepted and I think that a lot of that comes from the people
because I've met some really great people at the bar, outside of the bar. But,
it's just a different caliber of people here. I mean they're really about the
community and they really love and support each other. So no, I've never felt
uncomfortable here. I've always felt very at peace.
So I'm intrigued that you mentioned that it was last year that you went to your
first Pride festival?
There's a lot of debate, there's been a lot of debate in the past year whether
Pride festivals should be events of protest. Whether they should be more focused
on celebration and community outreach and connectedness or whether they should
00:55:00be more focused on pointing out issues, yet unresolved. There's also been
discussions about who should and shouldn't be at a Pride festival. Just based on
your experience, how important is a festival to you or that kind of an event and
what would you change or what do you like to see at them?
So, last year was my first festival and unfortunately my first festival I was
having a kidney stone. So I couldn't fully wrap my hand around the whole event
because I wasn't there, able to stay that long. The reason I had never gone is
work always seemed to keep me from being able to go when they were having Pride
00:56:00celebrations. But I was always nervous and afraid to go. I didn't really have a
group of people. I mean when we were in Knoxville it was just basically Logan
and I. So we didn't go because it was just the two of us. So, meeting our group
of friends here they really are involved in Pride, so they're the reasons that I
went. And to me it was really great because it is a celebration about this
community. So, to me it's important. I mean going forward I want to be able to
attend every event that I can because it does make you feel like a part of the
community and you're very accepted and it doesn't matter what you look like. It
doesn't matter where you come from. It's just there to celebrate and support and
reach out and show that we love each other. Love wins. This is what the
community is about.
And there's always going to be that political side and there's always going to
00:57:00be some unrest that comes with it. But for me I love the celebration part of it.
I don't think we do that throughout the year, but I think if you're here, like
my daughter coming and her friends, they're celebrating. They personally are not
a part of the LGBTQ community. But they support it and I think for those people
who are coming to celebrate whether it's your dad, your friend whatever. So to
me the politics are something that we can look at a different day. I think we
need that day to just let loose and celebrate this is who we are. This is me and
we're going to celebrate it today because tomorrow could be totally different.
So let's celebrate it and enjoy it today.
Okay. When you think of your generation what do you hope future generations or
00:58:00younger people today know or think about your generation in the LGBTQ movement?
What do you feel your place is and what do you feel might be misunderstood?
So I think that coming from ... Like I said growing up it's not like it is now.
I mean there is more acceptance. So I think that still needs to be the
progression of this acceptance piece because it wasn't that way in the 70s and
80s. I mean you really had to be closeted, especially in certain areas where you
00:59:00lived. You really couldn't be yourself. You had to guard yourself and I guess
for me even looking at my generation I have met and talked to people who still
can't live their truth, who are still married. They go out on the side to do
whatever they need to do and you see that they still have that little bit of
misery and unhappiness because they can't live their truth because they are
afraid of it. I think that's the difference in the generation that I grew up,
the people that can't live their truth are still in that miserable state. And I
hope that my children, well especially Taylor hopefully Sierra, are just really
supporting people and it's like, "Okay, so you're gay? Okay." It's just a normal.
I would love to be able to get to the point because you don't have to run out
01:00:00and say, "Hey I'm straight. My name is." So it really shouldn't be we have to
run out and say, "Oh, I'm gay and this is my name. Accept me and let's just move
on." That it just becomes an afterthought. It shouldn't be something that you
have to announce to the world, not that there's anything wrong with that. But I
think that that's where I would love for the generation and my grandchildren as
they grow up, that that's really not anything that's major. You are just who you
are. Oh, this is your husband? Great. Oh, this is your wife? Great. And it's
just normal. I think that that's where I hope that it will go and that people
... I mean it took me a long time. It took me a long journey to be in my 50s to
come to at peace and be happy and have this realization.
I think for the young people that are coming up is that I hope you don't have to
01:01:00go through that long of a struggle. I look at how much of my life was spent,
over half over of being in struggle and turmoil and unhappiness. I hope that
they don't have to go through that. That they can self accept and they can just
be who they are and even the generation that's for me I hope that they find the
strength and the power within themselves to be themselves so they can leave this
life happy as well and feeling whole and being themselves.
I'd never thought about this before, but let me just ask two questions. One, if
you were to go, I'm going back to festivals for a minute as just a test case. If
01:02:00the you 20 years ago who felt unaccepted, that your life, your job all those
things were at risk, would you have gone to a festival wanting something
different than what you just described today? Would the you of 20 years ago felt
differently about festivals?
I don't know. That's a good question. I don't think that I would because I even
remember the friends, the people that I knew that went to Pride, they would
always talk about how energizing it was to go. I just personally was too afraid
01:03:00to go there. I think if it's 20 years ago and I went, I think my journey to self
acceptance would have been quicker and I think I would have found a stronger
sense of community and I wouldn't have felt alone. I think that that for me is
what Pride does, is it helps you realize that you're not alone. And I think you
could start to build and you can find those people that have similar stories.
Like for me I would love if there was a group of men who have been married who
came out who have children to where there's a group to where we could get
together to discuss it. And we can talk about our lives and our experiences. I
think that that would help grow this community as well. I know I'm going off
subject. But I think that at Pride you could have found those people. I could
01:04:00have found those people 20 years ago if I had went to a Pride. I would have
eventually found those people who had similar life experiences to myself and my
self acceptance journey would have started quicker.
The reason I was curious about it, when I moved here one of my chief concerns
was how siloed the LGBTQ community seemed to be and there were all these
separate groups and cliques. A lot of that I feel is manageable. I can see ways
to connect people. The one that continues to concern me is the divide between
haves and have nots. People who feel they're living on the edge, some of whom
are homeless. Some of whom still feel very at risk. When I talk to them fairly
01:05:00or not, what's in their mind is they feel unsupported by people who are feeling
more comfortable and we could debate whether they're separating themselves or
not. But I was just curious, are there things that we can or should be doing as
a community to support people who probably are still struggling or for
acceptance and to be able to be out?
I believe, I mean to me I think there's still a ways to go. I mean I can even
see myself at that point as well. It's what you were just talking about because
I think that we do sometimes go through normal life with a little bit of a
01:06:00blinder on, even if we're like, "Oh, I'm accepting and I'm whatever and I'm out
to build." But I think there's still always a little bit of a blinder. So, to
your point the homeless population or the youth who may be out there I think
sometimes we, not all, but I think there is that tendency to bypass them and not
realizing that they have a story and they have a struggle. So I think that that
is a part that we could look at of how do we support this group who doesn't feel
supported or they don't really know what to do because who knows? They could be
a homeless youth who got kicked out of their home or whatever because of being
gay and we just look past them. So is that going to be a statistic because they
get to the point to where they feel like suicide is the only option? And I think
01:07:00that that is crucial.
I've been through that mentality of suicide and feeling this is the only way
that I can get out of this. This is the only way that I can feel and end my
suffering. And I think that we sometimes forget about that. The struggle is
still real. There's still people everyday who struggle and it's finding the
right groups to be able to handle that. I mean I don't know how to start
something like that. I mean you can always get involved because there's programs
through Pride and Blue Ridge Pride and different things to become involved in.
Maybe that's something that we as a community really look at. What other
opportunities can we do to support that? What groups can go out and we go out
01:08:00and try to help the community. Have a membership draft, I don't know. But I
think that there are a lot of people who still struggle that we unfortunately do
let go by the wayside.
I mean, like for me when I go out, so normally when we're out I mean I'm just
out with my group of friends. So I don't really look around. I mean I'm just
focused on this little group, even though Butch is really strong and he's always
wanting to be a part of building community. Sometimes that blinder just goes I'm
focused on this. There's so much more that we can focus on everyday and to help
us continue to grow. Does that make sense?
It makes a world of sense.
But I do think that we overlook certain parts of the community without realizing it.
Yeah. Okay, well was there anything else you wanted to cover that we haven't?
01:09:00We've certainly ranged broad and far.
No. I mean, it's been great for me and to be able to share my story. I've been
through so many different experiences and sometimes I feel like I'm by myself a
lot because of those experiences. But community, this community here and I'll
keep really stressing that for me, this community here in Asheville has been a
blessing. I've learned a lot. I've met a lot of people. I've grown a lot and
01:10:00truly helped me to accept this journey that I'm on and be proud of it. So, I
always think that there's a reason for everything. So I am a religious person. I
believe things happen for a reason. I got married for a reason because I wanted
children. It didn't work out, but things grow. We move on. And I was brought
here to Asheville for a reason. There was a part of my life that was missing and
that part was filled by Butch and Tim and Christopher and Johnny and Charles and
Gabriel. Those people are my family and that's amazing for me at 50 years old
just to meet this amazing group of people.
To be involved in this amazing community that is here and I really look forward
01:11:00to my journey as I continue on because I feel that I can still grow. I can grow
from meeting and getting to know someone like you and helping me to find my way
in Blue Ridge Pride. Is there something that I can do to help you through Blue
Ridge Pride? Like I mentioned earlier I would love to be able to have a group to
where I can sit down with other gay men who have been married, have children,
been divorced and it not be a heteronormative story. It's just your story and
have those people who understand where I'm coming from. So, I look forward to
the journey and I'm excited about the journey, what's to come in the future. I
think it's going to be great. I think we have a lot of things to celebrate.
Fantastic. Keith, thank you so much for sharing your life with us today.
Well thank you so much for listening.