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Interview with Beulah Land, transcript

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  • Transcript of interview with Beulah Land.
  • Land 1 Interviewee: Beulah Land Interviewer: Sarah Steiner County: Jackson Date: January 22, 2021 Duration: 0:27:14 Sarah Steiner: Today's date is January 22nd, 2021. My name is Sarah Steiner, and I'm here talking today with Beulah Land who was born in 1997 in Asheville, North Carolina, in the United States. Beulah's preferred pronouns are she/her or they/them. And Beulah has been living in Cullowhee, North Carolina for the last four years. Thank you very much for being here with me today. Beulah Land: Thank you for having me. It's so good to see you again. SS: Yes, you too. So you already did an interview with Amanda Rae as sort of the companion piece to this about a year ago. BL: Yes, yes. SS: So we're going to kind of follow up and see what has changed for you and just how life has been going through… BL: Absolutely. SS: And we're in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, so maybe we will touch on that. So to start, how would you describe yourself at this time, in whatever terms appeal to you? BL: So I would describe myself, right now, I am sort of facing an identity crisis, and we talked about this earlier. I identify as a queer person first and foremost, I think. As far as pronouns, I think we're kind of limited in the language that we have, coming from a patriarchal perspective, so I'm sort of gravitating towards she/her, but it could also be they/them. It kind of depends on the day. I envision a future where pronouns don't matter as much, and we're all... It kind of stinks to have to categorize yourself in boxes to describe yourself when there's such a beautiful array of human spirit. Holly Boswell is an amazing role model for the queer community, from Asheville. She designed the trans symbol. Amanda actually told me about that last time we spoke. And she is just a really interesting person. She identifies as non-binary. Well, she/they, I think, as well. I don't remember exactly their pronouns, but I definitely resonate with that sort of like sacred, feminine aspect of the queer identity. As far as like from an artistic perspective, my name is Beulah Land. I do a lot of vintage, retro, throwback kind of stuff. I was actually just recently watching Hollywood and Bridgerton, and I thought it was so interesting to see sort of a reinterpretation and a construction of a fantasy world within the historical perspective. And I was perusing social media, and I saw this one video of a lesbian, and she was talking about how queer people who love vintage-inspired things are creating a narrative about what we wish we could have grown up with. I grew up with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. That's my mom's favorite movie. I grew up with a lot of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Oklahoma!, like all of these cultural, classic films that are very whitewashed, very heteronormative, and very cisgender. And there is something to be said about the beauty of looking at the past, looking at where we've come from as humanity, and inflecting our own identities and our own revelations about it. Relegating people of color to only people of color roles is kind of limiting. And I really enjoyed seeing the diversity and the fantasy of Bridgerton, where they not only had sort of like a blind audition or blind casting like we saw in 1997 Cinderella, where Brandy, an American rapper and a woman of color, played Cinderella, but we see the formulation of an entire world where an aristocrat, Mary, is a person of color, and it becomes fashionable to be a person of color. I Land 2 think that's just so amazing. And, I have been really looking to incorporate that sort of aspect into my art and in my drag. SS: Sure. How does the theme of fluidity fit in there? It feels like it kind of touches both of those things, the concept of fluidity. BL: Oh, the concept of fluidity, I think we've become so accustomed to putting everything in boxes and checking off marks, and this or that, black or white, straight, gay, cis, trans, we've sort of lost touch with the fact that there's a whole gray spectrum out there. There's a whole... I mean, if you're not Black, you're probably not Black. If you're like, like we saw with the NAACP president and that scandal, I definitely don't want to say that you can identify as whatever you want. But there's a whole experience, and there's a whole humanity, there's a whole spirit, there's a whole of spectrum of identity and culture, and I think it does kind of a disservice to say you're this or that, when, in fact, we can learn a lot from each other, and we can learn a lot from the experiences that we've had and see the intersectionality of it all. For me, as a queer person who's also white, my experiences are completely different than somebody who might identify the same as far as like gender, but who was a person of color. So the intersectionality has a huge influence on the way that we experience things and the struggles, trials, tribulations, and even victories that we have. SS: Yeah. Thank you. Yeah. And, you're a student here at Western- BL: I am. SS: ... entering your last year. BL: So, I have this spring semester of 2021, and then I'll have an internship that goes over the summer, hopefully, fingers crossed, turns into a job, and then I'll have the next spring semester of 2022. And then if everything goes according to plan, I'll be graduated. I am currently in the environmental health program. I've really enjoyed meeting people, working to expand my knowledge of public health and environmental health. I think I'm going to be staying within the area around Western North Carolina, at least for the foreseeable future. When I was in high school, I was so entranced with the idea of moving off to the big city. I wanted to go to Philadelphia, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, anywhere but here. But since coming to Western, I've really looked back and there's sort of a... We go back to the idea of fluidity. It's an area that I faced a lot of discrimination for being a queer person, being an out queer person in my high school years and a lot of discrimination, but there's also this beauty in the people and in the culture that I grew up in. I'm reminded of Amanda Gorman's poem from Inauguration Day, where she... I don't remember the exact quote, but it was something along the lines of, "There's beauty wherever you're willing to look for it. There's beauty wherever you're willing to..." or, "There's light wherever you're willing to look for it. There's light wherever you're willing to be it." And so I just think that is such a wonderful outlook to have. People aren't bad. People aren't good. We have a lot of duality, a lot of influences on our life, and there's a lot of decisions that we make in life. And I think coming back to this area and working to improve the lives for queer youth and for queer people in this area is something that I would like to see more of, and I want to be the person right on the forefront. Silas House is an amazing author. He is from eastern Kentucky, which is, from what I gather, it seems a little bit more rural than we are here in western North Carolina. But he's breaking down barriers for queer people in eastern Kentucky, and that is amazing, and I want to join him and really fight for our place at the table. SS: Yeah. I love that. And of course, you perform a lot in Asheville. BL: I do. Land 3 SS: ... but you've done a lot here, too, lately. BL: I'm trying, yeah. SS: We believe COVID has, as with everything, thrown a wrench in things, but it did seem like we were having a beautiful flowering of BL: Yes. SS: ... related things here in the immediate region. So what differences do you see between being here versus in Asheville? And have you seen any change in that, in the recent past? BL: Yes. I mean, I've only been doing drag for, I think, coming up on four years. So in my very limited scope, I have sort of seen, maybe, the beginnings of a transformation. I was actually in Appalachian literature this past semester, and it was one of my favorite classes. And not only did we look at like a historical perspective of the area, but we also looked at new voices within Appalachia, specifically queer and POC voices, and so I thought that was something that was really interesting to look at. There was this one work and... Am I allowed to cuss? SS: Sure. BL: Okay. The book is called F*ckface. And I can't remember the author right off the top of my head, but it's like an anthology, and so it's like a collection of short stories. It's very charming and you should definitely give it a read. The first story within the anthology is called F*ckface, and there's a quote in it that's talking about how it's 80 miles to Asheville, and there's a lot of churches in between. Asheville, specifically from about the 80s on, I think, if my history is serving me, if my grasp of history is serving me right, from like the ‘80s on, we really see this sort of counterculture movement within the queer community gathering and honing in on Asheville and making it the, what is it, the gay, the San Francisco of the Southeast. I think somebody's used that before to really make it sort of like a Mecca for queer people and for the counterculture movement. While that's great... I mean, I grew up in Asheville, or I was born in Asheville, I grew up the county north of Asheville, in Madison County. So while I did see that Asheville was being a positive influence within the queer community, I also grew up outside of it. As soon as the city limits of Asheville stop, the influence that it has greatly diminishes. And so, if we can bring that sort of open-mindedness to our communities out here, west of Asheville, north of Asheville, in rural America, and start to sow the seeds that just because you are gay, just because you're trans, just because you're non-binary, just because you're a person of color, I mean, even as queer people, we can fight for the rights of other communities and other marginalized peoples. Just because you're any of these identities and cultures doesn't mean that you're an enemy. It doesn't mean that you think the complete opposite. It doesn't mean that you're out to steal other people's rights, or livelihood, or their place at the table. I've lost my train of thought. Classic air sign. Where were we? SS: Changes that you've seen sort of here. BL: Oh yeah, changes. So specifically going back to the drag community, I think we've had a drag show in Sylva before I got on the scene. I think for me in particular, what I wanted to create with my friend Ren Stogner, Ren Rum, we wanted to create a place that not only artists could express themselves, but also like a safe space for queer youth, for youth in general, just to be who they are and to explore whatever identity they want to in a safe space. And so we have a zero tolerance for sexual assault, we have a zero tolerance for hate speech. If we catch wind of it, we'll kick you out. There's just no ifs, ands, or buts. While we strongly value open dialogue and open communication, we also want to make sure that this is a safe space for everyone to voice their thoughts and their opinions. So that has been a real blessing. Land 4 And I've actually had high school students reach out to me and say, "Hey, you don't know me, but I am a gay guy at the high school a county over. And I wanted to come out here and see what was going on, so I brought my friends, and this is the first place that we felt safe to be ourselves." And that just blew me away. And it's like, "Yes, that's exactly what I wanted." But I didn't even think about it when, like the night of, and it was just so magical and so surreal to have someone reach out. And it's very much something that I wish that I had when I was their age, even though I'm only four or five years older, still very young. I think it's just really important to have those spaces for people. So, as far as Asheville, I've definitely seen sort of an explosion of not only queer spaces, but also like these safe spaces for queer people. I am absolutely privileged, honored, humbled, grateful to be a regular performer at the Odditorium in Asheville. It's kind of a little dingy dive bar. It's a very punk-forward atmosphere. I just really love it because as someone who's not necessarily punk themselves, there's sort of like a punk spirit to say, "This is how I view my art, and this is how I view queer culture, and this is my space to say what I want." And so I've sort of seen that happen with Asheville, and I've not quite seen to the extent that I hope, but I think at least here in Sylva and in the Western Carolina community, I've seen sort of an opening of doors to a lot of people. I've seen SAGA do some really awesome work around the community, which is our local student organization. SS: Yeah. What has SAGA been doing? I don't mean to put you on the spot. BL: Brain fog. Just off the top of my head, they've been helping me with the show, Mad for Drag at Mad Batter. And had we been having these conversations like a few years ago, I would say even, I feel like there would be a lot more hesitation with the threat of violence against queer people, the threat of nobody showing up. But there's definitely been sort of an attitude shift within this area for queer entertainment. We've seen with RuPaul's Drag Race has opened the doors for a lot of people and well, RuPaul, to some, is a very controversial figure. I still believe that RuPaul's Drag Race, I feel like a lot of the queer community owes a lot to the show itself about opening non-queer audiences up to queer entertainment. And while we still have a long way to go to be a fully inclusive queer community, I think that's definitely like the first step towards that reality. SS: Sure, awesome. And how has your drag life changed with COVID? BL: Oh, gosh. I miss performing in front of people so, so, so, so, so much. I have been absolutely honored to perform via livestream, and I'm so grateful for those opportunities, but it is not the same at all. Even when I was performing with a face mask on, and everyone else was face masked, and everyone was socially distant at the Odditorium, even with all of those COVID, and outside, even with all those COVID protocols, it just wasn't the same because I like to get up in people's business, and I like to have fun, and I like to make them feel welcome and to sort of break down those barriers. And it's just so much more difficult for someone who's so much more geared to face-to-face interaction to be in this pandemic, but that's what we have to do. I will say I'm a little disappointed in some of the people that I've seen not take code regulation seriously within the drag community, outside of the drag community. It kind of breaks my heart because it's such an easy step to take. It may ruin your picture, quote, unquote, but at the end of the day, don't you want to be remembered for doing the right thing and taking every safety protocol you can to stop the pandemic and flatten the curve? That's all I'll get in on to that. I don't want to be too much. I don't want to be too controversial. SS: Yeah, I know. So what is it that feels so different about it? Is it the energy exchange or what would you say it is? Land 5 BL: I think a big part is I think the public is so, so tired of not having that social interaction of being really distant from the people that we love. For me as an extrovert, it's been really tough. I thrive off of human contact. I can't remember the last time I hugged somebody, and that's heartbreaking for me. I love expressing my compassion to other people with hugs. I mean, we met and touched elbows, and that's about the most intimate that I've been with anybody. And so, I think a lot of people are just tired, and it really does read in audiences when I did a few shows outdoors and everyone was masked. You could tell the audience was tired. We don't have the same crowd exuberance that we would usually have on a Thursday night, on a Thirsty Thursday. People are a lot... They're just looking to like escape, and I don't blame them at all. I'm right there in the boat with them. But I think following this pandemic, we're going to have a real resurgence, and I'm hoping a golden age of drag, where everyone's just ready to have a good time and to express that artistic flow in a really raw environment. I'm really excited to see what the future has in store. SS: Yeah, yeah. That sounds wonderful. Was there anything more you would like to see on campus? What would you love to see more on campus? BL: What would I love to see more on campus? I would love... Let me answer the question in a little bit of a, I guess, a roundabout way, what I would like to see less of on campus. As somebody who is gender-nonconforming, is sort of a non-binary person that gravitates towards the feminine side, I have dressed the way I feel most comfortable a lot of the times. I've even been in drag on campus just to sort of like practice. Or I've had like an appearance in between classes where I had to be in drag the whole day. And I would have people that would come up to me and would make fun of me. I had a faculty member walk behind me and follow me to my apartment and be like, "Did you lose a bet?" And I was like, "No." And it's like, I would like to see less of the pointing and laughing than I have seen. And while I do feel that Western is a pretty inclusive community, it only takes one rotten Apple to spoil the bunch, and so I would very much like to see less of that. Queer people are not here for your entertainment. While I am a drag queen, while I am an entertainer, if I'm walking from class to class, I'm not here for that kind of interaction. So unless you're wearing like one of those inflatable dinosaur outfits, you probably shouldn't point at someone. And the thing is, if you're a straight cis white person, a non-marginalized person, or let's say a less-marginalized person, looking, making remarks, pointing or trying to be, maybe, conspicuous and having your side conversations, queer people do see that. Queer people notice, people of color notice when the environment is not welcoming to them. It's not hard, and you're not being inconspicuous. It's quite noticeable. So I would very much like to see less of that atmosphere. And so while I do think that it is a step up from the threat of physical violence that we faced, even up into today, that culture sort of diminishing, I also would like to see it taken a step further and just embrace everyone and just be... Or even just mind your own business. How about that? Yes, I'm wearing a dress. Yes, I was born a male. It's none of your business. SS: Yeah, yeah. Thank you. Is there anything else you'd like to share? Changes or exciting things or thoughts? BL: Final thoughts? That's a great question. I always get trumped up on this. Ooh, not to use that word. Bye-bye. Final thoughts. I'm trying to think. I don't know. I don't have anything off the top of my head. SS: No, you don't have to. And we just had our inauguration this week, too. Land 6 BL: Yeah. I've always said that I think the most damaging aspect of a Trump presidency isn't any of the policies that he's instituted, but it's been the culture around that sort of enableist culture of, "Yeah, we're in the majority now. We can say whatever we want. We can do whatever we want. We can carry, this makes me sick to my stomach, we can carry a Confederate flag around the Capitol Hill." That has been the most damaging aspect of the Trump presidency, in my perspective, as a queer person. And so, I'm really excited for, while I'm not a neoliberal, while I'm not like a complete and outright Democrat, I definitely would ally myself with progressives and with the left-wing, and so I'm really excited to see what Joe Biden is going to do. And while I don't agree with everything, I'm very excited to see what his administration and what this new government is going to put in place for queer people, for people of color, for indigenous peoples, for Americans. I'm really excited. SS: Yay. Thank you so much. BL: Thank you for having me so much. It was so good to see you again. SS: I'm going to pause this.
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