Mondays on Zelda & Scout are all about you! In a series we call “Just Folks,” we talk to Southerners who have found their way to New York about where they’re from, where they are now, and what home means to them.
This week we have Katie, a New York-born, Kentucky-raised queer grrl who’s got a touch of that early adulthood existentialism about her at the moment (we’ve been there: we even started a blog about it). She reminds us that New York is what you make of it (plus tax).
Katie Beth White
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m a twenty-two year-old queer grrrl, living in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. I work for a public defense office in Manhattan, which is fucking rad. I pet sit for at least seven different people, which is much less rad. Some weekends, I clean hoarders’ houses for extra cash.
Prison Abolitionist. Bike Rider. Karaoke Enthusiast.
Time North of the Mason-Dixon line so far?
Fourteen months in New York, four years in Chicago
What brought you to New York?
Although I feel Louisville in my bones, I was not born there. It is decidedly my hometown, not technically. I spent the first five-ish years of my life in New York before my parents traded stale air and concrete for pollen and a backyard. As the story goes, I always wanted to come back when the time was right, meaning after I’d developed thicker skin but still romanticized bright city lights and getting lost. That was always the plan; I’m no flake.
What made the move possible was an internship with a public defense office and the ability to crash on my mother’s best friend’s couch (Thanks, Diane!). Cut to the office hiring me, which is how one summer in the city became two.
What’s the most common reaction when people learn where you’re from? What’s something about life in the South that you have to explain to non-Southerners?
There are two main reactions:
1. Something something why aren’t you barefoot? Something Jennifer Lawrence, something about bourbon, something something have you been to the Derby? Something LOOOOIEEVIIILLEEE.
2. Oh, cool! What was THAT like?
Thanks to OkCupid, I’ve solidified my Louisville elevator pitch, drawing it out if and only if a lady is particularly interested in the “Growing Up Queer in The South” malaise (For the record, coming out stories on a first date aren’t cute. If you give me the whole saga, I can guarantee that my eyes have already rolled so far back into my head that there’s no way I can roll them back for a second date).
That said, life in the South is real cute. Non-Southern-identified people get wide-eyed when I compare walking down the street in New York to walking down a sidewalk in Louisville. I think that’s the biggest difference: the expectation of small kindnesses. Making eye contact with strangers in New York is not in your best interest. You’ll inevitably be asked for directions or a light, to donate to Greenpeace, or to give someone a swipe. In Louisville, you say “Hi! How are you?” to every stranger you pass, because in the South, you have plenty of time.
Describe life in NYC as people at home picture it. Describe life in NYC as it actually is.
Big. Exciting. Expensive.
New York is all of those things, especially expensive — almost not worth it expensive. I’m still trying to figure out why I’m here … and let me tell you, reading “Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York” did not help. New York is merely what you project upon it + tax. It’s magnetizing, and you will spend literal years trying to understand why that is. You come to New York, eyes toward chic transformation. When that doesn’t happen, you wonder what is wrong with you.
It wasn’t until a few months ago that I decided to change my perspective and be happy. Instead of surmounting this gigantic barrier between myself and my *~self-actualization~*, I realized that the barrier wasn’t real. Precipice. Perspective. Paradigm shifts. Etc. Fake it ’til you make it, you know? So far, so good! I guess that’s what life in NYC is all about: realizing that everything you thought you came here to do isn’t actually what’s up, but don’t worry, because you’re going to learn about all these other things that will transform you in a completely different way. (Concision is not my forte.)
You have to know your limits here. If you say yes to everyone and everything, you’ll have a plethora of crazy stories, but be broke within three days. One week, I’ll eat nothing but oatmeal and peanut butter, heading to bed each night at 8:30 p.m. sharp; the next, I’ll stay out until 4 or 5 a.m., dancing at underground queer parties, trespassing on rooftops, biking from one Brooklyn neighborhood to the next … and then getting up at 6:30 for work.
For me, life in New York is not sustainable. That’s why everyone is either hella grumpy or off to the Hamptons every other weekend. New York will teach you how to take when all you’ve given is gone.
Where do you consider home? Why?
Louisville is home. It’s where I forged my first friendships, developed some semblance of identity, and spent most of my nights and days fighting with my parents. When someone asks me where I’m from, Louisville comes out of my mouth without a second thought.
Do you miss where you’re from? Do you see yourself going back?
This is legit the most difficult question on here.
I do miss Louisville. When I’m feeling sad (or broke), I torture myself by browsing Louisville’s Craigslist apartment listings. I picture fixing up my own shotgun house and inviting friends over for a beer in my garden. Meeting my grandmother for our weekly lunch sounds great, as does watching my father win a peach basket at St. Joe’s picnic. Louisville has changed so much since I left, which makes it difficult to imagine anything other than the very privileged lifestyle that I had growing up.
Louisville is a great place to visit, but not for me any more. I am nothing like the girl who lived there. I don’t want to be her. I respect, but don’t particularly like her. Louisville reminds me of the way I was, and I have zero desire to go back and reclaim that space. I need to let that Katie have that Louisville. I have many more places to be and many more versions of myself to become. I need a city much louder than what Louisville could offer right now. Maybe Louisville will be a stop along the way, but it’s not my resting place. Who really knows? I contain multitudes, right?
[I should interject here to say that I am by no means trying to present a counter-cultural image by seeking out “struggle.” I am aware of my status in this country, of my status in Louisville, and of my status in Bed-Stuy. But to live on my own, as I do now, is fulfilling in a way that I don’t believe I could attain in Louisville. Plus, how could I possibly live without Chinatown or Brooklyn block parties? What could possibly match being drunk in a cab that will probably make you overdraft, heading over the bridge, being awestruck by the Manhattan skyline?]
Do you consider yourself a Southerner? Do you consider yourself a New Yorker? Why or why not?
No and no. I’m a kid from Louisville currently in New York. I am full of city pride, which may sound cognitively dissonant when I tell you that I couldn’t care less for college basketball (sorry not sorry). I’ve hung my obligatory Louisville flag on my wall and had the inevitable internal “do I want a fleur-de-lis tattoo” debate (no).
I know that the definitions are subjective and/or up to public colloquial. I’m all for (re)claiming identity, but something about calling myself a Southerner or a New Yorker doesn’t sit right. I say “you all,” but my wardrobe is almost entirely black. Which counts more? Maybe I have a problem calling myself a Southerner because my fav is problematic. Ya feel? Read The New Mind of the South by Tracy Thompson, if you don’t know what I mean.
Looks like I have even more questions than answers. Livin’ in that state of twenty-something flux.
Which food/drink/song/book/movie/artwork/quotation/gif/etc. defines New York for you?
“You see I was in a curious position in New York: it never occurred to me that I was living a real life there.” -Joan Didion
Which food/drink/song/book/movie/artwork/quotation/gif/etc. defines where you’re from?
What is the best cure for homesickness?
Text your friends from home. Reminisce. Sit with your homesickness.
Let it remind you of all the good you have and will have.