Earlier this year we heard about a young lady named Djuan Trent from Kentucky who placed in the top ten at last years Miss America Pageant and came out as a queer woman shortly thereafter. Upon her coming out, Djuan received both criticism and praise for using the word queer to describe her sexuality. Prompted by rude hate filled comments that were posted on a fellow lesbian blog, TFF decided to dig into the word "queer" and chit-chat with Djuan about her experiences as a QWOC and how being comfortable with her sexuality and sexual orientation have helped her in the workplace and on stage.
Djuan is a FAB and interviewing her was an absolute pleasure. Enjoy the post and make sure you follow Djuan on Instagram and Facebook!
The Fab Femme: Tell us a little about life pre-pageant and how you were introduced to the pageant work.
Djuan Trent: Before I ever started doing pageants I was in school and majored in theater performance. I was watching the Miss America pageant in 2009 and I saw a girl I knew on TV who was from my home town and it made me think “hey, I know her… I think could do this”. I went on the Miss Kentucky pageant website and signed up and got a call back two days later. I did my first pageant two months later and ended up winning, which gave me the opportunity to compete in Miss Kentucky that summer. I placed in the top 10 that year, and after that I was determined to come back and win the next year- and I did. Winning Miss Kentucky afforded me the opportunity to go to Miss America where I placed in the top 10 and was also voted “Contestants Choice”. That was a great experience.
TFF: When did you discover you were a queer woman of color and was “queer” the first label you gravitated towards upon coming out?
DT: I have had queer experiences all throughout my life. I’ve known that I liked girls from a very young age. It was something that, (growing up) I thought everyone felt and in reality, no one really talked about it. As I got older people started telling me that having those feelings were wrong. I tried to have a conversation with my mom while I was in college and she told me it wasn’t of God and to pray it out. It never went away and praying didn’t help. In our final coming out conversation she told me that she thought I was over it because I was dating men but that never worked.When I first wrote the blog I said “I am gay”. I went back and changed it to “I am queer” because it’s a term I feel more comfortable identifying with.
I like the term queer because it’s one of those things that allows people to be fluid without being put in a box. Sexuality is fluid. When it came down to me trying to understand myself, I couldn’t really identify with the girls who felt completely unnatural being with a man because that wasn’t my story. But then I think about some of the girls I went to college with- girls who were 100% lesbian back then and are now happily married to a man. Queer, to me, is something that explains that. It is something that embraces the fluidity of sexuality and understanding that we love a person or a soul, and sometimes our love is not strictly based on the sex of that person or soul.
TFF: Did your peers know about your sexuality before you came out publicly?
DT: Yes. Actually most of my closest friends here in Kentucky knew. My last boyfriend knew, my best friend Pauli knew and my Mom and brother knew. When it came out on the news people who knew me were kind of like “we didn’t know it was a secret” *Laughs*. I definitely had a strong support system. I think that was one of the biggest things that helped me get along and cope. Especially being able to confide in my friends and my family. I have friends who have been out of the closet for years and they’ve been there to answer my questions .You know, “does she like me, how do I know if she’s gay” *laughs.
TFF: You received some negative criticism for identifying as a queer woman instead of a lesbian. Do you have a theory as to why the word queer makes such a disturbance within the lesbian community?
DT: Within the LGBT community, I’ve talked to older people who don’t like the word because it has a negative emotional attachment for them. In the conversations I’ve had, they don’t like the word and I respect that, but they’re also understanding of why I choose to use it. I think peoples issue (within the community) with me using the word is that sadly, some people find it absolutely necessary that you specify the way you identify. Quite frankly, that’s what labels are for- identifying, so I get it. But I believe that the way you choose to identify or label yourself is totally up to what you feel best suites you and not what anyone else feels they need to know. I also think another issue people have is feeling like it’s too ambiguous of a term. Labels help us to understand one another, we use them everyday,which is why it is important for us to have the freedom to label ourselves as we wish to be understood. And if you don’t understand, ask.
TFF: We briefly discussed the topic of women embracing their sexuality. How do you think being in charge of your sexuality helps women in the workplace and how do you think it’s empowering?
DT: I think it’s one of those things where, it automatically gives you power. For so many years women have been forced to suppress their sexuality. We’re told not to be sexy because it’s distracting to a man. If you come off a certain way then men won’t respect you or they’ll think you’re soft. We have boobs and we have butts and we have to put in a lot more effort into the way we present ourselves and cover or not cover those things. There’s a big difference between the woman who wears what she wants and fears nothing in the workplace and the woman who covers up and acts submissive. As far as queer women, I see an incredible difference in the way men treat a masculine women versus a feminine woman. If a man sees a woman in a tie carrying herself a certain way, they think she’s in charge and they look at her more like an equal instead of a sexual object. Doing what’s comfortable for you instead of a man’s opinion is what’s empowering. Men will stifle and sit on women in the professional world as long as you let them.
TFF: How has being open about your sexuality helped you become a better competitor and a more confident woman?
DT: I feel that it has truly freed me. It’s not a thing that’s a semi-secret anymore. I feel so free in so many different aspects of my life now. I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do if I want to because I no longer have anything to hide . Trying to navigate around being queer was a hassle and I don’t have to do that anymore, and it’s great.
TFF: What are some of your thoughts on queer women of color in media?
DT: Well, I like that there’s starting to be more of us in the media. For so long LGBTQ culture revolved around the white gay male. After a while, a couple of splotches of gay women were thrown in there. We started to see queer women of non-color coming out and that was acceptable as well. I think depicting QWOC on television is a bit of a different step to take. People don’t really know how to go about telling those stories. As a QWOC you automatically assume there are three strikes against you. 1. You’re a woman 2. You’re of color 3. You’re queer.
It’s a beautiful thing that we’re finally seeing more QWOC in media. Religion and faith traditionally play such a heavy role in black culture that we have a different experience coming out and trying to be open about who we are. It’s getting better.
TFF: Last question, what advice would you give young women who strive to be successful, independent business women?
DT: The best advice I can give you is to take charge. Have a vision but prepared to role with the punches. Sometimes there are detours and there’s a better way to get to your vision than we have planned. Always stay focused and don’t be afraid to take charge and realize that that’s your baby and no one’s gonna take care of it the way that you do.
Make sure you follow Djuan on Instagram!