Tales From a Rock & Roll Queer

KC (Kings of Spade) on queerness, the Blues, and coming out twice.

I came out when I was in second grade. I didn’t realize I was “coming out” at the time—I just told an older girl in school that I liked her. By the time I had walked home from school, the rumor about what I had just done had spread so fast my mom had already found out. My mom was one of those very active PTA type parents, always volunteering and helping to organize school activities. She attended church on Sundays and was very religious. After hearing the rumor, she was embarrassed and she was PISSED! As soon as I walked in the house, I was physically beat up. Amidst punches, slaps, and my crying she was telling me she heard about what I had done.  

I was born a girl, but as far back as I can remember I never felt like one. I have three long-haired, extremely feminine sisters. We all had the same upbringing—we were raised in the same house with the same parents and, somehow, while they wanted to paint their fingernails, wear make-up, bedazzle themselves with pink glitter, collect Barbies, and hangout with other girls, I wanted army figurines, wore matching camo shirts and shorts, skateboarded, wore a short haircut with a rat-tail, and ran around with boys. I was so obviously different. In my mind, I thought God had made a mistake and made me a girl by accident. As a child, I honestly thought I might wake up one day and the mistake would be corrected; I would even pray every night for it to be corrected. For the time being, I just passed as a “tomboy.” I looked like a boy and I carried myself like a boy because that’s what came natural to me. Even amongst my young peers, I felt accepted as one of the boys.  

So, back to getting my ass beat by Mom… She grabbed the back of my neck and shoved my head down toward our kitchen trash can. She grabbed a scissors and cut off my rat-tail. She told me, “From now on, you’re gonna learn how to act like a lady.” The beating, I could take. But on the next day of school she made me wear a dress. This was unbearable. This was the end of my world. I had always been one of the boys… how would I ever be accepted if I am now marked as a dress-wearing girl? The humiliation was unbearable. In one day, I went from a super confident, rabble-rousing kid to an embarrassed, insecure, shadow of a person. I hid in a bathroom stall during recess. It was bad enough my classmates had to see me, I didn’t want the whole school seeing me that way. A teacher did notice my drastically changed disposition. One day, when my father came to pick me up from school she mentioned it to him. I don’t know what she told him, but he came home that day and told my mom to stop forcing me to wear dresses.

So back in the closet I went. Had I known how much drama that would have caused, I would have never told that girl in school I liked her. The saddest part was that I knew deep down there was nothing wrong with me. I was born this way. I was always attracted to girls. I knew I was always going to be attracted to girls, but from this point on it had to be my dirty little secret. I was going to have to pretend to be “normal” so as not to get punished, or freak people out, or embarrass my mom.

Suppressing these natural feelings was really hard through intermediate and high school. My peers were exploring their curiosities, testing their sexuality, and developing romantic relationships. My hormones were equally active but I had no outlet. Meanwhile I had been living this lie pretending to be someone I was not for so many years. On top of all the natural stresses of growing up, you have the extra weight of feeling like a fraud and wondering if your friends and family would still love you if they knew who you really were. This is where queer kids really get into trouble. If they are not in an accepting and nourishing environment, where can they turn? I understand the heartache and loneliness one can feel when they don’t fit in; I too had moments of questioning if my life was worth the pain I was feeling. I wanted to get away from home ASAP, and decided on leaving my home in Hawaii and going all the way to the Midwest for college. And then one day, a girl came along…

I was cruising the hallway of my sorority (OK, it was cheaper to be in a sorority than it was to live off campus) where they put framed photos of the previous years pledges. I noticed a stunning young woman who had already graduated the year prior. I remembered her name. She came to visit her friends during alumni week and I had the chance to meet her. There was an instant mutual attraction. We were both closeted, so I’ll just call it kismet and superior gaydar but I JUST KNEW she’d be open to a romantic connection. One day, we hiked a trail off from campus and shared our life stories. Before the trail ended and we were about to enter a public area so I stopped us in our tracks and asked if I could kiss her. She smiled and said, “I’d like that.”  

It was time to come out again. Maybe it was the boosted confidence of being in a loving relationship with a smart, gorgeous, cool woman; maybe it was my Women’s Studies coursework solidifying my ethos of punk rock feminism. Probably it was a combination of all of this, with a developed sense of who I wanted to be as a person. I was so tired of faking it. I was too smart to think being gay was wrong. How can two people loving each other ever be wrong? I had also developed enough self-confidence to decide that if my loved ones couldn’t accept who I was, I had to be okay with letting them go.  

I called my parents from the utility closet in my sorority house. I told them I wanted to talk to both of them on the phone at the same time. My dad, knowing some bad news was about to be spilled, let out a long sigh and said, “She’s either gonna tell us she’s gay or she’s pregnant.” I said, “HA! Well, I’m certainly NOT pregnant. And yep, I’m gay.” There was silence. One phone hung up. I said, “Dad, are you still there? Is mom OK?” He said, “No, she’s crying. I don’t like it but I love you no matter what. I’m gonna go deal with your mom now. Just give her some time.” I tried calling the next day. My mom didn’t want to talk to me. I called the day after that. She still wasn’t ready. Two weeks went by. She told me she was having a really hard time with it and to please be patient with her. Thankfully, my sisters were all supportive. My dad remained confused for a while but eventually came around. My tough-cookie mom was another story. I had always been her favorite. She was trying to square her love for me with her religion, and it just wasn’t adding up.  

Slowly, with patience and time things got better. When I first came home for the holidays, my girlfriend wasn’t welcome. The next year, I said if my girlfriend couldn’t come I wasn’t coming either. Finally my mom relented and started inviting my girlfriend to family gatherings. After a couple more years she realized she actually really likes my girlfriend.  Now my girlfriend is treated like another member of the family. We even joke that she gets way better Christmas presents from my mom than I do.

After college is when music became a passion and focus of mine. I was only a supporter and fan at first, but when I started writing poems and songs of my own, I realized I had a lifetime of pent-up emotions to release. I always felt Blues music like a pang in my gut. I could feel the pain in Janis Joplin’s wail and the sassy clap-back in Aretha’s tales of a woman being wronged. It was emotionally raw, authentic, and sung with meaning.   When I found my voice as an artist, these same stylistic traits came to me naturally. I learned about the potency in lyrics and punk rock ethos by other musical influences like Fiona Apple and Ani DiFranco. Like them, if something is not right, I will put myself out there and say something about it, even if it bucks the system. This is one of the reasons I tell my coming out story at every show. Just in case there is one person in the crowd who may be struggling with the issue, I like to put myself out there to just say, “Look, it wasn’t easy for me either, but I made it out okay and it will get better over time.”

When I think back on the day I got beat up for coming out, I see it as one of the best things that ever happened to me. That day, my life had been thrust through a series of obstacles and challenges that forced me to come out the other end mentally tough, self-assured, purely authentic, and most importantly, empathetic toward others who feel they don’t belong. As a Blues artist I bare my soul, speak my truth, and sing like I mean it.

(Photo Credit: Kari Meiers)

It was 2006, and Kings of Spade moved from Honolulu to Los Angeles to chase their dreams. But the jungle, as we’ve learned, isn’t always so welcoming. Singer KC and drummer Matt Kato were barely scraping by. A majority of the feisty anthems on the group’s new full-length, Kings of Spade (on Soundly Music), comes from simply not letting tough times kick them down. Produced by Grammy-winner Dave Cobb (Judah and the Lion, Chris Stapleton), their output (guitarist Jesse Savio and bassist Tim Corker rounds out the band) is at turns soulful and rollicking—never complacent, never dull, always sincere. They recorded Kings of Spade over two weeks in Nashville with Cobb.

(Photo Credit: Kari Meiers)