Meet Kayla E., Editor-in-Chief of Nat. Brut
Can you describe your experience witnessing the Black Chamber of Commerce burn a few blocks from your apartment?
I’ve lived in Beaufort, South Carolina since April 2016. As with most of the country, this town is relatively segregated. I recently started a new body of work for Ecotone Magazine and in my introductory statement, I described life in Beaufort using these words:
"Living in the lowcountry at times feels like a dream. As a native Texan, my natural surroundings have almost exclusively been composed of parking lots, sprawling highways, endless flat fields, and the occasional howling winds of a passing tornado. I made my way to Beaufort, South Carolina with the intention of “recovering,” so to speak, from the chaotic bustle of life in Dallas. And in this gorgeous, quiet, and remote part of the country, I recover. The history of the lowcountry, with all its violence, resilience, and resistance, permeates every aspect of daily living. The past is present.”
The residue of slavery is ever-present in this part of the world. I've spent a lot of time at the historic Penn Center, where MLK penned his “I Have a Dream” speech. The neighborhood across the street from where I live is populated with plantation homes. The main drag in town is named after Robert Smalls, an enslaved African American who, during and after the American Civil War, gained freedom and became a ship's pilot, sea captain, and politician.
This history has been very much a part of everyday life in Beaufort for me. My girlfriend has been here longer than me and she remembers when the Black Chamber of Commerce was vandalized in 2015, before it was even constructed; someone painted “racist” on a sign at the future site of the building. In the aftermath of this terrifying and historic election, many of us in the community fear that the fire at the Chamber was another act of hate. Investigators now say that the fire was electrical, not arson, and I have no choice but to accept that. I will say, though, that I would have been very surprised had it been linked to arson; not because I didn’t think it was arson, but because I didn't think anyone would call it that.
Many of our readers live in the Northeast. Can you describe the response to Trump's election in Beaufort, South Carolina?
In the days following the election, my partner and I moved about town in a state of grief and fear. I’ve heard from friends who live in more progressive cities that there's been a palpable sense of shock and sorrow in the spaces they moved through. That has not been the case here. This is Trump Land. We spend time with a very small community of Democrats here, and for the most part, the folks we thought we shared common ground with have told us to “give him a chance” and that we need to “accept the outcome.” I, for one, refuse. It’s been tough living here. Now, more than ever, I’m craving an active community of queer folks, people of color, and allies who are willing to put muscle behind the resistance. The deep south can be very lonely.
What worries you most about the incoming administration?
I have always been afraid. I was afraid as a child, living in poverty, being female, being queer, being Latina, being a survivor. I have never felt safe in this country. Now, more than ever, the state has made it clear that it devalues me. The state and the people behind it have sent a message to me and to those I love that we do not belong here, that we are not wanted. To make things worse, I have begun to get harassed online. I’ve had to step away from social media these days because I’ve had an unprecedented level of vitriol directed at both myself and Nat. Brut since the election. Worry, worry, worry, it’s eating me alive.
I have, however, found some strength and affirmation in the words of poet Jesus Valles:
"by the time ICE told us what detention center they'd placed my brother in, he had dropped some 25 pounds or so. my brother, the baseball player, the mujeriego, the stoic one, the tough one, had never been so void of flesh, breath, or light.
the machinery that you're now paying attention to was built and used during bush's reign but it was finessed, it was most efficient, during the hope and change years. we have been losing forever now. so here we are, with a machine all prepped and a populace ready to help.
we only got us.”
How is Nat. Brut standing up for underrepresented voices in our new political climate?
In the wake of the election, Nat. Brut’s editors released a statement to our community reaffirming our commitment to amplifying the voices of marginalized folks and letting our readers know that we will continue to be with them in this fight.
Our staff is comprised of activists, writers, and artists all deeply committed to resisting and dismantling the systems of oppression that put Donald Trump in office. Our Senior Editor, Yanyi Luo, has launched a call for submissions for a folio that will collect and highlight experiences, thoughts, and viewpoints from all types of queer/non-binary/trans Asians. My partner Laura and I decided to launch Another Closet, a call for submissions by queer / trans folks and /or survivors living with addiction. The project was intended to go live in the spring, but we felt a sense of urgency to get it going sooner. Laura wrote the description of the project, which sums up what we hope to accomplish with this project, and all of our efforts, really:
"You do not need to be okay right now. You are welcome here. We want this space to be an exercise in community building, harm reduction, vulnerable sharing, and empathetic listening.”
Nat. Brut will keep doing what we do. For most of us, we have no option but to continue to resist. We are the very people at risk.
What can men do right now to help create solidarity and support for women?
Great question. I think the men can at the very least stand up to harassment. For example, my partner and I were being mildly harassed in a grocery store yesterday. It would have been so comforting to have had someone stand up for us. One of my greatest wishes is for the men in my life to tell me that they have my back. That I could call them if I needed anything and that I would trust that they would be there.
I have this neighbor, a man I consider an “accidental feminist” (my partner came up with that term and I love it) who has modeled this in a really effective way. A group of men moved in upstairs, and my partner went to our neighbor to chat about it. She expressed her concern that they might be homophobic (this is the deep south, mind you), and he told her not to worry, that he has our back if they tried to mess with us. This man isn’t walking around telling everyone that he’s a feminist, or an ally, he JUST IS ONE, whether or not he even knows it, which is so beautiful. I don’t trust many men who claim to be “woke.” I have had personal experiences with abusers who insert themselves into marginalized communities to gain trust, only to exploit and abuse that trust. It’s disheartening. I don’t know if “accidental feminism” makes sense to anyone outside of my partner and me, but it’s the best model I have in mind right now.
What are three other feminist / equal rights movements you'd like to amplify?
RAINN, the ACLU, and The Indigenous Environmental Network are good places to start, but there are so many more. Readers can take a look at (and contribute to) the ever-evolving Resources page on Nat. Brut's site for a more exhaustive list.
What can readers of Writing on Glass do to support you?
This is such a sweet question! Well my partner and I are trying to save up so we can move to a safer, more progressive city and we’re actively looking to take on more freelance gigs. If any of your lovely readers are looking for a freelance graphic designer, please reach out! Also, my partner Laura is a copyeditor / copy writer and fact checker and is looking for new gigs. Another way to support is to follow Nat. Brut on social media (Facebook + Twitter + Tumblr + Instagram) and submit to or share about our current projects!