Take the Last Bite

We take a bite out of hip-hop and music making with Cuee, a Black trans artist based in Lawrence, Kansas. We chat about his shift from higher education into a full-time music career, how creating music can be a tool for exploring identity, and the invaluable role community plays in establishing art.

Show Notes

We take a bite out of hip-hop and music making with Cuee, a Black trans artist based in Lawrence, Kansas. We chat about his shift from higher education into a full-time music career, how creating music can be a tool for exploring identity, and the invaluable role community plays in establishing art.

To check out Cuee’s work, head to cueemusic.com. You can also follow him on Instagram and TikTok or stream his content on Spotify and Apple Music

Find out more about the Haus Of McCoy in Lawrence, Kansas. 

The copyright for all music included in today’s episode is held by Cuee and included with permission from the owner. 

Check out all episodes of Take the Last Bite wherever you listen to podcasts and stay tuned this summer for bonus episodes. 

What is Take the Last Bite?

Take the Last Bite is a direct counter to the Midwest Nice mentality— highlighting advocacy & activism by queer/trans communities in the Midwest region. Each episode unearths the often disregarded and unacknowledged contributions of queer & trans folks to social change through interviews, casual conversations and reflections on Midwest queer time, space, and place.

For questions, comments and feedback: lastbite@sgdinstitute.org

To support this podcast and the Institute, please visit sgdinstitute.org/giving

Host: R.B. Brooks, they/them, director of programs for the Midwest Institute for Sexuality & Gender Diversity

Cover Art: Adrienne McCormick

[Sample of “Boss Talk” by Cuee Plays]

RB:
Heyhihello y’all this is R.B. and welcome back for Season Two Episode Nine of Take the Last Bite, a show where we take Midwest Nice, give it a good contour, a mile high wig and some platform boots, and put it on stage to terrify all the conservative parents out there trying to keep their kids away from drag story time.

That boss you heard talking at the top of this episode is Black trans hip-hop artist Cuee Wright and on today’s episode we talk about his decision to go all-in on his music career after a stint in higher education.

But before we get into that, I wanna do a season recap becauseee…. we made it through season two y’all! Once upon a time, our team had a dream to launch a podcast to extend our focus on Midwest queer and trans communities and figured what better time to do that than during a global pandemic when our connections to each other and the nourishing conversations we have in physical space was deeply impacted. Since August 2021 we’ve published so many conversations with folks who are doing incredible work in the region and we are so motivated to keep unearthing all the Midwest has to offer.

If you haven’t checked out our earlier content, you can find all episodes from seasons one and two wherever you listen to podcasts.

Season Two was filled with enthralling conversations with storytellers, artists, educators, healers, dreamers and schemers.

On episodes One and Six, I chatted with queer and trans thereapists Coltan Schoenike and Ash Wickell about estasblishing a strong relationship with a therapist and how to take care of the electrified meat we inhabit.

On episode Two, personal development Coach Bastian provided some insight into shifting our mindsets to achieve our goals and the sticky realities of building queer capital.

Episodes Three and Four were deep reflections on Trans Day of Visibility. TK Morton gave us goosebumps with zir musings on trans joy and SGD Institute staff Andy, Danielle, Michelle and myself left no stone unturned as we thought about our own journeys into transness.

We made the personal very political on episode Five with Azrin and Oprah sharing their experiences running for city council positions. And episode Eight kept the momentum going with Stephanie Skora encouraging us to be informed voters with her experience creating the Girl, I Guess progressive voter guide.

Episode Seven resurfaced a stellar conversation from our Queer Policy Series with Katie Barnes, Chris Mosier and Naomi Goldberg explaining why we’re talking about sports as a major trans policy issue.

In all these chats, we dug into the complexities of doing political, educational and activism work in the Midwest region. Some recurring themes were the barriers of whiteness in Midwest cities for QTIBIPOC folks; the wide array of tools available to us to leverage the change we need; and an appetite for creating more room for possibilities and interrupting all the obstacles (our opposers, anti-trans policies, our self-doubt) that keep us from dreaming big and making the world we desire a reality.

All of that brings us to today’s episode, the final one of the season, where I had the pleasure of chatting with a grad school colleague and emerging hip-hop artist about using music and lyrics to educate, motivate, tell a story, and learn more about oneself in the process. Cuee is his own biggest hype person, he’s on a mission to bring queer and trans hip-hop artists to the next level and his engagment with the Lawrence Kansas community serves as an important backdrop for the art he’s creating. You’ll also get to hear a few more samples of his work throughout the episode, so

Turn the volume up and get ready for this episode of Take the Last Bite.

[INTRO MUSIC PLAYING]

Y'all we cannot do this. We cannot be these stereotypical Midwesterners. Please eat the rest of this food.

We just have these conversations every day with people like this is exhausting. I don't want to do this anymore.

Why can't we be in space with hundreds of other queer and trans folks and having these necessary conversations?

I don't know who you are, but we're going to talk by the potatoes for five minutes

Because aesthetic is the only thing keeping my dysphoria at bay. I'm broke all the time, but I look amazing.

Definitely going to talk about Midwest Nice and if that's as real as it wants to think it is.

Midwest nice is white aggression. That's what it is.

[END MUSIC]

RB:
All right. So let's go ahead and get into it. I'm super excited about this conversation, which I'm also realizing, I think is the first actual conversation you and I have had. We were like ships passing through the grad school sea.

Cuee:
Sometimes we've been in spaces together, but…

RB:
Yes. And I think something that is really interesting, too, that I'm thinking about it, too, is that I don't know this with certainty, but our program did not have trans people in it before you and I sauntered through that grad program.

Cuee:
You don't want to be like, I'm the first, but Kansas really made me realize that I probably am the first at a lot of stuff that happens.

RB:
Yeah, definitely just quite the learning token for that program. So there's a lot of exciting - I'm really excited about just being able to have this conversation because we're several years removed from grad school when we would have first had any awareness of each other. But glad to fast forward today and bring you into conversation here. So let's talk about who you are. Right. So whatever introduction makes sense for you. And then if you can add, what is your relationship to the Midwest?

Cuee:
Sweet. All right. My name is Q. Spell it C-U-E-E. Birth name, given name now Marquis Wright. Love. It just rings. It rings a Bell for me. Last name. I love it. Almost 30 years old. I'm in my 30th year. I'm learning how to do the whole age thing. So I'm in my 30th year, really turned 30 this year. Living life. I'm a musician, hip hop artist, also a radio DJ and MC. And some kind of compromise, of like all things entertainment, just put me on the stage, is what I say makes way. And I'm from Chicago, Illinois, originally. So Midwest is home for me. I'm used to it, even though I think I belong on the West Coast. But we can talk about that later. But definitely from the Midwest. Chicago is a little bit different from the Midwest after I've been in Kansas for a while. And so just learning and growing.

RB:
Amazing. And your emerging music career is kind of a big bite of what we're getting into today, but that has so many ties to kind of everything else. You just listed who you are as a person, how you understand yourself as a person. And I'm really stoked to get into all of that. So I kind of want to start there and kind of dig into where did the drive for music come from? And then what lately has encouraged you to what seems like going all in on music? Because as I just kind of hinted out, college was one thing, and what's happening now is another.

Cuee:
Totally different thing. Right. And I think that is a great question. I really didn't step into my identities and my queerness and who I was as an individual until I got into, like, college. I always think back now, was it because I didn't have the language, the vocabulary? Was it because I didn't have the people around me to know? Like, oh, this is a queer person. That's a trans person. That is who I am. I was feeling all of these things, writing my music from that same viewpoint. As a child, though, I look back to my lyrics and like, I've always been talking about this. I always have been hinting at, I don't fit in with you all. This is who I am. I'm different, quote unquote in the air words. We can get into what that looks like in the music world and what I'm going through now in the music world. But I think traditionally with my music, in the beginning, I really wasn't connected with my identities. As I started to learn more about myself, really get really comfortable with myself and come out and like, I am a black trans men, and I'm proud of it. Like, can nobody take that away from me. I really started feeling a lot more freer in my music, really connecting that to my music and realizing that that was a tool for me to kind of voice my progression, where I was, how I'm feeling, and that I'm also connecting with so many other people in the world who reach out and be like, Yo, this song I felt that because I'm going through the same thing, trying to come out to my parents who are going through all of these things. And so I've been using music now as a pilot to kind of like my diary as coming out myself to the world and just kind of sharing it. I remember when I was about to transition, I started music before I started transitioning. So my biggest thing was my voice is going to sound different. I have to change everything about me. Everybody already knows Cuee pre-transition. I was so nervous about everything, and all of my friends was like, that's you, you need to put that in your music. That is you do it. And so I did it. And that is when I started to get responses that I didn't imagine I was going to get right. How many people in the world? And then I sit back now and I'm like, if I have somebody like me to listen to, turn on or click on the social media and be like, wow, that's freedom right there. I get it. So now I get it. So now it pushes me every day now to be like, I'm solidifying a career in music. Like we mentioned before, I was in higher ed before. And so taking that shift, like, just making changes, I had more of a platform. The music world higher ed is worse than the music world. You ask my opinion. It’s violent in higher ed! I have been embraced by the hip hop community, and people are curious and wanting to know, and everything is so genuine. And I was not getting that experience in higher end. I was plateaued and I was like, I am creative, I'm a genius, I'm smart, and I didn't feel that support in that atmosphere. And so I said, I'm going to switch career paths and I'm going to pick a career path that I know I can do. It's going to be hard. Just as hard as higher ed, right. And do it. And I've been doing it. So that's like that kind of trajectory right there.

RB:
That's just so good. Right. And there's so much risk is the word that comes to mind. Right. With just like you've invested this time and money. Right. In getting these degrees. And I think that when we think about especially queer and trans folks who persevere through college using all these buzzwords from higher ed training. Right..

Cuee:
Yeah, that was BS. But anyway.

RB:
Right. But for queer and trans college students to persevere through college, they've spent all this time and resources and there's an expectation that they go into the field that they've studied. And so then to kind of reroute and decide, I'm going to take a pathway that's fulfilling. I'm going to take a pathway that affirms who I am as a person where I feel like I have a deeper connection with the people. Right. That is something that I think in this, especially these past few years, what they're calling the great resignation, where folks are like, I'm over this either corporate or higher education like scene and they're taking on things that are more fulfilling or less at least a little less violent, I think is really important. And I think modeling that for other queer and trans people is amazing because as you said, you didn't have that possibility model that was very obvious to you when you were trying to make sense of things and work through things. So I think it's dope that you're using this music, all of your music projects and this career as kind of the escape route from what you were online.

Cuee:
Yeah. And healing at the same time. And I'm like, I sit here and I quit high risk eight months ago, September 21, I left. It was last September 3. Never forget I made that long post. I joined a great resignation. So that's why I laughed a little bit when you said it. I'm here. Like, I'm doing it and I'm taking back my power. I'm taking back who I am individual. I'm going to take risk because my life has been full of risk. So what is the other difference for me taking risk? And it's like, and it paid off. And it paid off so much and so well. And I'm like, I have to display this and not be so humbled about it. Right. Not be quiet about it, because there are folks out there that need to hear a story just like mine. It's like, you know what? Just do it. And you never know what's going to come out on the other side. Have you ever really known what's going to come out on that side? But when you think great and you think positive, great things come out on the other side. And that's what I tell people. I have so much faith in myself. Like, I look my mom dead in the eyes, and I was like, I'm going to graduate with this master's degree because I promised you and the rest of the cohort and all of the teachers. But when I'm done, I'm doing what I want to do, and that's it. And she looked at me in eyes and said, you get to that graduation day. I'm going to support you every day after. And she has been non stop, like, “Yo, next performance, you need to do this better.” It gets good. Now. It's like she calls, “I'm going to pick out your next outfit because you need a little bit more star power. You are just sitting here, just that black T shirt.” All the support has been great now, and it pushes me. And I tell community that all the time when I get random messages and feeds and stuff, and they're like, you inspire me. And I'm like, you inspire me. I know that these messages are, like, affirming to what I'm doing. So that is the beauty of all of this. And I wasn't feeling that in higher ed.

RB:
Sure. It sounds like you were talking about kind of getting outreach from folks who are so just stoked to kind of see the person that you are doing the work that you are. And I think we get some of that in higher education from the students we connect with. That's a reality. And sometimes folks really feel like in higher education, they have to stick it through, because the students, the students. And I think what I've learned right is that the students can be great, and you can find that elsewhere, and you can still do education, and you can still do story sharing and still make those types of connections with people through other mediums and not feel trapped in a field that's not working. And I just, again, feel like you're really proving that in such a significant way.

Cuee:
I tell everybody this all the time. You just said so many things that brought up so many things. Higher Ed definitely set me up from this music career. I'm not going to stunt and act like me going to college learning how to get up, go to class, get my stuff together. Do research. Research has been the biggest thing for me in my music career that I don't think a lot of people do right. I'm like, I'm going to research something. I'm going to look at stats. I'm going to read things. I'm going to pick up a book. I'm going to figure it out. So I use a lot of the characteristics and stuff that I picked up within this music career. I also utilized classes at KU. So I took, like, music business courses, tax courses, and funding business courses, like, all different kind of things to kind of piece together. So strategically, I've always been an artist, right? I was just an artist in school, an artist in this grad program, and then got out of higher ed. And like you said, how can I keep telling these students? I worked in the Office of Admissions at first, so I was recruiting students to come. Then I switched to career services. And I'm like, all right, how am I helping these students find their careers and passions? But I'm stuck behind this desk following mine. That started to dawn on me a lot. And then COVID hit, and we had the opportunity to work from home, and that's when I was able to dabble a little bit more into getting my job done. But having the freedom, flexibility to kind of maneuver the music world a little bit more. Right. I'm not stuck inside on campus from eight to eight. You know how those days are, right? And so I'm having so much more time to kind of see things a different way. And so when they were trying to go back on campus, stuff for me has started to shift and move. This is where I reached this point where I was like, I have to make the biggest decision my life. And so I went to people like Cody, and I went to them. And I'm like, Yo, this is happening. I'm really scared. And Cody was like, “you never know what's on the other side.” And I'm like, that's all you have to tell me to SAGITTARIUS I'm gone. Like, what? I just needed a little ounce of confirmation. I did it. And so I think every day I owe to hire ed, right? I'm like, thank you for teaching me how to do this or network, right? Or have conversations with people or just all these little things. And so I don't knock hire ed too much. But the field just wasn't letting me grow or it wasn't letting me do that. And I love staying connected with students still, I think I think about that. I'm like, how do I stay connected with higher ed? Wow. I could be a musician that hit these college campuses. I put on a workshop, and then I'll go and perform in town later that night, and Bam, now again with students, I'm connected educational piece. I'm able to still present and do that stuff and also do my music stuff. And so I was like, the only way that I can do that is I got to leave higher ed. There was enough room for me to do that.

RB:
Well, that is I think the sticking point, I think about a lot of folks I know who made the choice to leave higher education, and it's because they have a passion and a drive to educate and connect and be in educational spaces. But it's the structure, it's the toxicity, it's the messiness of it that just is kind of playing out on our campuses right now. So it's tricky. Yeah, absolutely. Doing shows on college campuses and making the same types of connections. I see lots of, well not lots, but I definitely have folks in my ecosystem who've gone that route as well of just they can do the type of work they want to do and do it as their daily project instead of I had a friend once who really put in perspective. I was like, Damn it. This was a few years ago, and this is kind of where the wheels have started turning. And I was like, what am I doing? And he was like, because he was working in higher education, and he was like, I realized that I was spending 40 hours a week, which was a majority of his days doing work that wasn't fulfilling. And he's like, well, it wasn't necessarily that I never got to do anything I wanted to do. It was that a majority of our time was spent doing things that weren't fulfilling. So he's taken completely different pathways, which I think especially for queer and trans folks, because he was a shade of queer. Right. We've got a lot of creativity, and we're getting stifled in these higher education spaces when that's not what we need, that's not going to help us. So I get that completely. I've been envious of my folks who've departed higher education.

Cuee:
Hey, I always tell folks, when you're ready, you do it, right? I've been ready. It's liberating, but it is scary as hell. Even after I quit, it was like post one, two months. I was still having a little anxiety about it because higher ed also puts you on the schedule. You have to earn a lot of stuff when you leave, right? And then when you leave, because my big boundary when I left was, don't affiliate me or don't mention me or I don't want to do anything with KU because I really had to fill in Lawrence. I just really wanted to branch out. I don't want to go to events because I was always known. I'm really trying to separate myself. And so I think I really needed that essentially to break apart because for what, 25 years? I was in school, like, for ten years I was at KU, right? Six years. But work there, all that stuff. I'm like, I need a break. I took that break. That was affirming and then just processes like this. And even, like, you reaching out and all those types of types of things, I'm just like, okay, this is what I'm supposed to be doing. It's affirming, and I'm doing it, and I'm just going to keep doing it. I'm just going to keep doing it. We're going to figure it out.

RB:
Yeah. You seem like you're doing a pretty spectacular job of figuring it out.

Cuee:
I make it look good. Sometimes I'll be stressed, but y’all will never see that.

RB:
Let's reroute a little bit because I could certainly sit here and vent with you about KU and higher education for a long time. But I do think that's a very important foundation. Right. Because that's where you were and you're going in a completely different direction. So I think that departure is important to what it seems like is your up and comingness and what's next for you. You already talked about this a little bit, but I'm curious if there's anything else you would say about how using your music and the creation and a lot of that connectivity you've talked about with community to kind of really develop and kind of deepen your understanding of self and your identities and who you are as a person through all of this content creation.

Cuee:
Yeah. So music alone, I think just who I collaborate with. Right. We brought that up earlier as far as getting people, some people in a room together who would have never been in a room together before. And some of the coolest things that I've noticed and have changed a lot of people's mindsets and viewpoints. So that has been the coolest thing, I think, so far with my music in the community. Right. And so I'm like, in these rooms and I'm in these spaces. This was in the beginning when I first started out. And I'm like, wow, I can do something really big here. I can really connect. Let me start collaborating with other queer artists. And so first my palette. I wasn't really collaborating with a lot of queer artists, and I didn't like that. Right. I'm looking back and I'm like, no. So this new upcoming tape album, working on nothing but queer artists on there and myself. Right. So I'm like, I'm going to find you all. I'm on Instagram, Twitter. I'm like, I know there's not too many one in between that's out there, but we're out there. And so I found one trans rapper named KV. We dropped the song. Boss Talk. Song is pretty hot. Streams are loading. And that song is a statement song. That song right there. A lot of people have reached out because not only is the song hot, people are still wrapping their mind around two trans artists on this song, speaking their experiences from ways that are unimaginable. Right. We have KV on this track telling people to do the Meghan Stallion part, too, right. It's just clear as day. My pops is listening to this track, like, okay. And I'm really just coming into myself, like, people going to stare at me. I don't care. I'm here now. This is what we do. And so that statement song has been really been a cool experience. And so I think making music like that has been really powerful for people and really liberating. That's the word I hear a lot to a lot of people are like, Liberating, right? I play that. And now I don't care if I walk like, I see you out here, and I'm going to do the same thing. So that hints it with the music videos, right? I did a big collab with Silky Nutmeg Ganache, but that was one of the biggest collabs I ever had. I am a board member at the House of McCoy in Lawrence, Kansas, which is the Youth, Queer and Trans Center here. And Silky, they were able to get Silky to come out to the House and McCoy fundraising event in which they also asked me to perform. So Cuee in Cuee fashion. I said, Silky's on the way, how can we make this collab work? This is big. So with the help of the little community ideas, people are throwing, like, Silky a song. Take Silky to lunch, like, all this stuff. And I'm like, I'm going to do all of it. We're going to figure this out. So it was the first night Silky was getting ready up in the room, and I was like, she came the night before. They let us all meet all the artists that would do the show the next day. And I just clear as day was like, “Yo, Silky, I think we should collab because you're great. I'm great, and I got something for you.” So I just started, like, wrapping stuff over this beat, and I was just hyping Silky up in this track, right? I'm just giving her everything. What else? I studied Silky before she got here, so I knew exactly. Silky is going to like this. She needs this energy. Like, I can't go in here acting all scared. She's not going to work with me if I'm doing that. And once I got done, she was like, “Give me your number.” I was like, yeah, we in there. Once I got 50 digits, I did not let up. I was like, “Yo, so we're going to do this track. What's up was good.” And so she was like, “I'm not a rapper or a singer. Not really.” So she agreed to do the ad libs, which everybody knows Silky. Anything she has to say is great. And so I said, how do I creatively add Silky to my song? If you all go listen to the song, you'll hear that she's not necessarily, she's featured on the song, but she has just a lot of ad libs. The song is very Silky, though. You all should check it out.

[Sample of “Silky” by Cuee plays]

And so after that collaboration, that really helped me, speaking with Silky and talking with her through the process, because we did a lot of that virtually. Then I was able to get her to come back to Lawrence and shoot the music video. And so that's when we got to sit down, and she really was just like, own yourself. Do it. Put it in the music. Like, put it out there. People are waiting for you. There's somebody out there Cuee waiting for you. You don't know that yet, but they're waiting for you. And it'll show a little advice like that from Silky and other queer people that I'm now starting to look up to and follow and trajectory because they are where I want to be. I told Silky, you are traveling all over the world. That's what I want to do. I want to be able to perform and people, Silky brought me out to Indianapolis to perform with her for her big Silky Showdown, the first rap performance drag show that ever happened in this community. So people were kind of like, what the heck is going to happen? I had a ball, let me tell you, that was the first time I've had dollars thrown at me like that. I had to get with the flow. But again, I was Community, right? I was experiencing something different in Community, a drag performance. I have my mind going everywhere, like, wow, what can I do next? What's the next drag Queen I can write a song for? I'm like, I'm loving this, but I never would have gotten to experience something like that. Different collaborations and Community has even opened up me within the Community. Right. And put me in different places. And so I'm able to share it with everyone.

RB:
I love that so much. And it's been a long time since I've been in Lawrence. I only spent two years there. I certainly didn't spend the amount of time that you've lived there. But what I do know a lot about Lawrence is that, like, a lot of what you and Cody have done in just a few years has met a very particular need and a need that many queer and trans folks who have come and gone and Lawrence, especially through by way of going to the college, have said, like, there's a lot of resources missing here. There's a lot of services missing here. There's a lack of connectivity, unless you're associated with the university, which is a problem. Right. And I think that I'm sure a lot of college towns probably have a similar issue, that if you're not affiliated with the university, you don't have access to things like community groups or resources or referrals to different types of health services. Right. And supporting students in that space was a joke because I'm like, I don't know who to refer you to, because the only person who was supporting, quote, unquote supporting, you know, trans people through, like, HRT, for example, was this really shitty cis dude who had these outlandish expectations, which isn't specific to Lawrence, but that was the only person claiming that they could help. Right. So I think that it was very evident just in my quick two years there that there was such a gap, especially for multiply, marginalized people. And so kind of hearing you talk about the ways that just by being deeply invested in Community outside of the campus. Community had made it so that you now have this growing ecosystem of people who are then bringing you into new opportunities. And I think that it's so interesting that that's kind of its own method of community building, identity building, and just kind of, like, coming into sense itself. That just based on what you talked about earlier, you lacked when you were younger, and now you've got this whole, like, deep ecosystem of people who are setting you up for the next level of success. You're not doing it by yourself. You're doing a lot, but you are not doing it by yourself.

Cuee:
No, I'm not. And I want people to know that right. Community is there, and that is what pull us through. All those people up there - community. No matter how we want to look at it, how we think about it, it's all Community. And so, like, you mentioned the campus and Lawrence. They're two totally different places. I've heard so many times that I was different. I came down to the Lawrence community. I started getting involved as a KU student in the Lawrence community. And I've heard so many times we're not connecting with KU, and I always use that. I'm going to be the first person to connect campus in Lawrence. Don't worry about it. And I still maybe, I don't know, I think now, and I'm like, maybe there's no way that's possible, and maybe it's disconnected for a reason, but at least people know they can see me in this, like, pieces both connected with community and campus here at Lawrence, two different places, they embraced me, but Lawrence Community has really taught what community meant for sure and, like, how to embrace that and how important it is to survive here for sure. That is why I'm surviving here. It is community. They uplift, they push, they poke, they pull, they hold you accountable. They do all of those things. And I've grown so much in that process, so much.

RB:
I think what's really awesome to see is that, like, you are showcasing that through both who's featured on your tracks. And then I very clearly remember the music video with Cody looking just like the most fab goddex ever in this tiny little Chapel on campus, technically, but just like, use your resources. That was so exciting.

Cuee:
Where can I get some music video stuff for free? Exactly. Those KU students who help shoot the music video - paid them, right? We're going to pay our student workers. But I'm like, let's get the community involved in this. That's how I'm going to shoot this music. And every video I've had community, at the Barber shop, I'm going to use the community, and I'm going to try to put Lawrence on, because at the end of the day, when things start buzzing and things start moving right now, Lawrence got my back. Like, I can really feel it. They are really out here pushing. I'm on banners around the city, it has been pretty sweet. Like, pretty sweet, right? And I'm like, okay, I can rock with this.

RB:
And good old LFK. Did you expect that at all?

Cuee:
Can’t say that about everywhere? About everywhere.

RB:
But Lawrence and I would say Kansas City, too, seems to be kind of like your home plate. Right. And there's some really great things happening there. What has been your experience? The good, the bad, the ugly going out elsewhere, right. Like, what's been your experience touring or doing gigs or collaborating across the region? Because no one cares about the Midwest. That's kind of the point of the show, right. Like no one looks like you said Chicago. People pay attention to Chicago, but that's a little hard to claim it's in the region. But it's *laughter*. What's been the experience going out?

Cuee:
So great. Honestly. The West Coast I visit the most. I've been to the east, a little bit south and not so much, but I did find a queer club down in Dallas, and I know that was DJ and that was a good time. So I might make my way back down to Dallas and figure out stuff that way. I think we have to get really, I think, within the community and talk about things. Right. So I pass. I'm very passing. And so I think that attributes to a lot of my experiences on it. I don't want to knock that out the park. I think I show up in some spaces and people don't know that I'm a Black trans man. So I say I'm a Black trans man, especially if I'm new to some spaces. If people know who Cuee is, then they already know and they don't say anything in one of the spaces. And now I make it a thing when I get on stage and when I'm introducing myself in there, I'm a Black trans artist. And so just to get the interactions from the crowd, and so far it's been good. And I just want to say maybe because by the time I'm done with my music, they're rocking with it and they're like, okay, yeah, this is sweet. But on the latter end, a lot of my artist friends before I came out as trans or even like, all of those things were rocking with me really heavy. And now I think I've embraced the community, I think a lot of them don't think that I should have made it as far as I have. That's what I'm sitting with. I don't get the same amount of support as I have from a lot of those friends. And so I think a lot about me, I think now I think back and I'm like, this is what they say. When you embrace your community, you find your people within build things skyrocket from there, right. And so I couldn't spend too much time worrying about man. I used to write with this artist, and we used to do this, and now they don't do anything. And so I want to first pinpoint that. I'm like, I know your politics sometimes. I know a lot of these things when I think outside of the Midwest and I think about all of those people I know outside of there, that is my push and pull when it's getting support, but I don't focus on them. There are so many other people in the world. Have you noticed? So far, I'm so excited to get out of the Midwest, though. I think I stay here because I know the experience here. I know I already know how to maneuver, but I'm kind of excited to kind of get out. I want to travel again. The sag(ittarius). I'm like, send me somewhere else and let me go to a new city. And, you know, and so I'm excited to travel. I've been a lot of, like, small labels in KC have been like talking to me. And I'm like, can you all get me on the coast on the tour? If you can do that, then let's talk. So that’s my goal, that’s my goal.

RB:
I mean, that totally makes sense. A lot of what we talk about on the show is that like the Midwest, it can be an entrapment, like, in its own way. Sometimes depending on what your work is, it's under resourced. It's not given the same attention as the coast. It's the fly over States. Right. And then especially if you're in…

Cuee:
literally the flyover States.

RB:
And then if you're in more rural areas, like, you're getting even less attention, even though we know that the work is happening in these places. But I'm curious too. This came up in another conversation. When trans folks start to succeed, it's almost like the community gets all weird about it because we're all supposed to be stuck in the struggles. So when you start to get your gains and you're not struggling as hard anymore, it's like, well, what are you doing?

Cuee:
Yeah, we started this music at the same time, but how come you're making waves? And it's like, okay, that sucks to be in that mindset. And that's what I think. I'm like, that's how I get it. I don't have many words for it yet, but when I do, you all have hear it in the song for sure.

RB:
Coming soon.

Cuee:
Wait on it. That's a nice tune coming out.

RB:
Yeah. Just what is it? What's the metaphor? Crabs in a barrel just kind of pulling each other down when it's not necessary. But also that's the reality we live in. It's unfortunate when we see other folks making gains that it's like, why not me? Why not all of us at the same time? Which is a very individualist mindset. Right. If you're making gains, that means that we are making gains even if you're not feeling it at the same time.

Cuee:
Because we can do a song together and then we can in my mind, I'm like, why does it have to stop here?

RB:
You get a whole chorus together.

Cuee:
But then I just want to give a big up to the community. So thank you for supporting me. And that just goes to show a lot, too, right? It's like, yeah, it's a lot. I tell people that all the time. Midwest is fine. It's a place. It's a place. It's a choice. It's a choice and a choice not to be by water, see, but…

RB:
I'm by water. And it's still the Midwest. But I told you, it's real cold up here.

Cuee:
East or west is what I meant.

RB:
I don't have a clean way to wrap this up. This has been really pleasurable. Again, we didn't get chances to connect when we were in Kansas, but I think it's been really rewarding for me as someone who has some really painful experiences in Kansas because of the college. Right.

Cuee:
I was going to say, because the time that you spent here in Kansas probably didn't allot for you to make a lot of connections in a way. Do I remember all the fighting and the things? That's how I know you and I'm like, I don't think we ever really had that space where you had much space to probably connect.

RB:
No, I was doing a lot of fighting with authority and power that was there because I could go on a whole tangent. But it's been like I think I said earlier, it's been really rewarding to kind of be where I'm at now and seeing that there are folks who - you and Cody and Bualong - and other people who are still hanging out in Lawrence doing what needs to be done right. And that there's all of these really deeply rooted seeds that are still being planted to make something happen because that was some really resistant infertile soil when I was there.

Cuee:
We tired. We are tired, but yes.

RB:
And I just have so much care and love for the people who I know are still there that are just making it work. And I'm just like, I don't know how. And there's been many students that I had connections with when I was there that I was like, do I have to come down there? I will be there. I just can't be there all the time. So just I get it. I think it's really hard for folks who've never spent time in Lawrence to communicate the complexity of Lawrence. And so I think what's really great, in its own fucked up way, is seeing your work, this music project being a means by which you're telling your story, but also that Lawrence is the backdrop and has to be the backdrop because that is the story.

Cuee:
I tell Lawrence that all the time. I am from Chicago, but Lawrence made me the musician I am today. And I hold that heavy to my heart, for sure.

RB:
Yeah. So I guess just to try to put a little bow on this as best we can. Right. So you said you want to get to the coast. That makes sense in the next six months, right. What's on the horizon? I got a big smile out of that one. Right. What's on the horizon? What are you trying to manifest? You said you wanted to manifest a podcast. Check that box. You got it. Here we go.

Cuee:
I was just telling my partner, I said, look, “Yo, I'm going to have to go back to the drawing board.” I've been checking boxes off and this feels great. So next six months I say I want to make the coast and I'm making the coast already. I haven't been there yet per this conversation but in the six months I would have been so we're going to go a little bit deeper. I got my passport in the mail about a month and a half ago so I will be out of the country sometime and I'm hoping in the next six months I'm going to throw it out there just so it happens. Now, that's a wild one.

RB:
But speaking it into existence. Here we go.

Cuee:
Right there because I have a lot of fans over there. Actually, a lot of people don't know the US you are cool and all but the reason why I'm at where I'm at is because the UK has been I'm up there and so I really love to take a trip out to the UK and go to some of those connects that have been reaching out to me and labels and stuff and kind of just see what's out there for me. So that's my biggest goal. Other than that, release music, stay full-time musician. It’s that, too? So those are my goals and be the household name. My ultimate goal is to never be forgotten. So that's it. That's it.

RB:
All right, fam. This has been a treat. I'm glad we had this time.

Cuee:
Thank you for connecting with me to be on the podcast.

RB:
Yes. Absolutely.

[Sample of “Ain’t Going Back” by Cuee Plays]

[OUTRO MUSIC STARTS]

R.B.
Our inbox is open for all of your insight, feedback, questions, boycotts, memes and other forms of written correspondence. You can contact us at lastbite@sgdinstitute.org. This podcast is made possible by the labor and commitment of the Midwest Institute for Sexuality and Gender Diversity staff. Particular shout out to Justin, Andy and Nick for all of your support with editing, promotion and production. Our amazing and queer as fuck cover art was designed by Adrienne McCormick.

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