Kee Simone is the founder of Lovedbyher, an online storytelling series that celebrates love between Black queer women and trans/non-binary people. It’s the kind of content she wished she could have seen as a sheltered military kid who didn’t realize she was a lesbian.
This show features explicit language and sexual content, and is intended for a mature audience.
Theme song by LAS ODIO.
Aria Vega [00:00:00] This podcast contains explicit content, listeners discretion is advised.
Aria Vega [00:00:05] POV by Lustery explores culture, politics and creativity in the sex industry,one point of view at a time. I'm your host, Aria Vega.
Aria Vega [00:00:17] Lovedbyher is an online storytelling series about black queer relationships with a focus on love between women. It was created by Kee Simone, a digital marketing professional based in Washington, D.C., who was inspired by a viral clip from Dear Black Love. DBL is a documentary web series from Refinery29 that features interviews with couples who are young, Black and in love, and the clip in question featured two women who were completely smitten.
Crystal [00:00:46] [Recorded from Dear Black Love] What's the easiest thing to love about me?
Kiesh [00:00:49] That I don't know if there's one thing. I know there's this this higher love that we speak of, that you kind of exude and bring to us. And I've never had anyone love me or I've never known that I deserve love like this. You were just that in every way, every day in the smallest details and the big things. And you just never miss an opportunity to let me know that I'm loved.
Aria Vega [00:01:11] [Voiceover] Kee was thrilled to see so much internet enthusiasm for Black queer women in love, but something still felt like it was missing. While she felt grateful that the visibility of women like her was improving, Kee was still exhausted by how often these depictions still centered women who are thinner, lighter-skinned and have a more feminine gender expression. She and so many of the women she loves are excluded by that vision. One day, she took to Twitter to vent her frustrations, and when someone shot back a snarky retort suggesting she fix the problem herself, well, that was all she needed to hear. Within weeks, he had bought a web domain and Lovedbyher was born. It was an enormous undertaking on top of her full-time job, and more than once she felt like giving up. But the community she was building helped to keep her focus on the mission, which quickly became her main source of strength.
Kee Simone [00:02:04] [Interview] Everyone was like, "No, Kee we need this!" And I was like, "Oh, wait, I need this,' to like, this has become therapy for me. I didn't have images like this growing up. I didn't even know that being a lesbian was an option until I was in college. And I just wonder how different my life would have been, not to say that I had a bad life. I just wonder how different my emotional health would have been if I would have known that there were people like me who loved other women the way I kind of thought I did a lot sooner in life. So "labor of love" is one way to put it, "life's work" and "life's passion," I feel like is another stronger way to put it.
Aria Vega [00:02:48] [Voiceover] Kee is from a military family and grew up in part on Air Force bases in Germany and Japan. When it was time for college, she initially enrolled at a predominantly white school in Charleston, South Carolina. But when an opportunity arose to attend a historically Black university, she jumped at it.
Kee Simone [00:03:05] [Interview] I remember being on campus and I remember saying to myself, "This is not enough for me. There's not enough Blackness here. There's not enough culture here." I've lived so isolated from American culture for so long because I was overseas from 9 to 15 years old. So I'm in Japanese culture, and I'm in German culture, I went to international high school... So like, I'm around all these different cultures except for my own, which is Blackness. And so Howard was my dream school. I remember it was the fall semester my sophomore year. My mom called me and was like, "I just got married. I'm moving to D.C." I was like, "I'm coming!" I literally finished my finals. I withdrew from school. I hadn't even gotten accepted anywhere. I just knew that if I stayed there, I was going to lose an important part of me that I hadn't even met yet. And that was my Blackness and also my sexuality, because my freshman year, I realized that I was into women. And that was huge for me, and it was depressing and it was debilitating because I didn't understand it and I didn't have any support to talk through it. And I was depressed and I'm like, "I have no friends! I'm going through this huge sexuality change that I don't understand." I needed like a change of scenery. And so I got into Howard, literally two weeks before school started. It was the best decision I ever made in my life. I minored in Afro-American studies. I completely immersed myself in everything that existed on that campus, and I know that if I hadn't transferred, I wouldn't it be the Kierra (that's my actual name) that I am today. And that's where I met my first gay friends who are still my friends today. And that's where I started creating a queer community around me. And, you know, just living in DC —and DC's a Black mecca. It really is. And there's a lot of Black queer people here, I don't know if people really know that. I know Atlanta is known more for their Black queer community, but DC has a huge one, and I've met lifelong queer friends here, and at this point I have more queer friends than anything else.
Aria Vega [00:05:11] That is incredible, what a journey. I want to know a little bit about how storytelling has sort of fit into this. Into one, your understanding of your own identity, but also your understanding of sort of queer community and how we can build it. Did you have a strong connection to storytelling when you were young, or where did that sort of drive come from?
Kee Simone [00:05:35] So I definitely read a lot when I was younger, but I didn't read the typical books that people read. I read a lot of fiction. I read a lot of Omar Tyree, Zane, you know, those authors from the nineties, those black authors from the nineties that were very popular. Those are the books I read, and it was always stories about love and sex and relationship. Always. Eric Jerome Dickey, you know, those are the type of books that I grew up reading, because my mom had so many of them in her library that she never touched. And I just think that — I know, growing up, had I seen more images of healthy Black queerness, I would have came out a lot sooner and I would have understood my sexuality a lot sooner. And so now I feel like I'm in a place where if I can just impact one person, if there's just one young queer person who doesn't really understand the feelings that they have or like, think that they have these feelings but never seen a healthy queer relationship; if I can be a part of sharing that story, someone else's story, then I want to do that. Because I know what I could have had when I was younger, and that would change the course of my sexuality, and it was hard coming out for me. I came out as bisexual at first because that felt like the safest thing, like if I tell my parents I'm still dating men, they won't be so mad because there's still that potential that I could get married, and there's still that potential that I could have children, right? Which I could still do now, dating women. But at the time, I'm like, "This would be the easier route to go". Then I was like, "No, you're just a lesbian," and that — so I almost had to come out twice. And honestly, I feel like I had to come out three times because I also date people who are non-binary and I also date people who are trans. So having to explain that to my parents is another very tough conversation. But I do feel like what helped my mom understand my sexuality was watching The L Word on Netflix, and I remember her being like, "So I watched this show on Netflix, and I'm starting to more understand how you identify.".
Aria Vega [00:07:36] Oh, wow!
Kee Simone [00:07:37] Right? And I'm like, "Yeah, those are white people, but you're getting there!" Right? It's helping you understand, you know? And so I just think that having a platform that is sharing these type of stories, it can help someone feel more confident in their sexuality. It can give people healthy examples of Black queer love, it can help educate someone who might not understand what it means to love another woman, what it means to love someone who's non-binary, what it means to love someone who trans, because it's not — we share stories, but we also talk about these things. What is polyamory? And like, what is straps and dildos and things like that. You know, like my dad was like, "Oh, I read this article about different straps, and I'm like, "Yeah, that's what it is!" But it makes him comfortable to have those conversations with me. My dad is a West Indian Black man, you know what I mean? But he can come to me like, "So what's a dyke?" And I'm like, "Well, this is what a dyke is." And he's like, "Oh yeah, I saw that word on your platform, and I wanted to know more about it." And it just starts, it starts the conversation, you know what I mean? So if my storytelling can start a conversation, or if it can create representation or community, or helping someone with their identity, then that's what I want to continue to do it for.
Aria Vega [00:08:51] [Voiceover] Having witnessed firsthand the transformative power of telling stories about queer love, Kee had a crystal clear vision of how she wanted to build her brand. With her digital marketing skills at the ready, she coined the term "lovetelling" to describe the couple based content on the site. Lovedbyher was launched in July of 2019, during that last carefree pre-COVID summer, but ironically, the pandemic actually made it easier for Kee to get connected with the couples that she was profiling.
Kee Simone [00:09:20] [Interview] So initially, and the goal was to find couples in the D.C./New York area, interview them at like a studio, basically very much similar to the video that inspired me to start the brands, right? But then I'm like, OK, that costs money to travel, to find couples, to find studio space, and at the time the website wasn't making any money. And so when we first did our interviews, it was just written interviews. We'd do phone interviews and then my writers would transcribe it. And then that was how we did it. Or we would send questions and have them answer it. But then you realize that when people have to find something out, they're not going to type paragraphs, because they might not have time to sit there and type it out. So the pandemic actually really helped propel the website to where it is today. It really did, because everyone was at home. And so the very first interview I did on Zoom was one of — this couple I adore, Jahara and Ashley, and they were just on their couch and I was just asking them questions. And I actually know them, so it was just like friends just chatting. And I posted a snippet and, oh my god, my readers went crazy! They just love... because it's one thing to read about someone's love, it's another thing to watch it and you experience it
Aria Vega [00:10:39] And they're smiling, and looking at each other...
Kee Simone [00:10:44] Listen, I'm in every interview with tears because I'm just like, I can just feel the love that y'all have for each other. So I feel that, I know my readers feel it, and I really think it drew people in a lot more because they could see and feel the stories that we were sharing. And so, you know, I hope still one day that we have like a studio, and we have couples come in and we interview them that way. But for now, Zoom, that's our best friend.
Aria Vega [00:11:16] [Voiceover] For now, the "lovetelling" with couples will continue remotely until other options are safer, but Kee hopes that the broader reach this gives her will only add more diverse stories, unlike what she sees happening on mainstream platforms, which only really do so under duress. Sometimes representation politics can seem like a trap. When marginalized groups spend our time and energy begging the powers that be for inclusion, we only reinforce the power structure that cast us out to begin with.
Kee Simone [00:11:46] [Interview] We have to create our own representation, and we can't depend on other people to represent us for us, right? And I know that's that's like... OK, but like, I don't have the money, but I even feel like my little platform, you know what I mean?, has influenced and impacted so many people, right? And that, to me, is just as much of a difference as a Netflix show that would be doing the same thing. And they actually do have a Netflix show very similar to what I do. But I definitely think that we have to create the spaces, we have to create representation in the platforms for us, by us in order for the progression that we want to see to happen a little bit sooner than Hollywood and pop culture and politics,
Aria Vega [00:12:33] I'm thinking too about how so much of the recent visibility around Black American life is centered on the traumas we experience while living under white supremacy. And I'm wondering, is a deliberate depiction of Black joy and love another way in which you've sought to expand the scope of how we're depicted?
Kee Simone [00:12:51] Oh one hundred percent! When I first started the platform, I remember I had these creative meetings with my team and I remember I was like, "I want us to have just an arsenal of different topics that we can pick and choose from throughout the months." And I'm like, This is depressing to me! I don't want to talk — I understand that talking about trauma, trauma is a big part of being the Black queer. A lot of us have gone through trauma. A lot of us have been sexually abused, have been in abusive families and things like that. It's a big part of a lot of people's identity and queerness. I understand that. But, trauma porn is also a thing. I won't watch slave movies, I refuse. I won't watch any movies or TV shows where there's a Black man being shot by a white police officer, I refuse. There's just some things that I refuse to digest as an adult, because I lived through it before, I lived through it every day. I went to a HBCU. All we learned about was Black life, right? I have enough slave history lessons in me to last me a lifetime. So for my platform, we do talk about the really hard stuff, we actually do. We talk about mental health. We talk about trauma. We talk about depression. All of those things. But I also want people to come on there and feel good and feel love and feel joy and see these couples... Even when our couples talk about the trauma, it's like "I went through this and I found the love of my life who helped me get through it and who continues to hold me up every single day." Like you can show us the traumas, but show us the other end of it, or when people get through it, right? And the work that happens after the traumatic event, right? I mean, it's the everyday thing, but I definitely want people to come on our site and feel joy. Black, queer joy and love. Absolutely.
Aria Vega [00:14:38] [Voiceover] In addition to the interviews with couples, Lovedbyher features blog posts about all kinds of sex and relationship issues with fun titles like "Pussy Purity: Why being a Gold Star Lesbian Is Overrated" and "Get the Strap: Third Leg Edition." As editor-in-chief, Kee is always sensitive to what's causing a stir within Black communities online, and seeking opportunities to start a conversation, or perhaps offer education.
Kee Simone [00:15:05] [Interview] But then we have those really tough discussions that are also available for our readers to read in on. What we also try to do is have those conversations on our Twitter, so we'll have threads and we'll ask questions and invoke those conversations in real time and let people kind of exchange dialog with us and each other, and kind of get those emotions out. Some people just need a space to be open about whatever it is.
Aria Vega [00:15:31] Honestly, it's a huge privilege to witness someone with a platform, use it to learn as well as teach. You start so many challenging but necessary discussions about queerness and identity and language, and one in particular that caught my eye was the conversation about the change from using X in place of E in the word "women" throughout your branding, and how that change came about as a result of community feedback and more education about the trans exclusionary implications of that spelling. What is it like to allow yourself to be observed in a learning process on social media, which is the most unforgiving place on the planet?
Kee Simone [00:16:12] It's tough for sure. We just turned two in July. (Aria: Yay!) So, you know, that particular article we talked about was me kind of talking about other things that we changed and learned from. And I, as an individual, have gone through such immense change because of this platform. I'm held to a standard of I wasn't held to before this. There are certain things that I have to — I can't say certain things. I have to be cognizant of how I present on the timeline at all times on social media because I'm tied to my platform. And unfortunately, as much as I try not to be, I am the face of my own platform. So because people know me for Lovedbyher, so when they see Lovedbyher, they know Kee, and when they see Kee, they see Lovedbyher. But at the same time, if I'm going to take on the task of creating this platform, then I have to be OK with being held to a certain standard. And I have to be OK with hearing feedback about what type of content I'm putting out. And that's why I said, like, this is part of the game. The game is the game, right? Like if I'm going to create a community, if my community's community members don't like something or feel uncomfortable about something or are questioning something, I have to be willing open to be questioned, to be open to feedback. And I'm a Leo. We don't really do feedback. We're not big on someone telling us about ourselves, we're not! But at the end of the day, this platform is not for me. It's for me, but it's not for me. I have had probably some of the most supportive community. My parents have always been supportive of my sexuality. My parents are very active in me as a queer person. They treated all of my friends like their own children. They have never once not loved me, or never once treated me differently because I am gay. They come to all of my gay functions. They're very supportive, and so I'm good. There are a lot of people who are not, so I have to make sure that the content I'm putting out is serving the people that are reading it and is who it's for, and the community is safe for everybody. So with that particular thing, I was initially told that using, spelling out "women" with the "e" or "a" was excluding trans women. So that's why we used "x". But then we were told, Actually no. And then the person posted this article about and I'm like, "Oh, I didn't know this! Simple fix. We go back." And it's just that simple. And that's why we we want to make sure we explain that, and that we just didn't do it, you know, willy nilly. Because we had that on some of our merch. We used "x" on some of our march. And so now moving forward. We will use "e" or "a," whichever one. So it's tough for sure, but it's the tough love is worth it.
Aria Vega [00:19:01] I just wish it wasn't so rare for, you know, people with a platform to say, "Oh, I didn't know everything in the world right when I first started this. I learned a new thing, and now I'm going to move forward with that knowledge."
Kee Simone [00:19:18] I think that when people create something themselves, it's like, "This is my idea. This is my baby, this is my platform. I'mma do what I want, and I'mma what I want. And y'all just have to get over it, because it's mine." But this isn't mine. This is the community's. Lovedbyher belongs to the community. I am the one who makes the final decisions, and I am the one who updats the website every day. But I do this for the people that live in this community, that's in this community with me, you know? And I think that's the difference. I'm not doing this for the money. I'm not doing this for the fame. I'm not doing this for attention. I'm doing this for the community because I know that we need it and I know that is important. So if I have to make adjustments for the community, then I'm going to make them. And my readers and supporters know that if they DM me enough or tweet me enough that I'm going to do what they asked me to do. They're like "Re-release that hoodie I've been getting!" and I'm like, "I've released it two times!" And I'm just going to do it again, because if wearing a hoodie that says "Black Queer Representation Matters" does something for you that I want to make sure I provide that for you, period. I'm definitely a pushover, for sure.
Aria Vega [00:20:25] No you're just — you. You are just that dedicated to your community to an extent that is, like I'm saying, sadly rare. What are some of the other ways that you've been intentional about building a community around Lovedbyher?I see, I love the posts of people out in the wild wearing your merch, and they're in the recording studio, out in the street, traveling. In what other ways have you tried to make a sustainable community? And I would imagine that COVID has been a big obstacle there.
Kee Simone [00:20:55] Yeah. So I actually was invited out to Austin Black Pride in June, and that was a big thing because Lovedbyher, I feel like for the first, basically, year, was really just in my corner of Black lesbian Twitter. People know me, so I was doing that and that was basically it. Over time, if we, you know, we have readers internationally, we have Leeds, England and African, all these different places to be able to travel to another city. I was able to really introduce my brand to a whole 'nother set of people who don't know we existed and were like, "Oh, I didn't know this existed and this is really cool! Tell me more about it." So that was really, really exciting. And Ialso throw lesbian parties here in D.C. I'm a part of a party promoting group called The Frequency Class with two of my really close friends. And you know, we have people who wear Lovedbyher stuff there all the time. So I build community both online and in-person as much as I can.
Aria Vega [00:21:56] As you continue to sort of move toward the future that you envision for it, do you see yourself going into other arenas like documentary or audio? I think it would lend itself beautifully to a podcast for what it's worth. *Laughs* But yeah, is there any interest in expanding in that way?
Kee Simone [00:22:17] I mean, I definitely want the platform to grow. I think what would probably grow first is the merchandise. Our merchandise is super popular. People love our hoodies, and love our gear. And you know, I would love to do a podcast. I would love to do better videos and actual in-person interviews. We just have a really small team. Very small and mighty, it's literally like five of us. I am hoping that, you know, in the next two years, our staff grows, our infrastructure grows, our money flow grows and increases, that will allow us to do more and expand more. I hope to do more in-person events. I would like to host events, host panel discussions, and, you know, things that people can come and talk about these things that we talk about on the website. Do live lovetelling interviews that people can see in real time. I would love to have events like that, but I just it's just me. And like four people, I can't do everything by myself.
Aria Vega [00:23:19] So I'm just curious what are some of the other irons you have in the fire there? You said there are some other side projects that you're engaged in.
Kee Simone [00:23:26] Yeah. So I work full time in digital marketing. I work for a science magazine here in DC, so that's my 9 to 5 job. Like I said that there are lesbian parties, The Frequency Class is what we're called. I throw those once a month; that's been ramping up, even with COVID, we try to make it very safe obviously with people. I also have a creative digital agency called The Third Creative and I design websites and I do marketing, branding and like social ads, logos, media kits, PDFs, things like that. So that's another job.
Aria Vega [00:24:02] Now, where do you apply to get those extra hours in your day?
Kee Simone [00:24:07] I know, I know, it's crazy because I've definitely I've gotten to a point where I'm like, I told my assistant (I know I have an assistant, who am I?) I'm like, "I can't do nothing else. If I if I have an idea, tell me no!" I'll start it, but I won't be able to finish it. Because I'm just a creative person, and I'm a believer that if you have an idea and if you think that it's a good idea, that you should try it. And you might fail and it might not pan out, but at least you tried it. Honestly, I'm so happy with where the platform is in two years that there's not more that I could want. The support that we have, the love that people show. We have people who reach out to us that want to be featured. It just it brings me to tears almost every time someone's like, "Thank you for this." I just had a party last weekend. And someone stopped me in the club and they're like, "Hey, are you thebaddiegalore on Twitter?" amd I'm like, "Yeah!" and they were like, "I love Lovedbyher!" and they gave me a hug and I was just like, "Are you gonna make me cry in the club?" Honestly, if the brand never grows bigger, like if it just stayed exactly where it is, I would still be grateful for it. And I would still be happy with what we've been able to do even in this at this size, at this level. I would still be like, we made a difference, you know?
Aria Vega [00:25:30] That's Kee Simone of Lovedbyher: editor-in-chief, event planner, and digital marketing extraordinaire. You can find the site at Lovedbyher.com, and you can find Kee on Twitter @thebaddiegalore. Is there some aspect of your love story that you've never seen on screen? And it doesn't just have to be about identity. Maybe you met your partner in a really unique way, or you fell in love for the first time at midlife. I'd love to hear all about it. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can find me on Twitter @vegadreamcast. If you're into our show, please leave us a five star rating and a review. POV is brought to you by Lustery, and this episode was hosted by me, Aria Vega. It was edited and produced by Kathryn Fischer and Adrienne Teicher, and our showrunner is Paulita Pappel. Lustery is the home of real life partners filming their sex lives behind closed doors. If you're 18 or older, you can find us at Lustery.com, and we're on Twitter and Instagram @lusterypov. Speak soon, lovers.