A conversation with Karlee Hehemann & Davi Brown, as told to Universal Standard
US: What is your name, your pronouns, and how do you identify?
KARLEE: My name is Karlee, my pronouns are she/her, and I identify as a down-to-earth career femme lesbian. Kind of like a combination of Bette Porter and Alice Pieszecki from The L Word… but that’s if we’re being specific.
DAVI: My name is Davi Brown, my pronouns are she/her/hers, and I am a lesbian.
US: As we collectively transition out of quarantine, this time in solitude has been much more than just staying in. What do you consider your greatest challenge existing as an LGBTQ+ person while in quarantine? What has been your greatest victory?
K: Honestly, enduring a long-distance relationship has been the biggest challenge. My girlfriend, Davi, and I began quarantine living in completely separate states. A lesbian LDR is a lot for anyone, but add the hurdle of socially responsive travel during a pandemic and things feel kind of scary. We had to navigate long periods of time apart, but that only enriched the times we did have together. It also led to a lot of canceled flights and extended stays, which I am so grateful for. A major victory for me was honestly staying committed amongst so much uncertainty, which definitely goes alongside my victory of going through trauma therapy. I really let myself trust my heart instead of self-sabotaging a good thing just because it was a challenge. I sat with myself every day and meditated on who I am, what I want, and where I want to go. It was like a daily check in. That time led me to take chances on myself, and on my relationship, in ways I never have.
D: My greatest challenge existing as LGBTQ+ during quarantine, and pretty much always, has been finding queer community. Over the past year, my desire to have queer, grass-roots organizing, sensitive, supportive friendship has become very evident and the social anxiety that has often kept me from seeking it has become less evident. One victory I can reflect on is making individual steps and also collaborative steps with my partner to meet new people, including going to queer beach days in Venice, CA and making TikToks about wanting friends.
US: Every LGBTQ+ person knows that coming out is not a singular, linear process, but rather something we are faced with nearly every day. How do you relate to the phrase “coming out” in your journey as an LGBTQ+ person?
K: My first ‘coming out’ as bisexual was a combination of moments instead of one declaration. I just kind of started… living out. I did have a more prominent second coming out when I shared a few texts with close friends and family clearly declaring myself as a lesbian. Overall, coming out is an entirely fluid experience and sometimes, to be really blunt, a kind of annoying one. Of course I love owning who I am when I choose to do so. But when strangers decide to assume who I am and default me as a straight woman, it’s hard not to feel exhausted. Everyone deserves to live their authentic selves without having to defend it to other people. Sometimes, instead of coming out, I just want to pull out a card that says, “I’m a lesbian and I will not be taking any questions, comments, or concerns at this time.”
D: For me, "coming out" is a process of taking off layers of identity that don't reflect who I am and playing with layers that feel right for me at that time. The acceptance of who I am and the release of who I am not is a continual process that was, thankfully, put into motion by the realization I was attracted to other women.
US: How do you connect your identity as an LGBTQ+ person to your personal style and presentation of self?
K: The process of connecting my style to my presentation of self is a deeply personal one. When I first came out, I was deeply concerned with everyone knowing I was queer. That meant standing firm in my strong, Sagittarius, 6’1” feminine presence and letting my mannerisms lead the way. Somewhere along the way, I started to feel inadequate, or not queer enough — whatever that even means — so I began presenting more tom boy-ish. Throughout the whole process, I’ve landed more on the idea of going with whatever fleets right to me each and every day. Definitely never let up on my fiery energy, though.
D: My queerness and my personal style are definitely complementary. From what I gather, it is relatively easy to tell I am wlw (a woman liking women) if you saw me walking down the street. As a child, my sense of personal style was quite similar to what I have going on now. That is until I realized my friends were getting boyfriends and shorts to my knees might "out me" before I was comfortable. So I took a break from looking apparently gay, even though to me, it was just the way I wanted to look.
US: Expression of self is a deeply personal experience, and one that is often connected with personal style. How do you connect your identity as an LGBTQ+ person to your personal style? How would you describe your style?
K: I’d describe my personal style as laid back, a little chic, and understated. It all depends on the day. Being a tall femme lesbian, I have definitely felt pressure at moments to be more masc-presenting, especially because of my height and my confidence. But, I let my personal style show in the little nuanced ways that still feel affirming to me. Like wearing a leather jacket, gold hoops, sneakers to spice it up, or heels when I want to embrace it all. Then there’s loungewear as the key to my existence. Anything that is loungewear disguised as elevated pieces gets bonus points in my book. Being openly queer, I’ve learned that my personal style has more freedom. I no longer have to fear that someone will out me if I act a certain way or dress “too gay.” For me now, being “too gay” is the goal. So I wear whatever I want.
D: I would describe my style as comfortable and clean. I often have people commenting, “You look so comfortable” about my clothing choices which I think says it all. Hoodies, crew necks, and shorts are usually my top choices. For business casual, I like to sport a monochrome cult-inspired — as I often joke — off-white uniform. I like my style and personal expression to tell people I’m queer, cool, and secure without having to tell them verbally.
US: The campaign name From Staying in to Coming Out holds a double meaning for many LGBTQ+ people experiencing this time of quarantine. What are you most looking forward to as things transition and you reintegrate yourself back into the world?
K: Coffee shops. No other setting better demonstrates the relaxed connectivity I look for in a community. As things open back up, I really just find myself craving the presence of others in a place where we can move in and out of conversation and gradually grow friendship over time. I love the little moments of discovering mutual interests with faces you see all the time and those interest discoveries turning into intimate friendships. Davi and I moved to Santa Monica, CA at the beginning of 2021 and this image of queer community has been the main conversation in our household. We can’t wait to be able to gather with new friends and sustain human connections as we all celebrate the freedom of being able to connect face to face again.
D: I am most looking forward to visiting my 101-year-old grandmother who lives in the foothills of Appalachia. I’m used to watching sunsets with her on the porch every couple of months, and I haven’t been able to see her for over a year (with exception to calling up to her balcony once like she was Rapunzel). I also look forward to immersing myself in the woods. Since moving to LA from living in a tent in North Carolina, it’s been harder to get grounded in nature on a daily basis. I’m excited to be able to travel, camp more, and get into closer proximity to nature.
US: Look back on the beginning of quarantine…what would you say has changed the most in your life from then until now?
K: Well, is everything an acceptable answer? My entire mindset has changed. I honor my emotions now in a deeper way, respect and uphold my own boundaries, and dedicate myself to connecting with Davi in a way I didn’t even realize was possible pre-quarantine. Beyond internal changes, I moved from NYC to LA to live with Davi which was a leap I am forever grateful I took. I also have grown to 20K followers on TikTok and found an oddly-affirming community of queer people who just feel so aligned to me. I also value nature in a new way. I let myself be grounded in the present whether on a beach, in the mountains, or watching sunset from the car and just feel so grateful to experience it.
D: During quarantine, I met my partner, found my current job, moved across the country, and moved in with my partner. So my circumstances are comically vast from before quarantine until now. A year ago, I was just posting breathing exercises on TikTok and I ended up finding a girl on there. After window-tapping her Instagram, a lesbian flirting strategy of following and liking three photos, we began our romance. A week after meeting Karlee, I was DMed on TikTok by my now current employer, Breathwrk, a science-backed breathing app where I work as Head of Education and Community and have grown us to over 2.3 Million followers on TikTok.
US: Quarantining as a couple is a whole new level of discoveries, challenges, and victories. What is the most unexpected joy you’ve experienced together while in quarantine?
K: I’m not sure if this is specific to being quarantined together as a couple, but I have loved the playfulness I experience with Davi. We’ve developed a complex language of humor in our words, tones, and mannerisms that bring me joy I haven’t felt since being a child. Maybe it’s just because this is the first time I’ve really been in love. Maybe it’s because Davi and I share a rising Aquarian energy. Either way, it’s a healing experience.
D: The most unexpected joy was how our relationship developed over time and inspired growth from each of us. We each continued to say yes at each new stage and the experience has been truly extraordinary. I am so proud of what we have created together.
Continue to celebrate Pride with US and read the next From Staying In to Coming Out story with Samantha & Azra.