Kee Smith (shey/they), AKA DJ Unladylike, is a queer nonbinary DJ and singer in Dallas, Texas. We caught up with her as she drove from Dallas to Atlanta on a recent road trip and talked trauma, music, and gender expression.
TomboyX: How did you become a DJ?
Kee Smith: I would say I've been a DJ in my head since I was 19. I started making mixes for the community and stuff like that, but I didn't really start actually doing events until 2015.
I was living in Houston at the time, and me and my friend went out and got a little too intoxicated. We ended up having a wreck on the highway and ran into the median, and I flew from the backseat through the front windshield. I broke some ribs. When I woke up with my neck brace on in the hospital, like what happened? I was terrified. I had no idea what had just occurred, but that moment, and being disabled for a while, brought me to figuring out what my purpose was.
I really wanted to be someone in the community that people can look up to. But also I wanted to do music- I love to sing. So I just combined both of them. I’m streaming live and DJing and cultivating in-person open mic events for the LGBT community in Dallas. This year I made history and became the first DJ to spin for the first women's tackle football game at the home of the Dallas Cowboys at the Star in Frisco. I’m looking forward to more opportunities like that.
TBX: Where did the name DJ Unladylike come from?
KS: At 19, I met DJ Papa Ron and told him I wanted to be a DJ. He's like, “first thing you do is make your name. Think of something catchy and cool that would represent you.” Unladylike was one of the first things I came up with, because I was always told, “you need to be more ladylike.” What is ladylike? What is that? I'm unladylike. I own it. Now as I'm growing into myself, it's taken on a deeper meaning to me. I've never been able to quite grasp the concept of being just a woman. I feel like I have a lot of masculine energy. There's no way you can put me in a box. I'm just finding myself as far as my gender and sexuality- I'm nonbinary. One day I may feel like a whole woman, one day I just feel like I'm a man. Unladylike defines who I am and what I stand for, because I don't conform to society’s labels.
TBX: How has the way you dress changed as your identity changes?
KS: When I first started to dive into dressing more masculine, it was initially because, for one, my girlfriend liked it, and it warded off attraction from men. I've always had big boobs. When I dressed more masculine, it kind of covered them up. It was like a defense mechanism for men to not talk to me. I remember the first time I was able to purchase some clothes, I threw all my girl clothes away: the panties, all the bras, all that shit. I went to the mall and I got some boxers and basketball shorts. I felt very free being able to do that for myself. I remember when my family came to my college dorm, and I had stalled so long for them to come. I did not want them to come to see me as this new person. When I started to dress a little more loose-fitting, they would comment on certain things, like “your shirt is kind of big” or “pull up your pants.” Now I’m 32 and I don’t care, I just want to be comfortable.
TBX: What are you passionate about besides music?
KS: I'm really passionate about mental health and normalizing therapy. I struggle with major depressive disorder and anxiety, and I know I'm not the only one. I just want to make sure people in the community and people around me are taking care of themselves and their mental health, because it's kind of shunned, especially in the black community. The elders tend to kind of look down on therapy. You have to take care of your mental health just like you take care of your physical health. I want to be an advocate for people who are different and who are like me, who are maybe nonbinary or who are trans, or young people who come out. I’ll post on Facebook, “mental health check-in, how are you all feeling?” People actually comment and I give advice and stuff like that. I mean, I'm not the most wise person, but I just try to give back in any way that I can.
TBX: What made you want to gain a following on social media?
KS: It kind of happened organically. I’m going through this transition in my life where I'm growing and healing in a lot of ways, and I wish I would have known all the things I know now, years ago. I've been guided to my purpose: to be authentic and give back to the community. It wasn't a conscious decision to do this and gain followers. I'm reaching people that are going through trauma and healing, too. They get me, they have the same type of thing going on. They can learn something or maybe teach me something.
After I went through a period of isolation and focusing on the trauma that I had not been healing from, I was alone a lot. I didn't really want to be around people. Coming back to social media has attracted my tribe to me. I created a Discord that has about 40 people now. I have a book club that I run as well. I've started to DJ on Twitch and support other women DJs there.
TBX: What’s next for you?
KS: My dream is to be a tour DJ. I love traveling and I've always been on the road since I was young, so that's what I want to do, and I think I'm on my way. I’m already going to different places and performing in different cities. I think things are going to start picking up soon; I’m also going to be back in the studio to make some music.
Find DJ Unladylike on Spotify, Soundcloud and Instagram @DJUnladylike.