Valentine's Day is a holiday for couples, so this year we thought we’d do something different here at Out & About Nashville and have a little fun focusing on the single folks. We asked our readers to nominate the most eligible singles they know, and we got hundreds of responses. Many of these were duplicates of course.
We reached out to every nominee to give them an opportunity to participate in the final voting—some agreed enthusiastically, while others were no longer single or didn’t wish to participate for other reasons. In the end, we had ten nominees agree to participate: Eric Dulberg, Staeven Lewis Frey, TK Hampton (no longer single), Barry King, Derrick Lachney, Sara Olivia Moore, Ben Slinkard, Lawson Stover, Kenny Tallier, and Heather Walls.
This year, our readers showed the love to all of our nominees, but our “Readers’ Choices” this year were Lawson Stover and Heather Walls. We offered all of our nominees the opportunity to share some things about themselves too, so, without further ado, get ready to meet some of our community’s most eligible!
And for those who weren’t able to meet our deadline, hopefully we’ll see them in online features soon!
Lawson has been single for nearly two years but says, “Time is just a number, right?”
He’s used that time to get in touch with himself: “Being single lets you figure out who you are and what you want in a partner. That is the road that leads to hopefully finding someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. So I guess … my favorite part of being single is to figure out who I am and who I need that will go on the journey we call ‘life’ with me.”
He certainly doesn’t enjoy every aspect of being single and dating. “There’s “the feeling of being let down. To think you have a connection and the other person does not feel the same way. It is funny because most of the time I think there is something there… Why is love so one sided most of the time?”
The size of the local community also poses some issues. “It seems everyone I could be interested in has dated someone I know. Just recently I have decided to not care about ‘bro code’ because Nashville is just too small.”
What’s Lawson looking for? “Initial attraction is key,” he said, “but I have a wide idea of what that attraction is to me. Often, it’s a guy that has old fashion ideals, in the sense he wants to pick me up for our first date. It’s in no means the only thing that puts a guy on my radar, but it sure does give me hope that someone out there wants to get to know me the old fashion way.”
“I’m just looking for the guy that wants it to be special that we have each other. I want a man that makes me strive to be better. I don’t want a man to make me, but us, feel special. I want a man to make me be better than the person I was the day before. I want to be with a guy that wants me to make him better. I try every single day to be better, but I’ll be honest it’s hard. I want a guy to stand by me and then triumph through the hard times and make a difference in this world. We have enough people telling us we aren’t good enough. It is time we are good enough. Good enough for love, for failure, for success, for forgiveness, for heartbreak, and most of all good enough for love.”
Heather is a real catch! As she describes herself, “Me in a nutshell: I'm basically a cross between April Ludgate from Parks and Rec and Dr. Cox from Scrubs. I am also WAY too obsessed with animals, and will probably have a small zoo by the time it's all said and done. Most of them are animals that my ‘friends’ brought me to nurse back to life. And I did. And then I couldn't get rid of them.”
And cute and fuzzy animals aren’t the only things she nurses. “I'd say I am most proud of the fact that I am able to wake up every day and go to a job I love, where I truly feel like I am making a difference in the lives of others. As a Nurse Practitioner who works in mental health, I frequently see patients who have minimal to no resources at their disposal. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to provide these services to those in need.”
Heather is “fairly new to the single game, as my last relationship just ended 4 months ago.” Apparently it’s an adjustment, as when asked what her favorite part about being single is, she joked, “No one drinks all my coffee. Jk. But not really.”
Especially as a newly-minted single, there’s been a lot to adjust to. One of the hardest parts, she says, is “being the ONLY person in your core group of friends who isn’t married and/or has children. That, on top of the fact that I'm not getting younger! Neither are great scenarios.”
Like Lawson, she pointed out that, “The Nashville gay scene is relatively small. Due to this, everyone knows everyone else and has probably dated each other at SOME point. Not a huge fan of that.”
If you can’t already tell, humor is an important characteristic for Heather when it comes to looking for a partner. “I am a sucker for someone who can make me laugh. Sense of humor is #1 for me. Basically, I'm a sarcastic jerk 95% of the time; therefore, I need someone who can keep up with me and isn't going to get offended by every little thing. ALSO ... they must be intelligent, and they must have passion for something ... anything. But if they are a teacher—HUGE bonus.
Meet Your Other Nominees
Thunder Kellie (TK) Hampton, who is no longer single, is one of our community’s proud HIV advocates. “I am most proud of my advocacy work. I am proud of my platform about HIV advocacy and my commitment to live a holistic life. I am proud I have the opportunity to help others live their lives to the fullest, no matter what their HIV status.”
“What is important to me?” he added. “FAMILY: both birth family and chosen family. It is important for me to be honest with myself so I can be authentic with those whom I serve through HIV prevention and advocacy, even if that honesty makes me vulnerable. Connected to that honesty, it is important for me to call out and name racism when I see it, even if folks get tired of hearing about it or if it lands me in trouble. Why? The community I serve continues to be disproportionately affected by HIV, with one in two black men who have sex with men predicted to be infected, compared with one in ten white men who have sex with men. The root cause of this discrepancy is systemic racism, which negatively affects resources, education, and treatment opportunities. I would be a poor advocate if I ignored that truth.”
“I am most proud of the theatrical production that I wrote and produced, *You Shall LHIV 2:ZERO* (lhiv.org). Through story and song, the musical presents a way forward to get to zero HIV transmissions by 2020. ZERO has gone places and reached people I could have never imagined. I am thankful for the amazing cast and crew who were willing to join me in being honest, who tackled tough issues, and who made themselves vulnerable for the sake of others.”
Though TK is off the market and in a committed monogamous relationship—how the most eligible fly off the shelves, right?—he did share some thoughts about his recent experiences being single.
“Before meeting him, I was single for over 2 years. I dated many guys, but found it hard to date within my community. As a community leader, I would not date the same men I advocated for and taught. So, dating for me was limited.”
“The biggest issue I have faced is that the dating pool in Nashville is small. Many guys have hang ups about dating and have their minds set on the types of guys they are willing to date. Other guys are only seeking a sexual moment. That type of encounter has its place, and it certainly had its moments for me! So I am in no way putting it down. It’s just that sometimes our relationship needs change. We may not even be aware of those needs, but when the right one comes along, BAM! There it is.”
Eric has a truly inspiring story. Talk about transformations! “Eight years ago, I was homeless and living in the Mission. I lost everything due to drug use. I decided to make a change and I have spent these years literally rebuilding my life from a suitcase. It is so important to give back and to help people to continue to drive goals. I am not really a person interested in things money can buy. I'm not after money. It's the matters of the heart that attract me. I mentor others like me who struggle with addiction. I will be a college graduate in one year, with a bachelor’s degree in commercial photography.”
For the last three years, Eric’s been single, and like our other nominees, he’s not pessimistic about the time he’s been able to spend focusing on himself. “Being single isn't SO bad! I mean, I have been able to take time to really get to know myself and the things I want in life. Being single has allowed me time to pursue college and develop myself as a photographer.” But, he added, “Sometimes when something really, really good happens, it would be rad to have someone special to tell.”
Eric’s path in life have presented him with certain difficulties when it comes to dating in our community. We are a small subset already, and so much of our socializing occurs in bars and clubs. “This isn't so much an ‘issue’ as it is a personal preference. I don't drink. I would much rather travel and explore the city and be outdoors than to be in a bar or club. And honestly, there is a lot of partying that seems to go on in the scene here. I have been clean and sober for almost eight years, and it means so much to me. So, I have to be pretty selective when dating and getting to know people.
What is he ultimately looking for? e) When you are looking for a partner, what are the things you are most looking for? It is so important to be able to laugh. I look for a guy who has drive. Someone who wants to better themselves and the people they encounter. I want someone who is honest, kind and laid back. Passion is so important to me and I look for someone with a positive attitude in life. A killer smile isn't bad either.
Ben is a self-described “Missouri boy, who moved to Nashville 6 years ago. I moved to better my career, and needed a change. I didn’t know anyone when I moved here, but I am a very outgoing person.” He credits HotMess sports with helping him get connected. “I entered as a free agent, not knowing anyone. I have met many of my lifelong friends due to being involved in the HotMess organization.”
“I am a teacher, and I love every moment of it! I have always had a love for learning. I wanted to become a teacher to not only help students learn but help them be themselves … to teach them not to be afraid of challenges. I think what I am most proud of in life is that I am not afraid or ashamed to be me. I am not afraid to take on each day as myself and grow to become a better person. I am proud that I took risks in moving to a new place not knowing anyone, and proud that I have an amazing career in helping young people to grow in their thinking and learning.
What’s important to me, well obviously my family, and my chosen family! With out my amazing support system of friends and family I wouldn’t be the person I am… When I am not teaching or at school, I am spending time with my friends and enjoying life.”
“I am also a performer at Lipstick Lounge, and love it! It’s fun to become a character that says what everyone is thinking... I just get say it on a stage in a wig! It’s a part of my crazy, fun-filled life! I would like for someone to join me on the journey! There is more I could tell, but then I would have nothing to talk about on a first date!”
“I don’t find anything hard about being single. Being single is what you make of it,” Ben said, so he’s taking his time and not rushing it. “I think the biggest issue I have experienced in the dating scene is not being seen past looks, or how fem I am. Sometimes dating seems very surface, and not many people wanting to look below that surface to build a type of relationship.”
If he could find a fellow traveler on his crazy journey, though, he would of course be looking for, “Prince Charming, duh! No, when looking for a partner I am looking for heart and soul! A big heart is always a good thing to have, someone who is comfortable with themselves. Someone who isn’t afraid to take risk or be adventurous. Life Is what you make it and I am not a ‘sit back and observe’ kinda person.”
“I need someone who can balance my big personality!” he added. “I am looking for a guy who has a steady career and wants to be successful, a guy who potentially would like a family one day (A gay boy can dream). In the end, I’m just looking for a guy who is down to earth, can go out and be social, and also could enjoy a relaxing night in. If any guy matches some of these, he sounds like someone who would be great person to get to know!
Sara Olivia Moore
Sara introduces herself thus: “Here's a quick glimpse into who I am. I grew up half-naked on the back of a four-wheeler, riding down to the pond to shoot snakes with my BB gun that my NASCAR watchin' daddy gave me back in my birthplace of Arkansas. Redneck-turned-city girl. They both live harmoniously inside me. Still. Last but most definitely not least: Demi Lovato, if you're reading this, hit me up, babe.”
“2016 was shit. 2017 was worse. Being able to say I made it out alive is one of the most amazing feats I've overcome in my life. Often times, merely surviving is all an individual needs to feel a sense of pride, and I surely do. There's no trophy, no awards: just knowing you've kicked hell to the curb by your own doing is a miracle. That's where I am.”
“Most of my friends are drunks,” she adds, but is she joking? “So, yeah, it feels promising to have a leg up on many of my peers. Not like life is a race, because it is not, I am blessed to have wrestled a few ropes sooner than later than most. I've been immersed in recovery after dabbling with the idea for a few years thanks to a few programs and different therapies.
“Currently, the main focus in my life is the tough lesson of being unquestionably honest with myself and others. Recovery is quite the golden ticket. The concept of forthrightness and assiduously seeking that personal truth will live with me until I'm 6' under.”
“My bachelorette lifestyle has been in full swing since June 2016. There have been a few dates and one incomprehensibly strange dating relationship between being single. If someone would have asked me over a year ago what the best thing about being single was, my response would have been: absolutely nothing. I'm a galaxy away from where I was now. The best thing about being single is that I have had an immense amount of self-discovery. What a liberating feeling to explore the self! By being on my own, I have learned about the inner workings of life, love, and human connection more than ever before.”
She does miss one thing, though: “The cuddles. The fucking cuddles. I'm a self-proclaimed cuddle monster, y'all.”
Like other nominees, Sara noted, “The dating scene in Nashville is strange in the queer world. Nearly everyone is loosely associated to one another in this community. It's intriguing to learn what the correct or respectful boundaries within the LGBTQ stomping grounds are. Relations can be, er, slightly interconnected. Also, Nashville has a considerable party scene which isn't always my jam, so I've found other means of connecting on a more personal, raw level with others. Though challenging, I embrace it.”
“When looking for a partner, I always seek kindness and understanding, which conclusively comes down to elevated emotional intelligence. Someone who is genuine and curious floats my boat as well. Honesty and learning are fun! Someone who appreciates nature, human connection, and story-telling is worth getting to become acquainted with. Attractive potty mouth? Smashing the patriarchy? A little bit of a punk ass? Artist of sorts? Digs my love of crawfish, maybe? Mental health warrior? Nerd? Sign me up.” Also, Demi Lovato. (Photo by Emily April Allen)
Barry is a small business owner. “I've run my own interior design firm for 17 years. I take a great deal of pride in the effort it has taken—to believe in myself and to stay motivated and open to learning, evolving. Personally, I'm glad I've learned to question my stressful thoughts and to have an open heart and mind.”
Outside of work, “I've sung with Nashville In Harmony for the last 6 years, and I coordinate their outfits. For fun, I bowl with the Rainbowlers League, and help out with the Nashville LGBT Gaymers and Friends group. I work out, practice yoga, and I'm a fantastic cook. I've become much more politically active recently. I have a group of friends that have been doing Margarita Mondays for 4 years, and, for the past year or so, we write our representatives. In 2016 I volunteered for a week registering voters in Charlotte, NC.”
Barry also has his nerd credentials: “I'm also a bit of a nerd. I've played Dungeon and Dragons for 35 years!”
In the four years he’s been single, Barry has enjoyed connecting with others. “Friends, friends and more friends! I'm grateful for the time I get to spend with both my biological and chosen family, although, it would be great to share all of the people I love with someone special.”
“I miss being completely open and vulnerable with someone, sharing hopes and fears, joy and loss, being excited about our accomplishments, feeling empowered by sharing goals.”
However, the changing shape of the dating scene has presented some issues. “Being able to swipe left or right on a person is representative of how people have become commodities. It sometimes feels like we've lost deeper appreciation of a person. We've definitely become much more risk adverse.”
Perhaps the biggest issue he identifies, however, is one we don’t talk about much, “Probably the biggest issue is the lack of opportunities to find a date,” he explained. There is a hole in our community, a missing segment of a generation, that surrounding generations perhaps haven’t noticed. “I think the AIDS crisis in the 80's and 90's decimated my generation, which I feel limits the possibilities of finding someone to connect with who is around my age.”
So, when it comes to potential partners, Barry remains open with what he’s looking for: “A guy with a fulfilling life, who is humorous and handsome. I try to stay as open as possible about the specifics.”