Everyone knows that plants need the sun to flourish. For the more than 70 plants currently calling Joey Beaver’s St. Louis apartment home, an extra dose comes from their caretaker Beaver, who can fairly be called a human ray of sunshine.
Beaver’s plants and his marvelous social media posts starring himself and a few leafy friends at a time are all part of his journey of self-discovery, of creating a safe space for him and his best friends to be their most authentic selves — to bloom, one might say.
“My love for plants just came from wanting to be a little more selfless and staying in touch with nature,” the 24-year-old customer service specialist says. “These plants just make me happy, they just bring happiness into this space. The feeling of when I used to go to the botanical gardens, the energy — I just wanted that in my space.”
His leafy apartment is his first on his own, and he’s turned it into an oasis where the plants are healthy and the potlucks are an occasion worth getting dressed to the nines for. On a Sunday afternoon Zoom, he’s in a silky red cut-to-there shirt, wriggling snake earrings and full-beat face, seated in front of a gorgeous antique mirror and rows of thriving foliage.
“For me, when I like something, I just dive into it like, I don’t want one or two, I need like a bajillion of them,” Beaver says. “Let me feel the sensation, let me get my serotonin releasing!”
Beaver, his plants and his lewks have lately become a star attraction in certain St. Louis plant-nerd corners of the internet. In an online community where many posts are panicked inquiries about drooping fronds or invading insects, a signature Joey Beaver selfie with a monstera or pothos tends to generate major adoration.
“I am my best self when I’m just me,” he says.
Nurturing his green friends and creating a lovely living space has been part and parcel of Beaver’s process of coming into his own, from emerging from a repressive youth where his desire to be a cheerleader and wear red-bottom Louboutin stilettos to prom was quashed.
For a skinny gap-toothed gay kid named Beaver, there was plenty of teasing to go around in school. At about ten, he found a faith community that welcomed him at first, which was wonderful. He eventually lived most of the time with one of the families. As he grew up and into himself, though, the situation included more and more conflict and repression.
“Maybe it had a bad look for a Black queer person to be living in their household, expressing himself the way that I was,” Beaver says. “I guess I get that, from a religious standpoint.”
Beaver left the community behind and is working through the trauma from that period in his life, though spirituality remains crucial to him — and the plants are a key part of his spiritual, nature connection. He’s working to trace his African ancestry and spiritual practices untainted by repression.
“Spirituality is so free and so freeing,” says Beaver. “You can be who you want to be without necessarily any sort of restrictions on your overall human experience.”
Beaver says he’s thrilled that people respond to his sunny social media presence and his very specific and very genuine way of presenting himself.
“I just love queer people that are so unapologetically themselves,” Beaver says. “It took me many years to become unapologetically myself. I feel like it’s so important to see Black happiness and Black beauty and Black joy.”