Growing up Gay in the South: A Series
What a terrible idea. Placing a gay man — attuned to the cultural milieus of the world, well-traveled, open-minded — in an area known for being the exact opposite — isolated, willfully ignorant, xenophobic. Anything but open-minded. It doesn’t make sense, especially when the gay man feels more at home in a metropolitan city — with its art museums, coffee shops, and various sources of intelligentsia — than he does in his own hometown.
That gay man is me, and growing up in the South has never been an easy feat. Outsiders — as in, those who aren’t gay — might not realize the extent to which a non-mainstream sexuality permeates every area of life on a daily basis. But it does.
Since growing up in a small town, surrounded by mostly straight and straight-professing people, I felt my outsider status at a very young age. While those around me gravitated toward their “approved” hobbies, i.e. sports for the guys and Barbies for the girls, I found myself fascinated with the female realm. I was told time and time again that I wasn’t supposed to be interested in dolls, nor was I supposed to wear the color pink. Those were taboo practices, looked down upon by society at-large.
But as time wore on, I not only lived in the female realm, I thrived there. I played with Barbies, amassing a collection in only a few months, and when McDonald’s did their gender-based Happy Meals, which I find problematic to this day, I always made sure to acquire the “girls toys”, because who wanted to play around with a bunch of monster trucks or Hot Wheels? The Madame Alexander Wizard of Oz dolls, with their perfectly-tailored outfits, were so much more appealing.
Puberty hit in elementary, and with that came escalated feelings for the males around me. I started to desire the physical touch of a man, but I refused to believe that my feelings were valid, due to the religious dogma fed by family members and friends. What’s so malicious about the whole process is that my feelings were unadulterated truth, but because of toxic indoctrination, I was made to feel invalid. That’s what’s so scary about religion. It demands unquestioning loyalty, and in this instance, this loyalty kept me from the person God had always intended me to be.
This isn’t to say that religion is a bad thing. I believe that a relationship with God is necessary for a healthy spiritual existence. It gives us resilience, allowing us to share the load of the world’s problems with another Being. But the religion that had silenced me — and continues to silence so many others — was dark. No one should ever be made to question who they are, even if Bible verses supposedly say to do so.
By the time I started junior high, my family started to accept that I was different. They stopped resisting whenever I sported a pink Abercrombie and Fitch shirt, or when I dyed my hair bleach blonde and wore sapphire blue contacts. Maybe they saw there was no point in resisting any longer. I was different, but that didn’t have to be a bad thing.
Junior high was a nightmare, but it was also beautiful. In the next article, I’ll speak about the sexual fantasies I explored and how masturbation — a source of pleasure — had become a source of shame during this particular time in my life. I’ll also speak to the first time I was physically attracted to a boy — who happened to be a fellow classmate.
Through this series, I will shed light on my particular experience as a gay man in the South — the ugly parts, the beautiful parts, and everything in-between, in hopes that someone who comes across this can gain a sense of solace, knowing there is someone else out there who has gone through — and overcame — the challenges of being gay.
So here’s to being gay, and here’s to you. Welcome to my life.