Sunday, October 21, 2012
My gaydar is broken in this town. I can't stop assuming that every non-redneck gentleman over 50 I meet is gay. I don't know what it is...maybe just the drawl, and the habit they have of making compassionate eye contact and calling me honey. The constant familiar touches on the shoulder, or little "just between us" quips. I totally thought my professor was gay the first day, but then he talked a lot about his wife. And that's usually the very quick give away, because everyone down here is married, every one, every single person. So it's not like I labor long under these wrong impressions. But they do keep happening.
Carey said it was because the whole South was just very queer, and I agree.
Last night I was telling someone about my plans, like why I had applied to Southern schools, and why I wanted to move here. My thesis basically. It's been a minute since I thought about that, because I got all sorts of wrapped up in the actual move and the process of stabilizing in a place - roommates, transportation, job searching, friend making, learning directions. But I very much originally wanted to move South because I felt these similarities between my book learned ideas of Southern Gothic and my childhood experience of the Rustbelt, and I thought I could get a better perspective about the defining characteristics of my culture if I contrasted it with something older and more established. The myth of the South. The Bible Belt. The Cotton Belt. The Tobacco Field. The Retirement Condo. The home of two faced compliments, and disarming people with niceties. I did not miss the fact that I'm very good at those two things already, so I thought I would be able to fit in.
So I had these thoughts and thoughts about my broken gaydar, which I mean, wasn't perfect to begin with but was pretty good. I have a pretty good sense of sexuality between people, I'm femme as fuck sometimes, you don't pull that off without being able to smell chemistry. But that was up North. Down here, I'm floundering like a bird through a field of cell phone towers. I don't know which way is up. I think the ocean being to the East instead of above me to the North has actually messed up my magnetism. And that's really the root of why the South feels so queer, because you have to realign your social senses, and really learn to look at who people are and take stock of them. People aren't immediately who you suspect them to be. The religion thing, that's sneaky sneaky. They are subtle about that shit. The politics thing is a bit more obvious. They all make eye contact with you, a lot, even when you first meet. I had one guy asked if I had some sort of phobia about making direct eye contact, because my eyes dart around like crazy when I talk. The things that will shock people are...I can't even define it yet, but they are off. I'll say something completely innocuous to me, given our prior conversational topics, and without warning everyone will act like I'm crazy, even though the last guy just made baby killing jokes and we were fine with it.
I also think, and this is maybe just me and my friends, but I think that Southern Gentility is very similar to the gay and queer homes I frequented in Ohio. Like, the aesthetic, the feel of the rooms. The calm sort of acceptance of a new situation, the friendliness. Everyone being generally sensible, and then busting out that one weird part of crazy ever so often, like a light dusting of personality. Things are clean and pretty, even when they are drunk and debauched. Everyone judging you.
Even the actual colors seem familiar in that way to me - all the greens and whites and sunlight yellows.
It could also be that maybe I just knew a lot of gay guys up north who were from more southern climes.
Whatever the reason, I do like it. It's strange to be immersed in, but it's not bad. I think being able to notice how the greens are more yellow here was a good call.
I was talking with a guy here about this, and he got defensive about the concept I was describing, so I tried to explain that when I referred to the South being gay, it wasn't in a pejorative. It was actually a compliment. He seemed skeptical, but he got it. There's that too. I end up having to explain myself a lot, and it's not because people are dumb, it's because I'm just incapable of fully articulating and owning these thoughts yet, there's so many new ones, I'm chattering like a squirrel half the time about how just Weird this all is.
We were walking back from breakfast, and passed a building across the road that was an industrial looking painted brick courtyard, with girders and skylights, filled with trees and a pond and benches. It turned out to be a wedding venue. These guys were there unloading stuff for a daughter's wedding there tomorrow, and of course someone in my group knew someone in their group, cause that's how this place works. It was a really beautiful spot, and maybe I just really needed to be somewhere like that for a moment, a little urban cave. I'm feeling a lack of buildings in my life, skyscrapers and carnegie libraries and what not. When I walked in there, I had a little moment when my breath caught and I thought "I want to get married here", which is such a fucked up and foreign idea, that my brain was just scattered. This is what I'm talking about, these glimpses of yourself in which you are not at all the person you thought you were, like you're looking at a reflection of yourself, or seeing yourself in a photo for the first time in a while. Unfamiliar. Not bad though. Maybe bad sometimes.
So I guess I understand that part of traveling now. The ability to not only contrast your culture, but contrast yourself.
I said I was going to make myself a t-shirt that read The Gay Magic of the South, and I've been trying to think of a picture to put on it that will make it instantly clear I mean this as a positive wonderful Looking Glass adventurous sort of thing. Right now a photo of Tennessee Williams is winning.
Posted by Bridget Callahan at 2:21 PM