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'NY Times' Op-Ed Offers Glimpse Into Being Gay Down South

Rhettbutler2I'm finally getting to the actual printed paper, so pardon if you've already seen this New York Times op-ed about being gay in the South.

Using Honey Boo Boo's surprising and welcome support for gay "poodles" as a launching pad, University of North Carolina, Charlotte professor Karen Cox's piece explains the good, the bad and what sounds like tepid tolerance that comes with being gay below the Mason-Dixon.

Here's her conclusion:

There is a limit to the acceptance. In the rural South, people love their sons and daughters and they may even break bread with the florist and his partner, but they still believe homosexuality is a sin. They draw the line at a gay pride march down Main Street, and they won’t stand for gay marriage.

Still, as Alana’s Uncle Lee has shown America, there are gays living in the rural South who don’t all set out for the big city. They lead rich lives and have families, and sometimes even communities, that love them and accept them for who they are.

Cox also notes that many Southerners avoid describing someone as gay, preferring instead to say someone is "light in the loafers" or "has sugar in his britches," the latter of which could go either way...

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  1. Someone's looking back thru rose colored glasses. My experience in Tennessee was pure hell. Almost every day you'd hear about a gay bar set on fire, or a gay people beaten, threatened, fired, kicked out of places, etc. The good ole boys cops, teachers, principles, judges, and politicians did absolutely nothing to protect gay people and would routinely humiliate anyone having the nerve to try to defend themselves.

    Posted by: andy | Oct 4, 2012 9:49:59 PM

  2. Exactly...in other, people in the south are just as two faced about this as they are about everything else. I'm sorry. Not all of them. But the stereotype is there for a reason.

    Posted by: EchtKultig | Oct 4, 2012 10:01:53 PM

  3. I've met bunches of gay people who live in Hattiesburg (a town mentioned in the article). From visits I sort of see the appeal. I actually found the article to be very true to what I've seen: It's not perfect, there is discrimination, it's just done in the southern style (with exceptions, of course).

    Posted by: AT | Oct 4, 2012 10:11:37 PM

  4. @echtkultig. eg: "bless your heart"

    Posted by: gomez | Oct 4, 2012 10:19:37 PM

  5. The difference is that you'll NEVER hear any person in a position of authority speak of same-sex relationships as valid, or normal or deserving of equal treatment and equal protection, while they have no problem whatsoever decrying homosexuality as sinful and deserving of condemnation.

    They may not kill you, they may (emphasis on 'may') not beat you up. But they damned sure don't regard you as equals--gays and lesbians are inferior, which is the same way they regard African-Americans. Hell, a lot of American-Americans are as bad bigots as the reddest-state redneck.

    I do NOT wish I were in Dixie.

    Posted by: Land of Cotton | Oct 4, 2012 11:41:03 PM

  6. This is a very stereotypical article. It's sad that those who claim to write for us simply serve to reinforce stereotypes and the prejudices associated with such stereotypes. I get the feeling that we are being oppressed by writers who claim to write for us.

    The New York Times should know better than to publish such stereotypical articles.

    Posted by: jason | Oct 4, 2012 11:52:09 PM

  7. ah, yes. the "we're fine without as long as you don' flaun' it" folks.

    the "i don't mind that my son is gay but nobody else needs to know" folks.

    how lovely.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Oct 5, 2012 12:05:06 AM

  8. Anywhere South of Philadelphia is a toss-up. DC has a large community presence yet horrible hate crime rate, Atlanta the same. Research triangle in NC is college-student/post-college student dominated but voted 75% against Amendment One. Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando are very gay.

    Problem with the South is, for the most part, that it's pockets of acceptance surrounding ton of hate. Even within the borders of cities that are more progressive, it's literally night and day block-to-block. We have a more entrenched presence in other places in the country. More vibrancy. More legitimate acceptance. And, of course, the laws in most Southern states, are very anti-gay.

    Posted by: Francis | Oct 5, 2012 12:11:31 AM

  9. This op-ed in the New York Times almost immediately contradicts its own premise. The author claims "you can be openly gay and accepted in the rural South." She then gives multiple cases that prove completely otherwise.

    Her first case is two women who people know are gay but no one talks about it. "It's an unspoken truth that Helen and Kathleen are in a committed relationship..." They can attend things together and be accepted—just don't talk about it.

    The next example is a woman named Sandy. Of her she says, "I don't think her mother ever openly acknowledged her daughter's sexual orientation, which she certainly knew, because SUCH THINGS USUALLY GO UNSAID in the South."

    Next she tells you that people will use "euphemisms" where a partner is a "friend" and a gay man is "light in the loafers." How insulting.

    These are her examples of living openly, it involves never speaking the truth and using somewhat insulting euphemisms. After that she warns, "there is a limit to the acceptance." I'm sorry, but her examples are not acceptance. The limits are they believe gays are sinners, "draw the line at a gay pride marching" and "won't stand for gay marriage. After giving nothing but examples of demeaning euphemisms, closeted identities, and staying in one's place she claims the South "accept them for who they are."

    No, they don't. Yes, there are people in the South who are accepting but the culture is bigoted and narrow-minded and public opinion polls show this to be the case. The South is most anti-gay place in the country, as well as most racist.

    To give examples of people living in the closet, being allowed to "fit in" provided no one speaks of them actually being gay, and as long as they don't ask for the same rights as other people, is not acceptance. It is the old Southern view that blacks are okay as long as they know their place and don't get uppity, just applied to gay people.

    Posted by: James Peron | Oct 5, 2012 12:42:56 AM

  10. Read William Jack Sibley's excellent novel "Any Kind Of Luck" (Kensington, 2001). New York gay couple returns to rural Texas to care for a dying parent. Tough, unflinching and funny as hell. No the south isn't quite ready for rainbow flags up the wazoo - but in its own eccentric way perfectly willing to tolerate most anything long as they know "who your people are". (Like Mardi Gras - don't try to analyze the south by rational, methodical thinking. Doesn't work. Think of gumbo - you get a little of everything in the mix.)

    Posted by: Bill | Oct 5, 2012 12:52:56 AM

  11. Reminds me of a great piece that was published a way back in Radar (a different version than the celeb trash it is now) on gays in Southern kiddie pageants. I couldn't find it online anymore but this is a reference to it: http://www.afterelton.com/blog/lylemasaki/gay-men-find-acceptance-in-child-pageants?page=last

    Posted by: Wil | Oct 5, 2012 3:00:56 AM

  12. I stopped reading at the point where she said the following in regards to hate crimes.

    "But while such crimes do occur, they are less common than in large urban centers"

    Well, DUH. There are far more gay people in urban areas. Heard of the phrase "per capita"?

    A professor, eh? Pffff.

    Posted by: BobN | Oct 5, 2012 3:09:38 AM

  13. I was born in Vermont but raised in the South. The prejudice and hate was enough to keep me closeted throughout my teen years. As an adult, I found a partner and we bought a house together in Roanoke, Virginia. Over the years we received late night phone calls telling us we were going to be killed, we had strangers call us faggots as we walked down the street and as we raised 2 children, my partner was not considered their legal parent. We finally moved to New York and are living in a small town upstate. We are legally married and even though we live in a rural area, same sex couples routinely walk the street hand in hand. Is their prejudice here? Most certainly, but not at all to the institutionalized level in the south. Why live there? I have no idea.

    Posted by: Mark | Oct 5, 2012 5:31:00 AM

  14. I often get flack for saying Republicans, especially southern Republicans, are still fighting against everything 1970's. Polite Southerners merely treat gays and lesbians the same way New Yorkers did pre-Stonewall. It was the way I was treated when I first came out in a mid-sized Midwestern city in 1974. It is the same to this day in the rural small towns in the Midwest.

    If a Southerner knows "where your people are from" you get your civilian DADT pass as long as you are useful as sparkling dinner conversationalist and/or are the 'go to person' for, say, the community theater. They will love the sinner, but never mention the sin except in quiet tones in closed rooms. They also think they are being modern and accepting...until something hits the ceiling fan.

    It is completely transactional relationship with their court jester or 'their pet gay' who knows their place. If your partner should die, those very same fine mannered folk, who once invited you as a couple to dinner or a BBQ, will turn. After grave site grieving with you in the morning they will help your late partner's family load up all your joint possessions in the afternoon. Saying with those politely understanding eyes, "Those are his people." That is southern and rural American family values. Don't think for a moment you are a real person, you are a useful accessory, a little color in their lives.

    Be very careful and get your legal paperwork in order.

    Posted by: Gus | Oct 5, 2012 6:01:15 AM

  15. Class was more pivotal than region in my experience. I grew up upper middle-class in Upstate South Carolina (i.e. Tea Party Country). I was only explicitly out to my friends, but I never denied my sexuality when someone asked.

    Also, I never faced discrimination and felt perfectly safe walking down the street holding my boyfriend's hand. But, then again, we either hung out downtown or in educated upper middle-class neighborhoods. Things really sucked for people that went to some of the rougher public schools or lived in poorer neighborhoods, as is true with many things.

    I surrounded myself with people that were openly affirming, including adults and people in positions of power, but that was an element of all different kinds of privilege.

    Posted by: Jean de Florette | Oct 5, 2012 7:31:49 AM

  16. Politeness, like Southern hospitality, is nothing more than a bad paint job on a rusty clunker. Living here in a Mayberry sized town in eastern North Carolina, since I have having far more education and a bit more money than the bulk of my neighbors, they can't very easily say nasty things to my face. But their bigotry has a way of showing itself. "Oh, I don't mind gay people." "We have a lot of tolerance for gays." Snort. And I don't mind bible thumping bigots.

    Posted by: candideinnc | Oct 5, 2012 7:43:09 AM

  17. I live in Minnesota, Not stepping a foot outside of it....We love gay people here and treat them with respect...

    Posted by: Janet | Oct 5, 2012 8:09:36 AM

  18. "Politeness, like Southern hospitality, is nothing more than a bad paint job on a rusty clunker."

    Borned and raised in small town Georgia here. And this describes it perfectly. Women were always easier to deal with, all smiles and politeness, but you knew in the back of their minds they thought you were going to burn for all eternity. Men were harder to deal with, the minute they found out you were gay, things got incredibly awkward or you were cut off. It's one of the reasons I scraped and clawed to get the hell out of there. Thankfully I've found far more acceptance in PA.

    Posted by: BEAHBEAH | Oct 5, 2012 8:11:48 AM

  19. From Janet: "I live in Minnesota, Not stepping a foot outside of it....We love gay people here and treat them with respect..."

    Janet, we'll see on election day.

    Posted by: Charles in DC | Oct 5, 2012 8:43:17 AM

  20. @James Peron

    It's the difference between tolerance and accepted. They are tolerated - i.e. people put up with them. But they certainly aren't accepted

    Posted by: Steve | Oct 5, 2012 8:54:04 AM

  21. The interesting reverse is how scared people from the deep south are to go north, even on vacation. They're like a spider when the light turns on.

    Posted by: anon | Oct 5, 2012 9:38:43 AM

  22. This article is a joke. What's worse, it's a sad joke.

    The author didn't bother talking about Amendment One, or how the backers came right out and said that this amendment was nothing more than codifying a few mis-interpreted scriptures into law. She said nothing about the overwhelming number of people who voted in favor of the amendment.

    She said nothing about the 'pastors' in a number of large southern congregations flinging 'child abuse is okay if your kid is gay' or 'round up all the gays and lesbians into concentration camps!' or 'the government should kill off gays' from the pulpit.

    She says nothing about Gays and Lesbians fighting tooth and nail just to get to larger cities where they *might* have a chance at a better life.

    Disgusting article - and all it does is make all the southern homophobes feel better about what they're doing.

    Posted by: Oz in OK | Oct 5, 2012 10:00:21 AM

  23. I've lived in both northern and southern areas, and can attest that each locale is what you make of it. If you're living in a small town, whether northern or southern, you'll likely have similar small-town myopia and prejudice... and similar discriminatory laws. This isn't always the case, but for the most part it holds true. Religious hysteria aside, class and educational background exert a huge influence on GLBT acceptance rates.

    Posted by: The Milkman | Oct 5, 2012 10:12:58 AM

  24. Very insightful and well written comments on this discussion.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Oct 5, 2012 10:13:25 AM

  25. I've traveled down south and stayed off and on for brief periods. I've found most people regardless of their 'race' or socioeconomic status without question, on the surface at least, friendlier than northerners. But, I also agree there's a lot of passive aggressive fake politeness. When someone doesn't like you for whatever reason up north, there's no misunderstandings about it, they aren't remotely s passive aggressive as many southerners. But in general I really enjoy my trips down south and think most people are genuinely nice.

    That said, the problem can be laded at the doorstep of the omnipresent evangelical Christian churches. They still have enormous control and influence in society that is non-existent up north, either Protestant or Catholic. People up north, especially where I live, are simply not fanatically religious like many southerners and most think it's bizarre, even freakish. It's the reason many southerners think northern [especially New England] 'Conservatives' aren't conservative, because they aren't remotely as obsessed with stuff like homosexuality. sex in general, etc., And ironically, in many cases, the only folks up here who come close to behaving or mimicking this rigid, religion obsessed, 'traditionalist' southern attitude are black Americans from the south.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Oct 5, 2012 10:56:45 AM

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