When you grow up and live in the south, you are always greeted with a smile. Courtesy and being polite is not something that is just taught to us at birth but implemented as the way of life. A please or thank you will always accompany an inquiry or request. Open a door for when someone has too many items to get through the door without dropping them. We band together and reach out to those that need our help in their time of need. It is still custom for a gentleman to tip his hat and a lady to do a small curtsy. Bigger hair and better fashion served up with a side of bold, brazen attitude are not only encouraged but also the standard. That alone sounds like many a gay man’s paradise.
The south has a reputation of being surly and hot tempered but that misunderstanding is reserved by outsiders that are not aware of our customs. We’re a sultry, feisty and passionate group full of spontaneity with a flare for the dramatic. Even when there is a disagreement, more often than not it is done so eloquently and in style. Most matters are resolved peacefully and we remain civil to our opponents even when we outright despise them. More than likely we are still to help a stranger when their car breaks down and are stranded. It’s our anthem here in the Volunteer State. These customs and behaviors are one of the few things I still treasure to observe among other Southerners. The personalities make everything even more beautiful here.
Sounds so romantic, doesn’t it? So warm and inviting that all of these attributes are the setup for the perfect place to settle down in and make a real home. But it’s not all peaches and mint juleps here. There is still a division in ideals and beliefs. The Bible in most cases here is the law, even though many break the subjective rules and lessons from it daily. It is hypocritically hurled at anyone that doesn’t fit into the hive mindset of what sexuality is and the Bible is justified when it oppresses others that refuse to go along with it. There is still a lofty and indignant rejection to homosexuality (and still in some towns and other places race).
But over the past several years, more specifically the past few months, we’ve seen a huge evolution in acceptance of LGBT in our country. Old philosophies and outdated beliefs are quickly dissipating to usher in a new era of peace and equality. This is the closest this country has ever come to upholding the laws set hundreds of years ago to govern it’s citizens. We have nine states that do not define how two consenting adults can show their love for one another. The majority of the population also feels this way now. But the south seems to still be stuck in the past.
When the discussion of homosexuality comes up, the replies are still short but still friendly. Replies like, “I was just taught that it was wrong” “The Bible says in Leviticus…” or “It’s just not natural” followed by a frail, wondering smile that whispers “I meant no offense,” or the real kicker of “I still think you’re a lovely person”. All this kind, polite banter meant to soothe does the exact opposite and are nothing more than to irritate and anger. Because it is the acceptance of treating certain people in this country like second class citizens. And it makes the colorful, radiant south lose some of its shimmer.
But the old days of when a southern, gay gentleman would just politely nod and close the discussion with a “have a good day” or “thank you kindly” are no longer. Though we are still as polite and courteous as ever, we know that we have to talk about it, no matter how uncomfortable and unpopular as it may seem. There now are activists that speak out against the accepted bigotry of our home and its people. There are campaign rallies and peaceful sit-ins so that us homosexuals can marry whomever we choose, just like everyone else.
And this is the only way we will see change is to be the change itself. Standing up to this hive mind ideal of what ideals and equality looked like. History has proven this to be the effective method. When my parents and grandparents stood up against the racial divide in this country, the only way things changed is when they outright challenged the beliefs once set in stone. And though there was much resistance and to this day residual frustration, it happened. People began to accept the color of skin here in the south as mere color, and no longer the hierarchy of classism and importance. So yes, the south has and can evolve. Stubbornly of course… full of dirt kicking hesitation, but still likely. Yet all of the effort needed to take on such a task while being met with such resistance makes many a gay southerner sad to call this home.
No matter where I go in this life, I will always be referred to as a Southerner and a gentleman. And I will carry the sophistication and customs of treating people with honor and respect wherever my path leads. What appears to be pompous, outlandish, even superficial behavior to outsiders is true, genuine hospitality. So I will continue tipping my hat to show respect and be as cordial as possible during a dispute. Living the southern motto of work hard to play harder in high fashion. But I will advocate and discuss. Campaign and champion for equality as loudly and as civil as my voice will carry. And I will still greet everyone with a smile.