At two-and-a-half-women.tumblr.com we get a lot of questions and comments from gay readers living in the South, many in the closet or out but at a cost. We wanted to talk about it. What follows comes from a Gchat conversation between me (raised by two moms in the Northeast) and Todd Dakotah Briscoe (@ToddDakotah), who's gay and from a "red state" and kind enough to share his story.
Todd: Am I on the record? If so, I'll save my rants about vegans until later.
Emma: Vegans: good for nothing but a laugh.
Todd: I tried a new vegan recipe last night. You freeze bananas, then blend them. It's supposed to be just like ice cream.
Emma: "Just like."
Todd: It wasn't. It was blended, cold bananas.
Emma: Anyhow. I'm a dumb liberal Northerner who doesn't get the South and thinks it has beef with gays. I want to be compassionate, and I nominate you to help me.
Todd: Well, Texas, depending on who you ask, is Texas and not the South. But I can speak from a "red state" perspective.
Emma: Coming from a red state, is there anything conservative about you? You have manners, which I find quaint.
Todd: Yeah. I was taught to hold the door for people. Regarding politics, I'm pretty liberal and always have been, but I think the issue is that politics have become too "our team vs. theirs." Living in two different extremes (Bible Belt and New York City) has made me appreciate that middle ground.
Emma: When was the first time you felt constrained by Amarillo?
Todd: Middle school. I was bullied for being effeminate, which made me suicidal. I definitely didn't know anyone gay.
Emma: When you say you didn't know anyone gay--
Todd: Well, looking back, I must have known some. A dean at my church, a "confirmed bachelor," we called him. Certainly some of the men in the community theater, but we just called them "tomgirls." I most certainly didn't know a gay couple.
Emma: Have you had to reconstruct your own idea of family, or does it come naturally to you from your parents' house?
Todd: I had to reconstruct, but it came pretty quickly after moving to New York. For a while I had questions like, "Will a child of gay parents turn out to be slightly... off?" The answer is that of course they will, and so will the kids of straight parents. You were a major influence in changing how I saw LGBT families.
Emma: Straight people destroy their kids. So when you heard my story, how did that change your thoughts on LGBT families?
Todd: I just thought, "Well, she turned out fine." The Kids Are All Right, so to speak.
Emma: And that was all it took?
Todd: Moments like that. A Rosie O'Donnell documentary about her gay family cruises. Seeing a gay couple on the subway with their adopted son. From musicals like Falsettos and movies, I knew intellectually that same-sex couples were there, but it didn't feel like a possibility for me until I moved to NYC.
Emma: Media had such a big influence on you. Is it affecting other people in Amarillo now?
Todd: Pop culture and the media have played an incredible role! Thank God that Will & Grace came out when it did. That show made girls in high school want to be my ally. I wasn't out, but they could see the benefit of the gay best friend. My parents took me to see movies like The Birdcage and In & Out, and that was the way I got to see gay people. It's happening now for the trans community with Glee and Orange Is the New Black.
Emma: So did your parents take you with an agenda or just because they happened to be playing?
Todd: They just thought the movies looked funny.
Emma: So pop culture is doing these magical things -- but then there's religion?
Todd: Well. Let me tell a story about that. I had a Sunday-school teacher during my formative years. It was an extremely conservative church, but her message always focused on Jesus' message of "love one another" and forgiveness. I remember once in eighth grade (my roughest year), she was meeting a friend she'd met online. I said, "But what if he turns out to be gay?" And she said, "Why in the world would that matter? He's my friend!" She was most responsible for my religious education, and the only person I heard say they wouldn't care if their friend was gay. Christianity isn't necessarily what made her a "good person," but it informed her decision that hatred and bigotry are against God's will. Even now she's been enormously helpful in helping my mom deal with my coming out. When I hear "Christianity is bad for gays," I think of Corinne and wish that there weren't so many awful and outspoken Christians who put people like her in a bad light.
Emma: What will it take for a same-sex couple to marry in Mississippi?
Todd: Mainly? Time. You know how [positively] I feel about Meghan McCain. She and several Republican pundits -- even Bill O'Reilly -- have said, "The party's going to fizzle out unless we reconsider some of these social issues." And "being gay" is becoming less of an issue for younger generations.
Emma: So you see moderate folk like Meghan as bridges between generations and shifting ideology.
Todd: Also, we need continued portrayals of gay people in the media, and gay people must come out. It's harder to hate gay people when you know one. Also, the issue of separation of church and state needs to be more strongly highlighted. I'm not trying to get married in your church. But mainly time. My mother always struggled with the possibility of me being gay, and it worried her, just because she's a product of a world that told her it was wrong. She's not mean or bad and never has been. She just had to learn and grow. Now she asks about my boyfriends (though she calls them my "relationship friends"), and every day she's getting better and more understanding of what it is to be gay. I'll change my mind about vegans when I have a vegan son, I guess.
Emma: I hope karma gives you a vegan son.
Read more about growing up and being a grownup with two moms at two-and-a-half-women.tumblr.com.