In North Carolina there is a little city (it's being generous to even say it's a city) called Durham. It is famous for tobacco; Duke University; minor league baseball; having as its civic mascot an ad campaign symbol that was used in astoundingly racist, capitalist forays against African Americans and which overlooks the huge jail in the center of town that is filled with African Americans; feel-good indie rock beards/saggy butts; and people who get touchy whenever anyone says anything that is less than uproariously supportive of every meager attempt at being whitely evolved.
This is where I, due to a completely unexpected turn of events, have found myself living. For a very, very long list of very, very good reasons, I hate it. I say it all the time on my stupid website, and people here get insanely angry with me about it. Do they love their red-bricked city so little that my pointless releases of graying steam are able to cast such a thick fog over their valiant but reactionary burg and so they feel the need to so strenuously curse me?
I am only setting things up in this way so you know that what I am about to write will lead to my getting at least 50 locally farmed, blindly accusatory emails telling me to move away and/or die. Even if what I am going to write is true and only poses questions, it won't matter. So, in advance, don't worry, I will leave, and soon enough -- then no one will say anything mean or honest about Durham ever again. (Oh, but I do really love a bar here called Whisky. If you want to find me so you can kill me, I might be there.)
Anyway, with caveats aligned, being a bi gent here is totally confusing.
There is a fairly healthy dyke scene, so healthy that the local Durham magazine lists it as one of the reasons why Durham is "cool." (The motto of the city is "find your cool." Please help me wipe the vomit off of my frankly vulgar, red pullover. That said, it is a great motto, because you can easily change it to "find your coat!" with a little spray paint.) But this is good; it's good that dykes are cool.
There are two dyke bars here (one is called "The Bar") that host reputably fun dance nights, which I regularly indulge in and thank God for. But as a biological male (why, oh, why?!), it is kind of like a friendly but muted sexual/social netherworld. It's nice but odd to be most welcome in a place that is almost impossible to hook up in. For this is, of course, more or less the point of dance nights. The dykes are totally warm and sweet to the sundry men, but there are hardly any men anywhere (on average, there are between zero and four men there).
I very much love that there is space for queer people, literally and in theory, in this little Southern nest. But I do wonder why there is no regular scene for queer men here. (There is one in Raleigh, but it is 30 minutes away by car, and one can't drive home drunk from there.)
This is where one part of the "quasi" part of the "quasi-liberal" comes in. I might be totally wrong, and there might be no correlation whatsoever between what I am about to say and the facts, but I'm just wondering/pontificating:
Is it this way because in a place that has so long been submersed in bigotry but is trying(!) so hard not to be anymore, accepting dykes is easier than accepting faggots? People hate faggots out of the biggest (in scale) form of bigotry of all: misogyny. It is harder to accept a man behaving in a stereotypically womanish way (sexually or otherwise) than a woman behaving in a stereotypically mannish way.
Is making a space here for dykes but not fags the first step out of bigotry, or is this as good as it is going to get, and we should be happy with what the town gives us? I know that this place being pro-lesbian is a profound something, just not everything. But why not? Is it sour grapes on my part, or something more heinous, or just a coincidence?
Durham hosts an LGBT film festival that lasts for a week or so, and all the queers from all around convene in dark rooms together. But having gone, I had no idea, and I fucking live here! Where did the men in attendance go to party afterwards? To a cotillion? They probably just went home, like me. Why was there nothing for us? The lesbian bar was packed.
Durham, to its massive credit, holds the queer pride march for the whole of North Carolina. It is a really sweetly down-home operation. Its signs along main street are all hand-painted. There do not seem to be any massive corporate or city sponsors for it. It seems to be very much for and by the people, which is truly beautiful. Due to touring a lot, I have only been able to attend once, but it was a wonderful day.
I saw a 45-year-old black gay man holding hands with a 25-year-old white gay man, both with what could only be described as looks of relief and awe on their faces. Based on how they were dressed, they appeared to have driven here from the backcountry. It is a safe bet that it was one of the few days and few places where they could hold hands in the daytime. It literally brought me to tears; they looked so free and happy, but then a moment later it occurred to me that there is no way in hell they could do this, even in Durham, if it were not pride.
This is the only place where I have been called "faggot" to my face at the fucking Whole Foods! And I am always too flustered to say back, "I'm not a faggot. I'm bi." (There is this bastion of Whole Foodsness here, but shit like that happens there?)
I get called some crappy name in the street every month or so, and there would be much worse if I did not keep quiet and just walk away. The one time I didn't, I was backed into a literal corner by a jock twice my size, with his fist shaking in my face. This town is as full of religious zealots, frat boys, and army families as it is full of chicks on fixed-gear bikes with short hair and bandanas in their pockets. It's so confusing in such a small place.
While this verbal abuse is certainly not as bad as getting beaten up, it is no less baffling a) to someone who is from urban California, where an adult just would not say this to another adult, and b) in a place that purports publicly to be so queer-friendly. As a bi dude, one just does not know how to be on a casual basis. Should one be open or closed?
Now, I relish these few noted days when queer men can be out. But they are rather few, and even though dykes have a couple of bars, it can't be a picnic for our fierce ladies, either.
I wonder: is it better to be a bi guy in a place where some queer things are muddled in your favor but other things are either neutral or against you? Or is it easier to be bi in a place where everyone wishes you were dead and you know it, but at least there is no uncertainty?
It's probably much better to have some than none, right, but still, why? Why, with certain queer-happy, codified, annual events and an ostensibly queer chamber of commerce, is there (kinda) something for dykes but more or less nothing for fags in Durham? Historians and sociologists, please lift the veil!
Follow Jamie Stewart on Twitter: www.twitter.com/XiuXiuforLife