Gay Iowans: We Never Were Ironic

05/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

It's certainly a funny day to be a gay Iowan. When you leave the Midwest, you'd better be prepared to renounce your allegiance to your home state, especially when you become a New Yorker, as I did about four years ago.

City folk like to imagine Iowans all live on farms; that we subsist on pork, corn, and soybeans; that our "cities" deserve quotation marks; that we have no bookstores, vegetarians, or food coops to speak of. The first question a New Yorker may ask an Iowan transplant: Are you from Des Moines? Many New Yorkers think Iowans are fun: "That's why you have that sweet, innocent look about you," they say, leaving you to wonder whether you've just been paid a compliment.

It's no secret that I left Iowa not just because I like the big city, but also because there wasn't much of a community of gay folks in Iowa. But while I grew up feeling quite lonely and quite special, I was certainly never ostracized for my orientation. My coevals casually threw around "that's so gay," but as annoying and juvenile as that was, it was never directed at me.

That may just be the gift of the era I came out in: a time when Will and Grace was one of the most popular primetime shows and pilots such as Queer as Folk and The L Word started carving out an (admittedly facile) gay culture for those of us who couldn't access a thriving one. But I'm also inclined to believe -- at least today -- that Iowa is a lot more sophisticated than we "hoity-toity" city slickers are ready to give it credit for.

Iowans, it turns out, have a strong moral fiber and, apparently, enough balls to be the tide turner. Just because they're not donating money to the Human Rights Campaign or picketing the Latter-Day Saints or even hosting large gay pride parades (of course, there are Iowans who do all these things), that doesn't mean, by any means, that they don't have an opinion about the matter or that they don't have a loved one who's gay or lesbian. Indeed, if today showed anything, it was that New Yorkers and Californians value political progressiveness, and Iowans value family even more.

What does all this mean for the country? Former senior adviser to Bill Clinton on gay rights Richard Socarides said, "Unlike states on the coasts, there's nothing more American than Iowa. As they say during the presidential caucuses, 'As Iowa goes, so goes the nation.'"

I think it's asinine to claim that Iowa is any more American than New York or California, where gay marriage initiatives haves suffered serious setbacks, but there's indeed something to be said to all those metropolitan gays, lesbians, and allies who are looking at Iowa in surprise today, who have scoffed at and condescended to the Midwest.

For gay-rights activists and gay allies, I think this means we start reassessing who our allies are and we start taking them seriously, and perhaps New Yorkers and Californians can take cues from Iowans and make a case for what's right, fair, and Constitutionally imperative.