THE BLOG
06/04/2012 03:25 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

How to Be Gay, Young and in Tennessee

I have been there and I have left there. I grew up 30 minutes outside of Nashville in a town that is more famous for its churches and music than for its racial and sexual politics. It was a place that lived for Friday night sports, hang outs by the lake, church on Wednesdays and getting married right out of high school. Hendersonville was my home and I nicknamed it "Hender-hell" while living there, dreaming every day of my escape from the south. These are things I did to stay alive while living below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Be really gay

Be really gay. Being effeminate and gay can actually save you in some ways, you are able to be gay without ever muttering the words, thus building this pink shield that will protect you while not totally hiding too deep in the closet.

You desire so hard to be out but understand the physical, emotional and geographic risk of this. You are gay and in the South. The KKK is still around, Southern Baptist Churches have straight conversion sessions behind closed doors and the state government tries to force the schools to ban the word gay -- the very word that you fight so hard to accept deep inside.

Tell people "It Gets Better" and then go home.

Tell people that you are struggling with bullying. Use the word "bullying" as a replacement word for: gay, queer and faggot. Cling to the word "bully" so hard in hopes that people will think that you are just a straight guy going through a faze and these are mean kids that push you around because you can't catch a ball like they can. When your friends come to you and ask, "Are you OK?", you will smile and say, "Oh, they are just messing with me. It's all good." Do this until you're ready to tell people what's going on. People say telling the truth this easy, but in some instances it's the hardest thing to say. It takes a while to get to a point where you can really talk about what's going on.

You will want to go home, but home isn't always the safest place, and so home will become a job you have, the park you love or even your car that you drive around town aimlessly. To you, "it gets better" means moving, and you will spend most of your timing dreaming of moving north to NYC, Chicago or San Francisco because those are the places you can be you, not the place you were raised. You are an outsider and your home is somewhere you haven't even been yet, or at least that what people tell you. Gays in the south are always told, "one day you will move out of this place and it will get better." You will probably think that your whole life. I did.

3. Ask for help

Reach out. Try it. Maybe to your high school science teacher who is closeted and fears anyone knowing. Or maybe it is the barista at your coffee shop who is a log-cabin Republican. Reach out, talk to someone. Though you may be met with backlash or homophobic rhetoric, like "I don't understand the gay thing, I will be there for you, but just don't hit on me." Just give it a shot. Talking about it to someone will help this become just that much easier.

Yeah, most people may not understand, but times are changing little by little, and your voice helps bring that change, not your silence. Many will respond after hearing that you "want to die" with applause, thus suicide does nothing but bring people to grieve for a moment and then go to Sunday school, the same Sunday school that made them hate you. The South is still the South unfortunately, and you're just trying to wake up tomorrow. So at least ask someone to help you get up.

Be Brave. Be Here.

Congratulations, you're here. That is some brave s**t. Just maybe even reading something that is titled "How to Be Gay, Young and in Tennessee" on your computer, which someone may see you doing, is a step towards something.

Walk through your town with your chest high, write about your experiences around being gay in the south, and buy yourself some ice cream. Just be here and be brave. You don't need to move to make it better; you just being here and being brave is making it better. I unfortunately fled the south about four years ago, due to homophobia and racism and any ism you can think of, but surprise surprise it found me in Chicago.

What I am saying is being there and not here doesn't do anything, but maybe give you some Flying Miles, if you are even privileged enough to get out. Build coalitions in your town, make friends that understand and even be Southern. We need more Southerners that are not stereotypically ignorant, being from the south is so wonderful. Things don't just get better by them self, you must make it better.

So make it better.

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