A surprising new study came out this week that contradicts a long-standing mentality among the LGBT community: gays and lesbians living in metropolitan areas may not be as happy, healthy, nor enjoying a quality of life on par with their counterparts living in rural areas or smaller towns.
The study "Does Place of Residence Matter? Rural–Urban Differences and the Wellbeing of Gay Men and Lesbians," released by the Journal of Homosexuality, centralized on the experiences of 632 gays and lesbians, communicated through three sample surveys spanning the years 1988 to 2006. The results reportedly found that rural gays and lesbians are no worse off than those living in urban meccas. In fact, living in large metro areas seems to negatively impact the health and well-being of these city queers, though more so that of lesbians than gay men.
The findings suggest that the benefits for gays and lesbians living in urban settings comes with a cost:
For gay people, large cities tend to provide more social-networking opportunities, more social and institutional supports and more tolerant social climates. Yet, they also typically have more noise, pollution, traffic, crime and ethnic conflict – stressors that tend to erode wellbeing. Other drawbacks of urban life may include high taxes, inferior public schools, substandard housing and a relatively high cost of living.
While the sample size is limited and also constrained to the U.S. population, researchers theorize that the quality of life experienced by rural or small-town gays and lesbians often outweighs the challenges and threats associated with living in one of the nation's 12 largest metropolitan areas.
As noted by Queerty, these findings contradict the research conducted in a 2012 book titled The Challenges of Being a Rural Gay Man: Coping with Stigma, theorizing that conservative climates and stigmas associated with LGBT individuals in rural and small town settings tend to negatively impact the health and well being of gay and lesbian locals.
Lived experience seems to support the study conducted by the Journal of Homosexuality, with projects such as "South of Ohio: A Queer Photo Documentary" evidencing LGBT life within small town settings that is often overshadowed by the cultural production of metropolitan areas. Christian Hendricks, the photographer behind this project, stated, "Gay culture is thriving down here. We're not this completely marginalized group of people. We have our own sense of pride. It's just a different region. We're not any different from gays in L.A. or New York just because we don't have a city."
Additionally, small town and rural gays and lesbians have been gaining more visibility within national queer consciousness, particularly with threats to LGBT rights in conservative climates gaining prominence as LGBT individuals are increasingly folded into social and political life elsewhere.
However, the same may not be true for transgender individuals living in rural areas or small towns, who seem to face adversity and hostility that parallels that of gays and lesbians decades ago. Earlier this year, hundreds organized a Facebook "prayer" page in response to a high school student in North Mississippi coming out as transgender. Additionally, Lilly Mossiano, a transgender parent living in a small North Carolina town, spoke with The Huffington Post yesterday about the different forms of violence and prejudice she has experienced living and working as a southern trans mother.
In terms of gay and lesbian experience, if you're living in the big city and feeling fed up with the daily challenges of urban life, the Journal of Homosexuality suggests that maybe you should try experiencing a different way of living in a smaller town or less-urban climate. Who knows? Maybe you'll realize that you've been a rural gay all along.