Queer Identity in the South
Talks with S
The question I wish to address is: Can one be categorized as gay (or lesbian) only when one is able to come out? Some may agree to this, explaining that only after “coming out” can one enjoy the so- called advantages or LGBT led- community privileges of being gay. One benefit is the formation of a community that can together experience the difficulties that one may have to face within our society, thereby minimizing the impact of such stress on oneself. The overall advantage that the entire LGBT community may encounter is its visibility, since an increasing number of individuals are able to find their niche in the new “inclusive model.” “Coming out has been used as an effective political tool, based on the logic that until gays and lesbians are ‘seen’ as a significant minority voting group, we will not have access to civil or human rights. One has to be visible to ‘have’ an identity” (Smith 374).“The act of coming out and the coming-out narrative have been considered foundational to the development of a lesbian/ gay group consciousness” (Smith 373). Back in the 1940’s and 1950’s “coming out” was about acknowledging “ones feelings.” This process only included admitting to oneself and other trusted friends or family members that one had same-sex desires (Smith, 374). Now it seems as though “coming out” is a process where one is required to literally “come out” of ones comfort zone and address their sexual preference to the entire human population. In my opinion, “coming out” to oneself is essential as this leads to one respecting themselves, and giving due credit to ones own desires. This is required to attain mental, physical and physiological peace. Although there may be advantages of “coming out” to society as well, it can lead both ways, leaving the individual in deep distress. This decision should be personal after weighting all pros and cons; however, acknowledging ones sexual desires to themselves should be of utmost importance. One should have enough admiration for themselves to “come out” of their own closet with themself.
While there can be severe drawbacks of “coming out” anywhere in America, the shortcomings can be worse in the South. This is so because some may consider the South to be more racist, more sexist, more violent, more heterosexist, and more violent that the North (Smith 378). In general, the terms “southern” and “queer” do not go hand-in-hand. This is because Southerners are also considered “more passionate, more religious, more polite, and more generous than the rest of the nation” (Smith 378). It is viewed that Southerners hold high significance for family values, and this is their utmost priority in life. On the other hand, queer individuals are looked as individuals who are “inimical to the nuclear family” and they prioritize their same-sex desires before their family values (Smith 379). Thus, it may seem difficult for one to be a Southern gay. Donna Jo Smith states,
What could be more apparent, this [it’s harder to be queer in the South than in the rest of the nation] myth assumes, than that queers in the South not only would want to leave home but literally would be ‘required’ to leave home, as a matter of survival? And of course, like all myths, this one contains its grain of truth, reflecting some southern queer realities (381).
While this may hold true for “some” Southern queers, it may not do so for all. Some southerners actually want to stay in the South because they love the south and would deal with all the nuances they may have to face because of their love for the south. “They [white southern queers] are from the South, they like the South, and they will fly the Confederate flag proudly if they feel like it” (Smith 380).
As a particular example, Southern gay black men, like everyone else, “wish to be desired and are on the lookout for companionship, in spite of the difficulties they face [d] in society, within their families, and with each other” (Johnson 430 & 431). In the various stories on love and relationships presented by E. Patrick Johnson, in Sweet Magnolias, we encounter various such real life encounters. Many stories had people claim that they received great support from the Southern families of their same-sex partners. Statements such as “friendly treatment by immediate family of their partners” (Johnson 459) and “a lot of warmth from family” (Johnson 460) were used in this essay. Other stories mentioned it to be very difficult to express their sexuality in the South if you were black and gay (Johnson 464). In my view, “Southerners” accepting people having same-sex desires are conditional to ones culture and upbringing, as combinations of diverse opinions are found everywhere. After all being from the South or North are just “state of minds” (Smith 377).
Johnson, E. Patrick. “Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South”
Smith, Donna Jo. “Queering the South: Constructions of Southern/Queer Identity”