October 29, 2011

Looking Back, Stepping Forward


[Editor's Note: Please welcome our newest blogger, Mary Claire!]

As a kid who grew up in the Bible Belt, my experiences with the LGBT community, until I arrived at Duke, were limited to rounds of “gay chicken” at the annual school camping trip, trolling the Westboro Baptist Church, and the clips of Queer As Folk my gender studies professor showed in a class I continue to wonder how I managed to enroll in at age 16. So, when the topic of National Coming Out Day surfaced during a BDU meeting, my first reaction was “What the hell is that?” To avoid looking like an idiot if anyone asked me about what it was (and definitely not to put off doing my wonderfully insightful and intellectually stimulating calculus homework), I turned to my good old friend Wikipedia for answers. After about four lines of text, it made immediate sense to me why I had never heard of Coming Out Day before-living in a state that bleeds red isn’t exactly conducive to organizing an event where members of the gay community reveal their sexuality to the community.

But why hadn’t someone ever even though of organizing a coming out day in South Carolina? Other than the Christian fundamentalism everywhere you turned, I couldn’t think of a good reason not to organize a Coming Out Day. Certainly, the LGBT population in South Carolina couldn’t just consist of my gay lab partner, and I was sure that everyone else was getting sick of hiding behind the guise of being straight. Maybe it was just circumstance, but it seemed like everyone at the high school I went to was straight-a strange occurrence I refuse to believe. Though, in retrospect, it was probably safer for anyone gay just to remain silent-after all, the school I went to had no support network, no Gay-Straight Alliance, and was rife with homophobic taunts from upperclassmen.

Things being as they were in my past life, I imagined the turnout for Coming Out Day at Duke would be pretty low. I didn’t have any doubts that at least a few people would take t-shirts, if nothing else, since I had spotted a few people wearing them all over campus before. That being so, I showed up to help out, expecting to spend an hour with nothing to do. Imagine my surprise when, as if someone had placed a bounty on any Duke student that wasn’t wearing one of the shirts, the tables were suddenly flooded. What also got me was that while I was volunteering, I could see no signs of an anti-gay protest. Back home, ignoring anti-gay protestors was just another part of life, but here, all of that was absent, much to my surprise, or at least hidden.

What happened, or, more precisely, what didn’t happen, set me to thinking. Why is South Carolina so different from its northern cousin? Is it because we’re at a university that we’re more open-minded, or is North Carolina just less judgmental in general? I always had my suspicions about South Carolinian intolerance, but had never really understood its full force until I left and could get a good look at it from an outsiders’ point of view. Once this horrible fact dawned upon me, I realized I had to do something…though after a lot of reflection, I was unable to come up with anything. Saying that you support gay rights, at least where I’m from, seems about as difficult to admit to as being gay yourself, so anyone who wants to make a difference is probably doing the same thing I did-hiding.

Maybe the key is for someone, anyone from South Carolina, to break free from the pack and really start something. And, for now, I suppose that would be small steps…you know, like starting out by getting your average Billy Bob to at least be comfortable with the idea of homosexuality’s existence, which would take no small miracle. Or maybe, what those tolerant South Carolinians hiding from the homophobic masses have to do is take a lesson from the evangelists crammed into my home state like fleas on a hunting dog-if you want other people to understand something intangible, such as God or acceptance, you have to be a living example of it for others. At least that, even if it won’t move mountains, could hopefully change just one other person’s mind about tolerance…a small victory, admittedly, but at least it would be a step in the right direction.

Don’t get me wrong-I don’t regret my southern upbringing. If nothing else, playing in the woods, four wheeling, and snake hunting have taught me to be adventurous and to respect the earth, and if not for the independent southern attitude instilled in me from birth, I wouldn’t even have had the nerve to apply to Duke. I just wish that someone else back home had the courage to say that it’s okay to be gay, though I guess if I can say it, that’s at least a start for South Carolinian tolerance.

6 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this, thanks for sharing!

    I was really really surprised by the turnout for COD when I first went, too. I'm not sure you can call Duke "North Carolina" though. With only a 15% in-state / 85% New York-state (amiright?) ratio, I'm not sure we can extrapolate the whole state based on our campus. HAVING SAID THAT, when we look towards UNC and State, they're much more accepting than I would have expected. I'm really curious what it would be like to be out at, like, Clemson. Do you know anyone there?

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  2. ^ Ditto on what Chris said.

    First of all, welcome to the blog! Thanks for writing, I really enjoyed your post.

    "Technically" North Carolina is a part of "The South". I've lived in Durham for all of my life, and I went to school with (a number of) people with stereotypical southern accents, hearing constant discussions about 4 wheelers and muddin', and seeing people who wore the rebel flag on clothing, bookbags, etc. That being said, Duke (and dare I expand to downtown Durham) is a bubble of strangeness I have yet to homogenize with the rest of Durham/NC, especially in regard to the social and political climate regarding the LGBT topic.

    Anyway, this line:
    "I just wish that someone else back home had the courage to say that it’s okay to be gay, though I guess if I can say it, that’s at least a start for South Carolinian tolerance."

    I love it. You're on the right track.

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  3. More women writing on the blog!! YES!

    -Megan

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  4. This is so so awesome. I have two girlfriends who are dating and one of them is from SC too! I sent her the article. You're not alone and we love you :)

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  5. This is a cool post. I'm also from NC in the triangle area, and even in my high school LGBT groups were prevalent and homophobia was not a huge issue. I think it's important to keep in mind that not only duke but the entire triangle (raliegh-durham-chapel hill/carrboro) is generally pretty liberal and openminded, especially compared to some areas of NC. I'd be interested to hear if things are different in different parts of NC...

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  6. @ anon 8:42 PM To be quite frank, the triangle area IS far more open-minded than other parts of NC...well, at least more so than in Fayetteville, home of Fort Bragg. From what I've experience (born and raised there), Fayetteville has about a drop of tolerance for the LGBT community, let alone acceptance of it. My high school didn't even of a Gay-Straight Alliance group; I didn't start learning about LGBT and our Good Fight for Equality until 2009 when I first entered Duke's LGBT Center my first year. Before Duke, there were fewer than ten people who were out in Fayetteville; talk about disheartening, especially for someone who was pretty, positively not-only into boys.

    I may or may not have a soft spot for South Carolina-ers, (I most certainly do!) so welcome to the blog, Mary Claire, and thanks for the rad post!

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