Living Queer in the Rural South

By Meadhbh Dhommnail

First, a disclaimer: I am that friend that J. J. Ulm mentions in her piece on the privilege of queer people living in urban spaces.

I live in Southeast Georgia, on a farm that has been in my family for four generations, and I am a pansexual woman. My partner is a transwoman who is afraid to fully transition because of where we live, who lives as a woman in private and presents a male face to the world.

There are no safe spaces for us here. While I am out, it is a careful and selective form of being out. My mother knows and, as she has been with everything else in my life, is very supportive. My father does not. Some cousins know, my aunts and uncles do not.

My boss, a Republican judge and prominent attorney, does not know. I do not know that I would lose my job if I came out to him, but it’s not a risk I am willing to take. I have lost jobs just for showing my support as an ally before.

There are no gay bars where I live. There is no pride parade, no gay-straight alliance. I can’t even find a GLBT friendly psychiatrist within 2 hours of my hometown. The next county over houses a “camp” where people send their gay children for conversion therapy, one that is advertised on billboards throughout the area.

One of my high school friends killed himself shortly after leaving that camp.

To live queer here is to live a very careful and very segmented life. For some of us - my partner for instance - it is easier to just become invisible, to accept the isolation. I have never been very good at that. For me, the internet has been a salvation, a place where I can be completely, if carefully, open about who I am under the relative anonymity it offers. It is where I have found friends - both local and distant - who are like me or who are allies.

I do have privilege, even living here.

I am white. I come from a family that has historically been politically influential in the area, and as such I share in the respect and opportunity that flows from that. I am middle class, though more due to familial support than my own income. To the outside world, my relationship even appears to be a heterosexual one.

But there’s nothing like being part of an invisible minority to give you a window into bigotry. Being white, I am included in racist conversations with the assumption that I will agree. Appearing straight, I am included in homophobic jokes with the assumption that I will laugh.

I cannot imagine what it must be to be impoverished and queer, or black and queer living here, where Trump bumper stickers and Confederate flag bumper stickers are the dominant vehicular embellishments, often together. As much as it hurts, as angry as it makes me to hear people around me saying the things that they do, I recognize that I am one of the lucky ones. I have the option of keeping one foot in the closet.

Especially since Orlando, I am growing more and more unwilling to keep the facade in place. I am growing more and more tired of being careful, of being out only where it is safe.

I could move. I have queer friends who have done so, retreating to Atlanta or Savannah, where it’s easier to be out, to live an openly gay life. As a writer, I would have more opportunity for work in a larger city, too.

But I look at the little family farm I have lived on all my life. It’s a slice of paradise in a sea of hate, and I can’t leave it.

Maybe it’s time to start changing the color of the sea surrounding it.