A lot is being said right now about Amendment One in North Carolina. It’s upsetting and disappointing that it passed, but while I’m hurt I don’t know that I’m surprised. I don’t talk about politics here in the US much because a lot of what’s happening now makes me so depressed. If you’re poor, if you’re queer, if you’re a woman, if you’re trans, if you can get pregnant, if you’re not white… you don’t matter as much as Normal, Upstanding Folks do. And I often don’t have the mental energy to deal with it.
I lived in NC longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life, and eventually I came to think of it as home. When someone asks where I’m from, I either say “Carrboro” if I think the person might know the town, or “the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area” if they don’t. I moved to the South (Brentwood, TN, just south of Nashville) in 1991 and hated it. I assumed everyone was dumb, both because they talked funny – I had never heard a Southern accent before and found them hard to understand – and because the only things I knew about the South were from cartoons about hillbillies and one dimly-remembered episode of “Hee-Haw.” I was a surly elementary-school kid who resented having to move, so I don’t really blame myself for how I felt at the time. But I got over it, and even though I told myself for years that when I went to college I’d go back north somewhere… I ended up in the middle of North Carolina. And I loved it so much I stayed there. I even say “y’all” now.
Now that I live in San Francisco, it’s been interesting to note the reaction that many people here have when I say where I moved from. Often this came up at my old job, where I interacted with a lot of customers. We’d be making small talk and I would say I had moved here recently, and when I said where I was from most people would get this look of condescending pity and say “oh, I’m sure you were so glad to get away.” Or “I bet it’s so much better for you here.” I even got this last week when I was in a yarn shop in Chapel Hill and mentioned I used to live in town but had moved away.
(It seems like most people are saying this based on my Perceived Gayness, which is still strange to me. People apparently assume that because I have some purple shirts and wave my hands around a lot when I talk and mention my “partner” and sometimes wear teal nail polish that I am So Very Gay. Which is not entirely false, but very much not actually true either, really, and I never know what to say when that assumption gets made since my actual identity is both kind of complicated and probably not the appropriate thing to try to explain in those moments.)
BUT ANYWAY, people love to look pityingly on me when I say where I’m from, and every time I feel defensive and puff myself up like a cranky hedgehog and have to explain that no, North Carolina isn’t a disgusting, backwards place. I mean, you can make the argument that parts of the state are, but FUN FACT: you can make that argument about parts of every state so shut up.
I miss living in Carrboro. I miss feeling like I was part of a queer community (I didn’t start to have this sense until not long before we moved, but despite the fact that I have plenty of trans and queer friends in SF I don’t feel like I’m part of any larger community here). I miss my friends and my boyfriend and my old hangouts and sunshine buns at the Saturday morning farmers’ market. I was back in North Carolina last week and even though I don’t know if it’s still my home it still feels so right to be there. I don’t want anyone pitying me for saying that, or claiming that California is a magical wonderland where everything’s better. Because you know what? This state sure isn’t perfect either. It’s just like people – some people will always be shitty. No one’s perfect and no town is, either.
Folks talk about just leaving when a law like this passes. It’s hard to leave your home, though, and if you love it enough, maybe leaving just feels like you’re giving up. It’s harder work to stay and try to make things better. I’m not saying people shouldn’t leave if they want. I did, although it wasn’t for political reasons. I would have been happy to stay if my partner’s career hadn’t taken us out of the state. I would have fought the amendment and would probably be even more upset than I am now. I’m just saying that it’s complicated. You can love your state and hate its laws. You can want to stay and fight, even if you don’t think the fight is winnable just yet, or you can leave because you can’t bear to be in a place that writes discrimination into its constitution. Maybe you can’t afford to ragequit your state or your country without a job lined up somewhere first. Maybe you don’t want to leave your family, or your friends, or your amazing job.
I don’t even want to get married, and I don’t think it’s the most pressing Queer Rights Issue, but of course I think anyone who wants to be married should have that right, plus this amendment will impact civil unions and domestic partnerships as well. I don’t understand why it’s ok to vote on the rights of oppressed minorities in the first place! I’m sad, and this is painful bullshit to overcome, but it’s not the fault of “The South” or “North Carolina.” It’s bigots, it’s homophobes, it’s people who want to impose their religious views on others. When I hear folks complaining about how terrible this is, and I hope I hear a LOT of it, that’s who I want to hear them blame.
I worry that there’s a lot more of this sort of thing on the way. I hope I’m wrong.