Gay In Flyover Land

What I’ve Learned About Gay Life Across America

Constantino Diaz-Duran is a fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University. He is chronicling his walk from New York to Los Angeles to celebrate his eligibility for American citizenship. Follow Constantino’s progress.

I mentioned, in my recent post about moving to Houston, that I’m gay. I don’t think that’s the first time I have mentioned it in my writing, but it seems to have taken some by surprise-including some who have met me in person. For the record, I did not “come out” with that post. I have been “out” since I was 20. I even made a bilingual contribution, back in 2010, to Seattle columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project.

Living in Washington, D.C., and New York City for 10 years, and being in a relationship for nine of them, I got used to people just realizing I’m gay without my having to make some kind of special announcement. I have not altered my demeanor in any way since I started the walk, and have never pretended to be anything I am not. I love baseball, I like football, and I think Mommie Dearest never gets old. My sexuality has never defined me, so I have never been in the habit of introducing myself as gay.

I love life in the Northeast Megalopolis, but I see now what the rest of the country means when they say people there often don’t know what they’re talking about. “What will you do in the South?!” my friends asked me before I left New York. “Be careful there!” I was walking, as far as most people were concerned, into a dark and bigoted world where gay people are forced to live unhappy, repressed lives. Well, that could not be further from the truth.

I have met more happy, stable gay couples in the South and Southwest than I knew in D.C. and New York. By that I mean couples who have been together for upwards of 10, sometimes 20 years-couples who live together, who own property together.

In Alabama, I met the first couple to receive an out-of-state marriage license in Massachusetts. Chris and John happened to be the neighbors of my first host in that state; she invited them for dinner the night I arrived, before she even knew I was gay myself. In Montgomery, I visited Tim and Rick, who recently celebrated 19 years together. David and Charles in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, have been together since the mid-1990s. And my old friend from D.C., James, found love in New Orleans when he met a guy named Johnny.

Most of my friends on the coasts are single-most of the friends I have made in the middle of the country are in long-term committed relationships. This, I might add, is one of the reasons I have decided to leave New York now that I find myself single and in my 30s: I would rather not be an eternal bachelor.

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My eyes began to open as soon as I officially crossed the unsweet/sweet tea border. You may remember my post about Chuck and Jack, the remarkable couple who turned their three-bedroom house into a 10-bedroom sanctuary for friends and family who have fallen on their luck. They have been together for almost 15 years. Then in North Carolina I was hosted for a couple of nights by Michael Nelson, who in 1995 became the first openly gay person elected as mayor in that state. He held the office for five consecutive terms in a small town called Carrboro.

In all my years out, I had never partied with drag queens. That changed when I got to Charlotte. I had a blast there with Jessica Wild, one of the stars of the reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race. She was headlining the city’s pride festival. (Until I arrived, I hadn’t even known it was taking place.) Atlanta, of course, is the San Francisco of Dixie, but even smaller cities like Birmingham have a thriving gay community. Did you know Oklahoma City boasts eight gay bars and hosts an annual gay rodeo?

I am not saying all is good and idyllic in this part of the country. Bigotry exists, and it sometimes rears its head in the most disgusting ways. But as I expected when I left New York, there is a lot more good in this country than there is bad. And even when it comes to the acceptance of gay people, I think the tide has turned in spite of steps back such as the one recently taken by the state of North Carolina. I spent five months in Alabama working side-by-side with self-described “rednecks.” We became friends, and nothing changed when my sexuality came up. I see their attitude-and that of the friends and neighbors of the other gay people I have met in my journey-and I watch the prejudices and assumptions of the people on the coasts turn to dust.

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*Photo by Constantino Diaz-Duran.


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