My partner and I are on a 14-day trip from New York back to Los Angeles. I’ll be posting here about the trip every couple days.
A lot of gay people in the big cities, to me, seem to forget that gay people are actually everywhere. I grew up in a small town and knew a couple gay people. They lived relatively quiet lives and only one was demonstrably gay. It's been wonderful to see gay people out living their lives together everywhere we've been on this trip.
Our latest stop was Hot Springs, Arkansas, where we met Robert and Joey. Just ran into them at another bar as we were sipping our martinis and playing pool in a quiet little bar in the middle of town. It was comforting to see them together and have them come up and just strike up a conversation. The bar manager was questionable and kept talking about how many lesbians were around the area. We spent the whole evening with them, drinking beer and vodka, watching football and singing karaoke. On literally the coldest night in Arkansas in 10 years (it was 11 degrees last night in Hot Springs), they made it the best night of our trip so far.
In Little Rock, we ran into a Human Rights Campaign sticker and a couple young gay guys at Shorty Smalls, a fantastic bbq place (try the pulled pork sandwich). In Memphis, a handful of gay bars with some friendly patrons and a black drag queen who was the spittin' image of Mary J. Blige. In Nashville, two lesbians own Marche Artisan (fantastic food!!), and the gays were out in force there for 'brunch' on Saturday. In Knoxville, Tenn., another couple in a restaurant. Asheville, N.C., featured rainbow flags, pro-gay-marriage bumper stickers and gay men and lesbians everywhere.
While the South is often looked at by the North and West as dangerous for gay people, I have gotten the sense that that vast majority of people just don't care who's sleeping with whom. There seems to be a very high premium put on being happy. People smile and say hello here. They hold the door for you. They enjoy life. And, from what I've seen, they just don't care about labels like "gay" and "straight." Yes, I know the vast majority don't want us to marry. Yes, I know that racism is still a powerful force in the South. I know. Everywhere has those problems, too. But I've been wonderfully surprised by how many gay people are out and about in these smaller communities of the South, and how many have assimilated perfectly into society.
Now, if they could only stop the "Closed on Sundays" nonsense, we'd be all set.