Simon Williamson: Living, loving as a gay man outside the Perimeter

There are many good reasons to live outside a city. In our case, it was because my husband, Mike, began studying in Milledgeville while I was working in Atlanta. We decided to move halfway between the two cities, giving us both one bitch of a commute, but both a few minutes (well, seconds) short of the threshold that causes a stress hernia. And it is because of this that we now live in a sparsely populated part of Newton County, surrounded by churches, gas stations and a mixed population of those of modest means who have lived here for years, and the lakesiders who are trying to gentrify them out.

Although I have never lived in a city with fewer than four million people, Mike is from one of the “-tucky” parts of Pennsylvania, where the roads are referred to by number instead of name, and the electioneering signs don’t so much read “Romney-Ryan” as they do “ABORTION IS MURDER,” so he was more prepared.

Our house is at the end of a dead-end street, so no one drives past and we’re surrounded by forest, so no one can see the house, and most folks out this way, thankfully, keep to themselves. There are no houses near enough to hear our combined rendition of “Let It Go,” by “Adele Dazeem,” nor peer through our windows to see real-life re-enactments of the CEO and the secretary.

And once you get past the bugs and the commute, the country is pretty cool, especially after sharing a wall with two alleged music producers when we lived, but were never given the option to sleep, in Midtown Atlanta. The cost of groceries is halved, our utility bills have dropped further than the concept of a grand jury, and we have so much space.

But I’d be lying if I said we felt completely safe as a gay couple here. While absolutely no one has yet tried to fuck with us—we’re privileged enough to both be six-foot-tall white men—homosexuality is certainly not as normal in these parts as it is in urban America. We have yet to witness any “obviously” gay people walking around, even when we trek into the thriving metropolis of Covington to buy groceries.

This is not to say I expect any problems, or that anyone has done anything to make us feel unwelcome. We have not experienced any of the homophobic nonsense that almost all of us were forced to accept even just a few years ago (and which sadly remains a regular occurrence for many). But due to where I have lived in my life, it is a standout experience for me—personal, obviously—in this day and age not to have at least some sort of representation when it comes to gay people.

When we walked into a restaurant in the nearby town of Jackson two weeks ago (chosen for its well-advertised “fully stocked bar”), it was noticeable that two men who were obviously a couple had walked in. While the mostly-old clientele unanimously looked up when we arrived, they soon returned to their (presumably soft) foods while the wait staff took what seemed an infinitely long time to send someone forward to sit us down. Not knowing whether we were going to be served or not isn’t something I’ve had the misfortune to experience in years.

In the end, our worries were unfounded. We were quite welcome and the dinner was lovely. But having such a bare cupboard of gays out here does mean the ghosts of vulnerability make a return every now and then.
It’s a good indication of LGBTQIA rights progression that these uneasy feelings that were so common not very long ago now seem anomalous. And while I know that our winding up in such an environment was, much like a hangover, self-inflicted, it has reminded me of the privilege of having the means to live in gay-friendly locations beforehand. Our rising tide didn’t pick up all boats. Even just an hour from Atlanta.

Simon lives with his federally-recognized spouse in the wild yonder of Newton County. Although hailing from the land of Nelson Mandela and Charlize Theron, he fell in love with an American, then America, and now plies his trade in development. He has previously worked in journalism (trying to explain to an international audience WTF the electoral college is) and in elections. You can follow him on Twitter: @simonwillo.