Two weeks ago our dog died. First I tried to deal with it by talking about it. Then I tried not talking about it. My brain then concluded that exercise would be the way forward, but I accidentally saw my reflection while doing yoga and realized my downward dog was less "Basic Instinct" and more "Pillsbury Doughboy trying to get up." Then I tried to numb myself with cooking shows, but no amount of hate-watching Ina Garten was enough of a distraction, and Netflix was no help either, as the relationship between the “Gilmore Girls” gets progressively creepy. So, options exhausted, I finally decided to leave the house—I hardly ever leave it even when all my dogs are alive—and do something I hadn’t done before: visit Athens.
Although I work in Atlanta, I spend very little time in the city outside my office, except for the mindless hours stop-starting on I-20, which flows as interruptedly as the bloodstream of Colonel Sanders. Although the commute is as pleasant as a vegan at a dinner party, I like going back to the country every day, where I can spend time in my big-ass garden, frolicking in the forest, grilling stupid amounts of food and being able to make enormous noise without neighbors close enough to hear it (which is good, as my latest version of Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” comes with a series of recently-crafted, bird-related dance moves). What this means is that my existence is fairly limited geographically: I spend all my free time well outside the Perimeter.
Of course, we pay for this bucolic bliss with something you may have picked up on in prior writs of mine in this fine paper: we live amongst people who confuse the Bible with the Constitution, put Paul Broun in office, and apparently don’t have the same ideas of fun that we do. It means we live a very private existence—we don’t know our neighbors, and we don’t care to. When we’re out and about this area we are conscious of the stares of people (of which there are many), and we certainly wouldn’t think of holding hands, or anything else so flashy.
But something became clear to me during our Sunday in Athens: it doesn’t need to be this way. We shouldn’t have to act within the prejudices of the local population. Without looking for it, we found a very easy actuality, sitting at numerous bars as an obviously gay couple with no one batting an eyelid. For the first time in a while we were somewhere that is not a demonstrably safe space in a large city, where we can be who we are, and people care about that as much as I care about whether Rosie O’Donnell has left “The View” more times than Cher has had farewell tours.
As a group we’re obsessing over the marriage fight, but forgetting that what we’re supposed to have already won is limited to communities where we live in numbers. There is a shitload of America that exists outside those communities, and there is no guarantee that those rights are safe in communities where our people don’t boast any sort of critical political mass, and where the people who hate us do.
We’re forgetting that outside safe communities, the right to not be murdered, especially for our transgender peers, is actually something with which people are required to grapple. Bodily autonomy is still something many of our folks have yet to experience fully. Not being fired for where they like to put things, or to put their thing in, is another. People who live in fear of an injustice against them going nowhere slowly in the local judicial system: that’s the daily gauntlet LGBT people outside the safe parts of major cities are forced to run.
Let’s make sure our rights don’t only exist in places we have already made safe. We shouldn’t be forced to hide out in a college town if we want to avoid both big cities and bigot-laden danger.
Simon Williamson, a native of South Africa, lives with his federally recognized spouse in the wild yonder of Newton County. You can follow him on Twitter: @Simonwillo