Ryan Lee: Hope for homos in the heart of Dixie

I saw a hazy figure approaching, and even as he came into focus it was hard to believe that he was in my kitchen with me, wearing a wide grin and not a thread of clothing. It felt like I had found heaven in southeast Alabama.

I became familiar with Atlanta during college, when I made the 90-minute trip from Auburn to party here on many a weekend. One Saturday I was supposed to visit a guy in Atlanta that I was smitten with, but I didn’t get off work until after the last shuttle ran from Auburn to Atlanta.

When I called my crush to deliver the news, he offered to come to Alabama instead. My roommate was out of town, so a couple of hours later my Atlanta dream boy and I were in my on-campus apartment, which I had filled with candles to create a sensuous ambiance.

We were getting started in my bedroom when the CD player, which was in the kitchen, started skipping. I hurried through the darkened apartment to change discs and was standing at a countertop when, through the dimness, I saw him approaching me, both of us completely naked.

A warm mix of bliss and anxiety erupted inside me, filling my head with a dizzy euphoria as we started dancing in the kitchen. As our bodies were grinding against each other, I was confused by what seemed to be another blurry figure emerging through the candlelight.

In fact, my roommate had not gone out of town, but instead was returning from the bar at 3 a.m. when he unwittingly walked into the kitchen. We had exchanged no more than a dozen words in the four months we’d lived together, and none of those were related to my sexual orientation.

Believing there was no other way to explain the scene that my roommate stumbled upon, I blurted out, nakedly, “Oh my god—I’m gay.”

My roommate winced, and I braced for his reaction.

“Mannnnn,” he began, with a pained expression on his weary, drunken face, “this is your apartment, too, and you don’t have to be embarrassed about anything you wanna do in it.”
Tears began to run down his still distressed face as he tried to assure me that he in no way judged me.

“I’m not like these other motherfuckers down here,” he said, with desperation in his voice. He needed me to give him the benefit of the doubt, and to believe that not everyone in Alabama was a bigot.

I’ve recently thought about the sincerity of my roommate’s compassion as Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore wages his holy rebellion against the feds and the marrying fairies. I’ve also reflected on how I had disclosed my sexual orientation to only one person prior to arriving in Alabama, but by the time I graduated, my coming-out process was complete: I would never meet another person to whom my sexual orientation, or rather my sense of self, would be hidden or misrepresented.

Whether I came out to a belle from Monroeville, Ala., or an offensive lineman for the Auburn football team, or to the chapter of my historically black fraternity, my memories of growing into a gay identity in Alabama are far more affirming than the caricature the state has endured in recent weeks.

Undoubtedly, there are many people from my time in Auburn who love and adore me, and genuinely wish the best for me, but who fundamentally agree with Moore’s vicious interpretation of God’s word. But there are also many candles in Alabama, and my hope is that their light will continue to make the state’s vision of fairness less hazy.