Once every couple of weeks or so we get together with our friends, another gay couple that lives out here on Lake Jackson. Generally, we drink as much wine as is humanly possible until the first person passes out, signalling that it is time to go home and write the following day off. During our most recent instance of this particular pastime, one half of the other couple mentioned to me that he would be surprised if his neighbors knew they were gay. This resonated with me strongly and I was immediately glad he said it, as I have gone out of my way to avoid any sort of contact with the people who live in our immediate vicinity. To be fair, our immediate vicinity, in this deserted part of the nation, is sparsely populated, and none of our neighbors live close enough to permit bumping into us anyway.
For those of us in somewhat vulnerable communities outside the protection of a mayor who justifiably fires bigoted fire chiefs, we have a bias toward avoiding trouble, as opposed to seeking it; unlike my husband, who once lay on a set of tracks, blocking a train in Pittsburgh in protest after he heard anti-gay slurs being directed his way. That’s not something that would necessarily fly in Newton County (to be fair, it hardly flew in Pittsburgh).
Here in “real” America, although we have yet to experience any sort of anti-gay prejudice, we are careful about how we conduct ourselves. Preventing trouble is key, as we’re not awfully confident of being able to deal with any nonsense post-incident. And sadly, avoiding the hell out of the neighbors forms a part of that.
We live in a very private home—surrounded by trees—and we tend not to do “gay” things in the garden, such as play volleyball in our usual uniform (Andrew Christians) or fuck men. We did not take cookies around when new neighbors moved in across the street, and we have not made the slightest effort to get to know anyone who lives around us. My brother-in-law was once nice to a child who walked past the house; in any other context that’s a nice thing to do. In this case I had nightmares about a juvenile telling his parents a nice man wanted to talk with him at the house the two men just moved into.
It may sound absurd, but we live in a part of the state where churches outnumber people, the gay community is invisible, and where if someone did try to screw with us, the police (assuming they gave a shit) are likely more than 15 minutes away. The only real short-term protection we have is in our own house (an alarm system, baseball bats strategically left around the place, and the ability to insult people scathingly), and we’re considering learning how to use a gun properly.
Although little has happened to cause such paranoia, we do live in the congressional district that sent Jody Hice to Congress and the county that sent an evangelical to the commission. Ipso facto, we’re in the territory of people who, according to a 2013 poll, form part of the 17 percent of Georgians who think their employer should be able to discriminate based on sexual orientation and the 39 percent who believe gay relationships should receive no legal recognition whatsoever. In fact, Hice signs dotted the landscape in the most recent election (so did one that said “NUNN=OBAMACARE,” for which I was very appreciative).
Maybe it sounds like we live in a place in which it is more difficult to be gay than necessary, and there’s some truth in that. But with a few precautions, we can easily prevent trouble, and perfectly enjoy living out in the bushes at the same time. We just avoid contact with the neighbors, which, to be fair, is what I longed for when we lived in the city anyway.
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.