In my “Response to Zuska” in comments we’ve had some interesting discussion of whether gay, lesbian, bi and transgender folk will need to/be able to integrate successfully into rural communities, and I thought it was worth a blog post here as well, for folks who may not have read all the comments. As you all know, I don’t think everyone has to re-ruralize – in a recent post at ye olde blogge, I wrote that we should seriously reconsider some cities. and that people who don’t feel comfortable in the country may not want to force it. So I don’t personally think that everyone does have to move to the country.
On the other hand, I know that I have an astonishing number of readers who are merrily making a go of their farm dream in rural Oklahoma, South Texas, Alabama and Idaho, because I often here from them. We know from demographic studies that 15% of American gay and lesbian people live in the country, and, presumably don’t live there because they’ve never heard of San Francisco.
Some rural places are extremely gay-friendly spots. I have a friend who lives in a small, rural town where she and her husband are the only straight people on their street. The five-college area of Massachusetts has been called “the lesbian capital of the world” and the proportions of gay farmgirls are astonishingly high. Two friends of mine started a gay farmer’s social in Ontario, and found themselves with so many participants they outgrew their rented hall. I know of rural queer communities in North Carolina, Montana and (of course) California. A friend is trying to get me to move to Pennsylvania, to an area where she jokes “They say Pennsylvania is Philly on one side, Pittsburgh on the other and Alabama in between, but they never told me that there was a chunk of P-town smack in the middle.
My own observation both growing up in a lesbian family and now living in a part of a state that while still New York, is definitely the red part, is that in many cases people who disapprove of gay folks in principle often find that they make exceptions for gay folks in practice. Of course, sometimes they don’t, and even if they do, not everyone can live with people who disapprove of you even in theory. But my own observation growing up in a gay household in a church not fully reconciled to gay people, and in communities that were way less evolved than contemporary ones was that many people are fully capable of holding two contradictory ideas in their heads – that being gay is bad and that Naomi and Sue and their kids down the street are pretty much just like everyone else. If the incentives are strong enough, there’s sometimes space in between those two assumptions in which to live.
At the same time, I know people who have really struggled to find a rural place, and found communities unfriendly, folks who have tried to make a go of it and failed, or who grew up in the country and wouldn’t be caught dead back there. It can be a tough row to hoe, and a scary one to imagine in a world where we are more isolated, where we are less able to enforce the law, and where we find ourselves tied more tightly to neighbors who may only tolerate us.
One of the comments that struck me most in the previous thread was this – if we have no choice, at some level, some of this is abstract. That is, if we are going to need to do more for ourselves, to be more self-sufficent, some queer households will go back to the country by necessity – events being no respecter of persons. One of the virtues of the present is that we have the luxury of respecting persons, and this shoud be a large part of our primary work. So the question is how and where to establish yourself, and how to navigate the shoals of country life.
So I’d like to hear your stories – if you are gay, lesbian, bi or transitioning and living in the country (or you tried it and it didn’t work), what is it like for you? What are the pleasures and the challenges? Where do you live (roughly) and do you recommend it to others? What are the best strategies for integrating into existing communities that you’ve found?