When I was a young man figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, I made the assumption that I would have to leave the small town I grew up in to truly be myself. This was back in the mid 1980s and I knew of a few men I suspected to be gay in the community: one was a florist, one ran a jewelry store. A couple of men bought a ladies dress shop together and there was talk about that. I didn’t want to do any of these things and I certainly didn’t want to be the topic of conversation so I figured I’d move a state or two away and figure things out as a music teacher.
And then I realized I couldn’t be myself and a music teacher in a public school at the same time, so that fell through quickly as well.
I’ve mentioned before that while I’ve always known I was different in many ways, being gay was a definite impediment to being my true self and it was going to present obstacles in the Reagan era United States. After my failed attempt at becoming a music teacher I ended up in Boston, where I discovered a more open gay life. I also discovered the gay community seemed to have certain expectations as to the proper way to be gay, at least in the circles I was embroiled in, and before I knew it was I had a colorful Swatch Watch on my wrist and the latest fashions from Jordan Marsh.
I still always felt like the rural Upstate New York boy in the big city.
Decades later I’ve gotten all that sorted out, I’m comfortable with who I am, I’m comfortable with the way I think, and I’m proud of the country fried side of me.
Since leaving Boston in the early ’90s I’ve lived in small cities, big cities, and now a medium sized city. I still love the small towns, though, and they feel very comfortable when I’m in a small village some place on the Great Plains or the like. I still smile when I think about getting some exercise by walking the streets of Gothenberg, Nebraska a few years ago. Everyone was so friendly as I walked by the shops in their small business district. I think about the woman who couldn’t find a table at the small restaurant in Garden City, Kansas, where I was seated alone, and she asked if she could sit at the other end of the table with me. She did and we had a nice conversation about why I was there (storm chasing), why she was there (she was a native), and I smiled when she said, “I haven’t seen you in these parts before but you seem pretty nice”.
Now that’s a compliment.
Settled well into my mid 50s, I have found a good balance in my life. My husband doesn’t flinch when I blast the Yacht Rock or Country Music stations on road trips. I look for places where the waitress says, “be sure to leave some room for some blueberry pie”. And more importantly, I enjoy exploring the nooks and crannies of small town America. And while I’m exploring, I’m being exactly who I am.
And that’s a great feeling.