I’m a coward.
I’m also a liar — but only due to my cowardice.
I am a bisexual deist liberal lying coward living in a smallish city in southern Alabama.
I always thought I was pretty brave, actually. I was born and raised in Alabama, though not in this particular city, so I am no stranger to conservatism. There’s not a single Democrat or Independent in my family (aside from myself), and I have a ton of Republican friends. I think I get along with conservatives pretty well, all things considered. I have a lot of practice. I talk politics with the ones (like my dad) who can stomach a bit of spirited debate and not walk away sore about it, and I gear conversations toward other topics around the ones who can’t (or simply won’t) handle it. But despite all my experience in expressing myself amongst conservatives, I now find myself consistently struggling to hide my true self from those surrounding me.
I began identifying as “bisexual” when I was 14, and was not shy about sharing the information with my friends. I was an atheist at 11, an agnostic at 12, and a deist at 13 (yeah, took me awhile to settle down), and I was not shy about sharing the information with anyone who would stand still long enough to receive a lecture on the ills of organized religion. My political beliefs had never meshed with those of my Republican parents, and as my views trended increasingly Leftward, I was not shy about sharing the information with anyone within hearing range of my green, pseudointellectual, anti-Right rants. I vocally defended the oppressed, railed (sometimes a bit overenthusiastically) against Christianity, and loudly barked about the evils of the Right wing.
And all that in the middle of Alabama! Damn, I thought I was brave.
Now, as the years went by, my views and words were tempered by experience and common sense. I didn’t go out of my way to antagonize those around me. Nor did I go out of my way to make everyone comfortable, though — I always stood up for my beliefs.
Born and bred in Montgomery, Alabama, I really thought I knew the Deep South. How could I not? It was the first capital of the frackin’ Confederacy! Can’t get more Southern or conservative than that, right? Well, as it turns out… yes, you can. Oh, we may still love squash and fried okra in the capital city, but we are not the Montgomery of yesteryear. Our population is now over fifty percent African American. You are more likely to find CNN or MSNBC playing on a public TV than Fox. Obama stickers easily outnumbered McCain/Palin 2 to 1 last fall. As a teenager, I had plenty of openly gay and bisexual friends, and to my knowledge, no one was ever harassed at my school. You’ll meet plenty of atheists, agnostics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and other individuals of non-Christian religious persuasions. And every four years, my home county turns brilliantly blue. All in all, by the time I came up, Montgomery had become a pretty safe place to be a liberal.
But I don’t live in Montgomery anymore.
I moved to my current location just over a year ago, and I discovered pretty quickly that I wasn’t as brave as I’d always believed myself to be. This town has a different “feel” about it. I could feel it the moment I first set foot here. And it really is just a “feeling” you get, rather than something you see on the outside. Yeah, there are visible signs that this is GOP territory. Every public TV is set to Fox. Sure seem to be a lot of gun racks (gun boxes?) in the beds of trucks. I have seen one Obama sticker so far, aside from the one on the back of my car — that means I have seen more bumper stickers supporting Michael Savage for president than supporting our current president. Still, the impression of outrageous conservatism is more felt than seen. Intangible, but powerful.
And I am a pathetic coward.
It’s stifling, the level of conservatism. And for the first time in my life, I am afraid of what those around me will think. I am afraid of what my professors will say or do. My first day of class last fall, my professor (the department head) asked the class what sort of clients we didn’t think we’d be able to work with. I expected to hear “pedophiles” — that’s what I’d always heard in undergrad. Most people don’t think they can work with pedophiles. And I heard that from a couple of people this time around. But the more common response?
They don’t want to work with gays.
The professor listened to them — heard their complaints about homosexuals — and didn’t tell them that they’d lose their licenses if they discriminated. Instead, she launched into stories about how she had counseled people away from homosexual lifestyles. The head of the psychology department at my university believes you can cure gay. I sat there with my head spinning. Maybe if it had just been the students, maybe then I’d have spoken up. I don’t really know — I was outnumbered, so maybe I’d have kept my mouth shut even then. But it was my professor. She works at a Christian counseling center and cures teh queers. Statistics and quotations from other textbooks I’d read in undergraduate school began zipping through my head. Depression endured and suicides committed after homosexuals enroll in those horrible gay-curing programs: The guilt and anguish which comes along with the belief that one’s sexuality is a disease that needs curing, and the deep sense of failure and helplessness that accompanies one’s inability to change something inborn, innate, and fundamental, something which should never be “fixed” or changed. I listened in horrified outrage as my professor extolled the virtues of the counselor who could cure a homosexual and bring him to a godly, Christian lifestyle.
And I just sat there.
With my fucking mouth shut.
Knowing good and goddamn well how wrong she was, how wrong all of them were.
And I said nothing. I knew I had a chance to correct a misconception, to invalidate faulty information, and I didn’t say a word. I sat there seething — my stomach churning, my heart pounding in my ears — and I kept my silence. For the first time in my memory, I didn’t stand up for what I believed in. I caved to fear. What would happen to my grade? How would my classmates and my professor look at me? Would they know I was not a heterosexual? Would I give myself away? Would they be disgusted? Would I be penalized? Why did I suddenly care?
I came home to my apartment. I sat here on my laptop and read your words — the words of other bloggers. I visited all my regular sites, read the words of people who stand up for what they believe in, people I’d felt I had a kinship with only hours before. But suddenly I knew myself to be a coward, and not at all like so many of the people I had admired for months. In a moment of clarity, I knew it: That when push comes to shove — when I am truly alone and outnumbered and uncertain — I am a coward. That knowledge did not lead to any great revelations, really. And over time things got worse. I don’t discuss religion or politics or social issues with my classmates, even those I now count as friends. They think I go to church when I am in Montgomery. They think I am straight. When asked about my relationship status by my Marriage, Sex, and Family Therapy professor last summer, I told the class I was single to avoid admitting that I am currently in a same-sex relationship. Publicly, I identify as an Episcopalian because that was my childhood religion, my parents’ religion. I answer class surveys and assignments as a church-going Christian. I capitalize “god” now. When I end a discussion with my department head, I don’t just hide my lack of religion, I go the extra mile — I say “god bless you,” as fake as press-on nails.
Want to see something really embarrassing that sricki did? Maybe some of you know how adamant I am about there being no divine intervention — no interfering deity — and for over a decade I’ve been st
eadfast in that. But here’s an excerpt from an email I wrote to that professor:
I have to admit, I was upset and disappointed when I first got the news from Dr. ***, but one of my best friends quickly reminded me that there was a reason. And I do believe everything happens for a reason. Maybe the stress would have been too much, but I don’t guess the reason really matters. What I was trying to do obviously wasn’t what God had planned for me, and I just have to trust and have faith that everything will work out even though I’ll have to spend an extra semester here in ***.
I’m not just a coward, I’m a fucking liar — because it helps me hide.
It’s a different breed of conservatism down here — one that’s not open to debate or compromise. I thought I knew conservatism. My parents are conservative Republicans. They watch O’Reilly and Hannity. My dad listens to Limbaugh and Savage and reads Coulter and Libby. They think Obama is a socialist. But… they are not completely irrational about every issue. They understand why Roe shouldn’t be overturned, even though they’re “technically” pro-life. They don’t think Sarah Palin should be Commander in Chief. They are tolerant of other races and of different sexual orientations, including mine. They never felt Bush was a good president. They think Glenn Beck is “crazy” and “a jerk” even though my dad will occasionally tune into his show out of curiosity. They don’t automatically get angry when people challenge them, and even if you can’t convince them of something, they listen. They let you make your point. They don’t automatically cast judgment. And they wouldn’t think any less of any of you for being moderates/Democrats/liberals/progressives.
I have very little “evidence” to support my assertion that things are different down here — that these are different kinds of conservatives. I just sense it. And my lack of proof makes my fear all the more embarrassing.
Regardless, the fear is there.
My girlfriend visits me here far more often than I visit her in Montgomery. I have a “thing” about waking up in my own bed, so I’m not overfond of spending the night out of town. We celebrated our six month anniversary in June. When we go out in public here, I do not touch her. I do not look at her “the wrong way” or say “the wrong things” to her aloud. God forbid anyone should know that we’re together. I didn’t canvass for Obama. I didn’t do a thing for him locally, except cast my vote and drive a car with a bumper sticker — a sticker I would not have placed there, had I been here when he became our nominee. I left it there though. It’s the bravest thing I’ve done all year. I haven’t done anything for healthcare reform locally. My number one issue during the primaries and the GE, and I haven’t made any effort here at all. As time passes, the feeling of malaise only deepens. I write ever fewer diaries as the months go by, and those I do write are lifeless cut-and-paste jobs. My passions wane and fizzle out.
This diary isn’t an apology — my mom always told me that an apology without an accompanying effort to change isn’t a real apology. And I have no particular intention of rectifying this situation. I’m still too afraid — and of what, I’m not even certain. So this is mostly just a confession. A confession which will make me no new friends, and which will probably disappoint a few old ones. I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this. I just feel led to go. Maybe this will be cathartic somehow.
There is an oppressive quality to deep-seated conservatism that I am only just now experiencing and fully coming to understand, despite having grown up in a conservative household in a conservative state. If nothing else, this experience has given me a very new appreciation of the efforts of those of you who have truly sacrificed for your beliefs and for the opportunity to live openly. But for all my admiration for your bravery and your personal struggles, I still lack the courage to follow your examples in this environment. For now, I will probably just toe the line and keep my head down.
In the shadows.