Thursday, October 1, 2009

Being Gay in Smalltown Pennsylvania

CJ Springer

Gay Boys in Oil City, PA.

On my trip out to Connecticut and back this past month to do what I could for my ailing aunt and uncle, I passed right through this area. I was within an exit ramp's distance of Oil City, PA.

I drove through Harrisburg on the trip back. In the parking lot of the truck stop next to a chain restaurant where I stopped to eat a late lunch, there was a pentecostal church built into the trailer of a semi truck, complete with a cross in LED lights on the entrance door: a literal chapel-on-wheels.

Although most folks think the Bible Belt is more a southern phenomenon, right there in rural western Pennsylvania, in those smalltown hills between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, you are in fact right in the heart of rural Christian fundamentalist Bible-thumping, tent-revival, no-doubt-intensely-homophobic country.

Which is what the documentary film linked to here is all about:

Out In the Silence

I've had arguments over the movie Brokeback Mountain with some urban gay men. I'll write about that in more detail someday. But the argument was centered on how realistic such a portrayal of gay life could be; my position was based on the truth that I have lived in Wyoming, and it's still more like the reality depicted in the movie than most urban gays can comprehend.

There really is a strong misunderstanding amongst most urban dwellers about how gay life is in the rural areas. This documentary serves to remind us that, no matter how much we pat ourselves on the back in the cities about our accomplishments in terms of civil rights for LGBTs, there remains an entire rural culture where most of this work is still to be done.

People need to still remember that the battles are not done yet, and that there's still plenty of hatred out there. Not that we need to dwell on it, or make it ruin our day, but we also can't afford to ignore it.

I live in a small town that's more like rural PA than it is like any of the big cities that have urban gay ghettoes. Let's be blunt here: Lots of gays in big cities are protected enough that they sometimes forget that they are protected, if only by being around other gays in big enough numbers that they can have a voice. There is a very telling line in the wonderful movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, that says this exactly: "The cities protect us."

So, again, I remember having this big argument with some San Francisco Castro-dweller who thought that Brokeback Mountain wasn't a very realistic movie; it was completely outside his experience and imagination. Having lived in Wyoming, myself, I could have been like those characters in the movie. Fortunately, life didn't turn out that way for me, and I thank all the thousand little gods for my good fortune.

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