I dreamt last night that I was in the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan. Starting on street level, I entered its doors and made my way up toward the top, but it contained many more levels than in real life. On my way up I encountered two businessmen with their arms around one another, faces close but not touching, looking out a big glass window. Rahm Emanuel, democratic mayor of Chicago, passed them by and stepped onto the escalator. We made eye contact and I stepped on after him. My Brooklyn friend Emma called me on the phone and I gazed out the glass windows onto the skyline of Manhattan's tall architecture. People all around me. No one paying attention to anyone else in particular.
Many cities have Pride celebrations in summer. Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco. All havens for LGBT equality. At least in comparison to Mississippi. I've lived here for just over a month now. We have gay people, I mean there are gay people everywhere. But I haven't seen any pride here. I also haven't seen Pride here. So on Saturday I drove with a couple co-workers/friends to Baton Rouge, a 2.5 hour drive from Jackson. There we attended Baton Rouge Pride. It took place in a large hotel atrium. We parked several blocks away and, trying to locate it, looked for any sign of pride/Pride - rainbow flags, evidently gay people, loud music. None of that. We entered the atrium and still we were unsure if we were in the right place. Only when we walked deeper into the atrium did we hear the music and see the people. And there was pride, there really was. Same-sex couples holding hands, people in drag, vendor tables selling pride gear.
The South, the last frontier for LGBT equality in the US. Pride is here. But it's hidden, deep into a hotel atrium, not on the streets. I wouldn't say it's oppressive. Not anymore, at least. Living here I can feel the chokehold on gays, not to mention blacks and Jews and other historically marginalized groups, loosening as we progress further into the 21st century. But it is no one's M.O. the full on embrace of equality, tolerance, progess, whatever term that can be used to mean everyone living happily and without fear of persecution. New York City. Minneapolis. San Francisco. Are these the places, the northern cities, where one can be proud? Is there more? Can the South offer more?
I'm in the South for two years. That's the job contract, at least. As of now I'd say afterward I'll jet back up to one of the northern cities, familiar as they may be, just so I can breathe, and walk. And march. Oh how I want to WALK!
Please write to me. Southerners, Northerners, anyone else with some perspective from some other place. I just picked up Andre Aciman's collection of essays Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere. Speaks to these themes. (Side note, the first story is about the power of smell, it's called "Lavender." I read this essay on the same day, within hours, of buying a cologne sampler pack at Sephora. Such a coincidence. As of now I'll trade in my sampler certificate for a full bottle of Bulgari Extreme.)
Jackson, MS (via St. Paul, MN and Montclair, NJ)