I’m one month into being a queer in the deep South.
It’s not what I expected.
I’d heard that by reputation Tuscaloosa is one of the most queer-friendly corners of Alabama, and as far as I can that’s true – at least within the little bubble of the university setting. Folks will at least nod and say “thank you” when I tell them what my pronoun is, and my students were all happy to tell me theirs at the start of the semester – when first I started teaching that was certainly not a thing I could expect. There’s a regular drag scene, and a bunch of queer therapists to choose from, so that’s all the basics covered, I guess?
Despite really trying my best to be open-minded about my new home, I did come here with some prejudices about the south that others have been generous enough to correct for me. For example, I didn’t know that 30% of Alabama votes Democrat – I thought the number was much lower than that. I also got very scared taking a Craigslist delivery from an older chap who said in passing that he was a miner, but when I said that I wanted an open-fronted shelving unit because my partner collects vintage gaming consoles, he simply replied “Oh, does she? Neat,” and helped me lift everything into place.
The fear is the big thing that I’ve been struggling with here. It manifests in some odd ways: I’ll dress however I like, but I won’t cycle on the road; I’ll use the pool in trunks and chat to people at the store, but I’m also being super nice and smiley all the time because of a constant warning in my head of “don’t be a threat, don’t give them a reason to get you…” this was… kind of a thing in Columbus in certain situations, but I feel it a LOT harder down here.
I can at least say that no-one has yet done or said much to make that fear justified to me personally. I was going to say that I haven’t experienced anything, but then yesterday I got yelled at by a bunch of students, who drove along next to me yelling “YOU’RE NOT A BOY! WHY ARE YOU DRESSED LIKE THAT?” … sigh.
I wonder if they’d still have done it if they knew I was a professor.
But, there are folks here trying to make a difference. There are eleven LGBTQIA+ organisations on campus alone, and over the summer they all held a mini-summit to try and consolidate their programs and goals. I went to the meeting for one of them – the Capstone Alliance – and we rapidly outgrew our table as more and more people filtered in. Capstone has a budget, and robust programs for protecting folks on campus. They put out a handy little guide to all the gender neutral bathrooms, and they have a scholarship program that they run every year. Importantly for me, they also maintain a list of openly out faculty and staff, so that students can know their in a community where there are adults like them. They hope to start introducing programs into middle and high schools soon in order to spread hope beyond the campus safety bubble.
In the past folks have been generous with their donations to my needs specifically, but this blog still gets a LOT of traffic, and I really don’t need that kind of financial support anymore. If Capstone can raise $15,000 they will have enough in their budget to endow their scholarship, which means that it will be paid for every year by interest alone. If you are reading this blog and finding it a valuable resource, please take a moment to send a few dollars their way.
Wish me luck!