Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Way Down South

You must understand that growing up in the South means you look at the Confederate flag on a regular basis. Maybe not every day or even every week, but the Confederate flag, or at least the representation of its bars and stars, is pervasive. In the South, someone somewhere near you believes that the Confederate flag is a symbol of pride and heritage, and many, although certainly not all, of these people truly do not understand how anyone could see it as an image of exclusion, hatred, or oppression.

Thus, you must also understand that, to a certain extent, this pervasive exposure dulls the senses to the inherent symbolism of the flag somewhat. Although I firmly believe that if a large majority of the black population sees the flag as offensive, then we have a moral obligation to remove it from our governmental buildings or anywhere else it is associated with a formal representation of the American people, the sight of the Confederate flag does not inspire in me much of any kind of feeling.

So, I was taken by surprise somewhat as I was driving home tonight by an abundant display of Confederate flags that drew not just my attention, but some deeper reflection. On my way home I pass a major NASCAR speed track and this week is one of the larger races, the Coca Cola 500, I believe. NASCAR, despite its mainstreaming, for some reason manages to draw out copious numbers of Confederate flags, whether they be flown over an RV trailer or worn as a dew rag on the head. For reasons that seem both obvious and confusing to me, NASCAR, despite popular acceptance (at least by white middle-class America), has held on firmly to its anti-establishment, redneck roots and character.

I sighed heavily; initially because of the impending wave of traffic that would impair my way home from work in the approaching days, but quickly my exasperation with the traffic- jam-to-be turned into an annoyance with seeing so many Confederate flags on display. Why must these people insist on putting the flag in peoples' faces, especially after so much debate in recent years over its symbolism and meaning.

And then it struck me: this is exactly the question we face as gay people every day. "Why do those queers have to flaunt their sexuality? Why do gays have to talk about being gay so often?" Many straight people, and even some gay people, do not understand why anyone would choose to fly a rainbow flag in front of a house or put a rainbow decal on the back of a car. I myself have been conservative in this area, but understand and respect those who choose to do so. After some consideration, I recently decided to put an HRC sticker on my car to show solidarity and support for gay rights issues in these turbulent political times.

Gay people can easily hide their sexual orientation. It's not like race or ethnicity which is typically very obvious (although skin color is much less telling than it used to and certainly an accent or dialect is no clear indicator either). Nobody ever has to know that a gay person is gay. So why do we choose to "flaunt" it? Why wear that t-shirt that says "I'm not gay, but my boyfriend is"?

The answer is simple; we do it for the same reason some Southerners or NASCAR fans fly a Confederate flag. We do it for the same reason that you put a "My kid is an honor student" bumper sticker on your mini-van or that high school kid wears a shirt featuring his favorite band. We do it for reasons not unlike the one someone puts a "Vietnam Veteran" license plate on their car. We're proud of who we are and you need to know it.

All human beings fight a constant paradox; we desire both to be unique individuals and to belong. As such, we choose to identify ourselves with labels and indicators of our characteristics, personalities, and/or preferences that people might not otherwise know about us. We identify ourselves in order to serve our warring needs. Gay people also do it because you need to realize that we're sitting right next to you. We do it because you need to know we are your son, daughter, neighbor, brother, sister, mother, father, co-worker, boss, cashier, teacher, church pew sharer. We do it because we're here, we're queer, and, by God, you're not used to it by now?

If you don't want us putting our gayness in your face, then don't put your Confederate flag, Mary Kay lapel pin, favorite sports team banner, Shriner order, or kid's perfect attendance in ours. Don't want us to talk about being gay? Stop talking about being heterosexual then; you know, how great your girl/boyfriend, husband/wife is, how little Johnny/Suzie did the cutest thing one year after he/she popped out from between yoru legs, or what a beautiful wedding your best friend just had despite the trouble with the caterer.

The thing is that we aren't asking you to stop talking about these things. And despite my internal monologue, I wouldn't suggest we ban individuals from displaying a Confederate flag. All we are asking is to be included in on the conversation; to be allowed to share every part of ourselves that we choose to share just as you do. All we're really doing is, like the people who display a Confederate flag, letting you know what we like way down south.


Anonymous said...

Great perspective, you're exactly right of course -- it's interesting that our symbols, flags, etc. are being used against us. And, to an extent I think that is becoming internalized in our community. I had to force myself to put our Rainbow flag out during the first week of marriage in Massachusetts. Why?!

After reading your post, there's nothing stopping me now. I'm flying it for the whole month of June, to celebrate Gay Pride Month!

Best, Keith

jenna said...
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