Thursday, December 1, 2022

Being Gay In Oxford

LGBT supporters and friends gather at the federal courthouse as the Supreme Court hears arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act / Photo by Hillary Houston for HottyToddy.com
LGBT supporters and friends gather at the federal courthouse as the Supreme Court hears arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act / Photo by Hillary Houston for HottyToddy.com

Arguments over the Defense of Marriage Act at the Supreme Court draw LGBT protest at federal courthouse in Oxford Tuesday evening

By Tim Summers, Jr., former editor, DeSoto Times-Tribune

Email Tim Summers at timothysum@gmail.com

Photos By Hillary Houston, recent journalism graduate, Meek School of Journalism and New Media

Email Hillary Houston at hrhousto@gmail.com

I was standing on the corner next to Ya-Ya’s with my good friend, who describes himself as gay, and we were discussing what it was to be gay in Oxford, as people slowly started to gather in front of the Federal courthouse Tuesday night, the beginnings of a candlelight vigil.

He had told me earlier, when I asked him to meet me to discuss the topic, that he would not go there, that the community was very small, and there might be people he would not want to run into. I asked if it was because they would judge him. He said no, it was just that it might be awkward, like it might be with an ex-girlfriend that I would run into on the street.

We laughed, and I asked him if it was lonely to be gay here. I asked him where he went to meet people, how hard it was to find someone to live and love. I asked him what it was like to grow up in small town Mississippi, to be gay, to be himself in a culture of opposition.

I told him that I did not feel it right to write about being gay without being gay, that I had no right to insert my opinion into the conversation. But as we spoke and walked around the Square the conversation would float onto other subjects quickly and easily and had to be forced back onto the path. We had so much more in common than our sexuality, so many more relevant conversations to be had.

As we discussed bullying in our respective high schools, him for effeminate mannerisms and me for lack of physical bulk, little differentiated the experiences, moments of horror and hate that in comparison with our current lives seemed small and dark.

I asked him what it was like to go to college at Ole Miss, how was he treated, and did he feel that the University of Mississippi did an adequate job. I asked him if he would move somewhere else if he could, and whether he felt safe to approach people that he was attracted to.

Often he stopped and paused, commenting that he had never thought about the difficulty of meeting people, or of the lack of place to meet people that he would be attracted to, and would be open to his advances.

Attendees sign in as a show of support at last night's LGBT rally/ Photo by Hillary Houston for HottyToddy.com
Attendees sign in as a show of support at last night’s LGBT rally/ Photo by Hillary Houston for HottyToddy.com

But at the end of the conversation, what stands out the most is that he looked down the sidewalk at the gathering vigil, cocked his head to the side, smiled and said: “Well, I bet I could at least get a few numbers,” grin growing from ear to ear, “I mean it is like a pop-up gay bar.”

And that is when for the first time in a long time I realized that this was just a young man, really absolutely no different than me, with the similar and normal priorities, but with a different sense of taste. It felt as if we could have been discussing what art we prefer, rather than with whom we share our beds.

And by the time the night was over, almost a hundred students, Oxonians and visitors, gathered in front of the Federal courthouse Tuesday to hold a vigil to show their support of the LGBT community, both here and around the world.

And more significant than the legal arguments put forth and parried in the highest court in the land earlier in the day, the issue of marriage equality took on a face and a voice. And in Oxford it is not often that this community steps forward in force, much alone in the light of day.

As the sun started to set, the organizer of the event, Barbara Bugg of Horn Lake, an activist, told the assemblage that although the speaker was late, everyone should “chill, and make some friends.”

As the group milled and waited, signs were made and laughter echoed off of the trees and empty buildings. Candles were lit, television crews set up their tripods, and newspaper reporters walked around sticking recorders in people’s faces. The stage was set. Off in the parking lot the police stood, ensuring a peaceful demonstration. And for one of the few times in the years I have been here, there was a productive gathering of one of the town’s more vibrant and repressed counter-cultures.

The vigil, part of a national effort to show support in front of local Federal courthouses, was a result of the discussions concerning the Proposition 8 and DOMA going on in the Supreme Court this week, but those were not the words flowing from the speakers, including the mother of the transgender student from Batesville who recently received some national attention in the spotlight as a result of the abuses she allegedly suffered at her high school.

They spoke of the human being behind the gay man or woman. The transgender person fighting to express how they feel, trapped in a body they despise, or of their daughter or son, friend or partner and what it meant to feel like a second-class citizen, that someone they loved deserved to be a full person, to be all that they could be.

But the whole time, all I could think about were the people who weren’t there. The silent culture, the hushed minority, that felt for very good reasons that perhaps pushing themselves into the spotlight would not be the best move.

Not yet.

Photo By Hillary Houston for HottyToddy.com
Photo By Hillary Houston for HottyToddy.com

And my friend, before we parted ways and I went to the protest, said that he never really considered his position as a gay man in Oxford or Mississippi because he had always had a strong support group of friends. And as a friend, I had never felt comfortable broaching the subject so directly because I felt I was imposing upon his privacy. But in that gulf of understanding between us, the idea of being gay or being straight or being whatever grew and grew.

Misunderstanding and confusion bred until, once I started asking questions, I could not stop. And as he talked about it, shared his experience, I learned more of this person, my friend, and felt easier being open about my support for his culture –– felt right in my righteousness about the oppression forced upon this silent culture.

And so more than any court decision or grand declaration from the government, it is going to be discussion of the issue with each other that will pave the way for the young adults that struggle now with their sexualities easing the fear and mistrust in the hearts of the opposition.

As important as it is for the LGBT community to appropriately and calmly discuss their position, it is paramount that we, those that stand with these people as friends and family, discard our own misgivings about openly discussing the subject. We must gingerly let the flower of love grow where it blooms, nursing and encouraging the growth and health of these people that we care about so much by being a silent support culture no longer. We must approach hate with the most powerful weapon we have ever and always had: empathy. We must face ignorance with the patience of a teacher, confident and sure.

As one speaker at the rally said, we must first talk about it, connect with each other, and then normalize the idea. We must not be afraid, both of each other and new approaches. Whether that is taking the time to discuss it with your family or to go to a rally and hold a tiny flickering candle, sheltering your little light from the wind.

And as the light goes out and the crowd gets close together to protect their lights and to warm their bodies, you might realize that not only is loneliness an illusion, but that we were ever separate, irreconcilably different people. We are people together, and we are all we have.

This is how change begins.

I hope my friends forgive me for being silent so long. I wish I could go back to the fraternity house and argue more vehemently for the pledge that was gay or to approach the gay-bashing coach at my high school and ask him what he thought he was doing.

But it is much easier to lounge in the comfort of cowardice than to challenge the ideas of another. And I was younger. But Mississippians have been down that road before, we know where this leads, and there are those that are going to fight for equality, not just for gays or blacks or Hispanics or women, but for everyone.

I am one of those people, silent no more.

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