Next up is my first Wednesday guest, J.L. O’Faolain. He’s talking about growing up bi in the Deep South, and a little about why it’s probably not a good idea to torment a writer!
Thanks so much for sharing your story, J.L.!
Alternative Sexuality in the Deep South
by J.L. O’Faolain
I never wanted to lead the charge to some great change. My goal when I was growing up was to stay invisible. I was raised in the sort of small community that Hollywood loves to idealize. Everyone knew everyone else, and therefore it was unlikely that I could go unnoticed for long periods of time.
The Deep South is a place of dividing lines: lines the separate race, class, sexual orientation, and schools of thought. Nothing that stands out tends to be welcomed. If one can adapt and put on the caricature of acceptable behavior, any irredeemable traits can be labeled as quirks. Someone might be a fine, upstanding citizen save for the fact that they refuse to distance themselves from their cousin, who is a known cross-dresser. Those that fail to meet the per-established system’s standards and practices find themselves on the receiving end of ostracism (if they are lucky).
Survival tends to come to those who keep their wits about them and maintain an air of threatening demeanor. The consequence of the former means keeping oneself ever alert, while a drawback to the latter is going without issuing anything that could be taken as a challenge. Southerners, especially males, are often looking for ways to impress the herd. If one hears a ludicrous story of one Southerner dying in spectacular fashion, chances are the tale is not only true, but occurred due to someone’s ill-advised desire to stand out above the crowd.
It goes without saying that any kind of behavior that could be viewed as ‘gay’ is frequently met with hostility. Girls are intended to be intelligent, but soft-spoken and demure. Boys must be strong, athletic, and rush into foolish situations head-first without thinking about the consequences. Writing it down on paper sounds absurd, of course. No one behaves this way in real life.
The sad fact is, the mentality of the Deep South is that of a group of people who would rather pretend that the fifties are still going strong. Never believe what you see on television. The invisible dome that seals God’s Haven off from the rest of the sinful world is firmly in place.
I can remember thinking about escaping at a young age well before puberty set in. I concocted numerous schemes for reaching the wondrous-sounding places I heard existed far beyond the Mason-Dixon line. All of this was before my sexuality split the way it did. I don’t know that I would have the same leaning that I do now if I’d been raised in a different region of the world. Life is full of wonderful possibilities, but I’d like to think that I would carry similar traits regardless.
I became aware that I was attracted to males early on. My sexual exploration began far sooner thanks to an abusive stepbrother who shall, for now, remain nameless. I was far more aware of the female anatomy than most boys my age due to having several older sisters. Explaining things like the differences between boys and girls, and why women use those white pads, proved unnecessary. I had a vague idea before other boys my own age as to how babies were made. I was not naïve, but there was a crucial point missing in my education.
As I became more aware of my sexual desire for men as well as women, I also became aware of the danger I was in. My family suspected there was something off about me. I was well-behaved, spoke in a civil tone to other adults in a way that beguiled them, and was a model child in most people’s eyes. Yet I wasn’t quite ‘boy’ enough for most men’s comfort. I didn’t play sports, wasn’t athletic, and seemed a little more insightful about the world than your average Southerner was comfortable exploring. I saw what went on between boys that knew one another for years in a simple gesture or a meaningful glance. No one wanted the stigma of being ‘gay’. They were only ‘messing around’. I, however, knew that the currents of my feelings ran deeper.
And yet, I didn’t think of myself as ‘gay’ exactly. I knew that liking those of the same gender was a prerequisite, but being gay throughout the 90s carried far more gravity than simple sexual desire. ‘Gay’ included men who dressed like women, were vain to the point of absurdity, spoke in falsetto tones, obsessed about fashion, and wore pointy-toed shoes. Very few things about the gay subculture appealed to me growing up. I didn’t know where I stood, though I understood perfectly that I didn’t belong on either side of the imaginary fence.
Bisexuality is still misunderstood. It is seen by some as a phase that one goes through before accepting one’s homosexuality. It is a fad for teenagers. There is a sliding scale to determine where you stand as far as preferring one gender over the other. In the Deep South, naturally, this goes one step further. Homosexuals are the tools of Satan to bring down the Church and disgrace their god. Being bisexual is a unique form of freak-hood altogether. One might as well have invaded from a whole ‘nuther planet.
Thus, I was handed the ‘outsider’ hat, the ‘outcast’ shoes, and the matching ‘weirdo-freak’ scarf. None of them fit, but they were the clothes that got passed to me because no one else wanted them. No one else wanted to speak their mind for fear of disagreeing with what any one else. I walk among crowds and get the periodic flinch. I have watched grown men flee to the safety of a store’s back room to avoid being seen speaking with me. I have seen mother’s yank their children to their sides seconds after having screamed at them for fear that I might bite.
I live in a world of nice, comfy labels where no one wants to look different or behave in a manner that might be deemed inappropriate. I cope with healthy doses of snark and writing violent novels where terrible things happen to neighbors just like the ones I’ve had. My world has conformists lined up in misshapen lines waiting for the next set of instructions to trickle down. Meanwhile, I like chicks as well as dudes, to put it crassly.
Thus, I stand out a little more than I planned to. Despite the setbacks, however, I find myself preferring my table in the corner. It’s a little bit quieter with or without the hissing whispers aimed at me.
Sometimes I wonder why communism never caught on in the Deep South. So many people want everything to look just like everything else so no one breaks the mold. Maybe it was too Un-American of a concept.
Or, alternatively, maybe it meant the outsiders would finally have a private space of their own. Either way, though, when the rebellion comes, you won’t see me picking up a spear alongside my blistered brethren unless gay marriage and polygamy is a part of the Confederate charter.
Anyone else want to sit down at my table?
Trust me. There’ll be room.
Check out J.L.’s author page at Dreamspinner Press, where you’ll find more about his latest release, The Thirteenth Shard!
When a powerful witch is murdered by mundane means—with the killer leaving behind clues reminiscent of an old mortal folktale—the NYPD calls in Tuulois MacColewyn and the rest of Section Thirteen.
It’s been a while since Cole and his onetime partner, Corhagen, have worked together on a murder case, and sparks still linger between them despite Cole’s budding relationship with Inspector Joss Vallimun. As they struggle to put their past behind them and discover what happened to the witch, they unearth clues to similar murders. Murders that remind them of an old adversary in a case still unsolved.
When further evidence leads Cole and Corhagen to the shattered fragments of a mythical sword, it points to a cryptic clue about a prophecy involving a king. The revelation leaves Cole reeling and sets him up to make what could be the biggest mistake of his life….
J.L. O’Faolain was born the youngest, with four older sisters, in the backwoods of the Deep South. Those that have braved getting to know him have attributed this to being the root of his growing insanity. A teased bibliophile in his youth, O’Faolain spent his years prior to getting published as a cook, laundry man, delivery boy, grease monkey, and retail stocker. He has a plethora of skills and abilities, none of which would work well on a job application. In his spare time, O’Faolain enjoys weightlifting, philosophy, deconstruction, reading, writing, porn, and the Internet in general. Aside from becoming a successfully published author, he would very much like to pilot a giant robot while Two-Mix’s “Rhythm Emotion” is playing in the background. Either that, or travel the world in a dirigible. In short, the general consensus by all, including himself, is that he is a mighty strange fellow.
Awesome post. Lived in New Orleans for a while as well as Georgia. Ummm, lots of truth here.
To quote George Takei, ohhh myyy. I was, as the saying goes, born and bred in Tupelo, Mississippi. (No, I do not know where Elvis *really* is.) I went to college in Jackson. The recently-promoted-to-ex went to USAF tech school in Biloxi. I’m bi/pansexual. (I’ll grant the bi, though the pansexual label fits better, doesn’t make my ass look quite as big.) When I grew up, it *was* the 50s. Add to that a relative in a same-sex relationship with a person so terrified of the truth that a literal closet was the abode of no-choice. Add a cup of refusal to accept racism (I’ve got skin that’s the pinky-peachy color labeled as white; inside, where it counts, I’m red and streaky, with blobs of sepia, green, and white/ecru, just like you are. Blood, muscle, organs, bone.), a pint of mouth with no governor, and a measure of rebellion. Sprinkle liberally with ‘but why is it that way’. Simmer in a broth of Scots-Irish genetics for five generations + and clear the area of small children and the narrow-minded.
I’ve spent years outside the Deep South (2 in extreme northern Maine and 10 in western New York, bless their little hearts), but the rest of my old-as-dirt 63 years have been spent right here in the ‘hey, bubba, watch this’ region of the country. I live in Huntsville, Ala-freaking-bama, of all things. (Huntsville is a little bubble of ‘sane’ rising to the surface of the tarpit of ‘my pa don’t do it that way nor neither do I’.) I work for the only GLBT advocacy service in the region. (Did I forget to mention the streak of ‘you and what Army’ that my dad’s WWII fighter pilot mentality seared into my cosmology?) People keep trying to drag me to detox for words-in-a-row junkies, but my talons in the doorframe have kept me always trolling for the next fix, as reader and as writer.
I completely relate.
Feel free to check out some of my writing at http://suzanawylie.wordpress.com