Out of Place
Are we going to have to move?" my friend Drake kept asking--several times a week, in fact--as the November election approached. With same-sex marriage and a repeal of the state's human-rights law being debated, he feared that Minnesota's climate for gays and lesbians would change, and he envisioned a whole state's worth of homos trooping off in search of pinker pastures.
The concept of queer refugees is no stretch for those of us who've done our own migrating. We're a portable bunch, often fleeing families or homophobic environs to better our lives. I myself washed up on Minneapolis' shores five years ago, following an unfortunate repatriation to the metropolitan area of my birth. After college, I had moved back to Milwaukee for a paycheck, not love, and I scampered off to the Twin Cities as soon as my career allowed. (My hometown is now like an ex-boyfriend: There's a twinge of nostalgia for the happy times, and I notice a slight bit of physical beauty if the lighting is right, but mostly I'm glad we only have to deal with each other a few times a year.)
Minneapolis and I are still getting along, despite all the flaws I've discovered since it first infatuated me in my late teens, and it continues to feel more like home than my hometown for all sorts of reasons. The fact that gay people are old news here is of prime importance. I don't have to give a second thought, for example, to such things as the rainbow sticker that graces my car--indeed, the average vehicle on Hennepin Avenue is more likely to have a rainbow flag than properly inflated tires. In my hometown, however, the sticker is such a novelty that it feels like a flashing "Homo on Board" sign. (A ridiculous feeling, of course. For all I know, the natives think the rainbow colors mean I'm pro-Crayola.)
Like my buddy Drake, I find that politics plays a role in making me feel at home--I appreciate a government that basically lets gay people be and even offers us some protection. But there's a whole attitudinal aura that legislation can merely influence, not control. Milwaukee is in fact covered by a statewide human-rights law, but I always thought that, if there were a referendum on who should be allowed to live there, the gay people would be sent packing. A host of reasons collected from daily life contributed to such a feeling, from how hard it was to find a gay newspaper to the number of anti-gay demonstrators at AIDS fund-raisers to the acceptability of homophobic remarks in ordinary conversation.
There are lots of decent places to be gay or lesbian, of course, and my decision to be a Twin Citian is hardly based on that alone. Last year, in the doomed pursuit of a resume-enhancing job, I spent a week in New York City, the homosexuality capital of the planet. While I enjoyed seeing Manhattan and met some cool people, it didn't feel like home for a minute. Sure, I admired the Chelsea boys' freedom to walk hand in hand down the street, but I had too many typical Midwesterner concerns, like "where are the trees?" and "where is the sky?" and "could I ever wear unfashionably old tennis shoes?" (The answer to all three questions was the same: "In Brooklyn.") Gay-positiveness is more of a starting point than a be-all end-all for me. New York as a whole seemed like a bad fit, and even as my hometown takes steps toward becoming more hospitable to queers (a gay community center opened just a few weeks ago), the city's dominant culture is still sports-oriented, alcohol-preoccupied, and several other things that just aren't me.
So my home continues to be around these here parts, though many members of my extended family don't always understand. At family reunions, second cousins who haven't strayed very far from their places of birth always ask, "So, you gonna stay up there?" It's as though Minneapolis is some sort of phase I'm going through, like I've been staying at a Motel 6 for the last five years, trying to make up my mind ("I think I'll give it ONE MORE DAY"). I politely indicate that I'm planning to stay but am forever keeping my options open--though not really so open as to include my hometown.
My friend Drake isn't packing up his Fiesta Ware, either. While the election didn't go quite as he had hoped, he still loves myriad aspects of his adopted land, and he's turned out to be genuinely pleased with the governor-elect's attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. "It's like having the playground bully on your side," says Drake. And what could make him feel more at home than that?
Jim Foti can be reached via e-mail at JimFotiQ@aol.com.
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