Springfield, Missouri is the kind of place you would be happy to fly over at 35,000 feet if you didn’t, say, spend the first 18 years of your life there, and every winter break since. It gave America notorious Bush-era Attorney General John “Concealer of Lady Justice’s Titties” Ashcroft, the reactionary ecclesiastical empire of the Assemblies of God, and, perhaps most troublingly, cashew chicken (déclassé foodies will note that the New York Times has confirmed this). It’s the kind of place where a full fifth of Barnes and Noble’s floor space is dedicated to something called “Christian Inspiration,” men flaunt (perfectly legal) firearms in coffeehouses, and the regional newspaper regularly publishes op-eds with titles like “New Moon ticket switch a shameful act that left teenager in tears” (“As we got in the light we realized they conned us by giving us $5 matinee tickets for Sunday!”).
It also happens to be the site of one of the most interesting gay scenes I’ve encountered in six years of dissolute cockmongering. It took the radical biographical break of college in a big city to appreciate, but so many Christmas and summer visits later I recognize that places like my hometown have something special going for them – something that just might help us New Gays figure out what we’re doing with ourselves. But first, sex.
Fellow Washingtonians will need no reminder of the notorious erotic ferocity of closeted social conservatives. But the DC GOP crowd has its drawbacks – most of them are too smart to actually fall for the stuff they feed the wingnuts in their districts, and cynicism can make for lousy fucking. (Republican sex scandals might be politically interesting, but they’re not the kind of thing that make you want to jack off during an investigative report on the Rachel Maddow show – Rachel Maddow is.) The men of southwest Missouri, with the kind of knotted and desperate self-loathing that can only come from an adolescence full of hypocrisy and probable pastoral abuse, are another case entirely: neurotic steam engines likely to whistle off their vapor-hot libidinal fury at the slightest provocation. How could they be otherwise, when their evangelical Christianity finally amounts to a kind of theological powerbottoming? And depending on a denomination’s take on the holy eucharist, Christians may be stuffing more pieces of man in their mouth in a given month than the less fortunate among us manage in half a year; they just like to do it with wine on Sunday mornings, while we gays prefer gin and Saturday nights.
Being a small and relatively isolated community has its benefits. Like the Arawak Indians of the Bahamas who, in their moral and immunological purity, greeted Columbus and his men with endearing credulity only to be brutally ravaged by cock and sword (and thank god we have a holiday to commemorate it), the sexual insularity of the queers of southwest Missouri tends toward a spontaneous, unexpected, and disease-free (this is an often overlooked benefit of lax incest taboos) celebration of physicality hard to come by on craigslist or 17th Street. Playful, sexy, naive boyishness should be cherished wherever one finds it, even if it’s dressed like it’s 2006 and happened to sit behind you in sophomore year biology lab.
It would be misleading to paint a picture of a kind of fag Arcadia, some hidden valley in the Ozarks mountains where beautiful flannel-clad boys regularly strip nude, paint themselves in creek mud, scamper satyr-like through unspoiled forest glens and then stage heroic midnight orgies around massive bonfires. This happens only rarely, and never in winter. But there is something special here and other places like it, an energy that can only come from being genuinely transgressive in a town trying its darndest to keep out the social progress that Western liberal democracies have made since the Second World War.
(Coastal queers seem increasingly to have some inkling of this, and can’t get enough of it: a recent BYT article quoted RAW party organizer Karl Jones lamenting the fact that “Most gay bars these days are sanitized and bright… We wanted to tap into that energy carried at a time when you had to look around and be a bit careful about who spotted you out at a gay bar.” I’d advise him to spend a week in the sticky light- and latex-deprived back rooms of the unmarked bars of my hometown, if not to get some technical ideas, then at least to recognize that there are not a few fags in not a few places who still have to watch out for this kind of thing, and that it can be less than fun.)
“New Gay” means a lot of things to a lot of people, the kind of empty signifier (points for the impractically overeducated liberal arts set who doesn’t have to Wikipedia those words) which can accommodate a depth and breadth of content rivaled only by the rectum of the average Apex patron. One point of this blog is to think up these kinds of meanings, moving us beyond the tired old symbols and vocabularies that the 20th century and the screwball homophobes who came out of it throw in our faces. I propose one more of these meanings: what if the New Gay undertook to take a second look at places away from coasts and bright lights, away from the gay metropolis whose bars and bath houses and clinics have defined us for so long, to explore a universe of alternative self-creation which queer folk from Middle America have been crafting in abandoned warehouses and curtain-drawn living rooms for decades? Question marks mean you should comment.
Best of luck to readers who’ll be spending their holiday benders stumbling all over the Eastern seaboard – may your Gingerbread lattes be warm and your Leather Santa parties fabulous. As for me, I’ll be enjoying breaded chicken with oyster sauce, drunkenly cruising Christmas Eve services, and hoping to god that this post never meets the eyes of anyone in my extended family.
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