Out In America: The Lone Star State
Submission by Tom Goss, TNG contributor. Tom is a singer-songwriter based in Washington, DC. His songs and videos continue to capture the hearts and minds of the LGBT community and abroad. Tom is currently on a 10-week, 50 city national tour. For more information visit www.tomgossmusic.com
If there is one drive that I dread on tour it is driving through West Texas. It’s more than just long. It’s boring, as well. I’m not sure what the population is between El Paso and Dallas, but I can’t imagine there are more than 50,000 people living in the cities that dot the 650-mile stretch combined. Of course I’m not dealing with concrete facts, what fun would that be? The point is that there is nothing. I don’t mean there is nothing like Wisconsin or Iowa where there is a lot of forest and farmland. I mean there is nothing at all. No houses, no restaurants, no farms, there is rarely more than desert brush. So I downed an energy drink in Las Cruces, NM (just over the border) and steeled myself for the long, boring journey.
After two days of driving I made it to Dallas. I was excited to see an old friend of mine from D.C., who had recently joined the military. After growing up in the Northeast he is now relegated to one small section of the aforementioned 650-mile stretch. Adjustment hasn’t been easy. Any LGBT culture he finds is at the end of a 3.5-hour drive into the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. But in a state this size that is commonplace.
Texas seems to be a state of extremes. It’s a lot more than the sheer size of the state, it’s a way of life. On my four stops (Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston) I played four completely different venues. In Dallas I was hosted by a small coffee shop that caters to touring musicians, in Austin, a bear bar called The Iron Bear, in San Antonio a house concert to benefit LGBT scholarships, and in Houston an outdoor performance stage.
The drive south between Dallas and Austin gets rural pretty quickly. It doesn’t take long to remember that you are in one of the most conservative states in the country. At one point I pulled over to get gas and buy some munchies. I was stuck behind a Texan, dressed in the obligatory t-shirt, jeans, boots and cowboy hat, trying to buy cigarettes. With his thick accent he kept repeating “$18 for three packs! Are you serious? Did you scan them right? I’m not paying $18 for three packs of cigarettes.” After a couple minutes of this he walked away disgusted. I thought something judgmental about cigarettes, machismo attitude and cowboys as I checked out. It seemed that I was surrounded by wanna-be alpha-males trying to out-testosterone each other, I (along with my flip-flops) was definitely out of place.
When I walked outside and approached my car and saw something unexpected. In the passenger seat of the car next to me sat a transgendered woman re-applying her lipstick. I may be projecting, but she seemed particularly sad. Not long after, her companion, a slightly built and obviously timid dark haired man rounded the car and hopped into the driver side seat. They seemed true friends. These were kind of friends that can only be forged by a constant knowledge that they, and only they, exist outside of the norm created around them.
As their silver sedan pulled away through the oversized 4X4’s I couldn’t help but think about the daily struggles they face. I may have felt out of place for 3 minutes but it was obvious that they were constantly feeling out of place. People tell me that what I do is courageous. I am often commended for being forthright and open, a vocal leader in our LGBT community. But is it true? It’s experiences like this that make me realize I’m spoiled. Try as I may, I cannot relate to, or speak for, everyone. I don’t have first-hand experience that would help me relate to the people who struggle the most. I live in Washington, D.C., and am legally married to my husband. What do I know of struggle and discrimination?
Individuals like these two folks are the unsung heroes of our community. They silently face persecution and get up every day and start all over again. Acceptance of LGBT rights in rural America will come because of these people, who, faced with the most hostile environment possible, live their life with transparency and dignity.
Where to eat: Like hot dogs? I sure do! Check out Angry Dog. In all honesty I give the dog a ‘B’ but the atmosphere, fried pickles and fries make it worth the trip. For dessert check out House of Pies in Houston —super tasty!
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