Southern Comfort? Black, Gay and Out in the South
Last month, I was honored to officiate the wedding of two of my closest friends. I reflected on how marriage represents not only a spiritual connection, but is also a reflection of social and political values. In the wake of President Obama’s long-awaited validation of our committed relationships, the media immediately picked up on stories of a rift between Black churches and those for marriage equality. However, there was no discussion of the tremendous gray area in between—the place that represents the historical embracing of all types of families in the Black community.
Though affirmation of our relationships is our civil right, we as Black people in America are not strangers to forging relationships in the face of institutions that have sought to destroy our bonds. Despite the collective trauma from slavery, our definition of family has always been fluid. We have taken in other people’s children, raised our nieces, and deemed each other as “play” cousins. In my own family, I have a grandfather who was raised by his mother’s first cousin, and it isn’t unusual for ex-relatives to come to family get-togethers with their new spouses. Once you’re in our family, you’re in for life.
This inclusive notion of family as one that is bound by love and kinship over biology may support Sabrina Tavernise’s findings in “Parenting by Gays More Common in the South.” In the New York Times article, she shares that gay couples, particularly Black or Latino ones, are more likely to be raising families in the South than in other part of the country. Five years ago, I would have been mistrustful of such a statistic. Like many Northerners, I saw the South’s public face of conservative, traditional values as antagonistic to gay families, and I couldn’t fathom why anyone would voluntarily raise children there.
And then I moved to Dallas where those preconceived ideas were turned on its head.
I was never one to make any formal announcements of my sexuality since heterosexual people didn’t have to. So during a new staff orientation when I casually shared that I just got married the week before, it took a few mentions of “her” and “she” for my coworkers to realize I meant married to a woman. They were a bit standoffish, but came to accept me because I didn’t give them an option not to. Just as they shared stories about their husbands and families, I shared the regular life of being married to a woman. I had one woman come to me later and admit that she was caught off guard by my openness at first, but she came to see me as “normal.” By being myself, they realized that the big gay boogeyman didn’t exist.
This acceptance was affirmed when my partner became pregnant with our daughter. Since I wasn’t the one carrying our child, it would have been easy for them to dismiss me as an expectant mom. Imagine my surprise when they threw me a surprise baby shower, complete with games and gifts. All of this from people who attended churches where their pastors have proclaimed God’s “true plan” for the family. When it came down to every day life, my coworkers embraced me as one of their own.
I’m not going to pretend that the South was this Edenic culture where everyone opened doors and walked in parades for us. I also am aware that my experiences may not be representative of all or most. But I can say that the discriminatory experiences were no more than those I experienced in seemingly more liberal Northern environments, and there must be something special about the South that is leading to many of us choosing to raise our families there.
- Aleia Mims
Aleia Mims is a wife, mother, daughter, and sister for whom writing is a form of liberation. She shares her journey so that others may name their own experiences and realize their higher truths. Her commitment to self-empowerment was a key feature of her eleven years as a classroom teacher, and remain as such with her current work at an education non-profit in New York City. Follow more of her journey at liberationtheory.wordpress.com and on Twitter @liber8ntheory.