“I want to snuggle in at the home
I have made of the musty
Old South in my blood.”
As our regular readers (and most of my friends and family) know, I closely followed my home state’s journey to marriage equality. I’m pretty sure that at least 45% of the people I’ve talked to are absolutely sick of hearing about the 4th Circuit’s decision or what Attorney General Alan Wilson has said.
When I heard the news that the Supreme Court had refused to hear Wilson’s appeal and that the same-sex marriage ban was officially lifted, I was sitting in my best friend’s driveway waiting for her to come out of the house. She came out to find me slumped over my steering wheel, crying my eyes out from sheer joy and relief.
The thing is, y’all—I’m capital-S Southern. I drink sweet tea for every occasion, I wear flip-flops year round, and I have yes-ma’ams and no-sirs to spare. I love the South.
I love South Carolina, despite its many and varied issues—or “unpleasantness”, as old white ladies describe things around here. I love the fact that when I literally flew my car during my freshman year of college—it was very Dukes of Hazzard—I had people not only pouring out of their homes to offer their help but also pulling over and offering to pay for tow trucks and making sure that I was okay. I’ve spoken a little about the trials of growing up in the South (My Identity is Not a Problem), but a lot of good things have happened too. The Doctor said (of the great Van Gogh, admittedly): “The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things or make them unimportant.”
This is also true of the South.
However, there is a problem with South Carolina that most people will freely admit: we’re stuck in the Old South. Of all the Southern states, South Carolina is the one most mired in the Old South, with lingering ideas of grandeur and old-money-Big-House elitism. In certain areas of the state, Jim Crow is alive and well. There is a place in the Pee Dee Region (the region I call home), for example, where people of color are Not Welcome. The people who live in this area will, and have in the past, happily kill PoC who either take too long leaving or flat-out refuse to do so. We were the first state to secede from the Union in 1860 because white plantation owners didn’t want to give up their slaves, and until November 1998, interracial marriage was still illegal in South Carolina.
When my family moved here in 1993, I was technically a crime.
To this day, there is a common rumor going around the state that it is still perfectly legal to beat your wife on the courthouse steps on any given Sunday. The view of our state is so bad that many people take this rumor as fact without taking the time to check the Code of Laws (which makes no mention of this law that I could find).
I was 14 when I came out to my mama in the chili aisle of the local Piggly Wiggly, and as I got older, I grew to realize that, unless I moved, my kind of love would never be accepted. I dreamed of more progressive states and cities and vowed to leave my beloved South. I went to college 30 minutes from home—all the while planning to move after I graduated.
I graduated from college this past May. However, before I got the chance to pack my bags and get the hell out of Dodge, hope started appearing on the horizon. Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is the thing with feathers – / That perches in the soul.” In July 2014, queer South Carolinians (myself included) felt something—something very light and very tentative—start getting comfortable inside of them.
South Carolina has issues— of that, there is no doubt. On the other hand, South Carolina also now has hope. With the legalization of same-sex marriage (which makes us queer folk sound like weed), we’re taking bigger and bigger steps out of the shadow of the Old South.
Of course, that is not to say that the war is completely and totally won. We have only won a single, albeit large, battle. There is still no hate crime law on the books in South Carolina; there is still no anti-discrimination protection for the majority of LGBTQIA+ persons in the state.
We here in the original Carolina still have a long way to go. While my queer cisgendered brothers and sisters have encountered a huge victory with the recognition of same-sex marriage, our trans- and nongender kin have absolutely no recourse.
This is unacceptable.
As I said in the epigram at the beginning of this article, I want to be at home here in the South. And, as long as I stay in my quiet little corner of it, I am. However, the minute I step out of my quiet corner and look toward the bigger picture, the bigoted Jabberwock comes out of hiding.
Hope has come home to roost, here in the South. It’s a little bit ruffled, and a little bit scared, but it’s here. Recognizing same-sex marriage is the first step of the journey to full-blown LGBTQIA+ equality, and to be frank, it is about damn time. Eventually, I hope to also see the beginnings of racial equality in the state, but I’ll take this war one step at a time.
Celie, Alice Walker’s character in her famous novel The Color Purple, famously exclaimed “I’m here!” as she escaped her abusive husband. We are here, y’all. We’re here and we’re not going anywhere—and there’s really nothing our opposition can do about it. So hold your heads up, shoulders back, and keep your stride long as you strut your stuff down the streets of Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, and Myrtle Beach.
We’re here, and we’re queer, and there’s absolutely no escaping us.
Which, if you want to take it as such, sounds kind of ominous, but all it is – is a matter of fact.
I’m Mariah! I was raised in the South, so I say ‘boo’ A LOT. I’m a poet, a teacher, a voracious reader, and a really big English nerd. I have one son, an orange domestic shorthair feline, and about 50 million crochet projects going at once.