what makes me southern?

So, I’m editing Trailer Park Queer, that piece I posted earlier, and turning it into something longer with actual, you know, academic citations and stuff. But first, I needed to figure out what exactly makes my experience of TPQ southern. So, I did what I always do: I spewed what I was thinking/feeling/thinking-feeling/feeling-thinking onto paper in semi-words. It’s after the jump.

I think sometimes people assume all trailer parks are in the south, the rural south, even, and mine was/is. but there are trailer parks everywhere, so what makes my experience southern? is it that my mom worked in hosiery mills for what seems like forever? the south was the first place textiles were outsourced before they went further south into mexico and then east/west to china. is it that one of my brothers is a truck driver? I mean, they exist everywhere, but most archetypal truck driver images are of overwieght southern men whose belt buckles cover where their bellies hango ut of thier dixie outfitters rebel flag tee shirts. but my brother is skinny and he’s gay. though he did, for a very long time, wear shit kickers, tight wranglers, and belt buckles with tractors on them. oh yeah, and he hung a rebel flag in his room for a long time, too. two christmases ago, my wife and i bought him John deere christmas lights, but john deere is marketed nationally, o there’s nothing inherently southern about that. is it just that i live in the south and identify as southern? I guess that makes my trailer park experience southern.

To tell the truth, I sometimes don’t even notice that I’m southern until I’m talking on the phone with my mom and i slip back into a southern drawl that i don’t remember having; or my Yankee wife says “water” and it sounds more like “footer” than “otter”. and i’m not sure where my drawl went, as if i ever owned it. i know people look at me funny when i slip into it, and it feels like a slip which implies moving/falling backward, but my south is not backward. in my south, queer sounds more like “hair” than “steer” and sometimes it means a stream that runs backwards from the rest, but it’s okay because the water still tastes good. and maybe i’m eroticizing my own homeplace – the place i learned to be polite and charming to people’s faces and rake them through hot coals when they weren’t looking, because that’s southern hospitality – but maybe i’m just in love with the south. and i get defensive when people talk about my kinfolk as if they’re all backwoods hicks, because their dieas are often the same as southern belles and southern gentlemen, but like all ideas, if the person thinking them has enough money an idea made of horseshit gets a fresh candy coating.


2 Responses to “what makes me southern?”
  1. tye says:

    yeah, my country accent tends to come and go too. when i’m around people who speak with that accent i tend to as well, without making a decision to. and sometimes my partner comes home and asks if i’ve been on the phone with my granny because i’ve slipped back into it.
    i also understand feeling defensive about the idea that southerners are more backwards than the rest of the country. i have read some authors who say that the south functions as a repository where the rest of the country dumps all their ugly feelings. so if we talk about racism we end up talking about the south. not that many southerns aren’t racist, but it makes it seem like a problem unique to the south…kinda letting everyone else off the hook.

    i admit i have some issues with the south, but i think many of the problematic parts of southern culture are made worse and possibly created by the national view of us. i see a world of difference between my grandparents’ generation and my own. they formed ideas about being southern in a different, more localized environment. while my brother got many of his ideas about what it means to be a southern man from places like the movie deliverance or jerry springer or jeff foxworthy. so the question arises (which can be asked of many groups) do these images reflect some “reality” or do they create it? it seems strange to me to see poor southerns wearing confederate flags…the wealthy land owners who had power in the confederacy would never had considered them as anything but less than.

  2. I think media images create some idea of what it means to be southern, even for southerners. When i was talking to del shores yesterday, he said something about northerners thinking that his sordid lives characters were southern caricatures and meant to poke fun at the south, while southerners find them charming and remind them of people they know. I honestly fall into the latter category… but I’m not sure why. I do know people like the characters in Sordid lives. I think Latrelle is like my mom pretending to be her sister but not quite being able to… the wife pointed that out last night, and i had to agree. I look at Ty (the main char) and I think, well, I didn’t move to Hollywood, but damn does that look familiar. Although dealing with my own sexual identity didn’t take as long. I still, however, tell my momma that I’m a lesbian – I use the word “queer” but she assumes it means lesbian and I don’t really challenge that assumption. It’s somehow easier that way. Don’t know if I’ll ever tell her about the men – they were all one-nighters anyway, thus not that important in the long run – but, of course, she could eventually find this blog and then I’m screwed – or will have some explaining to do.

    But, back on the subject. I think northerners are just as racist as southerners, just they’ve learned to hide it better. i also think southern boys have no idea what the confederate flag means – growing up in that community, I’ve seen my brothers and my mother’s husband both wear rebel flags and have black friends. the two don’t seem to fit, but somehow they work. And I wonder about their black friends and how they reconcile befriending someone who wears a rebel flag on their chest… And my gay brother who has dated a “resident alien” from Colombia… who, thank the goddess, worked at a GAP store and wouldn’t let Trent dress like he used to. What is it about coming out that lets men dress better?

    I also have to say that I’ve seen men in gay bars in Asheville who wear confederate flags proudly to the bar, then talk to black men and black drag queens very nicely… I think it’s a nasty tradition of wearing the flag because my daddy did and my daddy’s daddy did, and hell, my great-granddaddy might’ve fought for the confederacy, and I want to remember that legacy. I don’t think any of them understand what it means to wear it in contemporary society. I also think northern folk just aren’t as out there with their racism – but there are more ghettos in the north, and more inner-city neighborhoods that are falling apart than I can count, and if that’s not racism, I don’t know what is. Maybe it’s institutionalized, but no one’s challenging it… and that’s just as racist as creating it on a personal level…


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