ramblings about the “southern culture” i grew up in

Reading some of TPQ’s posts has made me think about my own experience of being southern.  I haven’t really thought about these issues in a while.  I don’t have a lot of contact with my family of origin anymore.  I haven’t thought about those issues in a while either.  It’s not that my family doesn’t want me…they call and stuff, they invite me and my partner to do things.  I just don’t know how to be around them anymore.  I’m so unsure of my place with them.  I can honestly say that i think they have tried to make me feel accepted and i think the distance between us would not be as big if i didn’t let it be.


Where i grew up is very small and we lived on land my father’s family had owned for a while.  I now call it a family compound.  It is a mountain slope where my father grew up and then built his own house on.  Various other family members and ramshackle buildings including outhouses and trailers and a barn and storehouses also inhabited the same hillside.  We planted gardens and canned food and some of my older relatives wore mostly homemade clothes.  But most of our food came from a grocery store like the closest, piggly-wiggly, and sometimes we even got to eat mcdonald’s when we were in “town”.  And all of us kids had store bought clothes (even if they were hand-me-downs by the time i got them), and me and my brother had saved and bought a Nintendo, and we had satellite tv for a memorable point in time.  It was a mix of two different ways of living. 

My maternal grandmother and great-grandmother lived in a house right below ours (the house my dad had grown up in, and where my sister and her family live now).  My great-grandmother was born in 1898.  She was in her eighties by the time i was born, but she lived until i was 14 (maybe 15).  She could tell me stories that her grandparents had told her about the civil war.  I don’t think i could understand the time span involved in that, really.  Now it just blows my mind.  The civil war seems so long ago, but i knew someone who told me stories about it that she had heard from people who lived through it.  Now it is weird to think about how the lives that me and my siblings and cousins had would have been so different from her childhood. 


Sure, i felt different, especially as i got older.  But i felt so connected to some members of my family (although, not at all with others).  I was glad i had this extended family to draw on.  Even when i was older and people picked on me for being different and stuff, they would rarely do it when adults were around.  I was the product of two local families which meant i had some kind of unspoken protection.  I still fell under the “we take care of our own” category for many local people at that time.  Now i’m not sure if i would be considered “there’s”…i’m not sure how far those bonds can stretch now that i have well passed out of the “just a tomboy” age limit.  I’ve not been back to test them often. 


The way i grew up, your life is tied to your family.  You have the option of staying there (or coming back there) after you are grown, and you can become part of the fold again.  Two of my siblings live there now, both in houses owned by my parents.  My nieces are receiving an upbringing pretty similar to my own, with a network of relatives available for childcare.  My other sibling has moved about four hours away.  She and her husband bought their house during a time when i was trying to reconnect with my family.  We all loaded up our tools and drove there many weekends in a row to help fix the place up. 


When i started giving up my family because i couldn’t figure out my place with them, i also gave up these things and a whole way of life.  I’m not sure why i feel so estranged.  Some of them have had a hard time with my queerness, and others have seemed to take it in stride.  I feel like they still love me, but for someone i was or someone i might have been…not the reality of who i have become. 


Sometimes i miss belonging to a big family and a whole community.  I miss parts of the culture even though i hate other parts.  Recently as the culmination of a really hard week i ended up going to a party where there was a group of men to whom being southern is an important part of their identity.  Their wives and girlfriends mostly seem to support this or do that “oh, men being men” routine.  I didn’t have the energy to try to connect with or challenge any of their assumptions.  They seemed to assume that because of who i am and how i look i couldn’t be from a small southern place like them.  They seemed to be erasing the possibility that their culture could have produced me.  I felt catatonic. 


This continued into the next day which i spent mostly in bed, thinking about the ways i could have spoken up and said something about how they were all behaving, about their celebration of gun toting southern masculinity.  I felt so disconnected from this culture that i had once been a part of.  Finally, i got out of bed and went to the store nearest my house, the one i usually avoid because people stare (and glare) at me so much there.  I went in there ready to meet their glares and feeling like i might go off if one of them dared not look away.  I was exhausted and angry and sad.  I got my stuff and went to the register.  The cashier read me as a guy and called me darlin’ in a voice like my grandmother’s and it felt so bittersweet.  I felt pissed off about how she would have responded if she hadn’t read me as a guy, but it also felt so good to melt into her accent and words like “sweetie” and “reckon’”.  It was a glimpse of something i’ve lost.  Or maybe something i chose to give up.  I think i could have laid my head down on the woman’s register and cried.  Or maybe exploded.  

-posted by genderquare                                 

One Response to “ramblings about the “southern culture” i grew up in”
  1. GQ – this is a great post! I’m really glad to have you on board!


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