Chicken and Fried Okra
BY Jason Ball
October 05 2007 12:00 AM ET
After meeting a
young man from Arkansas, Oscar Wilde is reported to have
said, "I should like to flee like a wounded heart into
Arkansas." I have often wondered what that young man
told Mr. Wilde about our fair state (or maybe Wilde
just thought he was hot). As a young gay boy growing
up in the rural South, I often felt like a wounded heart
that should flee out of Arkansas. Early on I
knew I was different -- not like the other boys. So
flee I did.
Now in my 30s, I
haven’t lived in Dixie for more than a decade and
most likely will never move back. However, I will
always consider myself a Southerner and an Arkansan. I
can’t bear it when people attack or belittle
the South. That duality is the heart of my documentary,
Out of the South.
The idea for the
film began to take shape in early 2006. By then I was
living in Los Angeles with my partner, Troy (yes,
he’s a Southerner too -- of the Mississippian
variety). Many of our friends and coworkers are like
us: gay and from the rural South. We also have an entire
group of friends in New York who are gay Southerners.
Turns out I wasn’t different from all the other
boys...only 9 out of 10 of them.
Anyway, it was as
if we were all Southern exiles -- strangers in a
strange land. We were all raised to love our mamas, fried
okra, and Jesus. No matter how far you are from the
Mason-Dixon line, you get two Southerners together and
the “y'all”s and the “fixin’
to”s come out of the woodwork. We all loved our
families and our homes, but for one reason or another
we had to leave. One friend told me, “Yes, my parents
know I’m gay, but they aren’t about to
tell their friends. It’s just something
they’re not comfortable talking about.”
Another friend said he felt so self-conscious, he had
to find someplace he wouldn’t stick out so much. I
wasn’t the only one conflicted about the South.
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