By: Shannon Ralph
I have a dream.
My dream is not as lofty or historic as Dr. King’s dream. It is a small dream. A simple dream. A seemingly easy dream to attain.
I dream of going home.
I am a Southern girl born and bred. I grew up right below the Mason-Dixon line in Owensboro, Kentucky. Though right across the Ohio River from Indiana—practically Midwestern in locale—Kentuckians are one hundred percent Southern in their sensibilities. Kentuckians cherish nothing more than family, God, honor, and fried chicken. We are nothing if not devoted to one another. Those of you not raised in the South may look down upon those who were. You may make jokes about bare feet and wedded cousins. Hillbillies and stupid rednecks. Southern Belles and illiterate moon-shiners. You do not get it. And we forgive you for that. We even pity you a little bit, bless your heart.
There is something special about the South. Yes, we have an ugly history. I do not deny that in any way. We have ugly politics and uglier politicians. We are far from perfect. We have our faults, for sure. We are not always willing to change. We value tradition and change scares us. It’s not that we think our way of life is better than your way of life, necessarily. It’s just all we’ve ever known. So we cling to it out of fear. We are changing, but like a cool autumn day after a long steamy summer, change comes slow in the South.
Our way of life is slow, as well, but that does not mean that our intellect is. We like the simple things in life, but we are far from simpleminded. We are witty. We are intelligent. We are well-read. Some of our greatest American writers wrote with a Southern sensibility. We are charming. We still believe in saying “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir.” We respect our elders. We hang out on front porches. We love nothing more than a good barbecue. We endure stifling heat to say “hey, y’all” to our neighbors. We call strangers “honey” and “sugar.” We show our love and affection with homemade biscuits and fried catfish and peach cobbler. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We are ridiculous at times, but we know it. We look you in the eye when we walk past you.
Despite everything I love about the great northland—and there are many things I love—my heart belongs in the South. The blood that runs through my veins is decidedly Southern. My heart beats to the rhythm of Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home.”
I want to go home.
I don’t want my children to grow up as Midwesterners. I have nothing against Midwesterners, of course. Some of my very best friends in the world are Minnesotans. But my children have the Southland in their souls. In their roots. In their very core. They just don’t know it yet.
I want to go home.
Ruanita and I have had several conversations recently about moving south. We have been in Minneapolis for fifteen years. In that time, we have enjoyed one hundred percent complete and total acceptance as a lesbian couple. I have been out in every job I have ever had here. I have been out to all of my children’s teachers. I have been out at the YMCA. I have been out at the zoo. I have been out to all my neighbors. I have been out to my mailman. And my realtor. And my insurance agent. And my doctor. And my hairdresser. My kids’ pediatrician. I have been out to my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. I have been out to all my children’s friends and their parents. In essence, there is not a single soul in my life who does not know that I am a lesbian mom in a loving long-term relationship. Why in the world would I want to mess with that?
Because I want to go home.
Perhaps it is selfish to even consider such a move. Yes, I want to live in the South, but what about my children? Currently, we know numerous families like our own right here in Minneapolis. My children have never had to endure another child telling them their family is weird. Or wrong. Or an abomination. They have never been teased for who their parents are. They are oblivious to the fact that we are any different from any other family. They live in this incredibly safe little bubble of complete acceptance. And they are happy there. They are content.
Louisville, Kentucky is by no means a backward town. There are progressives who live in Louisville. There are numerous raging liberals, many of whom are my good friends from college. There are lesbian and gay families. There are neighborhoods where gay families are safe. There are schools with Gay-Straight Alliances. There exists the possibility to create a new bubble. Our own safety zone. Surrounded by friends and family who adore us.
Ruanita’s mother is aging. She is not well. And Ruanita just recently reconnected with her father, who made a strong impression on my sons. They want to know their grandfather—their only grandfather. My extended family and many wonderful friends from my childhood and college years are in Kentucky. We have people there who will help us create a new bubble. So why am I so hesitant?
Because maybe I don’t want to live in a bubble.
Maybe I don’t want to have to worry about being outed in the wrong mall or the wrong line in the grocery store or the wrong PTA meeting. Maybe I am afraid I will not be able to protect my children from everyone who exists outside of our little bubble. Maybe I am afraid of my children discovering that we are not like everyone else. We are different. What would I say to them then?
Life in Minneapolis is comfortable. It is pleasant. It is easy. But easy doesn’t change the world. Easy doesn’t change hearts and minds. Easy will not make this country a better place for my children and my grandchildren. Perhaps it is going to take those of us who are different making the rest of you feel a little uneasy for the world to get better. Perhaps that’s the only way minorities attain the rights they deserve. If we don’t make you see us, it’s easier to pretend we don’t exist. It’s easier to deny us rights when we aren’t in your own neighborhoods. In your own schools. In your own grocery stores and church pews and Little League bleachers. Maybe things are only going to change when we pop the bubbles and make our presence known.
I don’t pretend to know the answers. I just know that I want to go home.