The Midwestern stereotype still exists for a reason, of course, but guess what? It’s just a stereotype, and it’s not the only one out there. On average, perhaps big-city folk are less likely to judge you for being gay than their rural counterparts, but an alarming number of them will judge you for almost everything else you can imagine, including visible panty lines and meals at chain restaurants. They are more progressive, but they can also be more shallow and almost exhausting in their hatred of any fashion trend or any style of tattoo or any other gesture that could be seen as conformist or contrived or played out.
…kindness and positivity get more done than a subscription to any particular creed or belief system, and that intolerance and bigotry are both more widespread and less uniformly present in any given group of people than a lot of us enjoy believing.
“Man, I bet you’re glad to be out of there!” is a sentiment I hear frequently now that I’ve moved to the Bay Area–a subtle, sometimes anxious request for confirmation that I don’t have a Glenn Beck poster on my bedroom ceiling. I don’t really mind, but I can’t help but laugh at the irony: if I wanted to walk around promising people that I’m just like them and always will be, I might as well have never left home.
I grew up in a town with a little over 45,000 people. I attended a small, Catholic school with less than 300 students, where my siblings and I provided the only diversity in our elementary and high schools until the smaller Catholic school with a few Latina students integrated into ours. Before that, it was us and the Italian family. Italian was diverse; anything not German, Swedish or fourth generation Kansas was out of the ordinary.
I have dated sons of farmers who work from dawn until dusk during summer months. I have dated wannabe rappers and white gangsters with no sense of reality from towns with less than 2,000 people. I have driven on I-70 through fields of nothing. I have sped down backroads at 100 miles per hour on country nights, collecting dust and memories in towns smaller than the size of the residence hall I worked in sophomore year. And I have played sports and visited towns where people assumed I was a foreign exchange student because it’s Western Kansas, and where else could I come from?
My experience growing up was typical in some ways but so different than anyone I know. The storyteller in me (the majority of me) is so obsessed with it and wants to share it but I never know how to do that. Because Western Kansas may as well be Timbuktu to most people. I grew up in a “flyover state.” A state people assume isn’t interesting because they’ve never gotten a good look.
But I promise you there’s a lot there and eventually I’ll tell you all about it.