“How strange it is to view a town you grew up in, not in wonderment through the eyes of youth, but with the eyes of a historian on the way things were.”
― Marvin Allan Williams
I went looking for a quote about hometowns because I honestly had none on the tip of my tongue. The above quote by Marvin Allan Williams, an author I have, admittedly never read, was perfect. Ever the thorough researcher, though I tried, I was unable to find the source of the quote. So, I feel like a fraud using it, but that seems fitting somehow, as I feel like a fraud when I tell people the name of the place I technically consider my hometown. I wasn’t born there, nor even in that county, but it was the town my family lived in the longest, after many moves to and from the surrounding towns. It’s where I graduated high school and where I returned to on college vacations. It’s where the remaining members of my family still live. But though it has the moniker, it will never be home to me.
I could never penpoint why it had never felt like home, despite having lived there for eight years prior to going to college until I read Samantha Allen’s book, Real Queer America. In there she mentions one of the many places she has lived and proclaims that she could never call it home because she couldn’t be her there. It was a place she had lived pre-transition. Though my body has not gone through transition, my state of mind has, and it happened in college.
When Thomas Wolfe wrote, You Can’t Go Home Again, he wasn’t just referring to the fact that the main character, George Webber, had written a book which alienated him from his hometown, but also that you can’t go back to the way things were because it’s entirely possible that the way you thought they were was wrong. When I went to college, I went with a new-found shaky Southern Baptist faith and a Bible I had bought at the local dollar store. I also had not met many diverse people and had come from an all-white town and had a father who regularly used the N word. The words “gay” or “lesbian” were rarely spoken, though those who were suspected of being one or the other were spoken of with derision and narrowed eyes if they were spoken of at all. The word “abortion” was never spoken in my presence the entire time I lived there.
I don’t want to give the impression that I was a wide-eyed, scared white child, afraid of meeting people different than myself, only that I had met very few people of any other color than my own, knew no outwardly gay folks, nor any Atheists. That being said, college didn’t scare me. I was focused on two things: learning all that I could and leaving my hometown.
College opened me up to the diversity of people and new ideas. Suddenly, I had friends from different countries, from the inner city, with different faiths and different world views. And I took philosophy and religion classes that made me question my new-found faith. I learned about the cruel history of Christianity. I also learned what it thought of closeted queers like me. There was no accounting for it and there was no abiding by it. I lost my faith in a book somewhere about the Protestant Reformation. It’s probably still there, stuck between the pages like a makeshift bookmark, waiting for someone else to pull the book from the college library shelf and find it and wonder who put it there. They can have it if they want it, I have no further use for it.
Vacations home, even during my freshman year, it became apparent that I didn’t belong there anymore. I wasn’t like them, and maybe I never had been. I was no longer content with the casual racism or the whispered homophobia, the condescending looks or feelings of righteous superiority. I also knew that I couldn’t truly be me there. That was not a place I could be out and proud and queer. Even if they “let” me, they wouldn’t understand me. And I didn’t have the patience to stick around and try. I went to grad school, then I moved away for good.
Now, when I go back for the occasional holiday meal, it is simultaneously familiar and like a foreign country. Some businesses and people I grew up with are gone, while others have taken their place. The school is still there, the Dairy Queen is still there, and the Main Street is still there. The library where I spent most of my free time is still sitting near the West end of Main Street, but the willow tree in the yard of a house I once lived in is gone. My brother is posting memes of the Confederate Flag on Facebook, calling it his heritage, which I had to correct him, for the least of which the inaccuracy. Our hometown is in Central Illinois. After making the correction I realized that, though technically wrong, many who are from my hometown and the neighboring ones are more Confederate-minded than they are Union. I may not be able to go home again, but they have been claiming a history that is not their own, on paper, at least, since long before I was born.
My true home is not a geographical location. My true home is in the arms of friends who pull me in close and let me be me. With them, I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not. With them I don’t have to hide my politics or my ideology, and they’re ok with where I left my faith. They don’t expect me to come with one, just an open heart and open arms. It is to them I will always return, and them I will always call home.