the suzi parker files

Politics, Pop Culture and Ponderings

Constance McMillen’s South: Land of Sex and Sin

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“What’s happened to the Bible Belt?”

That question was written on a poster plastered on Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss., after Constance McMillen, a lesbian high school student, wanted to take her girlfriend to the spring prom.

This weekend, Constance will attend the Second Chance Prom. Its purpose is to create a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and allies, “where everyone feels comfortable being themselves.”

This is a huge event for several reasons. But the main one: it’s out in the open in Tupelo, Miss. – home of the American Family Association, which is one of the country’s largest pro-family groups touting “traditional family values.”

Most things like a gay prom with celebrity musicians and supporters in the small-town South aren’t so in your face, even in the 21st century. So is the South changing? Hmmm, no.

The Bible Belt — for better or worse — is alive and well with all of its secret sexuality bubbling just under the surface. Just ask Mark Sanford or John Edwards about their double lives. Constance just happens to be a real rarity in the rural South. She knows where she stands sexually. She’s a lesbian. She had wanted to take her girlfriend to a spring dance. She prefers wearing a tuxedo. So what?

When parents held a private invitation-only prom, it was indicative of the slippery slope to other private, naughty places that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” Southern society knows all too well. Southerners enjoy denying it. In fact, they are well trained to act shocked when someone like Constance bucks the system. My WomanUp colleague Francis Tobin noted this recently and called Constance a hero for daring to face the fire.

The South is a perpetual place of contradictions.

Right now, somewhere in the South, people are still undoubtedly praying for the souls of Constance and all the other kids attending this weekend’s shindig. They’ll be put on prayer lists so that God can help her see the wrongs of her ways. Right after saying “Amen,” some of those very people may be organizing the whips and handcuffs that they bring out on Saturday nights at underground bondage clubs around the South.

When I was a senior in a small, conservative Arkansas town, I took my gay guy friend to prom. I didn’t have a boyfriend and I didn’t want to go with some boy who probably would have pawed my black tulle skirt all night. While I didn’t know that Brian was gay, I had my suspicions. We had a nice Chinese dinner and danced all night to bad ’80s music. The next year, my best friend didn’t have a date either. She took Brian, too.

Of course, none of us shouted to the heavens that Brian was gay. We cruised through the crepe paper and still joke that the first sentence of my memoir should be “My prom date was gay.” Brian went away to the North for college, came out of the closet and fell in love with boys.

But what if we had decided to be blatant about it? Chances are that 20 years ago in a town as conservative as that one, we may have been ridden out on a rail. We certainly wouldn’t have had Constance’s national support. For all the attention Constance’s sexuality received in a flash, the South still has a long way to go to come to terms with its views on sexuality. Being gay is nothing compared to other fetishes people are forced to hide in the South.

Take swinging.

Last year, I attended a swingers’ convention in Hot Springs, Ark. — the town where Bill Clinton attended high school — and interviewed several swingers. While the convention was advertised on the Internet, there was one aspect of the convention that was secret. The event was an integrated swingers’ convention. Black men could hook up with white women — a taboo that still exists even when there is a biracial president in the White House. (No white men with black women at this confab, curiously).

People not from the South think that San Francisco and New York occupy sex’s cutting edge. Hardly.

There are porn shoots in the middle of deer-hunting woods, bondage clubs hidden in children’s dance studios and big beautiful women (BBWs) meeting truck drivers behind 18-wheelers.

A lot of sex shops may not exist in the South, but Southerners know how to make do. They make their own St. Andrew crosses in their garages and can wield a whip better than Indiana Jones. I know cops who are crossdressers, businessmen who are having flirtations with 16-year-olds, Republicans with foot fetishes, doctors’ wives who are closeted lesbians and PTA moms posing nude for amateur porn.

Constance did something simple. She asked her small school if she could bring her girlfriend to a dance. She was rejected and she fought back with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. She will likely graduate high school and leave the South.

Warning: For all of the progressive pomp and circumstance of this weekend, it only takes an event like the gay prom to gin up regressive legislators.

It’s already illegal to sell sex toys in some Southern states. Arkansas has a law that states that a person cannot be nude in the presence of any person of the opposite sex who is not their spouse. But, then again, this is a region where dry counties still exist and alcohol often can’t be sold on Sunday.

What’s next? A ban on tuxedo sales to women?

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Written by suziparker1313

March 2, 2011 at 6:34 pm

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