This is a segment of a conversation I had with a 25 year old South Carolinian who grew up, and came out in Greenville, South Carolina.
When did you come out?
“Not till after high school actually.”
What was it like to go to high school in Greenville?
“It was great, I went to one of the more country schools. It’s a very rural area, lots of farms and cows. I was one of the only ones who drove from the city to go to the country to go to school. Everyone was very welcoming and warm. I think some of my close friends in high school probably knew [that I was gay]. No one made comments about it, never any asked me any questions. They just accepted me for who I was.”
So you knew you were gay in high school?
“I had the feeling because my aunt was a lesbian. I was around lesbians my whole entire life. I knew there was something different about me than everyone my age, but not until high school progressed did I think that might be the case. I had girlfriends all through high school. I was the track star, and voted best dressed. Everyone knew who I was.”
When people would cast slurs against you [for being gay] what was your reaction when you stopped to think about it?
“I just really brushed it off. I’ll always been who I am. I didn’t need one word to describe myself. I was brought up very respectfully by my grandmother. You are who you are and no one can take that away from you.”
When did you decide to first tell someone?
“I actually told my aunt first. It was the oddest but greatest experience. She had asked me if one of my friends was gay, and I told her ‘yea’ he was. Then we had a talk two weeks later about her growing up, and being a lesbian. Then she said ‘Are you…’, ‘Gay!’ And she’s like ‘That’s cool. I knew you dressed better than everyone but I just thought you just wanted to look good.’ “
And what was it like telling other people after that?
“My best friend was really happy for me after I told my aunt and he could notice a change from me. After that I really didn’t have to tell anyone else, people just knew, but I did have to tell a friend on a trip to Naples. He said to me ‘you know I don’t care.’ You’re my best friend, you’re my brother, and as long as you’re happy I’m happy for you is what he said to me. He wanted to learn more about what my struggles had been and what was going on in my mind. I did a lot of explanation with him. He came from the experience a lot stronger and we were closer afterwards.”
What is it like to be gay in South Carolina?
“Most people wouldn’t do it because they have not had a positive experience like I had. I have heard about guys that have been gay bashed.”
Have you ever been gay bashed?
Do you think that’s surprising?
“I would think so, but I carry myself as a really strong person. When people see there’s a weakness with someone they can pinpoint that, and throw it out at you. I don’t go to gay bars, there’s no need to go to gay bars. The bars are trashy and make the community look bad. I go to any straight bar just like anyone else would. I talk to everyone, girls, guys.”
Do you see Greenville evolving?
“Yea, I see more gay couples out in Greenville. I work and live downtown, and I see it more. It’s great to see that people are having the courage to have a relationship and be in public with it. I am glad to see that Greenville is going in the right direction. In Spartanburg down the highway there was actually a ‘gay day.’ “
Is Spartanburg a more liberal city than Greenville?
“No, not at all that’s why it’s surprising to see that they had a ‘gay day.’ “
How is it interacting with individuals still in the closet?
“I have friends that everyone thinks are straight, and I’m fine with that. A lot of people here don’t assume, so sometimes people don’t have to act any differently in public. Some people don’t go out much and don’t do Greenville at all, and if they do go out they overcompensate by hitting on a girl.”
Do you ever suggest to them that coming out might not be as scary as they think?
“Every now and then I’ll bring it up, if it’s the right time for it. Some of them are scared for the jobs they have, and are scared that they’ll lose their jobs if anyone knew. One guy I know will go to Platinum Plus (strip club) and then go home and go online trying to chat up guys. I say, ‘your work is just a job and it’s not who you are, you need to find something that makes you happy.’ He actually just came out to one of his friends and it went really well.”
What’s one thing you’d like to say to everyone about Greenville?
“Everyone thinks Greenville is so small, po-dunk, and country. It’s none of those things! Greenville is metropolitan, a fashion city, right in the middle of Charlotte and Atlanta with a small town feel. It’s quaint and homey. People have respect here. People are not slow here. The south just gets stereotyped and it’s just not like that. I can’t express what Greenville is, you have to just experience it.”