Guest post by Devin.
Tumble weeds, cowboys, and a two million year old supervolcano that is overdue for an eruption, oh my. This is where I was born; the heart of the cowboy state. Well, almost. I’m directly from Casper, which is just a little East of the middle of the state, but an A for effort right?
I would be lying if I said part of my heart doesn’t still long for Wyoming. Nothing can compare to that wide open sky. The sunsets are phenomenal. But the people, oh man. While the state has, sporadically, done liberal things, it is still considered conservative in most ways. The state’s governor, two senators and the (only) house delegation are all Republican.
I mean let’s get to the elephant in the room: Matthew Shepard. I was living in Wyoming when that happened. I was young and didn’t hear about it at the time; I’m sure due to the graphic nature of the crime. But I was less than 200 miles from him. I know that is still quite a ways away and I didn’t know him, but realizing this fact; realizing that this horrific, brutal crime was committed in the same state that I considered home, was enough to make me sick.
Fast-forward to now; eight years later. I have lived in a few different places since, but Washington State is my adopted home. It’s part of the Pacific Northwest; the Evergreen State. Democratically represented by governor, senators and most of our house delegations, this was a far departure from my childhood. While I am on the inner most side, next to lovely Idaho, and we tend to be more conservative over here than on the coast, I can still breathe easier here.
I don’t attribute all of my liberal tendencies to having moved away from Wyoming, however. I come from a very liberal family. My parents let me discover myself on my own; they never pushed any kind of lifestyle down my throat. My grandparents aren’t very religious (if at all) and my great grandpa was the president of the Young Democrats of Wyoming. I remember a saying he had hung up on his wall: “Democrat born, democrat bred. When I die I’ll be democrat dead.” I had a very good head start.
I visit Wyoming at least once (if not twice) a year. In my childhood, when we moved to Ohio, I would visit all through the summer, catching up with old school friends and seeing family. And in my childhood, when I had no idea of my (or anyone else’s) orientation, I never noticed the social temperature of Casper.
Last year, I took my wife to visit my hometown. She is from a small, conservative town herself, so it wasn’t a huge shock that we got some looks. And for the first time in my post-closet life, I did something my social justice warrior/feminist side dropped its jaw at: I didn’t hold her hand.
I mean, we aren’t overly into PDA, and there is a height difference that sometimes makes holding hands a little awkward. But what I mean is I consciously didn’t hold her hand. For this, I am ashamed. I chose to take the easier road; the passive road.
Don’t get me wrong; I stared down all of the judgmental onlookers and, had anyone said anything, I would have jumped down their throats. But they didn’t; they didn’t because I chose to present our relationship as more platonic than romantic. It was a subtle gesture, or lack of one. It was overlooked because the action of affection was suppressed.
I could not get Matthew out of my head. I could not lose the image of rootin’ tootin’ cowboys following us down the dark streets just outside of downtown. I was genuinely scared at times when there was no danger present. This is the difference I feel between Wyoming and Washington.
We get the “y’all need Jesus” look no matter what state we are in. But in Wyoming, it hurts just a little bit more. It scares me just a little bit more.
But it’s in these small towns that are spread out from one another and much more isolated than in other states that we need to hold each other’s hand. We need to normalize alternative lifestyles and banish stereotypes. Yes, these things need to be done safely, but the point is that they need to be done.
I will no longer hesitate in holding my wife’s hand. I learned a lot about myself on that trip. I learned it is much easier to be a headstrong, active feminist when you are behind a keyboard. But actions in the tangible life are much more powerful. I also learned a lot about my home state on that trip. I learned that its bark is much stronger than its bite and while I did have fear, I didn’t have cause.