No longer tourists in our own country

Posted on 23 Apr 2009 at 1:09pm
By Jennifer Vanasco Contributing Columnist

LGBT people are everywhere, and everywhere they are they make a difference in their towns

One day not long ago, Jenny and I found ourselves outside of Milwaukee, in a landscape of barns and silos.

Our plan was to go to a Culver’s for frozen custard, but it was closed. Instead, looking for adventure, we dropped by one of Wisconsin’s smaller highway cheese shops.

There is nothing like foam sombreros made to look like they’ve been cut out of Swiss cheese to make you feel like you’re in small town America.

Or sausages labeled to look like bottles of Schlitz. Or cheese shaped like a foamy beer mug, or a Green Bay Packers helmet. Or a picture of the Pope in the bathroom under a sign that said, "Cheese for the soul."

Jenny and I roamed around, taking pictures of each other in silly poses and finally getting on the line that snaked through the store, our basket piled with aged cheddar cheese and cheesy-looking foam "fuzzy" dice and handmade caramels.

I love small town America. Always have. But it also makes me worried.

Jenny and I are affectionate — always — and as usual, we were holding hands in line and occasionally leaning against each other.

We hold hands without thinking. But there was a part of me, as Jenny chatted to the mother and young daughter ahead of us on line, that wondered if someone was going to say something to us, if we were going to be asked to leave, if someone would stare or glare or otherwise make us uncomfortable.

Jenny bumped my shoulder, grinned and pointed to a sign above the door. "Go in cheese," the sign said.

"Hey," she said to the mother in front of us, "is Wisconsin really Catholic? We saw a picture of the Pope in the bathroom, and there are all these commemorative plates and rosaries."

"Oh, I don’t know," the woman said. "Milwaukee’s archbishop, Timothy Dolan, is in the news lately, because he’s becoming the archbishop of New York."
"Huh," we both said.

Later, I would go home and read more about Dolan.

I live in New York, where Jenny and I hope to one day get married, and our governor last week introduced a gay marriage bill into the state legislature. Dolan, newly consecrated, said he would use his position to ensure it didn’t pass.
"I don’t shy away from those things," he said.

But Dolan hadn’t made his comments yet, when we were at the cheese shop.

Jenny and I smiled into each others’ eyes. An employee of the store passed us and put his hand on my shoulder. "Not long now," he said. "Sorry for the wait. Thanks for your patience."

"Uh, no problem," I said.

I turned around to follow him with my eyes, puzzled, and caught the warm glance of an elderly woman behind me. Her short hair could have just been efficient Midwestern style — but a rainbow pin on her lapel said "PRIDE."

I made an amazed face at Jenny. "We are everywhere," I whispered to her.
Another employee — who very much looked like "family" – excused herself as she edged her way in front of us, carrying boxes of cheese.

At the checkout, the male employee who had put his hand on my shoulder suddenly flamed into life, bringing out his gay accent as he bantered about my purchases.

It was like we were in an alternate gay universe — except, really, it wasn’t alternate at all.

Dolan won’t be able to keep marriage from New York, just as he couldn’t — as no one could — keep gays and lesbians from living openly and proudly in the Wisconsin farm towns outside Milwaukee.

Just as conservatives couldn’t shut down marriage in Iowa or Vermont.
Gays don’t live in an alternate universe. We live in the real America, complete with sausage bottles of Schlitz and homemade candy and frozen custard.
We live in cities and also in small towns.

We are no longer tourists in our own country, taking pictures of the natives. We are home.

Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning syndicated columnist. Follow her at twitter.com/JenniferVanasco.

Email jennifer.vanasco@gmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 24, 2009.

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