Everywhere to Go

ImageThere’s no one to hear; You might as well scream; They never woke up; From the American dream
And they don’t understand; What they don’t see; And they look through you ;And they look past me
Oh, you and I dancing slow; And we got nowhere to go

Those are the words that Kansas native Melissa Etheridge used to describe what it meant to be a homo on the range circa 1995. The straights probably don’t realize that the hit love song, Nowhere to Go, is actually a forlorn ballad detailing the dichotomy of queer love in the Midwest. We could find shelter in the arms of our lovers, but in the decades preceding this song, being embraced by the masses was eluded.  Generations of our “forequeers” literally had no where they could go and completely be themselves. They kept their love a secret and they muted their identities. Clandestine encounters in old abandoned box cars were about as public as it got in many places.

Fifteen years later, I’m happy to say that homos are a bit more free-range! As people like Etheridge started coming out in the mid-nineties, Americans gradually did wake up from their limited idea of the American dream. A whole generation is now living with the understanding of something they saw during their development—same sex love. Grassroots activism, political victories, and legal battles helped pave the way for a more inclusive America. But it was the personal courage of each individual who came out and demanded to be heard that really caused change to happen. Suddenly, we in the LGBT community have lots of places we can go!

And that’s part of why I ultimately pulled the plug on my city council campaign.  When I came out in 1998, we lived in a mush harsher world. I was keenly aware that my level of personal joy would be depleted on account of the legal status and social standing afforded to gays and lesbians. Political involvement felt like a necessity for personal survival. For ten years, I was on the front lines as an activist. It was non-stop, high stress work that left little time for a personal life. Gay was a political identity for me; I have yet to actually experience same-sex love.

Life is short, and sexual politics aside, you should enjoy every minute of it. Often times we get involved in activities that bring us a sense of purpose and great joy for a season. Ultimately, though, a full life will involve changes in passions, places, and people. When something you are doing ceases to bring you joy, you owe it to yourself and those around you to stop. Politics became an immense burden for me some time ago, but out of a sense of obligation, I persevered. It would have been remarkable to be the first openly gay man elected to major public office in the state of Kansas. More awesome, though, is the fact that in 2010, I have the ability to choose my own happiness.

It’s important to be involved in politics—if you have any inkling to get involved in activism, I urge you to act on that. Giant steps backward can and will be taken if we are not vigilant. But the moment your passion subsides, step aside for the next individual. I won’t be the first openly gay person to sit on the Wichita City Council, but now the door is open for someone else to take that seat. Maybe that someone is you.

Fifteen years after Etheridge romanticized there being nowhere to go, we have a boundless prairie of opportunities. Queer Kansas can go anywhere. Wherever you go, though, always follow your heart. Being true to you is pretty damn revolutionary!