A Gay We Go: Leaving California

October 22, 2012

Leaving the Bay Area. I’m afraid to say… I chose to do this. I moved to Gay Mecca to attend grad school with a strict plan to stay only the three years my program required. Six years later, the momentum of NorCal living still had its gentle, stoned tentacles caressing me. Over the years I grew quietly accustomed to the low empty rattle of homesickness and disconnection from place and family, season and belonging.

California is far away. Far from my home. But articulating that truth—that you don’t feel as if gay ol’ you belongs in the Bay Area and you hope to leave Heaven—only draws confused stares. Those are confounding words to Cali minds; glossolalia to atheists. I must be nuts, or at least weirdly naive. “You’ve made it to the promised land! Why turn back to the darkness from which you came?”

The idea of leaving seems anathema to everything we’ve individually and communally worked to achieve: the dream of San Francisco. And it is deeply true for me, too: the glory of San Francisco’s annual Trans March fills my heart with such a profound joy and actual Pride. How could I chose to leave that beautiful cacophonous queer horde in the streets? My people! So much of my heart is in those genderfucking streets. But, also, so much of my heart is somewhere else. It is hard, while in Heaven, to ask your one and only heart: Where and what do you actually need?

Raised by a strong, brave, powerful woman who was rarely given the opportunity (or the confidence) to make her own opportunities—to use that power as an agent in her own becoming—I, too, struggle to realize the agency that is my birthright: to make a life that is my own. Fourteen years ago, it was not easy to toss my teenage evangelical hetero script. But I did stop ripping teen mag pictures of JTT and taping them to the wall of my secret crawlspace. I did stop highlighting the asides in my Teen Study Bible that exhorted the sin of homosexuality. Somehow, I started writing my own script.

And gay California was a part of my story.

This year I am privileged to take on a new struggle in my effort to choose a life that is my own. This year I struggle to toss the pre-fab bay-queer script that I enjoyed for a time, but doesn’t ultimately fit. I don’t like chilly, damp, overcast summers or warm, brown winters. I don’t like doing the vineyard circuit, or camping, or single-speed bikes. I want all passively-aggro frienemies to go away forever. I don’t even drink good coffee. I am too much of an east coast girl with a midwestern heart, a weird Anabaptist conservatism, and Pentecostal bawling emotion. I eat bacon burgers and (don’t hate me) I really don’t want to go to the beach.

This is not to say that NorCal isn’t the just-right Goldilocks porridge for many honest and actualized people. It just isn’t my porridge bowl. And thank God one place does not fit all. How un-queer is that? Just as two genders do not fit all human bodies and souls, two sides of the Bay do not fit all queerdos. Home is made up of more than simply “where the gays are.” There are more and complicated interlocking pieces to what makes a home. And yet, as my lover and I were soon to find out, our definition of home requires at least the occasional rainbow flag sighting! Something, anything, signifying an openness to queer family—ours and others.

Further complicating this effort to grow up, live into our family, and choose our lives for ourselves was a haze of grief over losing every one of our parents while still in our twenties. We have no family between us except one brother in a Louisiana prison. The entire concept of “home” and “family” is just going to be fraught with difficulties, as it is for many folks, queer or not. But this layer can’t be easily forgotten.

While we may be full of pride in our lives and lovers, a lost or strained connection with family or religion of origin forever complicates our homemaking attempts, and strains our ability to feel a deep sense of belonging, connection, and wholeness. Perhaps the only thing that could have compelled us to leave the Bay Area was this complicated longing for home—a connection we didn’t feel with California.

But how does one leave Heaven? You stumble on your way out the door. And where do you go? If you are us, you wander, lost in the wilderness, for significantly longer than forty days but mercifully shorter than forty years (God, please.)

How did I leave the Bay Area? Driving a twelve foot box truck like a boss, singing my tender thirty-two year-old heart out to contemporary Christian rock (positive and encouraging), with a gorgeous tattooed Jewess riding shotgun, a clingy Chihuahua-terrier curled like a pecan roll in my lap, and two cats meowing angrily from under the Penske bucket seats. There isn’t enough catnip in the world to make this transition any easier.

Without family, without jobs, we are choosing to leave the Gay Bay in search of our own home, family, and purpose. Maybe search is the wrong word. We won’t find home. “You can’t go back.” And nothing is ready-made.

But we have decided, with a persistent and rickety courage, to settle somewhere and Make A Home. Grateful for the privilege to embrace the wild absurdity of our lives, A-gay we go! (by Saunia Powell)

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