Thursday, June 23, 2016

The South's bottomless ability to Not Officially Know Things.

From an interview with Garrard Conley, author of a new book on how his family tried to cure his being gay:

Conley: I think that fundamentalist teaching has a history of tragically ignoring its children, of thrusting upon its children these crazy responsibilities and these expectations. And so I think that anyplace that has those expectations is going to be extremely dangerous for some people, especially highly sensitive kids, who just aren’t able to cope. And so, yeah, I think there’s something inherent in that.
I don’t think that it has to be, because the South has an alternate history that is not spoken about very often, of people accepting difference in ways that are not necessarily identity-affirming. You know, the stereotypes of those two old ladies lived down the road together—“they’re just old maids”—and then there’s people who are just like, “oh, he’s a decorator,” stereotypes which are harmful to people in some ways.
The South is just really good at denial and also love at the same time. Let’s put this person in a box that is going to work for the community so that they’re not harmed, and that our definitions and boundaries are not harmed by them.
Rumpus: In the South, there’s this huge taboo about talking about your family. Something a friend described to me as learning early on “Don’t talk about your kin or your kin’s kin.” What challenges did you have writing this book as a Southerner?
Conley: I was so terrified when I first started because I thought “Everyone’s going to hate me.” And at my first workshop for this book, I said, “I’m going to give you this piece, but the guiding question I have is what do you think about my dad?” And it was the second part of the book, where I started to introduce my dad. And the response was overwhelmingly, “I’m confused. I don’t hate your dad, and I feel like I should. He’s larger than life and fascinating.” And that was what I was really worried about. Aside from the taboos I was really worried about hurting these individuals. I didn’t want to hurt them or misrepresent them in some way.
Another writer said to me, “The people who are going to hate you because of this book, they’re going to hate you anyway. So you can either be fabulous and do something that’s going to help other people, or you can give into that sort of thinking and they’ll hate you anyway.” And I’m like, “You’re right. The parts of my family that don’t accept me will not change their minds if I don’t write a book.”
What I’m doing is so controversial in the South.
Rumpus: Existing? Right?
Conley: Yeah.

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