The thing about Mississippi is, people are only terrible in groups.
[NOTE: Amanda Watson, a queer mother with two children, came of age and started her family in Mississippi. This is her reflection on growing up in, coming out in, and ultimately leaving the Magnolia State. The post is part of GLAAD's #MyMississippi campaign to amplify the voices of anyone who has ever called the Magnolia State home, to make clear the importance of, and need for, full equality and acceptance in Mississippi. Learn more about #MyMississippi and submit your own participations here.]
The thing about Mississippi is, people are only terrible in groups. No, really. Individually, Mississippians are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.
They will feed you, clothe you, home you, and yes, they will pray for you whether you want it or not. But somehow, collectively, they do terrible things.
When I think of #MyMississippi, I also think of two different realities.
The collective, painful experience of religious freedom laws, voting-in politicians who don't have the people's best interest, and the blood that is always only just under the surface of the soil.
But I also see my individual experience of the endless stars, the taste of sweet tea and pound cake from my Aunt Rachel’s kitchen, and the women more beautiful than anyone in Hollywood.
I always knew I wouldn’t stay in Mississippi. Where I would go was not important, but away was clear. I didn’t always know I was queer.
I married a wonderful man when I was twenty-four (which was pretty old by Mississippi standards at the time). We had a lovely home, good jobs and, after some years, a beautiful child.
From the outside, my life was what it should be. On the inside, I knew something was deeply wrong. And had been basically forever. Sure, it had manifested in different horrible ways over the years, but the underlying feeling that something bent was always there.
After my first child was born, things went from slightly off to really off. To be honest, I fell apart and took a few people with me. It’s a small sentence, but the reality still weighs a ton to this day. My now ex-husband was as understanding as anyone could ask a human to be.
One day when I went for my daily run, I physically couldn’t go back in my house. He helped me rent a hotel room and brought our baby once I settled in.
hen I finally came out, I had a mostly positive experience. I was still living in Mississippi, in the capitol city of Jackson. I had mostly liberal friends, so the impact was minimal. Some weren’t even surprised.
Some told me they couldn’t reconcile what they thought a gay person was with who they knew me to be. And again, this duality of the individual and the collective came back around.
I live in New Orleans now, with a great partner, my son, and another beautiful child. I love being out at work, holding my partner’s hand in public, and knowing my kids aren’t the only ones with gay parents at their school. But I still miss the stars.
I miss the big skies, and the layer cakes. I miss living close to my mother, my sister and nieces. As much as I will deny this tomorrow, I miss people at the Wal-Mart asking how I am and honestly wanting an answer.
New Orleans is home to some of the best restaurants in the world, but every time I see a huge extended family come together at a table, my heart hurts for something I can’t have.
I have to think, hope, and sometimes even pray, that somehow the individual will beat out the collective. That somehow Mississippi will become a place that is safe for families like mine.
Because really, Mississippians hate being thought of as toothless, hateful rednecks as much as gays hate being thought of us as hedonists out to ruin the world. Somehow people will know that we aren’t that different.
We are all just people. Maybe something like what GLAAD is doing with #MyMississippi will help enough people get to know stories about people like me that things will change. Until then, I’ll visit when I can, attempt to duplicate my Aunt’s cake, and dream about the endless stars.
Here are just some of the ways you can get involved, take action, and answer the question, "What is #MyMississippi?":
- Post pictures, videos, and messages across social media using #MyMississippi
- Create original artwork for #MyMississippi and share it far and wide
- Write open letters to local politicians explaining why all Mississippians need full equality and acceptance
- Share your story online using #MyMississipi and with the local media
Learn more at glaad.org/mymississippi, where you can check out posts from Missippians and submit your participation for a chance to have it appear on GLAAD's #MyMississippi Tumlbr site.
(Editor's note: This post was originally published on our media partner GLAAD.)