Yesterday's bout with intense homophobia left me shaken, as such things tend to do.
It wasn't for the obvious reason, because I'm not gay. But I do sympathize with the LGBT community and support full gay rights. And in Louisiana especially, that sets off the gaydar of many a person who would probably deny they have gaydar.
Two questions I'm often asked in Louisiana almost never came up in my four years in Missouri: "Where are you from?" and, "Are you gay?" One substantial difference I noticed between living in Louisiana and in Missouri is the makeup of my friends in each respective state. Throughout my adult life in Louisiana, most of my closest friends have been women. In Missouri, the gender makeup was closer to 50-50, often skewing male. I wasn't a radically different person in Missouri, but I think the men were.
The guys I hung out with — many of whom were fellow transplants — had similar interests and personalities to mine. They were equally at home on the football field and in the coffeehouse. Even the "tough guys" of our crew would happily sit down and play Apples to Apples. They could hold conversations, too. Despite being in one of the whitest cities in the U.S., my friends spanned numerous ethnicities, ages, careers, politics and walks of life. This was true of the women as well as the men. We became family. We all parted ways at different points, but I wouldn't have minded terribly if we hadn't.
I've had plenty of good male friends in Louisiana too, but they've never been the majority. Here, my propensity for hanging out with girls often turned heads. Gender was rarely a conscious consideration for me; still, many people asked or insinuated that I was gay. It's cool to hang out with one girl, but more than a few turns you into either Friend Zone Guy or One of the Girls. Sometimes I'd even be dating one of the women, but that didn't matter. In any case, I hung out with whoever I felt like and screw everyone else. There's nothing wrong with being gay, so what do I care if that's the vibe I give some people?
Overall, I think the main reason I have more girl than guy friends in Louisiana is because I don't have a lot in common with other dudes here. I don't hunt. I don't fish. I don't cook much. I'm not a huge fan of sitting around and drinking beer. (Football is an obvious exception. I love football.) Mostly, though, it's that I'm not macho. Manly men populate my corner of the state, and that doesn't appeal to me at all. Big trucks, drinking prowess, guns, camo — not in my repertoire. Neither is insecure masculinity, which is frankly what drives macho culture. Nobody wants to be a girlie man, except for the girlie men. And to many, you're either one or the other. That's the logic.
Which is where gay rights comes in. Macho men aren't concerned with gay rights, except maybe to outdo each other on who opposes them the hardest. Any guy who cares about gay rights (or otherwise isn't an obnoxious homophobe) HAS to be gay himself. The stereotype is so bad here that I've even seen gay friends believe it. It's virtually unheard of for a heterosexual man to openly express enthusiasm for gay rights here, even in 2012. And that's beyond sad.
You don't have to be gay to understand the need for gay rights any more than you need to be straight to be a macho, macho man.