I'm from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. When people hear this some wince, some apologize, some laugh and some tell me about a black out they had during Spring Break. Most people understand that being counter culture, LGBT, non white, an artist, a woman, a non Christian or an intersection of any of these characteristics is difficult. What the general population doesn't recognize is that South Carolina not only doesn't possess an inclusive framework for these identities but it actively rejects any kind of structure that would let these groups live comfortably or thrive.
South Carolina, from my experience, is run by the bad kind of Christianity. Growing up in Myrtle Beach felt like a grounded, self aware person, who is forced to listen to Donald Trump speak at them 24/7. Just for reference, my friends and I used to hang out in Wal-Mart for fun. We also used to drive nearly two hours to Wilmington, NC on weekends to go to the mall there because it had the nearest Hot Topic store. The city has more strip clubs than independent restaurants. Gay bars were shut down as quickly as they opened. The state only legalized tattooing about a decade ago. The popular entertainment for teens was to partake in a date-rape night, "Teen Night," for people between ages 13-20 hosted at a bar. The city holds two city-wide bike weeks for motorcyclists. They are violently segregated, one is called "Harley Week" while the other is "Black Biker Week." Most businesses shut down during black biker week. Existing outside of a norm there feels grating, overbearing, exhausting and the only way most can get through it would be to abuse substances. These type of environmental factors in the Carolina's, where I spent 18 years of my 29, may be responsible for fostering the majority of American terrorists.
My parents are addicts and were abusive. By the time I was sixteen I needed to get out. The first time I ran away from home, the cops picked me up. I told them that my father was physically abusive towards me, at the time a teenage girl, and I could no longer stay in the house. The officers took one look at my Misfits t-shirt and the skateboard I was riding on and one said, "If your father needs to use physical tactics to control you- that's legal and I'd hit you if you were mine."
After officially running away, I struggled with using methamphetamine. I house flopped and stayed with my likewise drug addicted grandmother and her closeted lesbian lover. They taught me to be ashamed of my queerness. Nothing was stable for me except for the magnet arts school I attended. It was the people I met at my school, students and teachers, that affirmed my decisions, and took care of me: physically, financially and emotionally. It was my only option. South Carolina didn't offer any other help to kids like me. I am so grateful to the Academy for Arts, Science and Technology.
While many of my friends from school flourished into adulthood. Others weren't as fortunate. My best friend from middle school, one of best friends from high school and my first female lover: have all died young of drug and alcohol related deaths. Two others from my community committed suicide. Many of these people, weren't LGBT or from volatile upbringings. They were artists, musicians, kind and free thinkers. Somehow I, a queer-trans- low-income child of alcoholics, not only got out of the beach but mostly healed. As I move into my thirtieth year on earth and the New Year is upon us. It's dawned on me that I've accomplished the impossible and I feel compelled to draw attention to the lack of support that exists for southern youth.
Southerners are not only born into oppressive stereotypes inside the south but from outside of it too. Recently, I have published two articles one was called "5 Fabulous Queer Cities" and the other is entitled "5 Southern Cities with Thriving Queer Communities." When inspecting some of the comments left by readers, I know it's usually an awful idea, I saw the judgments people have about the south. People called the southern cities "hell-holes" and "worthless." I won't lie, there is more discrimination and a lack of education in parts of the south. Generally, because of this, we are not treated as contenders in terms of the arts, business and education allowing this bias to mute the voices of southerners who create, are professionals, educate and are activists. The fear and judgment is not only unreasonable, but it is a form of classism. It's not fair that southern folks aren't given visibility, support or adequate resources due to misguided views.
If our country shifts into a place of hyper conservatism due to this coming election those who don't align with traditional southern standards are hurt the most. The polarization of the south by the rest of the country only continues to perpetuate a lack of education, fear and anger down here. Not only does division impact the polls but most importantly it impacts people's lives on the ground. If you are disinterested in spending time in the south there are many youth organizations that could use donations like Sea Haven, We Are Family , Capital City Youth Services, Break Out Youth and Family Connection.
In 2015, we've begun to make social strides through movements like Black Lives Matter and transgender liberation. My aspiration is to continue to support these movements while intersecting and intensifying the voices of southerners. One day, I'd like to see a world where southern youth, black, trans and counter culture kids included, are given the space to safely find themselves. We all have to be in this together. This New Year, let's help southerners who are barely keeping their head above water in a red sea.