I’ve always loved being out in the country. In fact, one of my fondest childhood memories was when my father and I were building a porch for my great-aunt’s wife. Your wife was nice and funny and she had the best snacks. She was also the first openly queer person I had ever met in rural Missouri – as far as I can remember – but she certainly wasn’t the last.
I’ve since come out as bisexual and live in two of America’s largest and most queer-friendly cities: New York City and Los Angeles. I lived in neighborhoods where rainbow Pride flags were the norm, I saw queer couples holding hands and even kissing without fear. It was wonderful and completely alien to me as someone who was born and raised in a conservative Christian family in the rural Bible belt.
I had to experience the queer life in these cities and I’m glad I did. Even so, I happily moved back to rural Missouri Ozarks in 2019 and have no plans to leave anytime soon. While there’s no denying that New York and California are far more advanced on LGBTQ + rights – and I wish I could wear my Bible Belt queers shirt to the grocery store without fear of harassment or dirty looks – love I like to live in the country. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as comfortable as if I was in the woods, and I’m definitely not the only queer American who prefers the country life.
“Many rural queers thrive – not only in spite of where we live, but often because of it.”
Up to 20 percent of Americans who identify as LGBTQ + live in rural America, according to a 2019 study. In addition, recent research shows that the majority of states where same-sex couples raise children are predominantly rural, mainly in the Midwest, South, and mountainous areas of the United States. Rural queer communities are also becoming more common, especially since big cities can be prohibitive and queer people like me are happy with rural life. But how is it that this isn’t better reflected in television shows with rural queer characters?
With the ecxeption of Schitts Creek, rural queer TV characters are almost always portrayed in one of three ways: deeply closed and dangerously oppressed, desperate on the run from their homophobic hometown, or as urbanites with a rural background. Of Ozarks Russ Langmore too Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidts Titus Andromedon, many of these popular queer characters fall into these tropics.
In both television and film, I want rural queer representation to match what research shows. Many rural queers thrive – not only in spite of where we live, but often because of it. In shows, rural queer television characters should wander the woods, maintain their gardens, and enjoy local festivals without the need for a love interest to validate their queerness. I want to see scenes of Pride Month potlucks and bonfires – complete with homemade moonshine and fried green tomatoes. Hell, I’d love to see a movie about a group of rural queer friends who get together for concerts in Memphis or in the Ozarks for a weekend camping trip.
“In shows, rural queer television characters should wander the woods, maintain their gardens, and enjoy local festivals without the need for a love interest to validate their queerness.”
I understand that, historically, rural America has not always been the safest or easiest place to be queer. It’s still not too often. However, many queer people like me are drawn to aspects of rural life such as: It’s those kind of things that TV shows should celebrate and show more.
I want to make it clear that I support rural queers in choosing city life if it is best for them. For a while it was best for me. But rural America is much more queer than what is portrayed on television and film. I can’t speak for all rural gays, but I know I’m here because there’s nowhere else I would rather be. Rural LGBTQ + people deserve better – and more – representation because we are here, we are queer, and we are not going anywhere.