Chris, in his own words: “Moving to Memphis has really changed what it means for me to be gay. Having always lived in huge, gay-positive cities (Toronto and New York), it was always very easy to take a certain amount of privilege for granted. I come from a very supportive family and have experienced a really limited amount of homophobia in my life. I also had a number of wonderful queer role models from an early age, and I was curious enough that topics like basic Queer Theory, Gender Studies, LGBT History, etc. were a large part of my discourse with these people, particularly in college.
Coming to Memphis showed me how lucky I was to have had all of those things. Not to say that Memphis is an unenlightened or back-water town: many Memphians are very progressive, particularly when compared to lots of other cities in the South. But it struck me especially in volunteering at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center (mglcc.org) – I would meet people, often young people, who just hadn’t ever heard about Stonewall, or gender-neutral pronouns, or whatever else…I gained so much respect for these folks. It makes me think of my coming out as a kind of stepping into something that was already prepared for me, at least in my head. Coming out in the South must be so much more a process of finding oneself than joining a group.
The other fascinating thing about working at the Center was coming up close with the people who built it: pioneers at a time when it really was radical and potentially dangerous to be openly gay in Memphis. Another instance of a group of people showing a strength and courage that I have just never needed to find in myself. So many people downplay the importance of their gay-ness in their lives: “my sexual orientation is the least interesting thing about me”, etc. While it might be true that there are more interesting things about me than my sexual orientation, and while things may be different in twenty years or if I move back home, Memphis has shown me how important it is to be strong in my gay identity. It seems to me the gays of the present have a responsibility to carry on the cultural legacy of the gays of the past, while providing a good example for the gays of the future.”