If I were to announce that this is a post about the woes of queer youth in the countryside, I can be fairly sure most people would expect me to lament the “backwards” attitudes and small mindedness to be found here. Which is not what I’m about to do; growing up in west Wales, I thought every sensible adult was a feminist and a socialist (which they are) and I didn’t meet a Tory until I was 18, so when I moved to university in the populous south-east of England, attitudinally, it was a big step backwards for me. But this isn’t a post about the great community spirit and inherent earthiness of country folk either. It’s about the concrete, structural issues that sexual and romantic minorities face if they live basically anywhere other than a big metropolis.
I’m using “sexual and romantic minorities” instead of the usual alphabet soup that posts like these opt for because that minority status is a big part of our problem and not something I’m prepared to accept as “just the way things are.” Heterosexuality, the biological nuclear family, compulsory monogamy, none of these are human default settings, or at least you’d have a hard job proving that they are and that the pervasive straight propaganda that constitutes most popular culture has nothing to do with their popularity. So the minority status of those who have somehow failed or refused to internalise that propaganda shouldn’t be without remedy. It’s just that the immediate remedy for most of us has been to move somewhere where we may still be a minority, but a bigger one, and that’s where we’ve had the numbers to build our own communities and community infrastructure: the city.
Of course there are hardworking homos out here too, but the difference between a big gay party in Aberystwyth and one in London, say, is that in Aber, that big gay party will always be dependent on straight allies to make up the numbers. And straight people are fun in moderation, but it’s a lot more fun to go somewhere and feel that for once, the numbers are skewed in your favour, that you can assume the fine hipster at the bar is same sex attracted and that even if she’s spoken for, at least you won’t get slapped down with that noxious straight pity that is the best response to buying a straight girl a drink. You should never be the one to feel embarrassed for hoping someone might play for your team at a gay bar. But you will anywhere with a population under 300,000 (I’m thinking Cardiff).
Then there are the problems attendant on partying itself. Autostraddle recently ran a first person piece on substance abuse among us sexual deviants, exploring the idea that the form our community has taken, congealing around bars and clubs, might be part of the problem. But there was no detail on whether the astronomical rates of our substance abuse are higher among the city mice, who are the ones who actually have access to these bars and clubs. I’d be surprised if they were, though, given the courage, often Dutch, it takes to be out at all in the sea of heteronormativity that is your average night out on the small town. Not to mention the loneliness that lesbians and gays, at least, are likely to encounter in our tiny dating pools, regardless of our so called “monosexual privilege.”
Then by day, we have more problems to contend with. The “woman-I-share-a-bed-with-
But maybe it’s just as well we can’t slut things up as much as we’d like anyway, because the final country stumbling block worth mentioning (well, which I have room to mention), is sexual health. I’ve been to the GUM clinic in my hometown twice ever, both time when I was at school and closeted with a boyfriend. The first time, I bumped into no less than 6 people I knew in the waiting room, the second time the woman who examined me was my friend’s mum. That was all awkward enough, but it’s telling that I haven’t been back since I came out (don’t worry, I’ve been elsewhere, not that I should have to). There’s that surplus visibility problem again, and the risk that someone who sees a lesbian getting conscientiously checked up on the regular will equate that with ‘sexual minorities are dirty’, even though lesbian sexual activity is actually fairly low risk (though not risk-free). I’d stress, though, that this isn’t about people in the countryside being more prejudiced, but about minorities in the countryside being more visible.
The answer to all these problems is not, as I see it, for us all to jump ship for the city. In the first place, that would assume a level of social mobility (and just mobility) for a demographic that is marginalized enough for that to be even less likely than for your common or garden country mouse, who probably wouldn’t be able to just up sticks and leave either, because life. Then as a long term strategy, this does nothing for the queer youth who will find themselves growing up in the countryside anyway. If anything, it’s a way of throwing them under the bus, although I wouldn’t hold anyone individually culpable. No, one of the answers is improved transport links (which Wales has long been screaming out for) to make the occasional escape possible, then the acknowledgement of the rural/urban divide an another axis of oppression that needs to be addressed alongside the rest, but the real challenge is to disrupt the hegemony of the sexual and romantic status quo in the first place. Isn’t everyone bored of it by now? Wouldn’t we all prefer the fabulous queens and dykes we see at pride to be the majority? I suppose my answer is a bit interested, but I know I would. I think we should work on that gay agenda the right wing has been accusing us of pushing for so long. We should be building our community from childhood. As feminists, I’ve long said we should be telling young women (and older women too) that they can choose women, that heterosexuality is not destiny.
The gays are already everywhere, now we need to multiply.
Elise is a 25 year old Welsh student and feminist with a profound distaste for capitalism. Blogs mainly about sexuality and anything that makes her angry over at startmeoff.wordpress.com. Not for the faint hearted.