Injustice is the Legislature's Dream of the South
When I was 27, I got a tattoo. “Poetry is a Northern man’s dream of the South” scrawls the bottom of my forearm in a feminine script. It’s a quote from an F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, “The Last of The Belles,” and I love it. Think about that. I love it so much, I tattooed it on my body.
The decision to do so was not impromptu; it was extremely premeditated. I even made the appointment five weeks in advance so that I could “sit on it.”
I carefully chose to place it on the back of my left arm not only because the skin is more taught and would sag less as I grew old, but also because I shake hands with my right arm. I wanted people to make their assumptions about me before they saw my tattoo. Also, the bride often stands with her right side to her guests. I thought in my old age I might want some photos of me, tattoo-less, in a white gown. Maybe not. But just in case.
The quote itself held years of significance. I discovered it my senior year of college. In a stark white classroom in Morgan Hall at The University of Alabama, the words jumped off the page and clung to my heart strings. I thought it was the most beautiful combination of letters I’d ever read in my life. It was everything I ever wanted to be and everything I believed to be true about the North — Fitzgerald’s glittering Northeast! — and everything I knew to be true about the South, which was, at the time, the only home I’d ever known.
I was also wildly in love during this time — with literature, a boy, and with life. My tattoo is a marker of my youth, and I still look back on that time as recklessly beautiful and filled with a supreme gratefulness for the people, places, and stories I took with me from home.
But now I’m nearly 33 and the South looks pretty bad. As the legislators in my home state of Mississippi continue to alienate the LGBT community, I am longing for the south I used to know. You could argue that Mississippi has always been riddled with bigots, racists, and hyper-conservative hogwash (because it has), but the south also raised a girl like me: a free-spirited, tattoo-wearing, politically and socially liberal, LGBT-supporting woman with big, big dreams and even bigger hopes for progress in the south.
We aren’t all that Mississippi.
The Mississippi lawmakers and those who support the bill can’t — and won’t ever — see the irony in using religion as a way to veil their hatred. I wish I could say our issue was solely about progress, that the south was just slow to convert, like the pace with which we walk, talk, and do just about everything else. But the issue on our hands is much deeper. This is about basic human decency, acceptance, and alliance. Is that not at the core of religious teachings?
I didn’t write this to argue theologies; I’m certainly no religious expert. But while the south is attempting to push out the LGBT population, they are burning ties and shattering the hopes of allies like me. How long can I keep defending a state that gives me so little reason? My sympathies are with the many Mississippians who don’t support this kind of legislature. They’re as disturbed as I am.
I don’t know how to reconcile the fact that the Mississippi government is pushing me farther and farther away from the church, its disciples, and — most devastatingly — Mississippi itself, the home that I once believed was truly the envy of the North. How do lawmakers manipulate the system like this and how do we as citizens prevent this from happening? And an even more disturbing thought — How did these people come to be the decision makers? How did my Mississippi let this happen?
I don’t regret my ink. Each time I look at, it’s a bit like reading a chapter in one of my favorite books. I remember a hard-headed 27 year old, a hopeful college girl, and a joyful kid in Mississippi, surrounded by so much love it could make you weep.
But tattoo aside, I’ve got a complicated relationship with the place I used to call home. And if the lawmakers of the state continue to move in this direction, I’m afraid it will become the most permanent mark of all.