A long string of events landed me in first eastern and now central Ohio and, having a son has kept me here.
My roots are where I grew up; in a fairly small town in western Pennsylvania. “Back then” it was a 90 minute drive to Pittsburgh, the nearest “big city” in PA. 15 years or so ago, a highway was finally fully funded and finished that cut the drive time in half. No longer did folks from my area have to go to Youngstown, Ohio to find work…especially given that the mills there were dying…but that’s another story.
Unlike most eastern seaboard/mid Atlantic states, Pennsylvania has only two major cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. They’re on opposite ends of the state. Between them, they account for less than 2 million people. The capitol, Harrisburg sits in about the middle but it’s not big by any means at not quite 50,000 people as of the 2010 Census. Though the state has well over 12,600,000 residents, most live in the small towns that dot it.
It’s no surprise to me that I ran across yet another work for a gay and out, small town Pennsylvanian. Back in June, I had written about a documentary film by Joe Wilson titled “Out in Silence” about going back to his hometown, Oil City, PA as an out gay man and the fallout from that. The post is here if you’re interested. This time it was the autobiographical book, You’re Not from Around Here, Are You?: A Lesbian in Small-Town America by Louise A. Blum.
Blum’s book, actually penned in 2001 (yes, I overlooked it for that long), is quite a study in what it’s like to live as a lesbian and as part of a lesbian family with a child in small town America. Being from a similar area and having spent time in areas near Wellsboro, PA where she is, I can fully relate to what she says about the mindset of the people there and the way they view things. It’s very, very different from the way the average urban or suburban dweller sees the world.
I’m privileged to have moved around the country with the military and to have had a lot of cultural experiences and to now live in suburban central Ohio where I’m free to be me and where my wife and I can be ourselves most of the time. I’m reminded though of my own roots and how close minded things are elsewhere, every time we travel an hour away to spend time with my wife’s family in small town Ohio or when, less frequently, we travel back to western PA to see my family. This book definitely struck a chord for me. I couldn’t put it down.
From Publishers WeeklyA pregnant lesbian living in the middle of God’s country: it sounds like the premise of a sitcom, but this personal narrative of love and childbirth in Wellsboro, Penn., is by turns poignant and wonderfully witty. Blum (Amnesty), a novelist and college professor, recounts the difficulties that being gay presents when one simply wants to get a mortgage, fix up a house and attend Lamaze classes in a small town. But to Blum’s credit, this is no rose-colored, resolutely middle-class, “we’re just like everyone else” kind of gay autobiography. She is refreshingly honest not only regarding her ambivalence about having children, but also regarding the sexual tensions the pregnancy causes in her relationship with her partner. Her descriptions of finding a sperm donor are hilarious (“He’s attractive, I’d think, shaking someone’s hand. I wonder what his sperm count is?”). And the book is filled with touching surprises such as that Blum doesn’t admit to herself that she’s gay until a year after moving in with her lover. With astonishing resilience, she describes her family’s close-mindedness, as well as the prejudice she encounters from the townspeople she’d come to trust. Unfortunately, there’s no escaping the miniature terrors of small-town life; as Blum points out, describing a trip across America, “Wellsboro is everywhere.”