I stopped saying “ya’ll” in college. The word is telltale country slang, a slip of the tongue revealing your upbringing on dirt roads and cornbread. I can hear the church ladies gasp in “ya’ll,” the cringeworthy, overdone accents you find in movies about the Deep South.
That’s where I’m from. I was born in Charleston, South Carolina. My parents are from Georgia and Louisiana. Old home movies show me at four years old in a cowboy hat singing the days of the week with that lilted, drawn-out “y” — “Wednesdee,” “Thursdee,” “Fridee.”
As I grew, that hard, honeyed drawl dissappeared. I’m adopted. My birth mother, whoever she is, was from Phoenix. I don’t know where she is now. I tell myself that I matured into the way she must have talked: That clear Western speech of people who can blend in anywhere, whose intelligence is not automatically questioned.
When I went to college, I knew my peers would be from New York and California. I wanted them to know I wasn’t like the South, that I didn’t belong here, that I was stuck here by unfortunate luck and geographic association. I mimicked the way a guy named Sam talked. Sam was from California. He said his vowels in a flat, nasal way. He held out his “a” sounds too long. Another friend, Brady from Ohio, had an “i” that sounded like “bite,” sharp and crisp, the way it’s supposed to sound.
Some gay men think there’s merit to staying here, as if our presence will create arts districts and liberal enclaves. Not true. Here, we’re the limp-wristed florist who’s “funny,” the couple living on the edge of town, trained to lock the door and “look straight” whenever needed. Homophobia runs deep. There are gay men who like single-traffic-light towns for this or that reason. I think they’re foolish.
Gay bars are foreign to these guys. Sex outside their relationship rarely happens. When it does, it’s in the backseat of a truck on a dirt road when a stranger rolls through town.
I’ve been in Savannah for a few years, and the gay scene is no longer a mystery to me. Many people don’t know I’m from the South. I don’t talk like that anymore. Savannah, I now understand, is a small town. It’s isolated the way gay-friendly enclaves in the South must be, but downtown, the gay scene is vibrant and welcome. Just don’t stay out late, don’t walk around drunk tourists after dark, and if you do, don’t hold hands. Travel in groups.
I’ve started driving outside the city on weekends to meet guys living in the marsh and wetlands of the coastal Georgia countryside. Flat and green all year, these little towns dot the South, a cluster of abandoned brick buildings next to gas stations with fried chicken in the window.
These deserted storefronts were pharmacies or hair salons once. Now they lie empty. Little cemeteries are everywhere. You don’t have to travel far outside Savannah to find these little settlements. Every now and then a white church sits next to a railroad crossing.
The guys I’m meeting are farm-raised and familiar with tractors and plows. They smoke pot and don’t bother with sex toys. They drive trucks and play bluegrass in the kitchen.
I met up yesterday with a couple in Guyton, which for all purposes is a stretch of empty roadway in the woods with one stop sign for ten miles. At this sign, left turn, then a farmhouse, a lake. A few miles past that, you turn right onto a dirt road, and down that dirt road, there they are.
“I’m close.” I’m on the phone with Jason, hunting for their mailbox.
“At least wait till you get here. I’ll be on my knees.” My friend loves swallowing loads.
After dinner, I crawled on the fur pelt across their bed and laid on my stomach. Jonathan pulled my underwear down.
“I’m not sure I’m clean,” I said.
“We don’t care.”
Jonathan leaned back against the headboard with the nearly-shot tip of a blunt in his lips and pulled down his shorts. He had the thickest cock I had ever seen. “Go ahead.” He pushed my mouth down and thrusted his hips, sliding up into my throat. I choked and tried to work to work down on it. I felt hot breath on my hole before a tongue.
Jonathan pulled me up and lifted my ass over his dick. “Sit.”
The head went in and immediately a line of pain ran down my taint. Too fast. Jonathan spit a gob in my hand and I reached down and lubed him up more. It slid in slowly. “Breathe, breathe.” Halfway down, he put his rough hands around my waist and pushed my down to the base. I yelped (“Breathe, bud”) and then it was in.
“You’re halfway there.”
Jonathan pulled me forward, thrusting gently, kissign me. I was on top of him, against the fur of his chest and abdomen, and his dick pushed up in me, and he pushed me down on it. His arms were around me and I felt warm and comfortable. He was holding me and I was taking it. “It’s so thick,” I whimpered with my face in his neck.
“I know, I know.”
Jason was behind me, massaging my shoulders. “You got it.” He scooted in close and kissed my back. I heard him spit. And then I felt something pushing over Jonathan’s cock. I sat up. “I can’t do that.”
“Yes you can. Take a deep breath.” Jonathan pulled me in, huggin me. I put my arms around his chest. “Hey, I got you. You’re doing great.”
He was holding me and rubbing me the way I’ve always wanted to be held, the way I wanted farm guys and guys on the football team to hold me in high school. Once, when I was ten, one of the local guys who smelled of pine and beer and sweat came by to ride the trails. I sat behind him on the four-wheeler with my arms around his middle, my face in his jacket, while the wind whipped past us, and he flew through the woods. I’ve never felt so in love. This felt like that.
Jason pushed in. I felt like I was getting ripped in two. I wanted to cry. Jonathan petted me and rubbed my head and jason kissed my shoulders and then they were moving together, both inside me. I took a deep breath and let go. I could feel both of them, moving and pushing, until Jason behind me started building up some speed. “There you go,” he said. “Feel those fat cocks in your hole. You can take it.”
Driving back the next morning, I thought about all of it, the almond soap in their shower, the fur on the bed, the pot, and their bodies moving together with me in the middle. Theirs were not gym bodies, but they were strong and thick, bodies made to lift railroad ties and push wheelbarrows. It was my first double penetration. They were scruffy, un-showered, untaught. Undoctrinated into gay life. Disinterested in fashion. Their house is a farmhouse with a big kitchen, much like mine growing up. They had the same china in a glass cabinet my parents have, the kind Southern people give to newlyweds or pass down after someone dies.
I’m going to die someday and I don’t want to be buried in the South, in the family plot in Greensboro where my grandmother and great grandfathers are buried. I am not their blood.
On the drive back to Savannah, I had a daydream. I was walking on a beach. The dream was in black and white. I remember it because I’ve never dreamed in black and white before. The beach was lined with fir trees and there was a campfire in a clearing up ahead. I saw it flickering white light through the branches.
I got closer. I heard laughing and clinking bottles. When I got close, I saw Bill Burroughs sitting on a log. Jack Kerouac was ranting about something and waving a half-empty whiskey bottle. Ginsberg was playing the flute.
Someone slaps me on the back, Ginsberg kisses my cheek, and the rest of them walk in through the woods: Herbert Huncke, Lucien Carr, Carl Solomon, T. S. Eliot with his hair parted in the middle. Walt Whitman with a walking stick. Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen. Mary Shelley walks up from the lake, her head white and slick, her robes wet.
Anaïs Nin parts the bushes. Vladimir Nabokov is arguing with Bulgakov. Tennessee Williams is laughing at his own joke.
Where is Randy Shilts? Ferlinghetti? It doesn’t matter, we are running through the reeds. I see more of them coming in across the field. I see their flickering lanterns in the dark. Someone hollers, “Over here!”
Kerouac comes up behind me and jumps on my back. I stumble forward and catch myself. I smell liquor on his breath. I think we’re going to the water. I realize we’re all ghosts.
My grandmother is there, ankle-deep in the black water, looking over her shoulder at me with that sly, mischevious grin and large glasses. There’s so much I want to say, how I miss her, how nobody believes in me like she did. But there’s no time to talk, Kerouac is on my back and we’re walking into the dark surf. I take her hand in mine. Her fingers are thin and frail, Kerouac’s breath is warm, his weight is heavy. Others are behind us on the beach and my voice, the true one, calls out to them, “Ya’ll coming?”