If you’re in college, I hope you’ve enjoyed the miraculous experience of self-reinvention. I certainly have.
I never had much of a Southern accent, but I still said “ya’ll,” a word from the Deep South, found only in Bible Belt states. We say it’s “you all” pushed together. Now the word sounds bizarre to me, like something out of a movie about the South. When I go home and hear the word said by my parents and sister, I think how strange it must be to sound like they do. I trained the word out of my speech during my freshman year of college and have not said it since.
When I went to college, I realized that my peers were from places like New York and California and other more impressive parts of the country, and I wanted them to know I wasn’t like the South they had seen in movies. I wasn’t a cowpoke or redneck. I wasn’t conservative. I didn’t grow up on a river, huntin’ and fishin’ and wearing deerskins.
This was partly a lie. I did grow up on a river, part of the Ogeechee River, and the river occupies a powerful place in my heart. I grew up with its coldness and its sound, the icy water going over the rocks I used to play on. The water drained from the North Georgia mountains and was always incredibly cold. I grew up with kids who did hunt and fish, and although I was never very much like them, I understood them and wanted them to understand me.
In college, I was in a similar situation, but the people I wanted to understand me did not hunt or fish. They were international students from London and Hong Kong. They knew only caricatures of the South, only Gone With the Wind. Someone asked me if I had taken a car to high school or gone on horseback. I felt so ashamed.
I wanted the art school kids to see a new version of me, my own creation. I mimicked the way Sam from California talked, and today this L.A. accent is what people hear in me the most. (Bizarrely, during my senior year, a visiting fashion designer asked me if I had lived in South Africa. “Close,” I said, “Zambia.”) Another friend, Brady, was from Ohio and had an “i” that sounded like “bite,” sharp and crisp. I took these men’s voices into mine.
Some gay men think it’s good and noble to stay in the South. They think their presence in small towns will create art districts, coffee shops, and tiny liberal enclaves. The reality is bleaker. They become florists whose unspoken sexuality is passed off as artistic peculiarity. “He’s creative,” the church ladies say. They become the gay couple that lives on the edge of town, trained to lock the door and act straight when needed. Eventually, they get tired and migrate to Atlanta or Savannah, someplace where there are a few more of their people. I will never let myself be this story.
I’ve been living in Savannah, Georgia for the last four years. The art school here is impressive and draws an international student body. Unlike most of my peers, my home is only four hours away. I don’t have an accent, so few people know I’m from Georgia.
Savannah is a small town, isolated the way gay-friendly enclaves in the South must be. It’s a strange, haunted little city. The only two gay bars are across the street from each other. They both feature good drag and cheap drinks. But the Queer students here mustn’t stay out too late, especially not on weekends when the tourists flood the downtown area. Don’t walk near crowds of drunk tourists after dark — they’re from Mississippi and Alabama and South Carolina. They’re drunk white trash and they will hurt you if you’re wearing something feminine or gaudy. Always travel in groups.
Lately, something has changed in me. I think you could call it homesickness. I miss the men I grew up with, the farmers and deer hunters. I’ve started driving outside the city on weekends to meet guys in the country. We fuck in barns and trailers. Yesterday, I drove an hour outside the city to spend the night with a gay couple who lived in the woods. Their pickup trucks were parked in the front yard.
After dinner, they took me to bed. One of the guys pulled my pants down. “I’m not ready,” I said. “I haven’t cleaned.”
“We don’t care.”
He climbed on the bed, leaned against the headboard, and pulled off his pants and underwear. He had the biggest dick I had ever seen. “Go ahead,” he said. I could barely fit it in my mouth. He pulled me close to him and said, “Sit on it.”
He pumped some lube into my hand. I rubbed his dick until it was slick and lowered myself over it. It was so thick, the pain was incredible. Too fast. “Sit,” he said. “Breathe.”
After a few seconds, he seemed annoyed that I was struggling. He put his hands on my waist and pushed me down. I yelped like a dog. I had never felt such a large dick inside me. He pulled me close and kissed me.
“It’s so thick,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “I got you.”
His boyfriend was behind me, massaging my shoulders. “You got it,” the man behind me said with a stronger accent — long vowels from South Georgia. I melted in his words. “You got it,” he said. “You’re halfway there.”
I heard the man behind me spit, then felt his dick pushing in over the one inside me. I sat up. “I can’t do that.”
“Yes you can. Just take a deep breath. You’re doing great.”
They were holding me and rubbing me the way I’ve always wanted to be held, the way I wanted men on my high school football team to hold me and touch me. I melted in their words, the words of men who drove tractors and drank beer. Their words smelled like the woods of my farm, the moss smell of coming in after playing in the river.
The man behind me pushed his dick in. It felt like I was being ripped in two. I think I almost started crying. They rubbed my shoulders and kissed me and then they were moving together inside me. I could feel both of them, moving in perfect cadence, thrusting in and out. They later told me they did this often with holes that came over for a night and they had perfected this rather complicated sex position. This was my first time being double-penetrated.
Driving back the next morning, I was sore. I thought about the night, the men, their almond soap in the shower, their bodies moving together with mine between them. They were not especially athletic. They did not go the gym. But they were strong as horses. Their bodies were made to push wheelbarrows and lift bails of hay. Their sex was unrefined, unsullied by porn or douching or the glittery details of urban gay life. It was the stuff that farm boys do when no one’s looking — the rough, exploratory sex I learned while still in the closet. I did not ask if they were out.
For the first time in my life, the Southern world I wanted so desperately to leave behind appeared mysterious in a way it hadn’t before. The woods were just as much a part of me as they were of them. Their “ya’ll” was my “ya’ll,” the word I lost.
I got back to the dorm and sat on the toilet — there was a little blood — then immediately went to sleep. At the time, I was keeping a dream journal and the dream I had was haunting. In the dream, I was walking on a beach. The dream was in black and white, and I remember this because I’d 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 heard laughing and clinking bottles. It was night. I stepped through the trees and saw the writer William Burroughs sitting on a stump. Jack Kerouac was waving a half-empty bottle over his head. Allen Ginsberg was playing the flute. This was not the first dream I had featuring Beat writers. They were soon accompanied by T. S. Eliot, his black hair parted in the middle.
Vladimir Nabokov appeared. Small white butterflies or moths clung to the shoulders of his tatty coat (Nabokov was a lepidopterist). Shel Silverstein was there. I don’t remember the others, but there were many of us, all writers, all dead. We started running through the woods. I saw more of them coming in across the field, their lanterns flickering in the dark. Someone yelled, “Over here!” I realized we were all ghosts.
We were on the beach. Kerouac ran up behind me and jumped on my back. I stumbled forward under his weight but caught myself. The dream felt so real, I still remember the heaviness of his body, his warmth, the scratch of his stubble on my cheek. I put my arms under his legs and carried him into the waves. I could smell liquor on his breath. The ocean was cold. Others were behind us and I called out to them in my true voice, “Ya’ll coming?”