Growing up queer anywhere in the United States can be a very difficult experience, however, attempting to come to terms with your sexuality in a region labeled “The Bible Belt” brings a unique set of challenges to the table. I was born in New York state, in a small town where you only went to church on Christmas and Easter (and occasionally when you happened to be at your grandparents’ house on a Sunday).
It was not until we moved to East Tennessee that I realized, as one of my younger cousins so perfectly stated, “God is bigger in the South.” Church became a weekly experience, not to mention choir, youth group, and hand bell practice, because that was the socially acceptable thing to do. There was never a point where I remember my family “becoming more religious,” religion just became a larger part of our daily life, because religion was a larger part of everyone else’s lives around us.
It was also around the time that we moved here that I started to discover my sexuality. It became quickly apparent that I was developing feelings that did not fit in this religious society I had moved to. Illustrated by my Livejournal entries, you can see as I transitioned from a carefree adolescent into a teenager living a double life.
Luckily, I found an amazing group of friends that knew my secret and couldn’t care less, but around my family and the rest of the world I wore a mask. It was terrifying to even think of coming out in a place where lawmakers attempted to pass a bill that would forbid teachers to even talk to students about being gay. Luckily, through the support of my friends, I was able to come out to my family, who accepted me for who I am, and the rest of the world.
After leaving home to attend college at the University of Tennessee, I learned that this happy ending was very rare for queer people in the South. Almost none of my queer friends had come out to their parents and were still living the double life that I struggled with in high school, and those who had come out to their parents were usually not on speaking terms. Everyone I met had a unique struggle, but most of them centered around coming out in a deeply conservative region of the South.
This year, I was chosen as SAFTA’s performing arts intern, and when I first met with Vania and Courtney they pitched me their idea for a project called OUTSpoken. I immediately fell in love with the concept, and couldn’t wait to get started on this amazing program. It combined both my love for performance and my desire to be an advocate for LGBTQ people living in Tennessee. We wanted to portray people’s experiences growing up in the South in a productive way that would hopefully help both the people sharing these stories and the audience witnessing them.
As we get closer to the date of our first workshop, I cannot wait to hear the stories of other queer Tennesseans, and maybe share a story or two of my own.
Adam Crandall is a 2013 graduate from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in theatre, where he was involved with both Clarence Brown Theatre productions as well as student productions with All Campus Theatre, including his directorial debut Almost, Maine. He has grown up with a passion for performing arts and is very excited to be working with SAFTA as a performing arts intern.