September 26th, 2004

My hat's off to MSNBC this morning for this EXCELLENT story

In the Bible Belt, acceptance is hard-won
Gay teen struggles to find a path


Michael and Victor's Valentine's date comes to an end. Victor gave Michael six long-stemmed red roses to mark the occasion.

By Anne Hull
Updated: 10:05 p.m. ET Sept. 25, 2004


Michael Shackelford slides under his 1988 Chevy Cheyenne. Ratchet in hand, he peers into the truck's dark cavern, tapping his boot to Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings" drifting from the garage.

Flat on his back, staring into the cylinders and bearings, Michael fixes his truck like he wishes he could fix himself.

"I wake up and I try so hard to look at a girl," he says. "I tell myself I'm gonna be different. It doesn't work."

Michael is 17 and gay, though his mother still cries and asks, "Are you sure?" He's pretty sure. It's just that he doesn't exactly know how to be gay in rural Oklahoma. He bought some Cher CDs. He tried a body spray from Wal-Mart called Bod. He drove 22 miles to the Barnes & Noble in Tulsa, where the gay books are discreetly kept in the back of the store on a shelf labeled "Sociology."

While the rest of the country is debating same-sex marriage, Michael's America is still dealing with the basics. There are no rainbow flags here. No openly gay teacher at the high school. There is just the wind knifing down the plains, and people praying over their lunches in the yellow booths at Subway. Michael loves this place, but can it still be home? What if the preachers and the country music songs are right?

"Being gay, you'll never have that true love like a man and a woman," Michael says, standing against his truck as Merle Haggard mixes with the backyard whippoorwills. "Hearing all the songs about a man coming home from work to his wife's loving arms, you never hear of gay couples like that."

He sets his ratchet down. "Do you?"
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I put up some pictures on my Galleries page, for anyone so inclined. It's been a very long weekend, and I feel very spent as a result. I'm trying to get geared up for whatever tomorrow brings, and hope that Monday is kind to me.

I feel very disconnected right now.