Being a product of the ”Real America” — that halcyon collection of rural farmlands and evangelical hotbeds that see themselves as the authentic bedrock of the nation — I still have trouble wrapping my head around the idea that I’m no longer real.
Real Americans are once more in the news, although when you look closely enough they never really left. But from Sarah Palin’s evocation of the real Virginia in the last presidential campaign — as opposed the fantasy Virginia of the Washington suburbs, with its heady mix of culture, class, race and orientation — to the current saber rattling of Tea Partiers who can’t see America’s coastal cities as anything but socialist dens of iniquity, it’s obvious that the Real Americans see themselves as a beleaguered minority with no other choice but to fight back.
I know that much of rural and small-town America has an inferiority complex when it comes to the country’s teeming cities and urban-oriented entertainment industry. I grew up around both families and churches who took it as a matter of faith that country life was better life. But that just masked a more basic, usually unspoken, fear: the idea that someone, somewhere was making fun of them.
I have some sympathy on this point. As desperate as I was to leave my rural upbringing behind, when I arrived at college with my hick accent — sharper than the more gently rolling accent of the upper-class South — I quickly learned how it felt to be disdained for my background. Later I would joke that when I introduced myself as a Kentuckian to my well-heeled classmates they would look down to see if I was wearing shoes.
That experience makes it one of the greater ironies of life that the disdain directed at me these days comes from the same people I grew up with, the self-proclaimed Real Americans.
Unlike me, my sister is real. She still lives in rural Kentucky, complete with barns and fields where she and her husband raise horses. You can only see a handful of other houses from her porch, and most of those look tiny in the distance across the hilly fields.
You don’t always see a lot of people out in Real America.
I, on the other hand, moved away from rural life as quickly as I could, and now live with my husband…well, really, I don’t have to say anything more beyond ”my husband” to establish my unreality.
But perhaps my sister isn’t so real, after all. She and her husband were part of my own wedding ceremony, and they happily host us for holiday visits and family affairs. They treat both of us as equals — as real.
That any particular group or person is more authentically American than another is one of the most pernicious and anti-American ideas to continually resurface in our politics. It aims to keep LGBT people, among others, firmly ensconced as less than — less than people, less than Americans.
While the political atmosphere at the moment seems poisoned beyond repair, we have to remember that with greater acceptance by a majority of people comes greater resistance from a minority of them. What’s important is for us to continually remind everyone — rural and urban, heartland and coastal — that we are as authentic and American as our neighbors, families and friends.
We are the real deal.