I met my friend Eric Stuart while he was directing me in a cartoon and XBOX360 game called “Viva Pinata.” Eric, who most of you might remember as the voice of “Brock” on Pokémon, made a move from NYC down to Nashville a few years ago. Since then, his frustrations have led him to lots of Facebook chats with me. A New York jew with a whole lot of gay friends, it’s needless to say that he’s had some challenges in his new environment. That being said, If the Kinsey scale is accurate and 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual, then Eric is a -4. I asked Eric to write a little something about his experiences for the blog and I’m thrilled to share this with you all.
Walking A Mile In Gay Shoes: A Straight Man Imagines What Being Gay In Nashvile Must Be Like
By Eric Stuart
The other day I was given an assignment by a good friend. Being one to never back down from a challenge, I was asked to write an essay the subject: Being a straight man, what I thought it must be like for a gay man to live here in Nashville.
Wow. Well first off, I think to be fair, all I really can to do is imagine. Without walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, I really can’t tell you. That being said, I will give it a try.
Let me give you a little of my background before I give you my thoughts. I am born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, the son of a dancer and a defense attorney (sitcom material, right?). My family taught me to accept everyone. Being around my mother and her profession, it would be safe to say I grew up around a lot of gay people. That is not to say all dancers are gay (they are not), but I will go out on a limb here and say many I knew were. Anyway, it was just a part of my upbringing. Because of that, I’ve always been supportive of gay rights and equality among all people. Additionally, I am a singer/songwriter and voice actor, so I also work in the arts.
Now you know a bit about me.
When I first moved to Nashville, I knew that I would run into people who didn’t necessarily think the same way I did. Now, I do not believe everyone should agree, what I do believe is that everyone should respect what makes us different and engage in respectful conversations and debates. Ignorance is the root of so much hate and hate really takes much more energy than love. So I like to hear where people are coming from and expect the same in return. For the most part I have found that here. Many of my neighbors feel that since we live in the same area I must have the same political beliefs, far from it. We tend to talk about music and sports more now.
Back to my assignment. Nashville is a unique southern city. In the heart of it (maybe because it is the center of an entertainment industry), there is a bit more acceptance and open-mindedness. There are universities here and with that comes educated people. And with all that, I’ve heard that there is a strong gay community here. It’s not quite like New York — not as out in the open as I am used to, but it is still here. But if you stray a bit outside of the city, you’re certain to find less of a ‘gay friendly’ environment.
What if I were a gay man here? Would I feel safe to be ‘out’? This is the bible belt. If I walked into a restaurant holding my partner’s hand, would people stare and would I be comfortable? I want to say here in Nashville it would be ok the majority of the time. I do think Nashville would do the right thing.
I do not want to generalize the South or southerners. I wouldn’t want them to do that to this Damn Yankee (a northerner who doesn’t leave). I have met loving, kind people here. I love living here and there is a sense of community that many places could learn from. There is, however, a certain image one has of what makes you a ‘man’ here. That would be very intimidating should someone not quite fit the mold. I think I would be very concerned. I would fear how my classmates, friends, co-workers would treat me should they find out. In school, would I be bullied? I think so, or at the very least, I think I’d spend a lot of time afraid that I might be.
The message of ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill’ was a real wake up call for me. I was thinking to myself, “when the kids in school are asked to draw a picture of their family and one kid has two fathers, if he draws that picture, will he be told that’s not allowed? That his family is not ‘normal’ so we cannot talk about it? That really doesn’t send a very accepting message to any gay people growing up here. This seemed to me like something I would read about in history books pre-civil rights. A kind of narrow-minded thinking that is truly ignorant and potentially dangerous. When so many states are making huge strides for equality, to see my new home state support this was like a knife in my heart. It makes you shake your head. If I were gay and my state passed this bill, I think I would leave, but not before yelling ‘Have a nice Gay!’ to every person I met (just because I am like that).
When people are not exposed to people who are different than they are, they develop their own stereotypes and prejudices. Nashville is laid out in such a way that you really don’t want to interact with people who might not be exactly like you, which is pretty easy to accomplish. This is my problem with a lot of the world. I think growing up in Brooklyn, a real melting pot, I was exposed to so much. I learned things about people and I learned to live side by side with them. Not always loving it, but never hating it, or better yet, never hating them.
It’s odd for me not to have any gay friends here, or should I say, openly gay friends. What I really wish for is that one day I wouldn’t even be paying attention to what category my friends fell under. They would just be my friends.
Maybe if more people realized that love is just love and that everyone should have the same rights, we would get to that place. That place sure seems far away sometimes living here in Tennessee.
You can find out more about Eric Stuart on his website. Also, go buy some of his recordings – he’s great!