Don Sherfick

On belonging here: move over, Sheila!

Filed By Don Sherfick | July 19, 2007 8:54 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: politics, Walmart

A few days ago fellow contributor Sheila Kennedy openly asked the question “Do I Belong?”, and received a number of comments assuring her that despite her reservations and disclosure that she was the only straight contributor (it turns out she wasn’t quite correct…at least cartoonist Storm Bear joins her in that regard), her point of view was quite welcome and needed. I’m happy to see that she’s decided to stick around. Shelia’s questioning resonated heavily with me. While I’m proudly a member of the “LGBTQ” community (the quotes are there because I’m still not all that sold on the whole “Q-word” thing), unless some of my colleagues are using really ancient photographs of themselves, I’m the oldest (68.5) contributor, and Bilerico’s “new duds” have also given me pause to indeed consider what I, too, am still doing here. My problem has been sorting out and articulating some vague feelings of uneasiness.

Some recent posts concerning “The End of Pride” and the little flap over the “Real Jock” ad near the top of the site have triggered one significant piece of my discomfort, but I’ll save that "are we really only about sex after all?" topic for later separate treatment. For now let me describe and discuss what I’ll just shorthand as my “Pre Wal-Mart Nostalgia”.

Although I’m among the first to pat myself on the back (despite a little arthritis that makes it a greater challenge these days) for generally thinking younger than most of my chronological peers, I do find myself increasingly experiencing mild anxiety when confronted with new situations. I’m told that’s a sign that my clock isn’t moving backwards. Although I’ve been a Bilerico contributor for only 10 months, I had begun to feel like one of the announcers on a local Indiana radio station whose signal sometimes skips to other parts of the country or which the national networks rebroadcast from time to time. Yes, the casual listener could tell that most of its programs had some commonality with the national LGBT community, but there was enough commentary on the Indianapolis/Indiana scene, a lot of it non-LGBT, that I truly didn’t feel as if I had become an Advocate magazine columnist. Nothing wrong with that, of course….just that this was my perception and it defined my comfortable surroundings.

But then the Bilerico mom and pop general store gave way to the Wal-Mart out by the Interstate, and lots of out-of-town folks, many of them from those places on the East and West Coasts my Southern Indiana grandma likely prayed I would stay away from, began to appear. Nice folks, they certainly seem to be, and I guess they and some of their ideas will help fulfill the Bilerico Project’s site’s stated wish that we hear from many more facets of the rich tapestry our community represents. But I must say that when Bil Browning said “I want to know about drag queens, bears, dykes, faggots, gender queers, twinks, and transgender men and women. I want to understand the reasoning behind radical queers and establishment yuppies”, it hardly soothed my uneasy perception that I might not be in Kansas, er, Indiana, any more. I doubted that his “establishment” part of “establishment yuppies” was likely to include Log Cabin (or any other type) Republicans, gay men of any age who have reservations about partial birth abortion, lesbians young and old who feel that their deep personal faith in Jesus Christ wasn’t necessarily incompatible with their sexual orientation, or anyone else very much to the right of twelve hundred miles into Zonus Leftus.

Don’t get me wrong…..I count myself safely among those queer (see, Alex, I CAN say that word when waterboarded) citizens who consider themselves more comfortable with the Democrats, think the wall of separation between church and state is a much better idea than a big ugly one along the Mexican border, and who believe that life after birth deserves at least somewhat more government attention than that before. But I must admit that my own corner of our community includes quite a bit more territory in what might be called the center to center-right portion of the parking lot. I’ll be going into this topic in a subsequent post also, but, for now, let me simply say that I find myself not quite fitting the mold that I think most of my colleagues think should populate sites like this one. A glance at the analysis of our readership as to age, political affiliation, church attendance, and several other things that Bilerico published a while back does nothing to lessen that feeling, assuming that the contributors typically mirror the readership.

My comfort in being part of a Hoosier-focused, mostly (but not exclusively) LGBT site has been replaced by a much less secure feeling of something bigger and more populated with younger folks who are significantly more to the left than I think I am. Is that itself a bad thing? No. Is it something I likely need to get used to? Probably. Should I just sit down and shut up about it? I guess the above paragraphs are evidence that the answer to the last question is “Not anytime soon”.

That having been said, I also don’t want to become the site’s token cranky curmudgeon, either. So far as I know Andy Rooney and I have no common ancestors after humankind got evicted from the Garden of Eden.

So, deciding (unless the responding chorus of comments is in the “goodbye and good riddance” category, which I really don’t expect) I would offer a suggestion as we go forward. The other day Bil Browning, in writing a piece about Indianapolis City-County Councilman Scott Keller, a Republican who has done many good things for our community here, seemed to be a bit apologetic in writing about something local before a national LGBT audience. He needn’t have been. Maybe the answer to this site’s becoming a Queer Wal-Mart is to say proudly somewhere on its masthead that its owners till run a Hoosier store but that it now employs a greater variety of non-local greeters and sells lots more out-of-state merchandise to its travelers out there on the Interstate. After all, the Garrison Keillor show is clearly linked to Lake Woebegone in Minnesota, but somehow that doesn’t keep National Public Radio from spreading it from coast to coast for folks of all stripes to identify with. And Lord knows, NPR knows the middle of the road when it sees it. Or am I thinking of Fox News?

And please don’t beat up on me for using Wal-Mart as my analogy. Although I generally go along with criticism against it, this year the one nearest me had a pretty good selection of cheap petunias. So they can’t be all bad.

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As usual, so much of what Don has to say resonates strongly with me. Maybe there is more commonality among age-group peers than among people who share a gender or orientation!

On the other hand--Don, I hate to disagree with you, but yes, I think Walmart CAN be "all bad." Try Costco next time--they pay their employees, and they provide health insurance!

Don Sherfick | July 19, 2007 10:48 AM

Yes, Sheila, but somebody told me Costco never wateres their petunias!

Okay, I have to admit that so far it has been Sheila and Don - our oldest contributors - that have wondered if they still belong on the site. Of course, my immediate reaction is "Hell YES, you do!" but that's because I know the master super secret plan that Alex and I devised. Maybe we should share it, Alex?

You quote a good spot from my post, Don. I do want to know about “drag queens, bears, dykes, faggots, gender queers, twinks, and transgender men and women. I want to understand the reasoning behind radical queers and establishment yuppies.” I want to understand and I want to talk to them and about them. And I want you to as well. I want you to expand your horizons a bit by talking to some of those more left-leaning folks and hearing their ideas. I want them to hear your reflections as filtered through the eyes of a man in a biracial relationship, pushing 70 and living in Indiana.

Long story short = everyone here was picked for a reason. We've turned down dozens of offers to blog on the site and we made sure that our handpicked group of contributors each offered something special that none of the rest did. That, I think, is one of the plusses to The Bilerico Project... Our group of bloggers can challenge your convictions, give you something to cheer or boo about, or help articulate what you're already feeling about a subject. We span the types here now - I tend to think of Jessica, Gina and Mattilda as three of our more liberal contributors - while Joe, Matt and Don tend to be a little more reserved.

So I'd just say it's fine to have reservations. I understand your nervousness, after all your readership just increased dramatically. But you were one of our readers' favorites before - and I'm sure you'll continue to be. As will Sheila. Keep blogging local issues - that's fine with me! I want to hear everyone's stories - local, national, or personal.

Think of this as a salon where you can sit down and start a discussion - on the topic of your choice. And then we don't have to compare ourselves to Wal-Mart anymore. *grins*

Ellen Andersen | July 20, 2007 9:08 AM

Don, I'm about 30 years younger than you and many people (certainly including my students) would category me deep in the heart of Zonus Leftus. And yet, in many ways, I don't "quite fit[] the mold that I think most of my colleagues think should populate sites like this one" either. Really, I don't We should have a talk about politics at some point.

I don't have any plans to leave, and I hope you stick around too. You're one of my favorite contributors on Bilerico. Bilerico would be boring if the contributors all brought the same talents to the screen. I like to hear what you have to think, and it doesn't particularly matter whether or not we agree.

I think your analogy to Prairie Home Companion is a good one. Bilerico is going to maintain an Indiana focus even as it goes national. How could it otherwise? So go on and talk about your aging, decrepit Indiana self! :) I'll be listening.

OK, I took yesterday off (except to spread the latest Queen Latifah rumor), so I'm late to the thread. Yeah on what Bil said, although I don't know if that's all that much of a secret what we're doing here. Lots of people from diverse backgrounds (no Communists yet, though). Yeah, it's going to be liberal-centric, but it's kinda hard to avoid that when looking for politically engaged, intelligent, creative, and self-aware writers amongst the LGBT folk. But a few of the categories you mentioned are in fact filled like "lesbians young and old who feel that their deep personal faith in Jesus Christ wasn’t necessarily incompatible with their sexual orientation" (Rev Irene Monroe is a Christian minister and a doctoral divinity candidate) and "anyone else very much to the right of twelve hundred miles into Zonus Leftus" (not naming names, but there are quite a few centrists in the new group of contributors, and, well, Michael Buckley could hardly be considered a member of Zonus Leftus). And I've already been in contact with several other older queers, although it's quite a bit harder to get them to agree to blog here.

But I suppose specifics isn't the point. The point is the big idea that we're after here, which is going to be a tough one to deal with. Most group blogs have diverse bloggers from all sorts of backgrounds, but they work together because they agree more or less on 95% of politics and culture. We're working the other way around - sure, the contributors come from diverse backgrounds, but they generally have one thing in common, and they're here because they don't agree on 90% of everything. And that means that people are going to be challenged, and you're going to end up doing some of that challenging, Don. It's a mix and it's a grand experiment, but we'll have to wait and see how it turns out.

I'd also like to add that there's a paucity of very young contributors - Bruce and I are the only ones under 30. But I'm not going to be very pro-active about correcting that one.

Moral of the story is that I always like reading what you have to say here, and I hope you don't feel unwelcome. We've been getting a few of those comments from the radicals as well, that the establishment types here are too overwhelming. Trust me, they're feeling a lot of the same things. But I think that's going to be part of the territory here with what we're doing - everyone, including the contributors, is going to be outside of his/her/hir comfort zone.

OK, and if you do need someone to take the other side of "we're not all about sex", Don, I'd be more than willing to advocate "Yes, yes, yes, oh God yes! We're all about the sex."

Oh, one more thing, I mentioned but didn't really say that we are looking hard for more members of the gays' "greatest generation". We're trying, Don!