Blue and Gay

“How many Yankees were there? 10,000! How many Rebels? TWO! What did they do? CHARGE! What did they do? CHARGE! What did they do? CHARGE!” I am performing a cheer for Paul that we used at our community swim meets when I was growing up in North Carolina in the 1970’s. The wide eyed look on his face is one of bewilderment and worry. If I could read his mind I think it might be saying “Mental note: check the mail for any telltale ties to hate groups”.

“Your mascot was a rebel? Ok, not only is that borderline offensive, but stupid too: Two men against 10,000?” Paul says. “Well, think of it in terms of the movie ‘300.’” I toss this out as a bit of homoerotic mind candy in the hopes that the image will wipe away the last thirty seconds. But I have forgotten that Paul prefers my “mono-pack” to Gerard Butler’s “six pack”. So I decide to have fun with it. “Oh, we had a children’s TV show called The Old Rebel. I was on the show when I was in second grade.” Not surprisingly, Paul’s expression does not change.

If there is a negative stereotype that New Englanders apply to Southerners it is that we are a bit slow on the uptake and racist. Exhibit A: My swim team cheer. But being a part of a minority group myself, I realized long ago that racism and stereotypes are by-products of fear, hatred (many times self-hatred) and stupidity. Southerners themselves are apt to apply a negative stereotype to “Yankees” as anyone north of the Mason Dixon line is called.

“Ya’ll are moving to Bawston? That’s almost a foreign country! People are different there!” One of my neighbors’ said when I told her I was moving from Virginia years ago. And I knew that what she meant by “foreign country” was both literal and figurative. Boston was basically southern Canada and Yankees were rude, brash and liberal. The liberal part suited me just fine. It was the rude thing that I was worried about.

My brother Jake from North Carolina visited us a week ago on a work related trip and sent me this e-mail: “I would say that people don't really say "good morning" or look up at you when you try to say it.” I laughed when I read the e-mail, picturing him trying to engage people on the street. But his e-mail pretty much summed up what I had forgotten. The pleasantries and genteelness of the south are not as evident here. And I began to think about how I missed them.

When Paul and I were planning our wedding vows, I worked for months on just the right words and selection of readings. During a planning session I recited all of those words to our Justice of the Peace and then looked at Paul. “Ditto” was his reply. “Ditto? I worked for months on this and your reply is ditto?” This was clearly the difference between north and south. Paul’s reply was direct, simple and true: “Actions speak louder than words.”

I might miss the nice words and southern hospitality. And I might not always like the frank directness of my fellow New Englanders. But I am an equal here. Actions speak louder than words.

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