Hellfire and Homesickness

Who would believe my stories about the south?

I bet many of you wouldn’t. I could write an entire memoir of horror stories, and most people would find it more believable if I filled them with imaginary demons.

The good ol’ hospitable south: the land of Christian values and deeply un-Christlike cruelty. I grew up in the midst of it, watching the kinds of suffering that I was told didn’t happen in America. I saw things that only happen in ‘other’ places: children hungry and barely clothed, youths cast out from their families because of superstition, girls taught to submit to men, and bizarre religious practices which left the unbelievers shunned.

Fortunately, I was spared the worst of it. My family loved me unconditionally, and the repressed and angst-ridden culture that surrounded me never fully took root in my own life. But the things I saw will never leave me. It’s not like going to war or surviving a catastrophe. It’s a slower and more subtle type of suffering. I lived in a community which boiled in its own fervor, its inhabitants unaware of the hell they inflicted on some of their own. Unaware, or perhaps uncaring.

I want to write about it, but I don’t want to compromise my experiences. I don’t want to fill my narratives with ass-covering comments about how not everyone in the south is a fanatic or a xenephobe. Of course they aren’t.

And yet, many are. I touched on this in Alabama Ex-Pat, one of my more widely read and better-received pieces. There’s anger in it, I know. There’s still anger in me. It’s not my desire to paint the entire south as a place of demons, but I loathe dismissing myself for the sake of sparing feelings. Those who speak out about their struggles with southern culture are often attacked en masse, criticized for generalizing, and drowned out by “But MY experiences are different.”

Why should I invalidate myself like that? Those who had good experiences in the American Southeast, I applaud you. I’m happy that you have a good life. That you got to enjoy the softer, more hospitable side of the south. I had some of those good times, too; but not enough to erase the other things I’ve seen.

Apologists are no longer a concern for me because my experiences matter, too. I think I’ll write about them.

Keep an eye out, folks. Hellfire is coming.

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