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Yes, Virginia, there are gay people in Indiana. Quite a lot of them, actually. And bisexual people. And pansexual people and demisexual people. Also, trans people and nonbinary folx and asexual people and gender fluid people and agender people. Plus, intersex people. Name the letter in the LGBTQIA+ and they’re here. Thank goodness, because without them, all we’d have going for us would be basketball and the Indy 500.
Maybe it’s just me who sometimes feels that people outside of Indiana are surprised to find rainbow flags flying from people’s front porches here in the Hoosier state. There’s every possibility I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it. A lot of what I write—both fiction and nonfiction—is at least partly about portraying the diversity that does exist here, even in my small Indiana town.
Yes, Indiana is the state of RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as being the home state of its author, Mike Pence. Yes, we did just pass a law banning gender affirming care to transgender kids, joining 18 other states who got there before us and 7 other states who are considering similar laws. We have a lot of work to do in Indiana, but we have a lot of work to do everywhere.
Still, this week I was in Indianapolis for the first time in many years for a writing event (a gathering of authors appearing in an anthology called Playing Authors from the brand new Old Iron Press—stay tuned for more updates). Living close to both Louisville and Cincinnati, I don’t head up north very often. When I lived in Bloomington for graduate school twenty years ago, we didn’t go to Indy. Bloomington was clearly both the funkier and more liberal city.
But visiting the newly opened Tomorrow Bookstore on Massachusetts Avenue, I was pleasantly surprised at how much Indy has changed. It was the night before the big pride parade in town and walking around the neighborhood, every business had some signage up to celebrate pride month. The houses in the area didn’t stop at just a pride flag on their front porch. The decorations were extensive—bunting and everything. Walking up and down the streets, there were queer folx everywhere. Yes, in Indianapolis. Yes, in Indiana.
In Madison, we don’t have a pride parade…yet. We do have Rainbow River Club, a monthly, packed-house event for LGBTQ+ people and their allies. The man who started Rainbow River Club recently received an award from our local Main Street organization for his important contribution to the community in starting the club. We do have at least three new LGBTQ+-owned businesses that started in the last year. We did show up in large numbers to make sure no one would be trying to ban queer books in our library.
It’s not all love and rainbows, of course. The experiences of LGBTQ+ people in Madison and across Indiana are as unique as the experiences of queer people everywhere, which means good and bad. Love and hate.
In my young adult novel, FAIR GAME, which is set in a small, Indiana town very much like Madison (wink, wink), one of the characters is gay. She’s not the only gay girl in her high school, but she’s not the same kind of gay as the other girls. She’s boyish and sporty to their girliness and popularity. She also worries that being both gay and butch will hurt her chances of getting a basketball scholarship, which might sound crazy, but is an actual thing. College coaches of women’s sports have been known to assure recruits and their parents that they don’t have any lesbians on their team, presuming that too many gay players will be a deterrent to recruiting.
In fact, there’s a whole concept called the apologetic which describes the need many female athletes feel to over-emphasize their femininity and, therefore, their heterosexuality precisely because of their participation in sports. The logic goes like this—sports are masculine and so if you’re a girl playing sports, you have to somehow compensate for the fact that you’re a girl doing a masculine thing. Examples of ‘the apologetic’ include wearing bows or ribbons or makeup while you play. It also explains why much sports coverage of female athletes emphasizes their lives off the court as girlfriends or wives or mothers, instead of their actual athletic ability.
Being gay and playing sports is complicated. The truth is, being gay or trans or Black or poor or having a disability is complex and complicated no matter what you do or where you are. There’s nothing simple about life for anyone in places like Madison or Indiana or the Midwest in general. There’s definitely nothing simple about being queer in these places. The complexity of those stories deserve to be told and that’s something I didn’t put in my writing manifesto, but should have. It’s a big part of why I write—to show the diversity and complexity of life in places like Indiana.
So happy pride from all the queer folx in Indiana and the people who love them and want them here.
Still not too late to sign up for my book launch team and help me get the word out about FAIR GAME. Sign up here. Also, check out last week’s post all about the process of designing this amazing cover.
Finally, some indie bookstore love to Carmichael’s Bookstore, in Louisville, Kentucky, for their support of LGBTQ+ authors and readers, and for these awesome bags they’re selling for Pride.