Downtown

Luke Legrand (Greensboro, NC)

Down here you know what you are, and everyone else knows it too. If you’re confused, well, they’ll be happy know for you and pass that information along. A man is man, just like a tree is tree, or a dog dog. To truly embrace an inner identity that conflicts with the outward appearance of smooth integration into southern society is to be a pariah without a savior. You’re a sinner, and not the quaint kind of sinner who drinks too much or works to little or cusses too often. No, no, you’re beyond help. The poor boy who got lost along the road to the light, possessed of dark forces and too much thinking. A perverse and corrupted channel of evil from the outside; a blight on home and family and church.

Now, I am not a religious person, never took to the theatrics of blind faith. But, as a child with no say in the matter, I went and sat quietly; never really bothered to pay attention, save the odd sound bite worth transmitting to friends in happier places. An illustration of abject moral depravity parading as religious superiority.

We were out (in every sense of the word) young and wild and feeling free. Energetically engaged in some errand of exuberant youth with thick boots and too much makeup. I can’t remember the name of the club, a dark little hole, smoky, and packed; the kind of place that knew what we were and welcomed us in without IDs. A drink in one hand, my trusty cigarette in the other, I felt the firmness of it first. His hand sliding unashamed across the raised denim of my rear pockets. Then his voice, icy and slow, as his fingers groped above my belt. He wanted me he said, he had ideas for me, he knew a place where we could be alone, and he had better treats than beer and cigarettes. I turned slowly to face my unwelcome suitor, steeling my nerves for a fight that would not come.

I wouldn’t have thought a spray tanned face could flush, returning the wearer to a more natural color, but it happened. I knew that face too, wide and slick with a thin mustache and bald forehead, skin the color of a carrot’s peel and shallow gray-green eyes. He had been a deacon at the church for years, an old man with a young wife, and a penchant for protesting violently whenever a gay bar was set to open, or anything else not strictly in accordance with his personally revealed understanding of the scriptures. But his highest success was the erection of a sixty foot crucifix in the parking lot of a business owned by a fellow church-goer on the morning of our town’s first Pride celebration. A looming idol to gore, an enormous naked man, gashed and bloodied, with a sign reading, “You are not welcome, here in God’s house.”

Yet, here he stood, the majesty of his post diminished by the smoky interior and his unflattering leather pants. Face curled in horror, his fingers shoved in the waist of an under-aged church member’s shorts.

I’d like to say I didn’t spread the word, that I held onto that moment as a personal triumph, a glimmering example of the nasty hypocrisy intolerance breeds and permits. But, youth is an untamable beast, and I told everyone. Down here we are always willing to tell you what you are, if you’re confused.

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