January 24, 2004

I have come to learn that there are a whole lot of super nice people in America. Perhaps it is the circles I travel through, the communities who care enough about art-in-performance to book FROGZ, or maybe it’s just that there is a healthy number of good-hearted people all across America, no matter what their interests are or their given profession.

Steve told me that he hoped I enjoyed my stay in Casper, WY on three different occasions, and he sincerely meant it every time. Lavar, the Assistant TD in Nampa, gave me the biggest bear hug when I left the venue after the performance, and told me that I should be proud of what I do. A man named Hans Claus, an audience member in Idaho, pumped my hand about a million times, and went through the entire show with me bit by bit, expounding upon his favorite parts.

The folks at the hotels, the gas station attendants, the truck stop waitresses, the people in the various shops we visit… so many of these people are just, well, nice. Sure, there is the inevitable grumpy woman behind the counter, or the guy who gives us a dirty look when our trailer swings too close to his car, but I am starting to feel that these people are a rarity.

I have also come to learn that, while I may get along with many Americans, I don’t agree with a good number of their political and religious beliefs. On one particular occasion, Jaime and I got into an interesting conversation with Don and Stevee, the folks giving us manicures and pedicures in Billings. Don had been talking about how he had grown up a Mormon in Salt Lake City, and how he had left his family and his faith behind in his early twenties. Since Don had opened the door to the topic of crazy religions, I began talking about a very good friend who is dating a Christian, and about how different their beliefs are. Stevee overheard what I was saying, and our conversation went something like this…

Stevee: Yeah, you know, my step-dad believes that everyone came from sponges or something like that.
Me: Do you mean evolution?
Stevee: Yes, that’s what he believes in. Isn’t that crazy?
Me: Huh.
Stevee: And you know what else? (whispering) He doesn’t believe in God.
Me: Huh.

The other morning, Sam and I woke up to a Christian talk radio show about people who had “overcome” their sexuality. We listened half-horrified and half-bemused as one woman told her story about how she had been a lesbian for four years, and how she and her partner had gone to a Christian counselor for help. The counselor told them to follow their hearts and to “just go with it.” The woman was scandalized, however, because she felt that the counselor was telling them to bend Scripture to make room for their sinful lifestyle. Better, she thought, to renounce her sexual orientation and to live the way that God really wanted her to. And so, she left her partner, met a man who was “coming out of his effeminacy,” and now they’re married with three children. Imagine that. One lesbian woman and one gay man married with kids.

(It was at this point that I turned to Sam and said, “thank God we’re not living in sin!” And then we both had a good laugh as we realized that, though we may be in a heterosexual relationship, we are also not married, living together, and up to our elbows in a whole lot of premarital sin.)

I couldn’t help but wonder if the people on the radio show were really happy. If so, great, good for them. But how can you deny who you really are and still feel good about yourself? Why do people do this? Is it guilt? Is it a desire to be a part of a community? Is it brainwashing? How can people be so ashamed of who they are, of how “God” made them?

Now we’re in Texas, where we are meeting great people left and right. And yet, many of them are Republicans, and actually support that goof in the White House. How can I like so many people in the country, and so violently disagree with them on so many topics? The question, at least for me, is not “why can’t we just get along” but “how on earth can people, good-hearted people, believe such drastically different things?”

I suppose that, in the end, disagreement prompts discourse, which hopefully brings about a better world for everyone – compassion, freedom, love, trust – the whole enchilada. It’s hard to believe all this, however, when I befriend someone and later notice the small Confederate flag on his lapel.