My friend Scott gave me the idea of writing about culture shock and moving from Portland, Oregon to Houston, Texas. It was so much harder the other way around. I had no idea about bottle deposits, recycling, holier-than-thou vegans, or how much the lack of sun would simply suck the soul right out of my body. Over time, I got used to it (well, except for the condescension). Coming back to Texas has been an enlightenment of a different kind. Living in Houston is so much better than I expected, because it’s not the same city that it was when I left.
First of all, Houston has a lesbian mayor. I do not say this because that fact in and of itself is significant. It’s not. To me, it’s like saying we have a green-eyed mayor. To a lot of people, though, it’s a lot more complicated than that… and they voted for her, anyway. That says a lot about any Texas city, or any Southern city in general. Gay teachers coexist in even traditionally religiously conservative areas. My city has changed. My state has changed. It is more welcoming and warm than I thought possible. I am so elated that we have seemed to stop fighting over gay and straight and started fighting about something else. Gay and straight just isn’t that interesting anymore, and to me, that is the best thing that could have happened while I was away.
There are still parents around me that think it’s a bad idea to let their kids watch SpongeBob, but thankfully, those people are known to the rest of us as “idiots.” In fact, there have been several moments in my time here where I just couldn’t process all that stupid at once, but thankfully, they are isolated moments and not the norm.
The norm is that my next door neighbors on one side are Hispanic- a straight couple with a little boy and possibly an abuela (I can’t tell whether she lives there or just comes over so often that it seems like it). My neighbors on the other side are Matt and Robert, anglo straight boys sharing a house who adore us and have since the day we moved in. My neighborhood is majority Hispanic (I think), and so I speak a lot more Spanish and a lot less English than I thought I would. It is clear that Dana and I are a couple no matter where we go, and even in traditionally heavily Roman Catholic neighborhoods, we are welcomed without incident.
But maybe it’s not really Houston or my neighbors or my neighborhood. I have learned that it’s possible to create your own reality by ignoring what you think people are going to say and just putting them in the position where they don’t want to be an asshole back to you. As prejudiced as some people are against lesbians, the easiest way to shut that shit down is to be welcoming to them so that the friendly or not response is on them. ESPECIALLY with business owners. They may fucking hate gay people, but know it’s ridiculous to lose a sale over it. They, above all things, know that there’s no such thing as “gay money.” They just wipe it off when we leave so they can’t catch it.
The funniest moments have come in terms of race. I have no problem with just waltzing in and being the only whitey in the place. This morning, Jose Garcia, behind me in line at the mercado, said that he’d never seen a white lady in that store before. That is because even though my Spanish is bad, I want a damn pineapple empanada in the morning. Although there is one lady that I have decided is dumb in any language. Every time we’ve gone there, I’ve given our order perfectly. Two tacos with eggs and salchichas. Two tacos with eggs and potatoes. On some days, I get nopales. She gets confused and I have to say our order three more times and she still doesn’t get it. The man behind me says EXACTLY THE SAME SHIT and all of the sudden, our order appears. I would think she was fucking with us if she didn’t seem so disoriented.
White’ll do that to ya.