Here/Queer: Ann Arbor, My Bubble and Native Land


0. 2/20/2012 – Here/Queer Call for Submissions, by Riese
1. 3/02/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Montreal, Canada, by Sid
2. 3/05/2012 – Playlist: Here/Queer, by Riese
3. 3/05/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Portland, Oregon, by Lesbians in PDX
4. 3/07/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Brighton, United Kingdom, by Sarah Magdalena
5. 3/07/2012 – Oh But To Be A Queer in Sicily, by Jenn
6. 3/08/2012 – City Guide: Seattle, by Marley
7. 3/11/2012 – City Guide: Washington DC, by Keena
8. 3/13/2012 – Here/Queer: Sydney Mardi Gras Is On Your To-Do List, by Crystal
9. 3/14/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Spokane, Washington, by Ana
10. 3/15/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Cleveland, Ohio, by Lora
11. 3/16/2012 – Madison, WI and W4W Entertainment, by Emily
12. 3/16/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Dublin, Ireland, by Una
13. 3/19/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Vancouver, Canada, by Kathryn
14. 3/19/2012 – Things We Wrote That You Loved, by The Team
15. 3/20/2012 – Here/Queer: Boogie Down Bronx, by Gabby
16. 3/21/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Columbus, Ohio, by Dominique, Annie, Kat, Liz & Mila
17. 3/24/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Santa Fe, New Mexico, by Sam
18. 3/24/2012 – Here/Queer: Oxford, by Sybil
19. 3/26/2012 – Get Baked: Australian Edition, by Crystal
20. 3/26/2012 – Here/Queer: Brooklyn Under the Radar, by Samken
21. 3/27/2012 – Queer Girl City Guide: Albuquerque, New Mexico, by Juanita
22. 3/28/2012 – Everything Happens Elsewhere: Northern Ireland in the Nineties, by nine
23. 3/30/2012 – Ann Arbor, My Bubble and Native Land, by marebare

Up until last fall, I had lived in the same house in Ann Arbor, MI, for my whole life. I’d had every intention of getting the hell out of town for college, until I realized that the University of Michigan was far and away my cheapest option. So in September, I literally walked over to the dorms with all my stuff. I was starting a new life in COLLEGE! And college is awesome! Michigan is great!

Besides the occasional crazy guy shouting at students in the Diag to defend their precious virginity, Ann Arbor is still the same cool, accepting place that makes me feel equal to any straight girl. I still love it here! And that’s what worries me.

via money.cnn.com, courtesy: Ann Arbor area CVB

See, I’ve always loved to travel; I could never understand why my friends would throw away their money on “attractive clothing” when they could be saving it for a trip to Guatemala or Quebec or Dar es Salaam. I want to live all over the place, meet pretty ladies from every continent, and let nothing stop me from having all sorts of awesome adventures.

The problem is… maybe my hometown is too accepting. No, the problem is that Ann Arbor is the exact right amount of accepting, and I’m scared that I’ll never find that again, no matter where I go. Why leave the bubble? Why not just curl up forever in the Law Quad with my Comet Coffee, discussing the patriarchy with a couple of birkenstock’d amigas? SOMEONE GIVE ME A REASON PLEASE because I’m actually terrified of this, of never bringing myself to depart from my lovely overcast hipster utopia.

via money.cnn.com, Courtesy: City of Ann Arbor

This seems to be a problem that plagues a lot of kids who grow up here, if the 106 who came to UM from my high school are any indication. Even those who leave for college often transfer after a year or come back after graduation, saying that they had never appreciated Ann Arbor until they left and saw what it was like in the deep dark not-politically-correct “real world.” What, marijuana possession is more than a civil infraction in other cities? How does anyone get by??

But the anxiety is magnified by gayness, I think; when I came out to my friends here, reactions ranged from nonchalance to enthusiasm. But my classmates here tell different stories: there’s the confident lesbian who’s still closeted in her UP hometown (that’s Upper Peninsula to all you out-of-staters), the boy whose high school did nothing to stop his boyfriend from being bullied into suicide, the transgender 18-year-old who has to find somewhere to go for Christmas break because she’s not welcome at home. To be honest, I have no clue how they do it, because I’ve never had to deal with anything like that, and I’m worried that I’ve gotten too soft to deal handle anything outside of my 27-square-mile comfort zone.

And so I’ve been reading all these fantastic “Queer City Guides” here on Autostraddle with excitement (yay! I’m young and bi and can go hook up with girls everywhere!) and then I check out this page and realize that maybe moving to Tanzania to do research after graduation might not be such a good idea, considering that same-sex relationships there are punishable by life in prison. Yes, that’s right you lovely gay ladies, we are all dangerous dangerous felons.

via letssavemichigan.com

All this being said, discomfort towards my desire to remain planted in a safe, queer-accepting community is more or less the epitome of “first-world problems.” My hometown is just too wonderful! I could stay here forever with all my tolerant unicorn friends!

But imagine if every queer woman just remained where she was comfortable. Do we shortchange ourselves by assuming the bubble is the right place for queers to be? Do other places seem scary simply because they’re far away, and all I know is what I read or google?

For over a century, gays have migrated to cities like San Francisco and New York where they expected acceptance and where a legitimate gay social life could be had. They come from someplace lonely into someplace better. But I was born here. When “staying in your hometown forever” happens in broader cultural conversations, the stereotype tends to be about people who are “too conservative” to leave their home for the scary world. But what about being too radical to leave your home for the scary world?

We owe it to each other and to ourselves to expand our boundaries, but when will I know that it’s time to go?


Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.

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32 Comments

  1. “Even those who leave for college often transfer after a year or come back after graduation, saying that they had never appreciated Ann Arbor until they left and saw what it was like in the deep dark not-politically-correct “real world.””

    I felt this when I left my hometown, Champaign IL, for college. I didn’t really appreciate it when I was growing up there, but once I was gone, I missed my happy little midwestern town.

    • Speaking as a native Michigander, Grand Rapids is in one of the most conservative parts of the state. Ann Arbor is pretty much the opposite; it’s like a lovely little liberal utopia in a state that, while it usually goes blue thanks to its long labor history, is not exactly the best on gay rights or reproductive rights.

    • Even though there are tons of lesbos in Grand Rapids, I can’t stand the city or most of the people I met. Don’t plan to visit ever again.
      I went to college and lived in Ann Arbor for over six years, tried to stay but everyone wants to–that’s why there are people with PhDs working as cashiers. Fortunately I am only an hour away now, and I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had since leaving Ann Arbor for anything. But I might have had great experiences if I was able to stay…
      I think you can expand your boundaries (unless you are being literal) while still living somewhere you love if you can travel for lengths of time and still maintain your place in Ann Arbor. And if you aren’t being completely literal, one can expand their boundaries without leaving their house.
      Now I want a sandwich from Zingermans……………

  2. I miss Ann Arbor. Don’t leave if you don’t have to.

    But seriously I think it depends on the person. I feel like I discover new things about myself and it forces me out of my comfort zone when I move someplace new. But you could probably have those same experiences by traveling and volunteering all over the globe while always returning home at the end of a trip. I also I might just like forcing my family to fly all over the country in their efforts to visit me.

  3. We used to sing a song at Jew camp that went like this:

    Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish
    You’re never alone when you say you’re a Jew
    So when you’re not home, and you’re somewhere kind of new-ishhhh
    The odds are, don’t look far, ’cause they’re Jewish too!
    (ba da da, ba da da, ba da da da da)

    Now just substitute “Jew” with “gay” so that it reads “gayish” (or append “and gay!” to the end of “Jewish”). I think that no matter where you go, you will always be able to find your community, or carve out a place for yourself and others who share in your attitudes and beliefs. Plus, I think if you’re surrounded by love and acceptance and people who care about you at home, you can channel those feelings of validation and take them with you anywhere.

    Also, ANN ARBOR!!! I’d give anything to go back. So ignore everything I just said and stay there. Stay there forever.

  4. I sympathize. When I went to college I drove exactly an hour to Western Mass. For awhile I was pretty adamant that I would never live in a state where I couldn’t get married.

    Now I’m looking at grad schools and realizing that this may not be possible because there aren’t that many grad schools for what I want to do in states that allow gay marriage. Gah.

    I just really love Massachusetts.

  5. Part of traveling/living in other cultures is respecting their norms and laws. When I was in the Peace Corps I stayed in the closet (granted I wasn’t out to many people at that point anyway).

    I heard many more homophobic things there, often from my best friends, but they weren’t coming from a place of hate, just cultural norms. I argued for LGBTQ equality whenever it came up in conversation, and almost answered honestly when my best African friend asked me point blank if I was gay, but I thought it was potentially dangerous and decided against it.

    Was this the right way to handle the situation? Probably not for everyone, but it was right for me. I learned so much about myself, about the world, about community and family structure and even sexuality during my two years in West Africa. If you want this or a similar experience, evaluate what it is worth to you and what you personally can handle. It was so worth it for me. Even three years later, I still miss it daily.

  6. I feel there is a super gay/progressive/artsy/hippie web that stretches, sometimes tenuously but never broken, between cities like Ann Arbor, Madison, Austin, Ashville, Portland, Olympia, etc.

    So what I’m saying is, if you really must leave Ann Arbor at some point, there are plenty of other groovy bubbles into which you can move. 🙂

  7. My gf is from Michigan, not far from Ann Arbor. She keeps telling me that her hometown is nothing special and it’s really boring. I’m from Canberra (not originally) and everyone says that about Canberra in Australia. But a place is what you make of it yourself. I grew up in a really conservative area in Sydney so I liked Canberra, it was a little progressive city that feels like a country town and has some great coffee shops and restaurants. I definitely wanna visit Ann Arbor.

  8. Spent 5 years of my young childhood in Ann Arbor, I’ve only been back once and I’m dying to go back again. I have nothing but happy, beautiful, wonderfully diverse memories of Ann Arbor, especially when I consider the wealthy suburb of NYC that I grew up in and the very white Maine college town I live in today. Maybe I’ll get back soon!

  9. Yaaaay Ann Arbor. This is nice to see a post about this. I was kind of waiting for it. I have been at the university for 4 years here, and am graduating, and I’m feeling some of these feelings already. Ann Arbor is so crazy accepting and easy and lalala. And coming out in a place like this is like SOOO nice. I feel like being in such a great place really sped up my coming out, because it made me realize it wasn’t as scary as I thought.

    That said, there’s a lot it doesn’t have, and things you can’t do right in the city. And the community is ultra small as well, which can be good and bad.

  10. I wanna preface this comment by saying: I have lived in A2 for 22 out of 23 years of my life, and I love the city dearly. There’s a lot to love!
    HOWEVER, I personally would not describe it as a utopia, for two main reasons.
    1) There is a conservative minority that visibly hates us. I know, because I was brought up in an A2 homeschooling community that actively perpetuated bigotry of all stripes. But even outside the relatively small ultra-conservative groups, it’s hardly unending unicorns and rainbows; there’s plenty of bullying and harassment in the local high schools as well as UMich. Remember that Ann Arbor is not just a hippie town–it’s also the home of a Big Ten football team! That means a lot of jocks with a lot of ideas about masculinity.
    2) It is very very very gentrified, and very very very white. The university basically owns the town, which leads to an overall atmosphere of intellectual elitism: there is no shortage of middle-class ex-hippies who burn sage and wear vaguely ethnic fair-trade clothing. As for UMich itself, the queer student orgs can be really unwelcoming to students of color; admittedly, it’s worse for queer men than queer women. But on any given night, the Aut Bar in Kerrytown (the de facto gayborhood) is about 80% middle-aged white gay men. The Necto on Friday (the designated ‘Pride’ night, though the Monday night crowd is pretty gay as well) isn’t a lot better, though it’s a considerably younger crowd. The nearest lesbian bars are in Detroit–I’ve been to a few, but it’s a pretty long drive and frankly not really worth it.
    With all that said, it’s worth noting that the Spectrum Center at UMich is the oldest in the nation, and UMich is one of the few colleges that actually has several major LGBTQ student organizations to choose from. Also, if you get a chance, see Drag King Rebellion–they are subversive and awesome!
    Basically, you can find your people in Ann Arbor. It’s easier to find safe spaces here than in a lot of other cities. However, especially if you are a person of color who needs to navigate the halls of academia, expect to have to deal with harassment and marginalization even from within the queer community.
    I don’t want to come off too negative because again, I love Ann Arbor. It is generally pretty accepting of queerness, especially compared to other Michigan cities. But I know firsthand that it isn’t perfect, and I just want anyone who isn’t a middle-class white queer to go in with their eyes open–particularly if you’re gender non-conforming, because you will get bathroom-checked just as hard as anywhere else in the Midwest.
    I was pretty involved in the progressive student org scene (and I was pretty involved in the Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies departments) until I graduated in 2010, so if anyone has any questions about UMich I’d be happy to offer my two cents!

  11. I love a2 so much. I grew up in the burbs, so it was a really nice change of pace from being the ONLY GIRL OUT at my high school. I can totally understand what you’re saying here. I love travel too. But I do tend to latch onto places once I feel comfortable. I could see myself staying in Ann Arbor, or a few of the cities I’ve been to in Germany, but the uncertainty of how actually LIVING in other places might be? Especially if I can’t be as super crazy out as I am here? terrifying.

    Also, I work at Espresso on Main st and everyone on here who’s in Ann Arbor should come visit me sometime!

  12. Having been born and raised in the Bay Area, I can totally relate to this article. Currently still residing here and merely looking at out-of-state PhD programs makes me want to never leave CA.

  13. Having moved directly from Ann Arbor to Northampton, MA after high school, perhaps I’m not one to talk, but I really think there’s a lot to be said for puncturing the Liberaltopia Bubble. Something I disliked about Ann Arbor was the way that native Ann Arborites would hold knee jerk leftist convictions, none of which had ever really been tested. It’s almost impossible to find fault in a city with three brew pubs and a four-block Hash Bash, but there is plenty to be angry about elsewhere- Ypsilanti, for instance, Detroit! I think experiencing adversity and encountering people with whom you disagree is invaluable. This doesn’t mean you should go live in the Ozarks. But you should wander.

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