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“I am a lesbian living in a small town. I’m kind of "out” on a need-to-know basis, but I also fear that being out to the whole town will change how they treat me. I love my town for a million reasons, but I often wonder what living in a big city with a larger LGBTQ community would be like for me. I don’t want to leave my town, but are there better things out there for me? What should I do?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Cassidy Hill as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.

Cassidy Says:

I feel like there are two distinct parts to this question. You are a) interested inbecoming part of a community where you can be your authentic, gay self, and b) comfortable living in a small town and worry about big city life.

I can’t and definitely don’t want to make this decision for you. Judging from your question, though, I’m assuming that you’re already really considering life in the big city, but you’re nervous about what that might mean for you, a girl with some small town roots.

I would like to point out that, while big cities do often have pockets of really accepting people, they’re not necessarily exclusively “better” than small towns. Everyone’s story is different, and a great emigration of LGBTQ people out of small towns and into cities isn’t necessarily a “solution” to homophobia. Society as a whole is constantly growing and becoming more queer friendly, but small towns will be left in the dust if everyone leaves, thinking that they’ll only find sanctuary in the city. Both homophobia and sanctuary can be found wherever you are.

I didn’t grow up in a small town, but I definitely spent a good chunk of my life living in one. When I was in high school, I moved from the Baltimore suburbs to a verrry small town in Central Florida. Maybe it was because I didn’t grow up in that world, but small town life did not suit me; I didn’t come out until ages after I left. It also didn’t help that the only two (out) queer people in town weren’t treated super well. It wasn’t a dangerous/miserable existence for them or anything, but they were definitely subjected to your typical small town malarkey—gossip, speculation, unsavory jokes, etc. I’m guessing these are the types of things you worry might happen to you.

I will absolutely say that living somewhere with a large LGBTQ community has amazing benefits—benefits that I can’t imagine living without. When I first started coming out, I had already been living in Orlando for a year. Once I felt comfortable enough, I joined a social group at the local LGBTQ center. I had a lovely group of queer people (queerple?) help me navigate all those tricky stops along the coming out path. When I came out to my parents, my queerple were there to celebrate with me. I went to Pride for the first time. Never had I seen so many rainbow-sporting queer and trans people at once. The aptly named parade had done its job: for the first time ever, I felt proud. Actually proud.

If you’re super duper nervous about uprooting yourself for the city life, I recommend trying to find an LGBTQ center in the closest “big” city nearby. (Hopefully you’re not more than an hour or two away from one). Find out when they’re having a meeting or event, grab a friend, and make a mini-road trip night out of it. If you like it, keep going! (Well…as much as you can, obviously). Ask the locals about nightlife, places to live, what have you. You can build a social niche for yourself for if/when you ever decide to take big city leap.

You might decide not take that leap, and that’s okay! I hope you still manage to branch out and find that LGBTQ group. In all honesty, being a part of a queer group was what helped me through that tough coming out period—not necessarily a big city in general. You might try out the city life and decide that it’s not for you, and that’s okay too! The great thing is: you’ll most likely find yourself equipped with a new sense of confidence. My parents still live in that same town, and I feel less and less closeted each time I go back to visit them. Being around a group of accepting people really does help bring out the “I’m here, I’m queer” in all of us.

I totally get loving your town. Small towns are cozy, friendly, traffic-free, and definitely less stressful than the big city. Plus, you’re surrounded by friends and family members who know you better than anyone. Of course you’d want to preserve that familiarity. The great thing is that nothing is set in stone. You don’t have an obligation to leave; you don’t have an obligation to stay. Just remember: wherever you are, you get to be you—which is awesome. There’s nothing but new experience ahead of you, and that’s pretty exciting.

Good luck in your gayventures! I hope everything works out and that you get the chance to feel out and comfortable no matter where you are.

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