Although I haven’t lived in Tennessee my entire life, but for many people here at least, I am considered a native Tennessean. My family moved here in 1992, and other than a 5-year span of living in other states (SC and KY), I’ve been here ever since. It’s absolutely beautiful here with rolling hills of greenery and fields covered in flowers of every color you can think of. My happy place is the Warner Parks (Edwin and Percy), just a short walk from my current house (and even closer from my childhood home), and I can’t even count how many times I purposefully got lost in Nashville as a teenager, just so I could see the unique buildings and lesser-known shops and venues that I’d recommend to my family and friends. Adulthood started in Murfreesboro, a mere 45-minute drive to my parents’ and yet far enough away that I could make my mistakes, and various loves have seen me traverse across the wedge-shaped state I call home.
And yet now, I barely recognize it. Or maybe, I finally do.
The governor of Tennessee, Bill “Asshat” Lee, has signed a bill banning drag shows in public spaces – which brings me many questions regarding this year’s Pride celebration, but that’s for another time – and gender-affirming care for minors. Because that’s what he apparently thinks are the most important things to tackle in this godforsaken state. Our state never spends on behalf of its people; it rejects federal funds for projects like providing healthcare to people who can’t afford to pay for it. We rank 40th in the nation for healthcare related issues, with limited access to said healthcare – despite having Vanderbilt, Ascension, and HCA being here – and limited activity in the interest of public health (US News, 2019). We may be one of the most fiscally healthy states according to the US News listicle, but according to Forbes in 2021, we’re also the 9th poorest state in the entire nation. Instead of putting money back to the people by providing better public transportation or investing in public schools, we have our leaders forcing taxpayers into paying for the Titans’ new football stadium and pushing private/charter school vouchers. It’s infuriating. Despite the fact that Tennessee ranks 40th in firearm-related violence, we now, thanks to aforementioned Asshat, have permitless carry throughout the state. My state was also one of the first to have strict abortion laws take effect just as soon as the Roe v. Wade was struck down by the Supreme Court.
I’m tired. And sad. And frustrated. But no matter how much we fight, our voices are quashed by what I consider an illegitimate set of lawmakers. They split up Nashville, a blue-leaning city, into different pieces and merged them with more red-leaning counties, effectively making sure the city and therefore the state a much redder – and much more dangerous – place to live.
I badly need to leave, but for right now, I can’t. My plan last year was to move to Seattle when I received a job offer there, but the moving costs and rent were just too high for me to follow through. I would have been going there with literally nothing – well, a U-Haul, maybe a couple hundred bucks, and two cats and a dog – so yeah, I’m kind of stuck. Part of me is planning and saving money so I can abandon this hellhole for someplace more welcoming, but I also feel bad about abandoning those who truly do not have any other recourse. I have the benefit of being a white woman, but I’m pansexual, agnostic, liberal, and educated, so … I’m not the worst, but I am most definitely not a favorite. However, that doesn’t mean that I will suffer the same as those who do not look or behave like me. I fear for my fellow Tennesseans, I truly do.
It hurts me to think of this state as irredeemable, but it seems as if there is no turning back from this type of fascism. At a recent ribbon cutting for a YMCA – why Bill Lee was there is still a giant question for me – two men protested the drag bill, and both were arrested for … I’ll let you guess.
This is the state I live in. Where you can be arrested for simply speaking your mind, especially if it’s in defense of your marginalized community. Where you can be jailed for dressing in clothes that are apparently made for another gender. Where you can’t get an abortion or receive gender-affirming care. This is a hellscape of a state that I cannot escape for the time being. And I’m mad that it took me this long to realize that it’s always been this way, that I’ve just been incredibly blind and/or privileged that I just never thought about it. Or maybe I’m just now realizing how pernicious Christian nationalists are.
As my friend David Dark says, “Stay safe, everyone.”