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Out October: How Was It Being Gay In Bible-Belt Missouri?



Today’s Out October Project post comes from New York-based freelance photographer Charles Ludeke. He shares his process of coming to terms with his sexuality and he also adds a note to all. “Life is what you make it.”

It’s easy to stereotype things you don’t know. Being new to New York, a lot of people are in awe of the fact that I’m from Missouri. Most know nothing of it, let alone where it is. Then when I tell people I’m gay, they’re equally shocked.

“How was it being gay in Missouri?” I frequently get asked.

A fair question.

I grew up in Springfield, which is the buckle of the Bible Belt. And I mean it– the BUCKLE. The Assembly of God denomination has its headquarters there (for those unfamiliar, Southern Baptists call them crazy, but they’re not quite fundamentalists.) I’d say at least ninety-five percent of the town is white. For a town of 200,000, it was very white, very conservative, very Christian and very middle-class. My family and I would joke that when a new building was built, it was either a church, a bank or a restaurant. It was a town many people flocked to in search of The American Dream. Maybe for them it was, but for a closeted, non-Christian, non-conservative teenager? Springfield was something else.

Surprisingly enough, when I did decide to come out in my senior year of high school, I had a fairly easy time. Well, besides the typical inner turmoils we endure when finally being honest with others about who we really are.

“You told them?!?!” I remember being so angry at a friend for telling people that I was gay. In my mind, I told that person because I felt a certain sense of trust. I guess in their mind (it happened with more than one friend), it wasn’t that big of a deal. They also didn’t have to live it.

I started realizing I was attracted to men when I was twelve. I had the next five years to wrack my brain over being gay. I struggled with the sexual desires that my classmates certainly wouldn’t relate to. I didn’t talk about how great some girl’s tits were. I also grappled with trying to find some semblance of normalcy (like every other teenager.) In a school of 1,500 students, I’d say less than five were out. At the time, I didn’t feel that I was like the guy who straightened his hair and wore mascara. I was in the top eight at the state swimming championships on multiple occasions, I was on the principal’s honor roll, I was in yearbook. In my mind, I was a lot like any other kid. So being gay, and having only stereotypical associations of what was gay, fucked with my head. But like I said, it’s easy to stereotype what we don’t know. And I didn’t know anything about being gay.

So when my friends told other friends that I was gay, I freaked out. I was livid. Something that I had internally wrestled with for so long, they shared it with others like talking about what they had for lunch. It was hard not to be upset. Thankfully, none of my friends reacted negatively. None. Having grown up in such a conservative and Christian town, I feared the worst (isn’t everything the worst in our minds?) One of my teammates even called me one afternoon because he had heard people saying I was gay and he wanted to hear it from me, he didn’t want people talking badly about me if I wasn’t. When I told him I was, he said he had my back! People can really surprise me. I had so many friends that were there for me. No one harassed me. My friends were still my friends. No one cared. It was all in my mind. I was very, very lucky.

When college started a few months later, I stayed in Springfield so I could swim. During the first week or two, I met some guys that I thought I wanted to be friends with. But I reverted back to my closeted self. They talked about chicks, tits and had bad senses of humor. I even put up a poster of some bikini-clad girl on my dorm room wall! How pathetic. Luckily, I regained my sensibilities quickly. I knew this was regressing the progress I had made when high school ended and over the summer. So I found new friends. That’s when I met Will. He changed my life forever.

For Will, being gay was a non-issue. He was just himself. Like it or leave it. He didn’t try to impress. He just did his own thing. I had an incredible amount of respect for him. I was in awe of his confidence, the love he had for himself and his overall aura. It was contagious. I started being more comfortable with my sexuality, more confident in who I was and I finally shared interests with a friend. No more talking about having sex with women! What a relief. I didn’t have to sit there and act like I cared. Because when we hung out, I did care.

Besides learning to be more appreciative and loving of myself, Will introduced me to gay social outings. We went to some house parties with the small gay community from our school, I joined the LGBT group on campus and I went to my first gay club  — S4 in Dallas. I even had my first boyfriend that year! College was such a 180 from high school. It was so freeing.

But I didn’t just hang out with Will and our other gay friends. I was on the swim team, and these were the people I spent most of my time with. We practiced together 20 hours a week, ate our meals together and lived together. Like the friends I shortly spent time with at the beginning of school and with my friends in high school, being with these guys was like being in some weird hyper-masculine fraternity. Guys, particularly athletic guys, are in a constant drive to prove their manliness. Besides their endless talks of women, the stuff they talked about and were interested in didn’t phase me. They were boring. For the first month, I didn’t tell anyone on the team but a few girls. We had our team initiation at the end of September and the guys put us through the team’s silly rituals. At the end of the night, we were in one big circle and the new swimmers had to say who on the girls’ team we would have sex with.

“Oh God,” I thought.

I was last. When they turned to me, I balked in embarrassment. A few encouraged me by saying that they didn’t care. So I pointed to one of the guys and said him. They all laughed. So that was it. I outed myself (kind of.) Another surprising night, none of them gave me shit for it. They just asked how hot I thought they were, and what number they were on my “sleep with” list. Typical guys. I was just glad it went well.

Another unexpected response happened that year (and has occurred since.) One of the guys from that first group of friends I made at school (we were still friends, just didn’t hang out regularly) told me that he was really glad he met me. He explained that before he knew me, he had stereotypical ideas of what gay people were. But, he told me, I was “normal.”

It’s kind of a funny thing to say, and I imagine other people would’ve responded with “What does that mean?” But I understood. It brought me back to my closeted days trying to figure out myself. I remembered not feeling like the other out gay guys at my high school. I felt more mainstream. My friends saw in me what I saw in myself. I do exhibit a fair amount of stereotypes in my own right (my music taste, anyone?), but I am a fairly middle-of-the-road kind of guy. I appreciated his compliment. I was glad I could make a difference just by being myself. Simple enough, right?

Since then, I’ve made it a point to let people know I’m gay. It’s not a matter of “flaunting my sexuality.” I merely want people to get to know a gay person different than what they see portrayed on TV. My sexuality is as different as someone’s skin tone or hair color. It’s a part of us. This is my activism. I’m not a marcher. I don’t hand out fliers. I don’t lobby. I build relationships. I make connections. People will change quicker than laws. It’s easy for people to stereotype and make negative assumptions of gay people when they don’t know any. But when more of us are willing to come out and speak up, then more people will be able to have positive associations with gay people that know and that they care for. It’s up to individuals to make a change.

# # #

Addendum: I wrote this in mid September, before the recent upswing in teen suicides and the subsequent “It Gets Better” campaign. The phrase is slightly misleading. For those who aren’t out, or are out and still struggling: life doesn’t simply “get better.” You have to make it better.

In high school, I had a pretty rough time. I didn’t like or understand my sexuality, I was constantly condescending to people and I had a negative attitude. That’s what made me miserable. So I changed myself. I began to accept the fact that I was gay, I started treating people with respect and I tried my best to find the positivity in every situation. I love to laugh and smile; it completely changed my mood.

Life got better because I put in the effort to make my life better. I found the things in my life that I love and surrounded myself with them. I found the things that weighed me down and rid myself of those. I love my life, but I wouldn’t if I hadn’t taken steps and time to make it the way it is. Like Ru Paul says, “If you don’t love yourself, then how the hell will anyone else?” It’s true. I learned to love myself, now plenty of people love me too. If you want your life to be better, make it better. You’re the only one who can do it.

You can follow Charles on Twitter.

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Jobs Report Forces Fox News to Admit Biden Economy ‘A Lot Stronger Than Anybody Understands’



The monthly jobs report released Friday morning is being heralded as “robust,” “upbeat,” and “stronger than expected,” as unemployment again dropped to a near-50-year low (3.7%) while the economy added another 199,000 jobs.

“It’s the little engine that could, and this little locomotive keeps a chugging along…” declared professor of economics and public policy scholar Justin Wolfers.

“So the last three months have seen jobs growth at a very healthy average rate of +204k per month,” he added. “For context: Average monthly job growth from Jan 2000 to Dec 2019 was +87k.”

“If I had asked you a year ago to sketch what you thought a soft landing might look like,” he said, praising America’s post-COVID pandemic economy, “it’s likely you would have pretty much drawn the current economic data.”

On Thursday, Wolfers had discussed the incongruence between what economic data consistently shows about the strength of the U.S. economy, and what Americans are telling pollsters.

READ MORE: ‘Straight Up Flout the Law’: Trump Declares Judge Chutkan No Longer Has Power Over His Case

“There’s no question people are telling pollsters they’re miserable about the economy. But riddle me this,” he asked, “Why can’t we find evidence of this pessimism in anything other that public opinion polls? Every non-poll based indicator of confidence suggests folks are optimistic.”

Heather Long, The Washington Post economic columnist, offered this view in response to Friday’s jobs report.

“Step back for a minute and look at this US job market,” she wrote.
“4.7 million more jobs than pre-pandemic
Below 4% unemployment for two years
Wages growing faster than inflation
Women (ages 25 to 54) at an all-time high for labor force participation”

Even Fox News was forced to deliver positive comments while reporting on Friday’s monthly numbers.

READ MORE: Jim Comer Decimated by NBC Reporter in ‘Under Two Minutes’

“Overall you’ve got to look at this report as a big positive,” admitted pro-Trump Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo. “We’ve got more jobs created than expected.”

Speaking to the former chief economist of The White House National Economic Council under President Trump, Bartiromo said, “Joe LaVorgna, you’ve been saying this, the economy is a lot stronger than anybody understands.”

Watch below or at this link.


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Right Wing Evangelicals Are ‘Marinating’ in ‘Information Aimed at Making Them Fearful, Hostile’: Journalist



Evangelical support for former President Donald Trump, despite his own lack of devout faith, is no accident, author Tim Alberta told former CNN anchor Brian Stelter in an interview for Vanity Fair.

Rather, he argued, it is part of a deliberate campaign to radicalize and terrify them into loyalty — and part of what’s driving that is a “disproportionality crisis” of the information they are receiving.

““If you go to church on Sunday morning, you are going to be in the word with your pastor for, you know, 30 minutes, maybe 40, 45 minutes, and you sing some songs, and you say the prayers, and then you are out in the world for the rest of the week,” said Alberta. “And for most of these folks, as they’re out in the world, they are marinating in talk radio, in cable news, in social media—all of this information that is aimed at making them angry, fearful, hostile.”

Whereas they may hear Jesus’ message of tolerance, love, and forgiveness “on Sunday morning for 45 minutes, but then for 4, 5, 6, 10 hours during the week, you’re hearing the exact opposite. And it’s that ratio being so far out of whack that I think is really at the heart of the crisis here.”

And that’s assuming they’re at a church that will even give them messages of love and forgiveness in the first place — many pro-Trump pastors, like Greg Locke of Tennessee, have messages that are far angrier.

“[Trump] may not share their views, he may not sit in the pews with them, he may not read the good book like they do, but in some way, that’s his superpower,” Alberta explained. “He is free to fight in ways that are, you know, unrestrained, unmoored from biblical virtue. And that relationship with Trump has obviously evolved over the last eight years. What started as this very uneasy alliance for a lot of evangelicals with Trump has now morphed into this situation where, look, desperate times call for desperate measures. The barbarians are at the gates and we need a barbarian to keep them at bay.” This means that Trump’s increasingly dictatorial rhetoric is a natural outlet for the rage and frustration these evangelical voters are being fed.

None of this is to say that Trump has completely unified the evangelical world. Cracks have appeared in recent months, with prominent evangelical leaders like Bob Vander Plaats of Iowa endorsing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis out of concern about Trump’s electoral viability.


Editor’s note: Tim Alberta is an award-winning g journalist, a staff writer for The Atlantic, and author of “The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism,” and “American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump.”


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‘Straight Up Flout the Law’: Trump Declares Judge Chutkan No Longer Has Power Over His Case



Reacting to U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan’s ruling last week that Donald Trump is not immune from prosecution just because he was President during the time he attempted to subvert the U.S. Constitution and overthrow the government by overturning the results of the election, attorneys for the criminally-indicted ex-president on Thursday declared the judge no longer has any power over the case while they appeal her ruling.

Noting that the appeal “could take weeks or months,” Politico reports, “In the meantime, he says, Chutkan must postpone all deadlines and cede her authority over the matter.”

“Citing ‘political costs to President Trump and this country’ if the case were to move forward, Trump’s lawyers argued Thursday that he’s entitled to an ‘automatic stay’ while he appeals Chutkan’s ruling last week.”

Trump’s appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is “asking that court to overturn Chutkan’s ruling and dismiss the indictment against him,” Forbes adds.

READ MORE: House Republican’s Bill Aims to Put LGBTQ Children in Adoption and Foster Care at Risk

Trump had also argued that he is immune from prosecution because the Senate did not convict him after his second House impeachment, this one for “incitement of insurrection.” Judge Chutkan also denied that claim.

“’The filing of President Trump’s notice of appeal has deprived this Court of jurisdiction over this case in its entirety pending resolution of the appeal,’ Trump attorneys Todd Blanche and John Lauro wrote. ‘Therefore, a stay of all further proceedings is mandatory and automatic,'” Politico reports. “Trump’s attorneys indicated that even if Chutkan doesn’t grant the stay, they plan to ask the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to do so and intend to operate as if there is one in place.”

Trump lawyers say unless Chutkan reverses her ruling, they will ignore all deadlines and other court procedures, unless they are told otherwise.

The Trump lawyers’ motion says, “all current deadlines must be held in abeyance until, at minimum, this motion is resolved. President Trump will proceed based on that understanding and the authorities set forth herein absent further order of the Court.”

READ MORE: ‘Dystopian’: Potential Trump Cabinet Picks Send ‘5-Alarm’ Shock Waves of Terror

“Very much in character,” The Economist’s Supreme Court reporter Steven Mazie wrote of the move by attorneys for the ex-president. “Trump is purporting to straight up flout the law.”

Former U.S. DOJ official and FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissman, a professor of law, said Trump was acting “Impudently.”

Former federal prosecutor Dennis Aftergut, of counsel to Lawyers Defending American Democracy, on Monday at Slate wrote Judge Chutkan’s opinion ruling Trump cannot claim presidential immunity for trying to overturn the 2020 election, “is meticulously crafted with the Supreme Court in mind. The decision deploys every methodology of constitutional interpretation, including textualism, each variety of so-called originalism, attention to constitutional structure and underlying premises, functional considerations, and history.”

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