No matter where you go in this life, you’re going to find people everyday who are struggling to accept who they are. Maybe they’ll have a problem with their weight. Maybe they’ll not be satisfied with a relationship in their life. Or, perhaps, maybe they’ll be struggling to figure out what to do with their feelings about being gay. The way I see it, you have two options: squash ’em or let ’em live. In a parking lot in Indiana, we met two people who had made two very different decisions about how they were going to live their lives…
DAY 4 – Thursday, July 4th:
The cool thing about being on the road for the holiday was that is was…cool. Monday it had reached 106 degrees in Washington. Tuesday was 99 in Montana. Wednesday was 88 in South Dakota. But on the fourth it was…fine, acceptable.
Waking up at 11 after less than six hours of sleep wasn’t exactly a priority of mine, but the Fagbug waits for no man – gay or straight. Erin and I met up with her friends – the owners of the apartment we had just stayed in – at a diner in Milwaukee. Both President Obama and Clinton have dined at this establishment before, that was its claim to fame. I found the time that we got to spend with Jimmy and Trevor very enjoyable. In fact, they were so funny that Erin and I kept quoting some of the things they had said during breakfast on the rest of our drive for the day.
Standing outside of the diner, just after we had finished eating, we said goodbye to our Wisconsin friends and were ready to continue heading east. I remember feeling especially accomplished for making it to Wisconsin because I had driven from New York to Wisconsin (and back) before. This meant that we were at least in range of our final destination. That was a welcomed thought. The moment we left Jimmy and Trevor to walk back to the car, some people started shouting across the street, asking what a Fagbug was. Like bees to honey, Erin and I had grabbed the video camera and were interviewing the people within a matter of minutes. There was an interesting dynamic in the little group. It was a grown brother and sister who had gotten together for the holiday. She was sitting out on a picnic blanket on the apartment complex lawn, she had a glass of wine in her hand and her daughter was sitting next to her. Her brother, who actually opened up a bit in the interview, was flipping some huge ribs on the grill. The ribs set the tone for the part of the country we were in, both Erin and I don’t eat meat so it was kind of funny to do an interview with someone in the process of cooking up meat.
Since both the brother and the sister were such characters, we were excited to get them on film. Unfortunately, it took quite some time to convince them to actually do the interviews. We never got the sister to come around, but she offered some interesting insight nonetheless. She kept holding up her hand, tossing her wine glass around in the air, gesturing to make sure that we understood – she doesn’t think anyone should be discriminated against, but she also doesn’t think anybody should be gay. I found this view, this stance to be very unique especially since — get this — she has a gay sister! Her brother, on the other hand, actually let us hit record on the camera and he gave us an ear full about how gay people are being genetically engineered, or something along those lines. Basically these were some very vocal, very interesting Wisconsins and I was so happy we had gotten the chance to speak with them, because in the end, they were just kind people. Sadly, this put us on the road at about 2:30. Once again, way behind schedule.
Erin and I were fortunate enough to have friends along the way on our cross-country trek. For the coming night, I was able to set up a place for us to stay with my high school friend, Bob. His place in western Ohio was almost right in line with where we were headed, so we decided to take it easy on ourselves after our previous 23 hour day and make it to our next destination at a reasonable hour. I think we initially planned to arrive in Ohio at about 8:30 – we got there just after midnight. But, no bother, there were things that had to be filmed! On our way out of Wisconsin, a particularly memorable girl zooming off of an on-ramp had rolled down her window and screamed “AWESOME!” at us. I thought that was some nice motivation to get the day going. Then we crossed into Illinois.
The road we were on in Illinois took us right through Chicago. I hadn’t been through that city in almost a decade, so it was kind of cool to see the skyline again. There were lots of opportunity to capture some stares and some thumbs up on camera when we passed through Chicago. This was by far the most populated spot we cruised through during our five days on the road. I don’t think much else memorable happened in the city though, we were able to listen to a variety of radio stations for a little while though – you gotta love cities for that reason, at least. Illinois was a quick state to drive through, the next thing we knew, we were in Indiana.
Indiana was the state that made the trip for me. When I say that the trip changed my life, it has to do with what happened in Indiana, everything else was just the icing on the cake of change.
Erin pulled the Fagbug into a parking lot outside of a Jimmy John’s sub shop. For the first and only time on the entire trip, I had no desire to use the bathroom or urge to get a snack or a drink, so I just stayed in the car. She went in to get her sub, but it turns out the sub shop was closed. This is only significant because Jimmy John’s is known for making their subs fast and getting the customer out the door rather quickly. Since they weren’t open, Erin had to go to Starbucks, where she ordered something that took just long enough for the series of events that needed to unfold to unfold. It started with a girl who was sporting a short skirt and high boots. She came over to the car, asked if she could take a picture, did so, and then left. When Erin came back to the car, I mentioned to her that the girl (who was meandering around the parking lot) was interested in the car. I ran over to ask the girl if she’d be interested in doing an interview. She agreed, “thank God, I did my makeup today.” It turns out she was from Minnesota, just visiting her friend in Indiana for a few days. That friend, who was using the internet in front of the Starbucks, she said, was very conservative and would be more than willing to do an interview. While he finished up his computer time, Erin and I both debated whether or not doing an interview with him was going to be worth it. We were a few hours away from dark (again) and we knew our destination wasn’t getting any closer. But, we held out, and I’m so glad we did. While we were waiting, all of a sudden this ecstatic young man came out of the woodwork and was flipping out over seeing Erin and the car. She is a celebrity in the gay community, she really is.
I was so intrigued to see someone so interested in the car who had heard of it before. I think most people’s reactions to the car are their first experience ever seeing it, and then they see the website decal on the side of the car and take the chance to check out the details about why it exists and why it is named what it is named. But this guy had seen the movie and couldn’t believe that the rainbow car was parked in his little Indiana town. When he first came over, he said something along the lines of, “I cannot believe this! Are you really here?” I ended up taking a picture of the two of them and then Erin got him to do an interview. I stood behind her while she asked him questions and I didn’t think much about what he was saying until he got to a certain point in his story. Erin asked him where he had seen the film and how he had heard about it. He mentioned something about Netflix and then I did the math in my head: he had gone on Netflix and done a search in the lesbian and gay movies section and stumbled across “Fagbug.” When Erin asked him what his sexual orientation was, he stumbled. With his hands on his hips, almost as in a defensive pose, he admitted he was gay. Then he followed that up by saying that he wasn’t out to his family yet, he had moved away from them in an attempt to set up his own life and eventually come out to them. When Erin asked him how old he was, he said he was 22 with a little bit of shame in his voice. I gathered this meant he wishes he had come out earlier in life. Then, the heartbreaking question, “what will your parents say when you tell them?” He inhaled again, hands still on his hips, “they will probably disown me. They will disown me.”
What year is this? How is this still a thing? His answer hit me like a ton of bricks. How could somebody give birth to a child, raise it, love it, help it along in the world, and then want nothing to do with it because they are gay? Really? REALLY!? Anyway, I spent the rest of the interview thinking about how I needed to hug my mother when I got home and thank her for her unconditional love and support. I also wanted to hug our interviewee, but somehow I missed the opportunity. When he admitted to being gay on camera, he made a nervous smile and said, “well, my family doesn’t know yet, so HI GUYS.” You hear about garbage like this in the news all of the time. I’ve heard countless stories from the LGBT community about the abuse they’ve suffered just for being who they are, but this happy guy, a guy who could excitedly make his way over to the rainbow car that he had seen in a movie a few months back, to see him struggle to admit to all of the truths in his life to the camera, it was tough to witness.
By the time that interview had wrapped up, the potentially conservative friend of the first interviewee had made his way over and agreed to do an interview. Fortunately, Erin did that interview on her own. I was busy wrangling up another woman who had come over to see the car and was excited to share her story about how she grew up in the 70’s and both her mother and grandmother were gay. She; however, was straight. She had a thing or two to say about the word “fag” too. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to stay for an interview because the one Erin was in the middle of was taking too long. From afar, I could tell that Erin and the interviewee were not getting along. As a matter of fact, I knew they weren’t getting along because Erin is usually pretty chill and just accepts whatever people say since she is a documentary film maker, but this guy must have been saying some pretty edgy stuff because she started to fire back at him. When the interview was over, despite having been heated on both sides, he still signed his waiver to be used on film and they actually ended up giving each other a hug, as if to call a truce. Hats off to Erin, once again.
After all of that, which I think took around two hours (so much for a quick stop for a sandwich), we had a lot to talk about in the car. We came to the conclusion that the intense, conservative interviewee was a closet homosexual, someone who was completely in denial and furious at himself for being gay. So, I was able to draw this comparison about what you can do with your homosexuality: You’re gay no matter what…you’re born that way, whether you choose to believe that or not (I’m telling you, you’re born that way). Your only option is what you’re going to do with your identity. You can try to crush it, try to stunt it, try to make it go away OR you can embrace it, find acceptance in who you are, fight through the struggle, and hopefully go on to live a happy, meaningful life. These two men, who were kind enough to share their thoughts on camera, were the perfect examples of the two paths you can choose to take. Alas, it was a heart-breaking and heart-opening pit stop there in Central Indiana.
We crossed into Ohio as the random towns we passed through were putting on individual firework displays. We did our best to get shots of the car driving by as fireworks were going off but it proved to be difficult and, again, dangerous. We arrived at my buddy’s house after meandering through WAY too many cornfields just after midnight. There wasn’t much time for chatting, just a quick hello and then the sound of bodies collapsing onto couches.