Oh, Gentle Reader, you know me well enough by now to know that I’m peculiar, pompous, and overly fond of formal dress – don’t mistake me; I have bad points, too. I grew up in a place called the Key Peninsula, and still spend a fair amount of time there. It’s a backward backwater. That isn’t to say that the K.P. is entirely without merit, but it should suffice to say that I do not quite fit in there.
The culture clash between the KP and Gig Harbor itself is deep and firmly ingrained. The Harbor is firmly upper-middle class suburbia, comprised of gated communities and country clubs; the KP is mostly made-up of mobile homes and meth labs. The clear and sharp class divide is emphasised by the actual physical separation from the Harbor; the separate identity is reinforced by the outlook of individuals of both areas. It’s unfortunate that the bulk of the KP identity is tied up with racism, sexism, homophobia, and general fear of the Other.
I still attend a fair number of parties on the K.P., and I enjoy them. Despite the fact that you quite literally leave the law behind when you cross onto it*, there is nothing wrong with beer and bonfires. If you differ at all from the standard herd, though, you are almost forced to become an advocate for equality. Though the area is chiefly populated by a strange redneck/thug hybrid, there are many good souls, some really wonderful people; with a little persistence, persuasion, they can be brought to a point where they will even stand up for you against their ill-educated, ignorant, brethren.
The two fellas pictured, for example, have always been very kind to me. I’ve known them for years, and they’re good people. They have both, in fact, called out their buddies on using the word “faggot” on my behalf. However, those of us out here who are outside the KParadigm aren’t always lucky enough to have an inside man.
If you’re not an “inside man” and you call someone on their racism, you get the invariable response “But you’re not black.” If you call someone on their homophobia, you get “Hey man – I didn’t mean you” or “Figure of speech, bro. Suck it up.” If you call people on their sexism, it’s “C’mon, dude – I was joking.”
The trouble occurs when I show up at a function on the K.P. where I don’t know everyone. You see, when I’m invited to a party, I spend days or weeks designing my outfit. I can’t help it; I’m a bit of a clothes horse, and I have whims, like “expressing myself” and “refusing to apologize for who I am.” Whims need to be fulfilled. Therefore, I’ll show up at these casual, laid-back, redneck gatherings, looking like this:
Or, even worse, like this:
My friends out there have gotten used to me, and love me anyway – perhaps even more – because of my little peccadilloes. I’ve been told more than once that I class up the joint. Nonetheless, even when not at a party, I tend to be more than casually dressed. I’m particularly known for colorful velvet blazers. When shopping, or buying gas, or visiting a hick dive bar, it’s like taunting an already angry bull.
I can’t count the times that I’ve heard a slur or a threat hurled in my direction. Sometimes, I’m able to slink quietly away, and pretend it never happened, licking my wounds in the privacy of a friend’s home or car. These events can shake me to my soul. Other times, I hold my head high, and confront the fucker – I will not stand for blatant, casual hatred, and racism, sexism, and homophobia are rampant, unrepentant, on the K. P. Despite the fact that I’m undeniably dapper, I don’t shy away from a fight. Of course, confrontation usually brings conversation – frequently, the instigator hasn’t meant offense. It’s all just part of the culture of the K.P.
*I’m serious. If you telephone the police to report a robbery in progress, you won’t see them until the next day, at the earliest. It’s more usual not to see them for a week. You can’t rely on them.