June 11, 2012
PART I: Am I the Unabomber?(Note: I moved from Montana to California)
So I sent a good-looking, smart-sounding guy a note on OkCupid (an online dating site), and he writes back:
"How do I know you're not the Unabomber with Internet access and a camera phone (because of your long ass profile and Montana wilderness thing going on?)"
A very good, valid and interesting question -- one I am not quite sure how to answer. Perhaps I can reassure you by pointing out that if I were, indeed, the Unabomber, my profile would be a more redundant, tedious, academic manifesto about the evils of industrial society, Eric Hoffer-type “True Believer” leftism and the erosion of human freedom necessitated by modern technologies. . . hmmm . . . actually, come to think of it, I understand your concerns.
Okay, how about this: I suck at math and could never get accepted to Harvard.
Besides, if I were Ted Kaczynski, I would be safely locked away in a Colorado prison. Similarly, the thought of psychos being "safely locked up" alleviates my concerns that you might be Charles Manson. (But if we do hit it off, would you consider being cellmates?)
This does remind me of a funny story: At the time the Unabomber was making news, there was also the FBI vs the "Freeman" incident going on in eastern Montana and "Mad Cow" disease had broken out in England. A Missoula radio station held a contest to come up with a new tourist slogan for Montana. These were the top three:
3) Montana: The Last Best Place To Hide!
2) Montana: It's Where You're Wanted!
1) Montana: At Least Our Cows Are Sane!
Now if only they'd give me access to the post office . . .
PART II: In Defense of Gay Montana.His reply to my response:
Why did I know I would get the loquacious answer I got? I hope you had to do a little research on Mr. K for your email but maybe all the facts are fresh in your head? Please don't tell me either way - could be worrisome and I'll just leave it at "Wow, you replied to my email!"
I liked your Montana story and will update my probably out of date impression that it's a beautiful state where more than half the people hate me and the rest may wonder if we will hit it off and move to Montana and gay up the neighborhood.
It's always interesting (and understandable) to hear people's impressions of Montana. And if it helps keep the place from getting too crowded and becoming like everywhere else I am tempted to perpetuate the stereotypes.
But the truth is: Montana is overall a fairly independent, Libertarian sort of "live and let live" place -- which I think, in many ways, has more in common with Alberta, Canada then it has with most other states. Both our current senators and governor are democrats. When Sen. Jon Tester (a farmer from Big Sandy) was running against incumbent Conrad Burns (a first class moron who did perpetuate stereotypes of Montana), Burns tried to make an issue of Tester's openly out gay son Shon. Jon responded: "What does that have to with anything? I love my son and I'm proud of him." It backfired on Burns. Fortunately, Tester won.
Most of Montana is a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" kind of place with very little religious influence. For the most part, people don't care if you're gay but they don't really want to see overt, open displays of affection. But it's very rare to see or find open displays of hate.
The small, unusual pockets of hate that do exist (parts of the Flathead Valley come to mind) is mostly perpetuated by a handful of right-wing wackos who move to Montana from elsewhere, mistakenly thinking it was a place they could hide, escape, or retreat to the "last vestige of real, white, God-fearing America" and find acceptance for their extremist views. In other words: They, too, have misconceptions of Montana. Fortunately, they're wrong; Montanans overwhelmingly reject such views.
Then there is Missoula, where I moved from and lived for 26 years: A relatively small, liberal, hippie-like college town in the mountains where sometimes it seems everyone is an activist and there's a bong on almost every kitchen table (at least among my friends). And it's pretty gay. It's the kind of place where being gay is kind of "cool."
Hellgate High School in Missoula was one of the first high schools in the nation to establish a Gay-Straight Alliance, and as far as I know it is still going strong.
There used to be a gay bar in Missoula that closed, not because anyone had a problem with it but mostly because it was a dive not a lot of people really wanted to go to, it ran into health violations and other legal issues, and, ironically, the manager was a homophobic prick. I also think it had a lot to do with the fact that in more recent years (particularly among the younger crowds) gays and straights are all friends who hang out together and so every bar in Missoula seems a mix of gay and straight with no issues (as it should be). If you go solely by the percentage of total population, Missoula may be almost as gay as the Bay (minus the fun decadence of, say, the Folsom Street Fair). It's a good place.
I served two terms as President of the Montana Wildlife Federation and was actively involved in politics and known in certain circles throughout the state for my activism and writing. There were people who didn't care for me because I am a wolf-loving, tree-hugging environmentalist. But my being gay was never an issue. In fact, when I first came out of the closet and had an essay widely published (and also did an NPR commentary on) called "Brokeback Mountain: Best Elk Hunting Movie?," (about being a gay elk hunter in Montana), a fourth-generation Montana rancher I know near Choteau slapped me on the back one day and said: "I read your essay -- I knew you were a gutsy guy but you've got more guts than I even thought. I admire and respect you for that." That's the kind of place Montana can often be.
This is not to say Montana does not experience sad, unfortunate, sometimes horrific incidences of hate crimes and homophobia. But no more so (and I would say even less so) than most of rural California. Montanans did vote to ban gay marriages, but I see that as no less ignorant than California voters passing Proposition 8. We have a ways to go everywhere, for sure, but things do get better everyday.
And yes -- Montana is an amazingly beautiful and wild place. I miss it and plan to return home when I can. Maybe I'll even get legally married there someday.
As for my memory of Unabomber details: Thank god for Wikipedia!
PART III: The DateTo be continued (stay tuned) . . .
(Will the California city boy and the Montana wilderness advocate fall in love, move back to the Big Sky together, spend their days roaming the wild backcountry, eat wild elk and trout, share a passionate and adventurous life together and live happily ever after? . . . Of course not! But if any of that actually sounds good to you -- and you're single, smart, interesting and cute -- please send me a note!)