Can We Be Gay Here? Asheville, North Carolina
After living in Austin, Texas for five years, we understand that certain blue islands can exist within larger red states. This seems to be the case with the liberal, quirky city of Asheville in the controversially conservative North Carolina. Once again, on our trip to Asheville we asked each other the recurring question of our recent travels: Can we be gay here?
During the drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains and neighboring rural towns, I white-knuckled the car door handle, in part because Hunter’s driving style differs from mine, but also out of an imagined, irrational fear that mountain people would sense a gay caravan was passing through their town and attack. Fortunately, that was just fatigue fueling my fears on our nearly eight-hour drive from Virginia, through Tennessee to North Carolina.
Just after ten o’clock, we settled into our comfortable Airbnb: a basement apartment beneath a house fit with a mountain view, friendly cats, and a chicken coup in the backyard. I noticed a political sign in their front yard supporting a local independent progressive. Perfect. The next morning, we feasted on breakfast tacos at Taco Billy, which transported us back to Austin’s East Side. We felt we were fitting in already. For the remainder of the day, we visited artisan shops, a farmer’s market, and a Nepalese store where I purchased a cool tunic. Neither of us hesitated to hold each other’s hand as we strolled the streets, nor did we catch any of the disapproving glares we frequently attract.
The hipster breweries were the perfect places to relax and throw back a few pints Saturday afternoon and evening (favorites include: Wicked Weed and Archetype). Asheville seemed to be teeming with queer folk, feminist art (See: aSHEville Museum), and a liberal attitude of tolerance. We felt completely at ease when visiting the megalith stone-walled Grove Park Inn and wandering through the immaculately decorated halls and gardens of the Biltmore Estate. Perhaps, the tourist atmosphere and liberal reputation of Asheville breeds a sense of tolerance amongst its myriad of visitors from around the country. We only questioned whether we could “be gay” during the local Christmas parade when we walked through families donning leather vests and confederate flag embroidery. Swiftly crosses street and enters essential oil shop to escape Trump’s America. But all in all, Asheville reminded us a great deal of a mountain version of Austin complete with art, music, and a quirky personality.
So, to answer my earlier question: Yes, we can be gay in here. And one more question, does anyone need any ceramic mugs? We purchased too many at the River Arts District. ☺
-Kat & Hunter