Young and gay in Tulsa

An extraordinary piece of long narrative journalism in the Washington Post: In the Bible Belt, Acceptance Is Hard-Won.

Michael Shackelford slides under his 1988 Chevy Cheyenne. Ratchet in hand, he peers into the truck’s dark cavern, tapping his boot to Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings” drifting from the garage.

Flat on his back, staring into the cylinders and bearings, Michael fixes his truck like he wishes he could fix himself.

“I wake up and I try so hard to look at a girl,” he says. “I tell myself I’m gonna be different. It doesn’t work.”

Michael is 17 and gay, though his mother still cries and asks, “Are you sure?” He’s pretty sure. It’s just that he doesn’t exactly know how to be gay in rural Oklahoma.

It has its fair share of clichés but it is a beautifully crafted piece of journalism that allows us into Michael’s life as well as the life of his less than accepting mother. It reminds us that “while the rest of the country is debating same-sex marriage, Michael’s America is still dealing with the basics”.

There are no rainbow flags here. No openly gay teacher at the high school. There is just the wind knifing down the plains, and people praying over their lunches in the yellow booths at Subway. Michael loves this place, but can it still be home? What if the preachers and the country music songs are right?

Well worth a look.

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