So, why did I hate Tennessee? In a neat package, it was due to intolerance and hypocrisy, but more specifically and in no particular order of importance:
Racism, conservative politics, and fundamentalist or quasi-fundamentalist Christianity (which itself presents myriad issues, such as abortion and heterosexuality).
For my first years of high school, I yearned and looked for ways out. I spoke disparagingly of the south at every opportunity. I was frequently the butt of family jokes, but at least my friends seemed to be in agreement with my sentiments. The fam kept asking what I was, then, if I was refusing to acknowledge my deep and undeniably southern roots. To them, lacking a geospatial identity was an entirely foreign concept. I didn't have an answer then, and I still don't. At the time, I chalked it up to the southern fear of outsiders and interlopers, despite whatever social niceties southerners make when a stranger comes to call.
I will say that I found myself incapable of reconciling my ways of knowing and being with those of southern extremism. Nearly always having felt my current ran exactly 180 degrees to the southern status quo, I believed that loving the place whence I came necessarily made me a traitor to other things I held dear. I couldn't willfully insert myself into the grey area of both shame and pride, could I? My world even then was far from being black and white, but embodying those particular polar feelings was extremely unattractive to me at the time. So I went with what I felt was more a popular response elsewhere in the U.S. and the world, which was hating the shit out of the south. At least I could say I abhorred country music--if anyone would ever get so far as asking instead of assuming. Even if they assumed, I imagined I put forth a cosmopolitan image that would dispel presuppositions about myself. It would be many years before I learned why that facade was a complete farce, and why the apparent hatred of my home was only reinforcing what a lot of people thought about it.
When it became evident the only universities that would deign to have me and my poor academic record were in my homeland, I refused to attend them. Manifested was a clinical depression. I suspect that's apparent from my LJ entries of yore--just go back ten years. My feelings of being completely out of place were writ large at the time. So I dated a southern Jew for seven years and worked in an Irish pub for much of that time. I drank myself into oblivion as often as possible and imagined it all sufficed as atonement. I look back on those years with zero regret--I absolutely needed them. I can't say all my problems were the result of a southern identity problem, but looking back, not knowing who I was or should be was a major contributor to all the fucking around I did circa 1999 to 2003.
In the years leading up to my departure from Tennessee, I actually acquired a fondness for the place, and by twenty-seven I had to admit I quite liked it. I had fallen in with a group of incredible friends (nearly all anthropology majors) at MTSU, had become completely enamored of Tennessee archaeology, met the love of my life, and acknowledged that my ancestral past was far from being plain old whitey. I proclaimed my love of barbecue, corn, and tomatoes. I accepted that ticks were an unfortunate parasite of human existence. Maybe it was that I finally realized I couldn't pretend to be from any other place? I gleefully drank moonshine, and failing that, Jack. Or bourbon. (I'm still not picky, though it's in greater moderation these days.) I couldn't deny the etymological links between the Irish and Scottish music I loved so well and country music. Same for step dancing and clogging/square dancing.
There were also questions. What about my shovel-shaped incisors? Did my requirement of a daily bath and the importance placed upon it get passed down from my great-great-grandmother going to water ? And even less scientifically, where did I get this massive forehead? I began to realize and acknowledge that my ancestry didn't neatly belong to the British Isles, and that if my North American ancestors acknowledged the presence of English/Irish/Scottish chicks/dudes for a handful of generations, then perhaps I should ridden myself less with western European guilt. It's a stretch, I know--I majored in Anthropology and minored in Native American Studies, after all, and am completely aware of the deleterious effect (to put it most mildly) of Europeans in North America. But perhaps the love of my homeland was more ingrained and explicable than I had previously believed?
It really should come as no surprise to you that, deep down, I loved Tennessee--even if it did to me. (Especially the mountains, from where all my family hailed.) I had wasted so many years hating the people my ancestors never were--the slave-holding plantation owner, for one--that I never bothered to believe my genetic and cultural past could be richer (and less elitist) than what I had gathered from my twenty-odd years on this earth.
I think this was supposed to be far more insightful than it's turned out to be, but I've consumed the entire bottle of wine and now all I want to do is take a shower.
Drunk Cherokee, indeed.