by Nicole Crews
Me: Do you think there will be a huge surge in adult-diaper sales if HB2 is repealed?
When I was growing up in small-town North Carolina in the ’70s and ’80s I had a distinct inkling that my presence here was some terrible, cosmic mistake. I was sure that somewhere in Manhattan there was a little freckled girl with pigtails in overalls longing to dig her bare feet into red clay and her maw into a slab of chopped pork and that we had somehow been switched at birth.
I had read that David Bowie enjoyed bouillabaisse and I was convinced that said freckled child was turning up her nose at it in the same way I eschewed NC barbecue. I longed for bouillabaisse and cement sidewalks that stretched for leg-aching miles. I was obsessed with elevators and tall buildings and nightclubs and people with foreign accents and exotic skin.
My Greek mother and I had about the most exotic skin to be found in that small town, with the exception of a few Laotians and the odd Italian transplant. It was Scots-Irish white and African-American black all around and more often than not I was mistaken for the latter.
It didn’t help that our maid, the ebony-hued Miss Ruby Mae Wilson, braided my hair like Bo Derek’s and walked me to school every day. Nor did it help that my mother was often absent — off being a designing woman in the big city.
I was friends with one of the only Jewish kids around and I’ll never forget introducing her to my mother one day and her saying, “Oh, I thought your mom was black,” and not batting an eye. I guess that’s why we were friends. It didn’t matter to her. But it did to a lot of people.
I found out years later that there were kids whose parents didn’t want them to be friends with me because they thought my parents were mixed race. My parents thought it was funny because, one, it wasn’t true; two, they didn’t care. Lastly, because Miss Ruby was kind of the town character — pushing me around in a stroller with a bucket in it when I got too fat for it, dressing in wild, mixed prints and plaids that may have informed my fashion sense more than I care to admit.
Then there was the added notion that our home was a gathering place for gays, and in the era of AIDS there was an uninformed scare factor that many employed. My mother was a designer for chrissakes. She had more gay colleagues and friends than the Sugarbaker sisters combined.
But that’s how it goes in the South — and beyond. You realize that bigotry is alive and well but you insulate yourself from it. The thinking Southerner chooses friends based on their character and how they treat you and others — not because of the color of their skin, their religion, their sexual orientation or age.
This unusual upbringing informed my life in many ways. In short, I ran away. I lived and went to school in Europe for two years as an undergrad in an effort to escape the Old North State and its status quo Senator No (Jesse Helms was in the US Senate from 1973 to 2003). I lived in California, Hawaii and New York, and worked in Texas and Mexico for long stints. I took a year-plus sabbatical of sorts to Southeast Asia at one point, but throughout all of this itchy-footed wanderlust I still held out hope for North Carolina.
I moved back here in 2000 and for the last 16 years I’ve been excited to see the resurgence of our downtowns, our music scene light up the world, our culinary presence announce itself loudly and clearly and our young people staying and being proud to call North Carolina home.
And then came our current state legislature whose agenda appears to be to thrust us back in time. We have seen the loss of teachers migrating to more education-driven states. We have witnessed the veritable vanishing act of the NC film scene. We have seen industries and artists boycott us due to our state’s recent legislation — HB 2, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. It is the last nail in the casket on much of the aforementioned progress. It’s not about bathrooms — it’s about backward thinking and robbing us of the freedom to defend ourselves whomever that self may be — to be rather than to seem.