I'm a Radical Parent Choosing to Raise My Family in a Red, Southern State

Coming to peace with being from the liberal North and finding my radical community down South.
Publish date:
June 29, 2016
parenting, moving, settling down

In all my wildest imaginings of where I would find "home," I never envisioned myself in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Nonetheless, this is the place I have chosen to call my home and community.

I've lived many places throughout my life, mostly in the Northern states. I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. As a teen I spent a lot of my time on a Metro North train bound for NYC, exploring the city with a tight circle of friends from the surrounding Tri-State area. As a young adult with a taste for adventure, I moved myself across the country to Seattle where rainbow flags lined the streets and the breathtaking beauty of the natural world made me vibrate with emotion. In those early adulthood years, I would save the money I made as a nanny and go on big trips through Europe and South America.

After becoming a parent my priorities (not unexpectedly) changed. I wanted family. I wanted to live among people that were as dedicated to raising my kids as I was. I flirted with the idea of returning to the land my people are from. Though I grew up in the North, my parents are from the Southern United States and my husband's family lives in Tulsa. For a "soft move" — to see if we could really live in this part of the country — we moved to Austin, Texas. While in Austin I watched as the tech industry took over this small, hip town. I really liked the city, and felt like I was reclaiming my heritage by returning to the South, but rent prices went up and my neighborhood became too expensive to live in. Around this time, Tulsa started looking like the right place for us to live.

My new home is buried deep in the Mid-South in a red state, and so be it. I say screw moving for a job, screw the idea of moving to the over inflated markets of hip, liberal, coastal cities and living dirt poor under the confines of cool. Screw all that. I am moving to Tulsa and I'm excited to explore like a little worm investigating the interior of a ripe apple. What layers does this city hold for me? What opportunities can our family glean from this place? What can I bring here? These questions lie on the surface of this overwhelming sensation of "I am home! I don't have to move again!"

I chose simplicity, a life based on connection to loved ones, a doable place where I don't have to live on the edge and can write from the fringe. Tulsa is place I can afford to live in and be able to buy tickets to visit the people I love in those above-mentioned hip, liberal, coastal cities. It is a relieving feeling having a place called home. My cancer crab nature has been looking for roots my whole adult life.

I live now in the land of my husband's family. I live in the state my dad was raised in. I am circling back into a web that I cast aside in my younger adulthood. I want my kids to know their grandparents. I want to have big family dinners and be able to know that people here have my family's back. These desires outweighed the red flag warnings of moving to a place where I knew I would be fish out of water. In Tulsa my punk/queer history could easily slip under the surface and into hiding.

Going undercover with my radical nature has been a part of living in the South. I had to get used to this when I moved to Texas a few years ago. I am now more selective with whom I share myself with. When I was younger, I was all about in-your-face confrontation. To me, living on the edge meant being yourself no matter what. Now I see I can be myself and not share everything that comes into my head. I can hold my opinions and still get along with folks very different from me.

In some ways this place is sheltered from the harsh realities of a competitive city. Tulsa says: "Welcome! Here is a new opportunity or possibility for you." And Ha! In my face! It can be hip here. Tulsa has a thriving alternative scene complete with artists, climate change activists, hippie farmers, entrepreneurial young couples, and pug lovers. There aren't as many radicals setting down roots as in the Northwest, but there are still plenty of freaky people choosing to live here.

One of the biggest differences I notice is the lack of transplants here. After spending all of my twenties and late teens in the transient Northwest, it's so odd for me to be around so many people that come from here. There are also folks that never left. I have seen stylish, young Okies selling fermented preserves, sporting handlebar mustaches and wearing ironic T-shirts like the best of them, never having left their hometown. There is a lot of hometown pride here. I've seen many a shoulder adorned with a tattoo that outlines the state with a heart over Tulsa.

When I move to a place, I learn all about it. I study the history, culture, and natural marvels of the place. Tulsa is old. The actual rock that makes up the land is filled with fossilized shells. Prairie grass still rolls around some parts of Northeast Oklahoma. They call this land Green Country. The wind can howl through you and bring with it the cold weather. There is a Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival where the attendees watch as a Prairie Chicken "displays" on its gobbling grounds. One day, I will make it to this festival and chortle happily.

This place is native as well. Native American culture surrounds the dominating white culture. I thought of this a lot when I first moved here. Making connections with the Native community is important to me, but it has not been easy. It is easy to surround myself in predominantly white culture and forgot about the fact that this is Native land. I feel it even more living in Indian Territory and seeing tribal license plates everywhere. I notice it when I see entering and existing reservation signs on the roadside. What does it mean to enter Cherokee land? Land that was given to Cherokees that was not even their ancestral land? I am 1/16th Cherokee and I am still figuring out what that means and how to claim it as a person of the predominant white culture while still being real.

I have gotten good at moving and remaining authentically me no matter where I live. I still feel a part of the East coast and West coast within me. I carry both cultures and a good Southern twang now. After a couple of years here, I have settled in, and it seems that Tulsa and I have blended. We have grown together. Maybe my edgy East Coast-ness has been toned down, and maybe Tulsa has taken a step towards being a touch more liberal. Maybe I just fell in with the right crowd. I believe it is a combination of all these things. Something about getting older has made me feel more grounded in the person I am, not striving anymore to be something greater, or in a particular culture that I have to fit into. No matter what or why, I am home for now. It feels so good.