This is a continuation of my previous post on Canadian, Texas. The first part can be found here. *Names in this blog post were changed.
I struggled to sleep last night thinking about how I would write about my time in Canadian, Texas, and then Austin, Texas. The original title of this blog post was supposed to be “Making the Lone Star State a Little Less Lonely,” or some similar play on the state’s nickname. I was going to write about how much fun I had watching my friends Thomas* and Paul* film, how after hours and hours of watching them set up lights the first day, the second day where we drove around Canadian and got shots of everything from the town to Paul’s family’s orchard was really fucking cool. And while all of that is true, the more and more I’ve thought about my time in Texas, the more and more I’ve realized that it’s left me haunted—not even by existential questions, per se, but rather existential feelings and discomfort that’s difficult for me to put my finger on.
Canadian is a small town filled with dust and trees and kind people and Christians and an overwhelming sense of community. But that’s to be expected of a Panhandle town with a population of 2649, although the trees are maybe a bit of an anomaly from the rest of the Texas Panhandle. Time seemed to pass slower here. On Sunday, their heavy filming day, lots of local restaurants were closed through the morning and early afternoon. As we searched for breakfast around 8am, already finished with that morning’s shoot, I realized that place after place was closed, regardless of their posted hours. One bakery had a sign that read “Abrimos a las 3:30,” but shockingly, the one next door was open despite their posted hours indicating they’d be closed for at least another few hours. I was surprised to use my very broken Spanish there for the first time in many months—worse Spanish than either of my friends can speak—and the pan dulce and coffee was deeply comforting despite that not being a typical breakfast for me.
I had assumed that Canadian would be an ultra-white town, a fairly reasonable assumption on my part that made me incredibly nervous. I’m a pretty fearless person, but at the same time, I’m acutely aware of my own identity as a brown, gay researcher, and I wasn’t sure how that’d play out in rural Texas. Especially coming from the incredibly diverse Dallas suburbs and then the even more diverse and queer-friendly San Francisco Bay Area, a place like Canadian wasn’t somewhere I had any cultural context for. Those concerns about looking and feeling out of place ultimately ended up being more psychological than anything grounded in my physical experience, and as it turned out, there was a pretty large Latino population within Canadian. But eating pan dulce and coffee and seeing other brown people was still deeply comforting.
After breakfast, I watched Thomas and Paul film interviews with Paul’s dad, a hilarious man who indulged me in all sorts of stories about his family history and the history of capital within Canadian (incredibly interesting for me as a student of sociocultural anthropology). We spent time in Paul’s family’s orchard, where I became a feeding ground for mosquitos—but on the bright side, I can now say that I’ve collected bug bites from Wisconsin, Illinois, California, Oregon, and Texas. And then we drove around Canadian collecting B-roll of the town while Paul lost his hat into the wind far too many times. His love of always wearing a hat confused me since he had such beautiful hair, which is something I told him probably so many times that it became weird; I repeat it again here knowing that the odds of him reading this are pretty good, and if it wasn’t weird before, it’s probably at least a little weird now that I’ve pointed it out. (Did I mention he has really nice hair?)
But it was in these many hours of filming B-roll—watching the sun set over Canadian and seeing the stars light up the dim night sky—where I began to realize this trip was a far more spiritual experience than I had expected.
It was such a weirdly formative experience that when we made it to Austin the next evening and we all had tacos with a different friend, he asked me what the most exciting place I had visited so far was. “It definitely can’t just be Canadian,” he joked as we all ordered our food. But I didn’t know what to say, still processing the many moments, experiences, and conversations I had that made the trip so special. Thomas quickly stepped in and asserted “Portland” on my behalf, which so many times in this past month I’ve said is my favorite West Coast city.
I’m not a particularly religious person. I was baptized in the Catholic Church as a baby and I was confirmed at the end of the eighth grade, a standard process in my Catholic middle school, even though I find it pretty funny that anyone expects a thirteen-year-old to express any sort of true spiritual maturity or profession of personal commitment to anything at that age. Since about the age of fourteen, I had always been pretty comfortable with dissenting from Catholic moral teachings, and my Jesuit education encouraged doubt and struggle as a means toward a deeper, more meaningful spirituality. By the end of high school, I essentially abandoned Catholicism without regret—or more accurately, the Catholic Church abandoned me—for a mix of reasons, but mostly due to justified frustration with the Church’s lack of true acceptance of gay people. Pope Francis is doing a lot better, but I don’t think I can ever go back to a church that believes the love I feel is sinful and disordered.
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
— 1 John 4:7-8, NRSV
Religion was a surprising topic that came up within this journey of three 20-year-old guys. Entertaining conversations about dating, love, and sex were to be expected, and those definitely filled up long stretches of our workdays in Canadian, the way-too-long car ride through Dallas and Austin, and our time lounging around in Austin the day after we came back. But it was interesting to hear about how religion affected our sexual morality and our dating and sex lives since Paul and I grew up within Christianity and Thomas grew up in a culturally Protestant environment, especially since such a big anthropological interest of mine is sex, sexuality, and sexual behavior. Thomas made it clear to me a couple times that he finds this academic obsession with theorizing about sex pretty weird—he doesn’t understand the appeal, which is honestly pretty fair—but as someone who felt fairly repressed and ashamed by being gay in a Catholic school, sex is super interesting to me. As Michel Foucault once wrote, “sex is boring”—it’s everything surrounding sex that’s interesting, such as how sex and religion play together. (As an aside, Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, the healthiest thing you can do for Jude that didn’t happen for me is radically open and honest conversations around love and sex so that he doesn’t end up with the same feelings of repression and pain that I did.)
In the long car ride back to Austin, while Paul slept in the backseat, Thomas and I spoke pretty frankly and honestly about our personal beliefs, stemming from a conversation we were having around Calvinism and predestination. He and I approach the world pretty differently: he’s a deeply logical thinker, I’m an incredibly emotional feeler, but I think our core values are fairly similar. As he explained his own religious philosophy around God, which stems out of quantum physics and ontological debates around time, I had to articulate my own religious beliefs for the first time in a long time.
I’m fairly certain that my parents and brother think I’m an atheist, but—as Thomas correctly posited—it’s probably more accurate to say that I’m spiritual but not religious. At my core, I believe so deeply that God is love. It’s something that, in many ways, I believe both literally and intuitively. I’m motivated by a desire for social justice, which is what I think is at the core of Christianity and many other religions. I don’t have any proof or evidence for this belief that I have—that God is love—but it’s a deeply intuitive feeling, something that I feel within my bones.
I believe in God, and believe that God is love, because that’s what I experience. And while most—maybe all—experiences are socially constructed and meaning is given to them by us, it’s something that feels authentically true to me. I’ve felt God every day that I’ve been traveling. I felt God the second my friend and I saw each other in Chicago, right before we began driving up to Milwaukee and catching each other up on the past couple weeks of our lives. I felt God as I biked behind my friend through downtown Portland, stopping every now and then to take pictures of each other in front of the water. I felt God the night that Thomas and I stayed up talking about what’s been weighing on our minds for the past couple months, verbally working through the hurt and confusion that comes from moments where we didn’t feel valued by people who were important to us. I felt God as I watched Paul lean out the passenger-seat window and take video after video of the Canadian sunset, the wind blowing his hat right off his head and into the street. I felt God as I took that first bite of pan dulce. I felt God in every thank you letter I left for my friends before I went to my next destination, in every handshake hello and hug goodbye, and in every warm, fuzzy feeling that overwhelmed me as I would get on the plane and think of all the great memories I’d made and all the new memories to come.
Right now, I’m currently spending the day in New York City, New York, hanging out with my friend from New Jersey. (I’m actually posting this from Ladurée in SoHo.) This Sunday, I leave for Venice, Italy. If you’d like to keep up with my journeys, I post all my day-to-day adventures on Instagram and I try to write up more of my thoughts here on this blog once or twice a week.