by Jessie Pinkham
Mr. P and I lived in Philadelphia for a year, long enough to learn he hated it and I didn’t love city life either. I like quiet to facilitate writing. Anyway, one day he wanted to go for a walk. I had a headache, so he went out solo, and he came back with an amusing anecdote.
For context, he doesn’t wear a wedding ring because it drives him nuts, so he’s lacking that indicator of being taken. And I am biased, but I think he’s a good-looking man. 😉
He’d gone up to City Hall and decided to take a different way home. Eventually, he noticed none of the women he passed were paying him any attention whatsoever. The men, on the other hand, were being unusually friendly.
Then he looked up and saw a rainbow street sign, and all became clear. He was in the Gayborhood.
Sorry, fellas, I know he’s a catch, but he’s spoken for! (And straight.)
When writing Pursuing Happiness, my goal was complete realism. I wanted to engage with the challenges that inevitably result from an unhealthy childhood of religious abuse and isolation, and to support the effort, I decided to set the story in Philadelphia. Because I work in Philly and visit often for non-work reasons, I’m familiar with the city. In my own humble opinion this is conducive to creating a setting which rings true and supports my ultimate aim of realism.
A lot of the local flavor comes in the form of small comments, such Matt wishing he had enough money to live in the Gayborhood. Philadelphia truly has an area known officially as the Gayborhood, complete with rainbow street signs and crosswalks. It’s not a cheap area to live, so it’s out of Matt’s budget, but it’s a good place for LGBT folks to find romantic and/or sexual partners. More often than not, men in the Gayborhood are assumed to be into other men, as Mr. P’s experience shows.
Philly is, on the whole, a place where LGBT folks are accepted and valued, so it’s a supportive home for Matt and Levi as they learn to embrace their sexuality. I imagine they pick up their free weekly copies of Philadelphia Gay News, a detail which didn’t make it into the story. As Levi describes the city, “I like the diversity. People with neon hair, guys holding hands, dogs wearing clothes, and nobody stares.”
This is the city where Thomas Jefferson wrote that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights. We’ve come a long way toward making that a reality, though we still have further to go. I think it makes Philadelphia a perfect setting for Matt’s story of leaving his repressive and toxic family in order to make a fulfilling life for himself.
About Pursuing Happiness
A repressive childhood casts long shadows.
Growing up in a reactionary religious household left Matt Aldridge socially inept and woefully underprepared for life in the wider world. He’s still trying to figure himself out when he meets his hunky new neighbor, Collin Moravec. Matt likes him at first sight, and miraculously, Collin feels the same.
When his cousin Levi shows up needing a home, Matt doesn’t hesitate to take him in, even as it throws his own world into disarray. He’s determined to save his younger cousin some of the struggles he faced. But taking on this responsibility brings up old anxieties, and in his terror of failing Levi, Matt pushes Collin away. He has to move beyond his fearful upbringing once and for all, or he’s going to end up miserable – and alone.
Available at: Amazon
An Excerpt from Pursuing Happiness
“Now, about that sexual to-do list. I’m dying to know what’s on it.”
An adorable blush blossomed on Matt’s cheeks. “I think there’s a lot of potential for fun with a can of whipped cream.”
“I’m completely on board with that.”
Finally Matt relaxed. “You’re a very good boyfriend,” he remarked.
Collin figured that meant he’d said the right thing. Good. He took Matt’s hand and laced their fingers together. “So are you, and if I hadn’t already known that my coworkers made sure to tell me yesterday.”
“How did the grant application turn out?”
“Well, it doesn’t scream ‘thrown together at the last minute,’ so it could be a lot worse.”
“I know nothing about grants,” said Matt, “but I have plenty of personal experience in the red parts of the state, where you said you want to do outreach. Maybe this is weird pillow talk, but…”
Collin interrupted. “Our pillow talk can be whatever we want.”
“Okay. Have you considered how much tougher it will be to go out and talk about LGBT acceptance with people in very conservative areas? I mean really thought about the ruling mindset there?”
They certainly weren’t going in blind. Regardless he wanted to hear Matt’s opinion, if for no other reason than to understand his boyfriend a little better. “We expect to be called a lot more nasty slurs.”
“That’s obvious. It’s not just the insults, though. The thing is that a lot of these people – not all, but a definite majority – are not even going to consider what you have to say. The religiously inclined, which again will be a good percentage, will consider it a given that you’ve been deceived by Satan. So there’s no reason for them to even consider what you have to say, see? Anything they don’t like can easily be written off as inspired by Satan. It’s a very neat system if you don’t like thinking too hard. And it makes us very easy scapegoats for anyone, religious or not, who doesn’t like how the world is changing.”
“There are going to be some people who remain homophobic no matter what we say or do,” acknowledged Collin.
“Some might become more tolerant with personal contact, when the LGBT community isn’t something abstract and instead they know someone who isn’t heterosexual. Then there are the people like my family.”
“Bastards. But we know that. What we want to do, at the very least, is give some hope to LGBT people who feel isolated.”
“They certainly need it. Here’s the thing, though. It’s easy to be anonymous in the city. People can go to Ted’s Place without anyone they know having a clue about their visit to an LGBT center. In rural areas it’s not the same. If somebody stops to talk with you or takes pamphlets or whatever you’re doing for outreach, they’ll be recognized and before long half the town will know. The smaller the community, the worse it gets in that regard.” Matt sighed. “I’m not trying to discourage you, I’m just being realistic. I would never have dared talk with anyone doing LGBT outreach. Far too dangerous.”
“That’s depressing. It’s good to know, though. Obviously this has to factor into our plans.” He lacked ideas on how to work around this very serious roadblock. Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Collin would share this perspective with his colleagues and go from there. “Any suggestions for us to get around that?”
“I’m afraid I don’t have any brilliant solutions. The internet is good. My family was unusually restrictive in that area, but it probably helps a lot of other kids. Just keep in mind that in some of these conservative areas, you’ll be entering enemy territory.”
“Not a metaphor. They will literally see you as the enemy. Inspired by Satan, remember? It’s spiritual warfare and you’re the advanced guard. That’s how a lot of people will see you.”
“Damn,” said Collin. He imagined an army wearing sparkly rainbow uniforms, armed with lube and condoms, maybe doing something stereotypical like singing show tunes. “Here I thought I just wanted people to live in a way that makes them happy, and now I find out I’m in Satan’s gay army.”
Matt frowned. “I’m serious, Collin.”
Oops. His last comment had clearly been too flippant. “Sorry. I was going for lightening the mood with humor but clearly missed the mark. This is important to know. And honestly, it speaks to how strong you are that you were able to escape that.”
“I’m not sure being kicked out counts as escaping.”
“You could’ve gone to conversion therapy, pretended to be cured, and lived the rest of your life miserable and accepted by your family. You chose the harder option.”
“True,” said Matt. “Totally worth it.”
Collin traced random patterns on his boyfriend’s chest. “I’m glad to hear it. If you didn’t think it was worth it after that blowjob, I’d have done something terribly wrong.”
This time Matt let him lighten the mood. He winked and said, “No worries there.”
“That’s a relief.”
“You know that saying about praise going to your head? They’re talking about the head on top of your neck.”
“How do you know?” countered Collin.
Matt opened his mouth to protest, then paused. A second later he admitted, “That’s actually a good question.”
Score one for being a smartass.
About Jessie Pinkham
Jessie writes M/M romance and loves a rich fictional universe as much as a good happy ending. Her published works include the novel Survivorsand the Tea and Empathy series, and her work has been included in anthologies by Evernight Publishing and JMS Books.
She’s usually writing more than one new book at a time, and frequently rushing out at the last minute because she got lost in her own fictional world.