Matthew Schueller and his partner, Michael Lindsay, grew up in small towns with conservative values. Despite the difficulties they faced growing up there, they both fell in love with parts of their communities.
Schueller loved the carefree way he could ride his bike safely around the streets and how he could express himself around his close-knit group of friends. Lindsay loved the unhurried go-with-the-flow feeling of daily life and how his neighbors looked out for each other, pitching in whenever someone needed help.
“It’s easy to get lost in the mix within a bigger city,” Schueller says, “but in a small community, everyone knows everyone, and there’s a sense of pride around a shared experience growing up there.”
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In a rural town, though, coming to terms with your sexual identity can feel especially isolating. Schueller and Lindsay were lucky to have supportive parents. Two of Lindsay’s best friends in high school were also out during high school, helping him feel more confident about his own identity. But coming out still wasn’t completely easy for them.
For a while, Lindsay repeatedly tried dating girls just to have each relationship fail after several months. Schueller’s coming out took years: identifying potentially supportive allies, building up trust with them, and then gradually having conversations over many years in which he opened up about his feelings.
In the end, both men received positive support that allowed them to continue growing in healthy spaces, something that experts say is essential to LGBTQ people’s well-being. But both men also felt it was important for them to know that the first few people they told would be safe and affirming.
“My mom and dad have been my biggest supporters and allies. I’m so thankful,” Schueller says. “It was difficult at first, but coming out to them was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life, because they’ve helped me learn to accept and love myself, and in a way, encouraged me to spread my wings.”
Now, living as out adults, both Schueller and Lindsay have come to appreciate the unique and affirming parts of their small-town upbringing that made them feel truly seen and appreciated, rather than overlooked in a bigger city.
For Lindsay, he realized that farm living and raising animals can affirm some queer people in ways that the big crowds of urban life don’t always.
“[Small towns offer] a different lifestyle than what some may think they are supposed to live,” Lindsay says. “Some may feel they missed out on nightlife or gatherings or pride events etc., but the LGBTQ community is not a monolith. We are just as diverse as any community in how and where we want to live. The unhurried, close-knit, big backyard lifestyle is a dream for many.”
The presence of LGBTQ people in small towns is also vital to removing queerphobic stigma and shifting local culture towards greater acceptance, both men say. Queer people can create positive changes just by being visible and talking with neighbors, though they acknowledge that isn’t always easy.
“Many who are unaccepting of LGBTQ+ people just don’t have enough experience actually having LGBTQ+ people involved in their lives,” Lindsay says. “[It helps to be] understanding that many times people don’t have the best vocabulary to ask questions in the appropriate way. They may not know the ABCs of LGBT.”
Lindsay and Schueller are now married and live in Portland, Oregon, an urban city that can still feel like a small town, especially among LGBTQ people. Together, they’ve cultivated an online community by sharing tales and pictures of their world travels with hundreds of thousands of followers.
Their social media posts show them joking, exploring, and being affectionate together, something they think is important for others to see. It lets queer viewers know they’re not alone and gives non-queer viewers insights into the LGBTQ community, both which are especially crucial in the ever-evolving political climate.
“I hope the only thing people feel the need to do is live how they best see fit and let others see that we aren’t that different from each other,” Lindsay says.
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