She sent me to Christian therapy to “fix me” once, my mother. She tried anyway. I was 16 and It didn’t work, of course, but I know that I am not the son she had envisioned. Being southern is hard—you have certain expectations about what it means to be a man and a woman and I am not sure her view of what I should be included me running off with a man I met on the internet. His name was Austin and he owned a Mustang. Although, I guess that’s not just a southern thing—I see it here in Muncie too.
After the first Austin, I met another Austin. They used to say “Dallas and Austin? Their love must be as big as Texas!” I’ve never even been to Texas. This Austin preferred to be called AJ though. He helped me deal with my family and we eventually saw them come around to tolerating the gay instead of praying about it. AJ wanted to get out of our small town and eventually signed on to go into the Air Force, while I stayed behind and became a drag performer called Dahlia Gage in Alabama. We got married on my 20th birthday and moved to South Carolina together. Our relationship wasn’t without its problems, but he was my hero, my best friend.
Have you seen that really bad movie with Ryan Reynolds in it? It’s called Life. The science fiction one with the alien and he basically plays a Deadpool redux. . . well I don’t suggest seeing it. It’s laughably bad. But you know how you associate movies and songs with times in your life? Like you hear a song and suddenly you’re transported to the summer of 1998 and you can smell the inside of the car you took a road trip in with your best friend? On our way home from seeing this horrible film, a drunk driver hit us and my husband died. Now I think of that film and I’m constantly reminded how that drunk driver tried to ask me if I was okay afterward and how this man I’d been through so much with was dead. I had never spoken to my husband’s parents—they wouldn’t acknowledge me—but I had to call them and tell them their son, my husband, was dead. At the funeral he was a heroic airman not my husband, not their gay son. Not their dead gay airman son who left a widower behind, just a brave model airman. I was erased from his life for all heterosexual intents and purposes.
That’s how I wound up here in Muncie, Indiana. I came to live with my friend. I needed support and I wanted to go to school and I couldn’t go back to my mother. We were from a small town in Alabama. All of my family lived along a single road, and they enjoyed a simple quiet life of raising lots of kids between school or shifts at the chicken factory. I didn’t know anything else other than my small town, but I knew I didn’t quite belong there.
I paint, you know. I haven’t enjoyed painting in a long time, but I still call myself an artist. I wanted to go to a big fancy art school when I was younger, but my mom couldn’t pay for it. It’s probably for the best, I guess, otherwise I wouldn’t have met my husband. Five years later, I now go to Ivy Tech and I am figuring out what I want to do in life, and who I really am. I want to transfer to Ball State and study art history and maybe education. That friend I came to live with is now my partner. We volunteer at Muncie OUTreach together – mentoring kids on how to deal with homophobia and bullying, teaching about the sexuality and gender spectrums, and trying to inspire people to open their hearts and minds. I may feel as though I’ve been erased and displaced, but people in my situation aren’t alone. All you have to do is be willing to reach out for help sometimes. Finding a sense of purpose in your community, or work, or even your art can really change your outlook.
– Dallas Sanford’s Story as Told By Jessika Griffin
Dallas Sanford is an Alabama native studying Arts Education at Ball State University. They first heard about the Facing Project through volunteering weekly for Muncie Outreach, an LGBTQ+ youth organization in Delaware County, Indiana.
Dr. Jessika O. Griffin [she/her/hers] is an English instructor and dog enthusiast who loves naps, cheese, and horror movies. You’ll often find her at the roller rink, playing with her two children, or sitting somewhere with her nose in a book.
This story originally appeared in Facing LGBTQ+ Pride in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Muncie OUTreach in Muncie, Indiana.