“So do you like living in Texas?”
I get asked this question quite frequently by people who know me who do not happen to live in Texas.
“I do,” I say.
“Really?” they say. They can’t believe it, I can tell.
“Really,” I say.
The truth is, Texas isn’t home, but I do like Texas.
I think of Texas like a very well-known family that I had always known about and had grown up fearing, admiring, and loathing. Texas was that obnoxiously wealthy family who is overconfident, proud of their money, and willing to own their crazy. I imagine that I grew up seeing their three kids around town: Dallas, Houston, and Austin (which are totally the sort of pretty but pretentious names those trust fund kids would have), who seem to only hang out with each other and their cousins, (San) Antonio and (El) Paso. Dallas was the oldest and the most intimidating; blonde, thin, beautiful, and just not interested like an uncool little kid like me. Austin was a few years younger, pretty (if scrawny), and such a fucking hipster that it was almost unbearable. She was always taking all her friends out for organic pork tacos and wearing the coolest/most ridiculous clothes that I’d never even think to try wearing. And then there was Houston, the middle brother, who was good-looking, though quiet. He seemed almost embarrassed by the rest of his family, trying to stay laid-back and normal in the midst of all their crazy. And then I got to know him and like him, so he introduced me to his family and I started to think, Hm. Maybe I can handle these Texas people.
But really, I got to know Houston best, and though I came here with low expectations — I didn’t exactly choose this city; I followed a guy here, who had followed a job here — I was surprised to learn I do like Houston and am actually really comfortable here.
The first thing that surprised me about Houston was how diverse it is. I mean, obviously it’s a big city, and that means there are going to be tons of cultures and colors and accents, but there is also more diversity when it comes to opinions and politics than I expected. What surprised me most is that people just don’t talk about it. Texas has so much swagger and seems so fierce and ballsy that I assumed everyone was flinging bibles at each other, but it’s really not like that here. People actually don’t fling any beliefs at each other. My co-worker summed this up for me perfectly one day when he said “If there are red states and blue states, Houston is just purple.” It’s not that you don’t know where people stand; it’s that it’s just not really discussed that often. It’s not that politics or religion are taboo, exactly, but I feel like they are talked about very differently here than other places I’ve lived. It’s discussed in a very friendly way because there are three odd forces at play: people care deeply about what they believe in, they don’t care that much about what they believe in, and no one is trying to convert anyone else because they know everyone else around them is as independent as they are.
I know these things seem to be at odds with each other, but I understand it because this is exactly how I’ve always felt about politics and religion. I can talk about it and then let it go. I care, but I can also move on. And I can be friends with or be attracted to people with different belief systems. A lot of my friends don’t get this about me, how I can stay friends with the girls from my sorority who, say, post quotes from Ann Coulter on their Facebook profiles, and honestly, I’ve never been able to really explain it. But now that I’m in Houston, I feel like I’m surrounded people who get it.
I think the fact that this state has such a history of independence has a lot to do with why people don’t get into it. It’s like a “don’t fuck with me” attitude has been passed down for generations and the transplants who end up here and who stay are those who have that same attitude. Sometimes I feel like “sorry I’m not sorry” could be the Texas motto. People may be crazy, but at least they’ve owned it. Even though people don’t all share the same views, we seem to share that attitude, so we don’t really feel a desire to get into it on a regular basis.
I had always heard that Texas was like another country, and I get that now. The economy and the weather, the gloss that always made Texas seem kind of special and glamorous, has a lot to do with this. But there’s a ruggedness too; sure there are money and palm trees, but just when you think you’re in LA…nope! We have cowboy boots and Castle Doctrine. The economy is what really makes me feel like I’m living outside of the United States. I was coming from Michigan, a state hit hard over and over again by economic woes and high unemployment rates. Since moving to Texas, I’ve found two jobs and it took me less than two weeks both times. (And I had multiple other interviews/options each time.) After living here for 18 months and not going home for a full year, returning home to the Midwest for Halloween was a bit of a shock. It felt…grittier than I expected and I wasn’t sure if it had always been this way and I just got used to it, or if this was the result of an even harder year that I simply been unaware of because I was living in an area that was so untouched and therefore out-of-touch. When I explained the sort of “we don’t really talk about it” attitude toward politics I’ve experienced here to my best friend Beth, she said, “Well of course you don’t care down there. You don’t have to.”
And I can admit that. I don’t always feel like I’m living in reality down here. (The weather alone makes it feel completely surreal to me much of the time; the endless summer is very “Truman Show” and the salamanders that appear as frequently as birds do in Michigan make me feel like I’m on an entirely different planet.) I think the different sense of reality contributes to how Texas looks to the rest of the country. Sometimes too much money and sunshine and independence can lead to arrogance and, well, crazy. When I see crazy Texas politicians doing their thing and know the rest of America is cringing and my friends are scratching their heads wondering how I sleep at night, well…like I said, Houston often seems like the sane kid in a family of crazies, rolling its eyes as the older generations’ behavior. I often find myself watching the national news and thinking, Well, no wonder Texas politicians look ridiculous when they try to enter American politics…I’d probably make a lot of mistakes too if I were trying to run for office in a different country! Watching that Rick Perry video is, for us, like watching your uncle get wasted and make really inappropriate toast at your cousin’s wedding. We’re not proud of this behavior, but we’re not surprised by it.
I feel like if Texas is a family, I fell in love with Houston and got stuck with the rest of Texas as in-laws. Like Scott Disick openly mocking the Kardashians, I feel like I can roll my eyes about Texas and even Houston, but I can still accept them for what they are and accept that this is the life I’ve chosen.