Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Uncle Poodle & Being Gay in the South

Will Uncle Poodle get his own reality TV show? If so, will I be able to watch it?

I didn't even know what an Uncle Poodle was until Tuesday, when I discovered he's Honey Boo Boo's gay uncle. I'd been researching potential topics for a short, farcical play about fairy tale characters and wondered if Honey Boo Boo might be potential fodder. After all, one of the definitions of fairy tale is "a made-up story usually designed to mislead." If that doesn't describe reality TV, what does?

So I Googled 'Honey Boo Boo' and discovered Uncle Poodle. I've seen perhaps three minutes of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. It was an episode in which everyone was getting hosed off before jumping into a red-clay mud hole. (I wrote about it in my October 2012 post "Does Honey Boo Boo Get Spanked in School?") Three minutes was all the Here Comes Honey Boo Boo I could consume. I felt it presented negative, country Southern stereotypes so that viewers could feel superior to them (as if most people don't already secretly feel superior to Southerners).

Uncle Poodle and My Great Nephew

But now, I'm intrigued by Uncle Poodle, who apparently got his nickname because Honey Boo Boo calls all gay men her "poodles."

Uncle Poodle and Honey Boo Boo
Uncle Poodle's real name is Lee Thompson. He's the brother of Honey Boo Boo's father, Sugar Bear. (Now there's a fairy tale character name to love.) Uncle Poodle is openly gay in a place--rural Georgia--not exactly known for tolerance and inclusion. Apparently, however, the Honey Boo Boo clan loves their Uncle Poodle. They accept him for who he is--a gay man who also happens to be HIV positive (which he revealed recently).

A Southern family's acceptance of a close gay relative isn't especially new, at least in my experience. Many people outside the South forget that Southerners, as a rule, are big believers in family. And if your uncle or brother or sister happens to be gay, so what? They're family. This is why it's not unusual in the South to meet a woman who votes Republican, listens to Rush Limbaugh, and yet loves her gay brother and his partner. I should know; I'm lucky enough to have such a sister, and three other equally supportive sisters.

One of my favorite examples of my family's "what's the big deal?"attitude occurred in the early-mid 1990s. I was talking to my great nephew, Banner, who grew up in a town outside Greensboro, N.C. Banner, who was about five or six then, suddenly pointed to a home nearby and said, "See that house? The guys who live there are gay." I breathed in, waiting for him to say something unkind. Instead, he shrugged his shoulders. "That's cool," he said.

The Liberace of Littleton

The acceptance of gays in the South extends beyond families, of course, and this isn't exactly 'new news,' either.

In the early 1980s, when I was a reporter for the Roanoke Rapids, N.C. newspaper, I became involved with a nearby small town theater company (thanks to Nick). In this town, Littleton, lived a flamboyantly gay man who played piano for the theater company's productions. Appropriately enough, he was nicknamed "The Liberace of Littleton." Despite his status as an unapologetically flaming queen in a small Southern town, countless Littleton parents hired him to give their kids piano lessons. This was a small farming/paper mill Southern town, and the parents adored the gay piano teacher. And not once did I overhear a resident speaking badly about him behind his back.

I hasten to add that many people who live in or are from the South have not had the most positive experiences being out. At the same time, we can't assume that someone who grew up on the 'more enlightened' West Coast has had an easy time being gay, either. I know of at least one gay man who grew up outside San Francisco and whose parents, after he came out to them, had nothing to do with him for 15 years.

But back to Uncle Poodle. According to recent news articles, he wants his own reality TV program in order to show what it's like to be "gay in the South." If he succeeds, and I hope he does, I'll have to watch at least one episode. But I suspect my own tolerance boundaries--for reality TV--will be severely tested. Especially if they start hosing each other down and leaping into mud holes.

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15 comments:

  1. I have a special place for Honey Boo Boo in my heart. While I still find myself often discusted and shocked by some of the family's behavior after watching the entire series in what had to have been a marathon; I was impressed by Mama Junes kindness, concern for other, how much she loves her kids and the entire family's devotion to family. I love Uncle Poodle and it was very sweet to see how much Honey Boo Boo loves him!

    xo,
    Lady Grace

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  2. Another thing I love about the South is the fact that true Southerners love to adopt people 'into' their families. I know I've been adopted into many!

    How I wish I could have seen the Liberace of Littleton. Please tell me he had a candelabra on his piano?

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    1. Judi, I never saw a candelabra, but he may have used a disco ball :)

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  3. I may have to watch if Uncle Poodle gets his own show, too. I have to admit, though, that the name conjured up an image of Victor Buono with cotton-candy-colored hair, so the real Uncle Poodle was a little bit of a shock to me. I also had to mention - and keep this between us - that in certain circles I, too, am known as Sugar Bear. Y'all haven't cornered the market on nicknames.

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    1. Oooh, you shouldn't have told me about Sugar Bear, Mr. Maltby. That's all I'm sayin'...

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  4. I wish my experience had been as positive as yours Jim. But, I think the south is changing for the better in that regards. It's difficult to measure it against the bastion of liberalism that I now call home (New England).

    Honey Boo Boo is my guilty pleasure and I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of Uncle Poodle. If he gets his own reality show, I just pray it does not become stereotypical, and yes, I will watch it.

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  6. I wonder whether there is a connection between a regional culture that values having the eye and ear for a good story (as you wrote in your previous posts) that allows acceptance of characters or excentrics in their own community? This might help explain "why it's not unusual in the South to meet a woman who votes Republican, listens to Rush Limbaugh, and yet loves her gay brother and his partner". There is a difference between a person with a name and a label that is used to categorize or describe a group. I think that the story you told about your great nephew illustrates that beautifully. The people he knows about in his community trumped the label.

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  7. I have somehow or another gotten myself involved in going to Cape Cod in September with my mother and her best friend. Her friend has this time share, so she chose the place we're staying, which happens to be in Provincetown. Now, these women are 60 years old, members of the Assembly of God church in their Alabama town, population 1,800. They have met perhaps three openly gay people in their lives. They did not realize that P'town is literally the gayest city in America.

    I was really concerned about what their reaction would be if I didn't at least warn them, so I did. My mother's immediate reaction was, "Well! That means there will be lots of art galleries and cute little restaurants and precious little gift store!" All I could think was, well, if she had to fall back on a stereotype, thank Jesus it was a positive one.

    I say all that to say this. I think that Southern homophobia is due largely to the fact that Southerners can still, to this day, profess not to know any gay people. By simply introducing my mother to my close friends who are gay, she has broadened her perspective to such a degree that her first association, albeit trite, is positive. If Uncle Poodle can accomplish that, but on a much, much larger scale, just imagine what the potential result could be. I heart Uncle Poodle.

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    1. Hi 'avb,' and thank you for your anecdote/comment. I loved it. And you are so right. The more people begin to 'know' gay people, the more they may find that they have something in common with us. Everybody wins in that situation. Thanks again for taking the time to chime in! Jim

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  8. I didn't intend to be mysterious and thought that I'd included my name and not just my Google profile signature. Not paying attention. Anyway, can't get enough of your blog and finally had to comment!

    -Alane

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    1. I'm glad you found me, Alane, and I hope you'll continue to comment! That was a great story you told.

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