Stop telling me I’m a bad person because I live in Texas.

Last week while in Los Angeles for work, I attended the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri tasting. For those who have never been to one of those events, it’s a huge Italian wine industry schmooze fest. For the most part, it’s all about hugs and high fives and catching up with people who work in our trade.

Among so many other colleagues and friends, I ran into a prominent importer of Italian wine whom I’ve known for years. We’ve eaten dinner together, we’ve been on panels together, and we even share friends beyond the world of wine.

For whatever reason that day, when conviviality should have been the byword, he decided to give me an earful about our lives in Texas. No matter what I told about how we live here, he was determined to instruct me on the evil character of our geography. He even went as far as to insinuate that we live our lives in Texas because we enjoy our segregation.

When I pointed out that my native state, California, is the most segregated place I’ve ever lived, he dismissed my claims as MAGA propaganda.

When I told him that my politics and activism land on the hard left of the spectrum, he countered that he was so far left that I wouldn’t even come close to his political rectitude.

When I asked him to consider all the Black and Brown people who live in Texas — by choice, just like us — he wrote me off as a denialist and revisionist.

Ever since I moved to Texas to be with the woman I love and raise a family with her, people from California and New York have continuously and tirelessly given me shit about being a Texan.

Even my own immediate California family derides me for it. One sister-in-law told me she was “scared” for her sister who moved here. Another asked me “how can you live there with all those awful people?”

This country is never going to find its way out of its moralistic morass until we begin to understand — to comprehend truly — that Texans and all southerners are human beings, too. State boundaries do not represent monolithic ethical, moral, and aesthetic divides. There are all kinds of people in Texas, just as there are all kinds of people in California (including plenty of ultraconservative racists, among others, in my home state).

Stop judging me by my geography. Stop telling me I’m a bad or morally failed person because I live here. The false moral superiority of my ex-friend is a mirror and equally insidious reflection of the ultra-right conservatives he pigeon-holes us with.

That’s a photo of my wife Tracie and our two daughters, Georgia and Lila Jane, above. Tracie was born in Texas. Our girls were born in Texas. I am an adoptive Texan. Yes, we are concerned about our family’s reproductive rights. We are concerned about our voting rights (we were gerrymandered this year, no joke). We are concerned about our right to free speech and gun safety.

But we are also living, breathing human beings who hope, dream, and work for a better world. And we share in those aspirations with our community, including Black, Brown, Asian, and White, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people among many others.

As the saying goes, I know you like to think your shit don’t stink, but lean a little bit closer…

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