On March 2nd people gathered at OMA Keskus for World Cuisine night. The speaker/chef for the evening was Sarah Raud from the United States. The menu was a vegan version of a traditional southern BBQ plate. It consisted of BBQ marinated soy meat, pimento mac and cheese, coleslaw, fried green tomatoes with cashew jalapeno relish, and sweet tea. Here are some of Sarah’s thoughts on the event.
I wanted to give people an idea of what life is really like growing up as an androgynous queer woman in the southern United States and how that experience differs from living in Estonia. I was born and raised just south of Atlanta, Georgia. As a kid I lived in the suburbs which basically meant that I was immersed in both a progressive, diverse urban environment as well as a conservative, largely religious rural one. The city of Atlanta and the rest of the state of Georgia are pretty much two entirely different cultures, so I think it’s safe to say that I consider myself a pretty well rounded individual. At around twenty years old I moved to Atlanta and started going to Georgia State University which eventually helped facilitate my dreams of traveling and broadening my horizons, so to speak. Now it feels like a culture shock any time I go back to visit where I grew up.
Americans are often perceived as outspoken, sometimes arrogant or obnoxious, opinionated and generally pretty oblivious to the rest of the world. The same goes for southerners, but the media usually exaggerates the two most common stereotypes for entertainment purposes. Either there are rich racists who own a plantation and act absurdly proper and well-mannered or, more likely, they are ignorant, violent, crude racists who love God, guns, Donald Trump and live in a trailer park. I’ve never met the rich plantation owner sort. I’m convinced that those don’t actually exist outside of old movies. Or perhaps it’s because the two types are segregated through classism and I did grow up in a trailer park. As a result, I’ve met my fair share of the other.
In American culture it is incredibly common for complete strangers to come up to you and start a conversation, sometimes even to the extent of being incredibly rude, especially according to an Estonian’s perspective. I’ve had people grab my arm to ask me about my tattoos or just stop me to let me know that they didn’t realize what gender I was. This bold lack of a filter can come in the form of a compliment about your hair or having obscenities yelled at you from an open car window and everything in between. In Estonia I MIGHT get a confused glance at most. Estonians don’t want to draw attention to themselves where Americans either don’t mind or relish in it. Everything is flashier in the states; the good and the bad. Both the LGBTQ+ communities as well as the right wing religious conservative opposition are loud and proud.
Going to High School in the center of what we call the Bible belt as a masculine girl who wore all black and listened to metal music was not an easy task. Dyke and witch were common nicknames other students directed at me while walking through the hallways to my next class. It bothered me for a few years while I made feeble attempts at conforming until one day I just decided to be myself. At seventeen I shaved my head into a mohawk, stopped wearing makeup or tight jeans, finally came out of the closet and felt more confident and more comfortable than I ever had before.
My grandmother didn’t talk to me for two years after that. We are very close now, but it took a long time for her to come to terms with my lifestyle because of her religious beliefs. Not long before she stopped speaking to me I moved out/was kicked out of my dad and stepmother’s place, got a job, and struggled to graduate while juggling work and bills and all of the things that come with adulthood long before being able to consider myself an adult. The entire situation was very confusing for me at the time, but I knew that the conflict was somewhat related to my sexuality and this drastic change in my personality, though my dad wasn’t explicitly against it.
Fast forward ten years and I’d say that I’m doing pretty well. My family relations have improved significantly. I’m currently living in Tallinn with my wife and we have a pending court case to establish my residency here, which depends on if Estonia recognizes our legal marriage in the United States.
The host of the event and the author of this story is Sarah Raud.