In director Jason Ball's documentary
Out Of The South, six gay men – Jason, Shane, Troy, Keven,
Michael and Glenn – share a traditional Southern Sunday dinner –
“Los Angeles gay style.”
What begins as an homage to the South –
“I love everything about the South,” says Shane – soon fades as
the men share traumatic tales of their lives growing up gay in the
Ball's allegiance to champion Southern
culture – faith, family and food – soon feels forced and
disingenuous in light of the repressive, anti-gay stories shared
around the dinner table.
What is South saying? For gay
people, does the South rock or suck? To get answers we emailed the
OTM: What moved you to document
growing up gay in the South?
Ball: When Troy [Jason's lover] and I
moved to Los Angeles we kept meeting all these gay people who grew up
in the rural South. As we got to know some of them, we realized
growing up in the South and Bible Belt left an imprint on our lives.
It was like we were all Southern exiles – strangers in a strange
land. We love our families and our homes, but for one reason or
another we had to leave. One friend told me, “Yes, my parents know
I'm gay, but they aren't about to tell their friends. It's just
something they're not comfortable talking about.” Another said he
felt so self-conscious, he had to find someplace he wouldn't stick
out so much. I wasn't the only one conflicted about the South. I
thought that conflict could make a compelling story.
OTM: Early on in the documentary, one
gets the feeling that this is going to be about how great things are
in the South. Was this meant to be an homage to growing up gay in
Ball: Honestly, it was a little bit of
politics. I didn't want the film to be bashing the South. I knew
that it would alienate all Southerners right off the bat (let's face
it, they are my core audience). And, there are great things about
the South. I am honestly glad I grew up in Arkansas. It gave me the
experiences that made me the man I am today.
OTM: Aside from the food, culture and
mama, the film does not give much love to the South. In fact, only
Shane says he would live there again. Michael says he would rather
have grown-up elsewhere. Troy is unconvinced of any progress in
terms of eradicating homophobia. Where is the love?
Ball: The love is there.
Unfortunately, homophobia, racism, and religious intolerance are so
pervasive in so much of the South; it's difficult to get beyond that.
Personally, I see the South the way it is and I see it the way it
OTM: Keven's story is especially
powerful, being a prime ex-gay-victim candidate for a number of years.
Do you think that kind of self-hatred – I'm gay and damned – is
common for Southern gay men?
Ball: Unfortunately, for gay men and
women who grew up in very religious families, I think that kind of
self-hatred is all too common. When as a young boy or girl you see
“God Hates Fags” signs, you tend to believe them unless someone
tells you otherwise. I want today's young gay men and women to know
that it's not true ... God doesn't hate anyone. I hope, if young
people see Out Of The South that's what they take away.
OTM: The crux of homophobia in the
South, documented in the film, is the church's bias against gays. Is
South about six gay men on a journey to run away from the
Ball: I think we are all on different
journeys. I think some of the guys in the film will have a hard time
ever reconciling with the church. The experience of making the film
actually made me think about things I haven't thought about in a long
time. I think gay people should stay involved in churches and fight
for reforms ... be modern-day Martin Luthers.
OTM: What has been the reaction to the
film in the South?
Ball: I have to tell you, I was very
nervous when we screened at the Hot Springs Documentary Festival in
Arkansas. My dad was in the audience with me and I was very worried
it wouldn't be well received. I couldn't have been more wrong. The
audience was really into it. They laughed at the right spots and
were really paying attention. After the screening, I was so
overwhelmed by the number of people, gay and straight, who came up to
me and thanked me for making the film.
is a deeply personal story for Jason Ball, you could
say it reflects his own life – a gay Southern Everyman grappling
with his own anti-gay programming, a love for his hometown and an
OTM: What's next for director Jason
Ball: Good question. I have a couple
of ideas for documentaries. I am also writing a narrative script.
We'll see. I'll keep you posted.
On the net: www.outofthesouth.com