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 South.

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 director.

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 the South?

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 could be.

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 church?

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.

South 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 incompatible truth.

OTM: What's next for director Jason Ball?

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.

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