An Open Letter to my hero Dolly Parton
Dear Ms. Parton-
I would like to start by saying that I will probably gush if I spend too long talking about the impact you’ve had on my work and life (see www.peachcobblah.com). I think you are heroic for so many reasons that I won’t even begin to get into here…. Instead I will tell you a story…
For my 30th birthday my husband surprised me with a trip to Dollywood. Yes, Dollywood, your Tennessee-themed amusement park in luxurious Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I had talked about going there for my thirtieth birthday since I was 20 and he pulled it off. I was so very excited to finally experience this place that you have so beautifully and viscerally described in song and get a sense of a part of the world I’d never visited. Mostly I was thrilled to get an inside track into a woman I deeply admire who has championed the queer community and has found an amazing balance between her religion/faith and human kindness. And so we spent two glorious days in the land you created, that seems to keep the entire county employed. A true “if you build it, they will come”. God knows these two wayward Canadians did. What you’ve accomplished for that community is truly incredible. Here I was in Parton mecca wanting to fully experience and love every moment of it, the same way I do when I put on one of your records…
On our way out of the park on our second day I noticed a woman taking a photograph of her husband and kids in front of the Dollywood sign. Being the friendly Canadian I am, I offered to take the photo so she could be in the frame with her entire family. She declined and gave me a questionable look. This was the moment when I realized that my husband and I were holding hands. This is not something I normally notice because holding his hand is as natural to me as breathing. It’s a given. That’s just who we are and how our lives work. As we continued exiting the park we heard the woman’s 10-11 year old son cry out “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve”. I was puzzled, not fully realizing he was talking to us because A) what a tired old cliche, B) I’d never met such a young man who would cry out at strangers in front of his family. It was uncomfortable certainly, not the cap I wanted on a glorious visit… But what happened next was what sounded the alarm for me. The patriarch of this Southern family then congratulated his son for yelling at us. And then the mother, yes, the woman who I had offered to take a photo for, announced that she and her family were off to church. And this is where I became irate. Because you, Dolly, have worked so hard to create a bridge between the church and people like me who are so violently opposed to organized religion as it spews so much hatred. And in that moment all of the work you’d done as an ambassador for two communities who don’t really see eye to eye disappeared. All of a sudden I wanted nothing more than to flee Tennessee and never return. Certainly walking down the main strip of Pigeon Forge and having cars slow down to scream anti-gay slurs didn’t help either. But somehow they were less memorable than this.
Dolly (can I call you Dolly?), I adore you, and so wanted to find the beauty and earnest down-home love in your home. I wanted nothing more than to fall in love with your Tennessee. And maybe someday your Tennessee will be a Tennessee where I can hold hands with my husband in, let’s be real, a pretty gay place (Dolly Parton theme park… hello?). But that day isn’t now. And that’s too bad…. So I will continue swooning over a different Tennessee, the one you describe on your new album (which I love, by the way). A Tennessee with a lot more of the rainbows you seem to have always chased.
Sincerely, one of your biggest fans.