Home is where the drag queens are

Amber Billings

I am a firm believer in not judging a book by its cover. While I was preparing for my semester-long exchange at University of Georgia at Athens, my friends bombarded me with requests and propaganda. My two best friends begged me to not come back to Iowa with a southern accent in December, while some also told me to watch out for rednecks.

So once I set foot in Athens three weeks ago after a hellishly long 20-plus hour drive from Sioux City with my parents, I had a determinedly open mind, but with some insecurities tucked away.

Basically, these insecurities were the same a freshman pre-journalism major would have coming into college. But imagine walking into Morris Hall that day, as I did, and meeting your roommate, who was from Germany, the girls living to your left from Hawaii and India, and then the girls to your right from Montana and Korea. It’s enough to make you sit down on your bed, catch your breath and say “Where the hell am I?”

I was no longer in safe, boring Ames. I was in hip, musically inclined Athens – home of R.E.M., The B-52’s, Academy Award winner Kim Basinger and the site of one of the best college movies ever made, Road Trip. Just a week ago, Princeton Review announced University of Georgia was the 12th best party school in the nation.

I was completely out of my element, and now I’m growing to love it. It wasn’t easy at first.

Being from Iowa, I felt so incredibly bland compared to other people who were here from all of these exotic states and countries. It’s funny because during the first couple of days, I could only remember people by the places they were from, not by their names.

It was like a Miss America or Miss Universe pageant. People should’ve been walking around with sashes draped over their body with their state or country embroidered on it to announce who they were.

I’ve gotten some pretty random comments from people after they’ve found out where I’m from. A student from Turkey said he had heard things about Iowa.

When I asked him what he had heard, he said, “I’ve heard it’s sort of a `make fun-of’ state.” Another guy from Indiana jokingly asked me if I was used to not seeing cornfields all the time. The girl from Hawaii asked me if any of my family members were involved in wrestling.

I guess this is all just been a part of life where you meet really different people and discover all the pre-conceived notions that you never knew you had. But I’ve always considered myself a pretty open person. So open that when my roommate asked if I wanted to go to a drag queen show at the local gay bar on Saturday, I jumped at the chance.

So my roommate and I set out with two other girls from our floor to the bar. I was ready for anything. My roommate had met one of the drag queens a few days earlier, and so when Lethal Weapon took the stage, our table erupted in cheers and hollers of support.

Yes, Lethal Weapon is a bigger “girl,” and she had such a revealing dress that she would occasionally moon the crowd once or twice, but it was all in good fun. Everyone was there to have a great time, sing along to the songs the girls were singing, provide a dollar tip here or there, and enjoy the show. Needless to say, I had a great time and I was glad I went. I realized that if I had been back in Iowa, I probably wouldn’t have had that chance.

I’ve realized that during the couple of weeks I’ve been here, the object of this game is to be open-minded and just enjoy your surroundings. You can’t close yourself off in your dorm room – you have to introduce yourself to people and just get out there and have fun. And since I’ve come to Athens, only now do I feel like I’ve truly started college. This will be one of the only times in my life when I could say that I’ve lived amongst people of different cultures, ideas and values, and be able to call it home.

Amber Billings is a junior in journalism and mass communication from Sioux City.