The Moose Way Home

Originally published as part of the Digestable newsletter

Fellas, is it gay to miss home? This question may have been playing in the mind of Numa Barned, a Union soldier in the U.S. Civil War who reported that listening to other soldiers play the song Home! Sweet Home! made him “feel queer.” Of course Barned’s use of queer is a few iterations away from the way we use the word, but I still think there’s something in the open sentimentality and disillusionment of homesickness that speaks to the queer experience. It’s definitely gay to leave home. So many queer folks – the ones that are able to – leave their home places in search for communities of love and acceptance, or to flee a dangerous or oppressive family life. The refrain to the song Home! Sweet Home! is more easily recognized for it’s central role in The Wizard of Oz, where gay saint and native Minnesotan Judy Garlandrecites it while clicking her heels: “There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home!”

Homesickness is one of the feelings that rules my life. I’ve made a lot of things about it including (shameless plug) an album that I released last week. I think a lot about my own relationship to home, but also the homesickness that shapes the place I grew up in. It’s a very old feeling in the western world: longing for eden, zion, or other promised lands in abrahamic traditions shows it, as does the Illiad’s loss of Troy and the Odyssey’s longing for Ithaca. The places I grew up in, the school I went to and the institutions around me are also products of the homesickness of others. I learned yesterday that the state tree of Minnesota, what I had been calling a “norway pine,” is just the Minnesota name for the North American red pine. Minnesotans came to call them norway pines because I guess they reminded some homesick nordie of home.

Frank Ocean is the patron saint of homesickness/nostalgia. A Black queer man dispaced from New Orleans because of Katrina, his music is steeped in this longing for home and a lost youth. The layers of homesickness and nostalgia embedded in Mr. Ocean’s life, and in all our lives make America a uniquely homesick place.

Turtle Island was colonized by people from elsewhere. Thanksgiving, a holiday popularly recognized as celebrating home and family, is at its root a colonial fantasy meant to mask the genocide, assimilation, and deportation of indigenous people from their home places. This land has been further settled by immigrantsrefugees, and enslaved peoples from other elsewheres. Enslaved people were subject to additional displacement from their families and whatever home-places they were able to make on plantations through their sale and kidnapping. Then there’s this whole manifest destiny thing, the idea that for someone’s life to be of (monetary) value they had to migrate west, to seek their fortune on other stolen land. Taken together, this history has left us a nation of rootless peoples, longing for the feeling of a place we can’t quite remember, much less return to.

Last week, I was discussing James Cameron’s Avatar with Lena for The Polyculture Podcast, and we came to the realization that the movie attempts to cure a sort of wound non-Indigenous people have in the place where their connection to a landscape/place was severed. The fantasy the film presents is that these characters can just put on an Indigenous suit and plug their brains into the planet without an earned respect or knowledge of the land. It seems to me that all these feelings: homesickness, wanderlust, nostalgia, fernweh, could all be just different manifestations of this wound.

I’m too generationally separated from my ancestral immigration to understand anything close to that land connection, if it ever existed. And though I’m far removed from the place I am made of, I carry hope that I’m still heading there, maybe I’m just going the moose way home.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *