Tom Goss is a Washington, DC-based singer-songwriter on a 10-week, 50-city tour to promote his new album, Turn It Around. Tom has agreed to serve as a GayCities guest blogger, reporting occasionally from the road. This is his first post.
Oil City, PA, is a rural town between Erie and Pittsburgh. It was the site of the first black gold oil boom in America. When the wells ran dry, however, the money dried up and the people mostly moved away.
It breaks my heart to say this, but what’s left is a pretty typical Pennsylvania town, where its best days as a city are a thing of the past.
That said, I still love small Pennsylvania towns. And I still hope for a comeback. Mike (my husband) and I have spent a lot of time visiting them and putting offers on houses in hopes of one day simplifying and moving to one. There is a big part of me that longs for small town life–the pace, the community and the simplicity.
I was lucky to be invited to play at the biggest venue in town, the Latonia Theater. The Latonia is a turn of the century performing space that boasts the largest chandelier in the country and, when oil money was abundant, hosted the greatest acts of the 20s, 30s and 40s.
Roxy (the Latnoia Theater owner) bought the building after decades of abandonment and is the kind of lesbian that’s hard not to love. She’s straightforward, honest, hard working and community minded. Following her dream she bought The Latonia. With the help of her friends, 75 gallons of paint and thousands of hours, it’s once again a vibrant place. I instantly knew it was going to be a fun night.
More than a building, The Latonia has come to represent the yearning for community in a small town. Those who identify as LGBT have rallied around to build something bigger, something grander. It has been such a focal point of the community that it became the subject of an LGBT documentary, Out In The Silence. It’s hard to even describe the kind of task this is in a town where the population is declining and the conservative ideal is on the rise.
It wasn’t long before I heard that the theater was haunted. I dragged Roxy (and two very scared friends) back into the theater at midnight to do our own investigation. I’ve always wanted to do something like this. A 45-minute walk-through (with Roxy’s friends trying to leave the whole time) produced two ghost sightings! What’s even stranger is that with all the ghosts that Roxy sees, she doesn’t believe that such things exist. I’ve never seen someone so stoic walking through an obviously haunted building. A part of me envied her courage, another part of me loved that I was scared shitless.
As a general rule people build the communities they want to live in. In my experience this is exactly what you see in rural gay communities. There are no gay bars, 24-Hour Fitness centers, sushi restaurants or any other stereotypical hangouts that pepper Washington, DC. You’ll find a community that enjoys a quieter, simpler life that values hard work and works hard to live life under the radar.
As I was standing around after the show an older man approached me and said, “that was a really great show until you turned into a teenager.” I had no idea what he meant. After some prodding he revealed that he only liked when I sang low. Apparently singing high wasn’t masculine enough. Even with all Roxy’s hard work, it’s this kind of mentality that, sadly, will take generations to overcome. If a man singing high is a stretch for the LGBT community in Oil City, what is marriage equality to the straight community?