My partner had “taken the red pill” and was hip to peak oil before I had been introduced to the concept. I knew intuitively that society could not continue down the path of rampant consumerism but I didn’t know the imminent danger. Even as a child I was a conservationist—turning off the water when I brushed my teeth, turning off lights when I left the room. As I got older I recycled, composted, sent money to various endangered animals and rode my bike to work. I even had a backyard garden in a major city, I was way ahead of the curve. But nothing prepared me for the reality of peak oil. My partner rented Collapse with Michael C. Ruppert for us to watch on our third date in July of 2010.
At the time we were living in Sacramento. After California’s Proposition 8, the voter initiative to ban marriage equality, had passed in California in 2008, Sacramento had somewhat become a hub for LGBTIQ activism. I belonged to several queer activist groups, many LGBTIQ-associated activity groups and was the Entertainment Manager for Sacramento’s Gay Pride. I had many interests but the majority of my friends were other queers. That’s one of the great things about being queer in a metropolitan area. It doesn’t matter what you are interested in—hiking, biking, reading, singing, riding motorcycles—there is likely an organized group of gays willing to get together for that purpose.
But life wasn’t all bike rides and book clubs. By the end of 2010, things were looking grim. I worked in social services and the agency was talking about mass lay-offs. My partner was commuting to her job in the Sierra Foothills an hour and a half each way and gas prices were nearly $5/gallon. Crime in downtown Sacramento had become the norm. There was no place to garden. I tried to get to know my neighbors but no one was interested in forming friendships. I felt isolated in a city of half a million people.
For many in the LGBTIQ community, the previous couple of years had been marked with episodes of depression and despair. The passing of Proposition 8 was devastating to people all over the country. For many in the gay community, especially for those under the age of 40, the passing of Prop 8 was the first experience in being viscerally aware of what it feels like to be a marginalized population. Between 2008 and 2010 I had lost three friends to suicide. The passing of Prop 8 gave license to gay bashers all over America to be more outward with their views. When I worked on the campaign to defeat Prop 8 I had been spat on, cursed at and chased. Once Prop 8 passed, nothing changed. I was frightened. I was scared for my friends, for our lives and for our mental health. The gay community was deeply important to me because the gay community was my ally.
But now I had a new problem on my hands: peak oil. And by the spring of 2011 my frustration had deepened. Like many people who have recently found out about peak oil, I felt like Cassandra of Greek mythology trying to get people to understand this very important issue and having almost no one take me seriously. My partner and I tried to bring our concerns up to our friends, to try and form a lifeboat network, but our friends were keen to “extend and pretend,” as James Howard Kunstler calls it.
In March of 2011 my partner and I started talking seriously about a change. We didn’t really want to give up city life. We loved walking to get coffee on Sunday mornings. I enjoyed running around Sacramento’s McKinley park. We took advantage of the city’s many book stores. We loved the great variety of fruit trees along Sacramento’s midtown streets. Sacramento was out home. But we wanted out of the city. We sat down and brainstormed what we really wanted, what was really important to us: local food, neighbors that talked to each other, skills sharing, community, family, organic farms, friendship. The list went on.
Then we did the math. If I were to be laid off and were getting unemployment benefits, we would break even if we moved closer to my partner’s work and saved on gas. So we did the thing that most peak oil veterans say not to do: we moved.
In May of 2011 I was laid-off and we moved to an organic farm in Nevada County. We helped take care of the crops and the chickens in exchange for living in a tiny cottage on the property. It was very hard work and an incredible learning experience.
When we interviewed for the new place I was incredibly nervous. Rural America isn’t exactly known for its gay-friendly atmosphere. When I answered the Craigslist ad, I had made sure that it was pretty clear that we were lesbians. I didn’t want there to be any surprises. But it turned out to be a non-issue.
It was pretty much a non-issue all over Nevada County. I had only had one incident where someone said something and he didn’t even say anything to me. He commented to our landlord that he was uncomfortable with gay people. That was it.
It was August before I met another queer person in Nevada County. PFLAG had a booth at the county fair. I knew that there was a chapter of PFLAG in Nevada County but I didn’t go out of my way to check it out because PFLAG stands for “Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays”. I was a lesbian. Not a parent of one.
But by then it almost didn’t matter. I had found a community and that community didn’t care or didn’t notice that my partner and I were a couple of homos.
Almost a year ago we moved deeper into the foothills, to the other side of Nevada County. We now live in our own rental in a community of nine units on five acres of property. We have our own backyard mini-farm and share an organic garden. We are so glad we moved.
If you are a member of the LGBTIQ community and thinking of relocating because you want a community focused on localism, resiliency, and post-petroleum living, I say go for it! But before moving, try to become fully informed. Research nearby rural communities. Check to see if they have an organization like Nevada County’s APPLE, the Alliance for a Post-Petroleum Local Economy. Browse the Transition Town website for local transition towns. Once you’ve established that your prospective new community is preparing for a post-industrial world, check to see if they have any services or organizations for the LGBTIQ community. See if there is a county or town gay and lesbian facebook page. Try and contact someone in the area and start pen-palling. In states that have had a vote on the gay marriage issue, it is likely public record how each county voted. Here is a map of California’s 2004 Prop 8 vote: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-2008election-prop8prop22,0,333635.htmlstory
Relocating can be really hard. It took us about a year before we felt like we were really a part of the community. It can often be hard to break into the social scene in places with a small-town legacy. The best advice that I could give is to volunteer. Volunteer at the food bank, volunteer with local organizations, volunteer at the schools. I’ve found that most communities are like the gay community: if you embrace it, it will embrace you back.