A gay Atlanta prodigal son returns from an international adventure to find and remember just how much there is to love here.
By Buck C. Cooke
AFTER 17 MONTHS IN LONDON, I wasn’t sure what it would be like coming back to Atlanta. During my all-to-brief visit last May, my “adopted hometown” didn’t feel like home anymore. It felt like a place I was just visiting, which it was, and that was a hard thing to accept.
Arriving back in Atlanta in December felt completely different, though. I had come home. Old friends, old haunts and old memories rushed to give me a big hug and say, “Girl, we are so glad you’re back! We missed you!”
London finally had come to feel like home, too, so it was bittersweet to come back to Atlanta, but I was relieved that my sense of belonging returned as well.
Most of my chosen family, the close network of friends who have supported me for over 20 years still live in Atlanta or spent a significant amount of time here while I lived here. When I think about those incredible people, Atlanta is part of those memories. Atlanta was the setting, or jumping-off point, for many of our adventures, and yes, misadventures.
THE SENSE OF COMMUNITY I feel in Atlanta certainly comes from my close friends, to be sure, but it is more than my chosen family. Friends, acquaintances, former business colleagues, and even strangers make me feel glad to be home.
While volunteering for Atlanta Pride during the Bayard Rustin/Audre Lorde Breakfast on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I felt the queer community draw me back in and let me know there was still a place for me in Atlanta.
Attending the March for Women and Social Justice on Jan. 21 was another incredible way to immerse myself in the culture of change that is so present in this city, and, frankly, that was something I missed in London. Yes, there are activists of all stripes in London, but I missed the nuances and familiarity in fighting the good fight here in Atlanta.
My heart was warmed and my eyes overflowed with that warmth seeing the news reports and the photos and posts from my friends in London who marched in solidarity that day with progressives in the U.S., but I embraced walking familiar streets as we chanted for justice and equality.
SIMILAR FEELINGS WELLED UP when I attended events hosted by Lambda Legal, the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and the Victory Fund. I saw and reconnected with old friends, met new people, and made business connections that were kind to offer to help with my job search, even though some of them I had only spoken with that night.
Atlanta isn’t perfect, but there is a spirit of helpfulness here that makes a prodigal son like me very grateful that I moved back after my time in London ended.
One of the most unexpected but very welcome touches was hearing the Georgia Tech whistle. Almost everywhere I’ve lived in Atlanta, I’ve been able to hear the whistle sound at five minutes before the hour, and while staying with friends in Brookhaven after Christmas, I heard the whistle for the first time in 17 months. I was flooded with memories of the decade I worked at Tech and my time spent on campus since then. Thoughts of trials and triumphs with former students and colleagues and recollections of tailgating, cheering on the Jackets, and volunteering with my fraternity after I left the Institute all crowded into my brain.
My heart sang when I stepped back into places I love: the Phillip Rush Center, Charis Books & More, the BeltLine, Piedmont Park and Bearbucks at Ansley, just to name a few. When I visited Atlanta Eagle, people welcomed me back to town, and while a leather bar isn’t exactly the place you might expect to feel metaphorically warm and fuzzy, it was a delightful experience.
EVEN FOR AN OLD DOG like me, there are still new places to discover, like the hustle, bustle, and rejuvenation of Ponce City Market, the scrumptious finds of Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit in Virginia Highlands, and the Duck Club in College Park.
Lord, don’t even get me started on all of the new construction! Some of my landmarks are now mammoth holes in the ground, but I’ll acclimate before too long.
Atlanta, thank you for welcoming me back, offering me a helping hand as I reboot my life and career, and keeping me on my toes. It’s good to be home again.
Buck C, . Cooke is the former executive director of Atlanta Pride, event planner and university administrator. He is a pop culture fanatic, music afficionado and currently available to the right, very lucky full-time employer. Contact him through this magazine.