When I started planning out posts for this blog tour, this first one was going to be very different – a simple, light introduction to the characters in Town Man, Country Man. But that changed 19 days ago.
I wrote this story over two years ago, before the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that states could no longer discriminate in to whom they gave marriage licenses. Weddings are an integral part of the story, the main characters, Josh and Ben, meet at a friend’s wedding, and Josh is a wedding planner himself. That opening scene wedding is set just 11 days after the wedded couple became legally able to marry here in Pennsylvania (the wedding was already planned, of course, they just got to celebrate it with an actual license from the state).
By the end of the story, anyone could be legally married in any state in the US. The question is, is that federal approbation enough for Josh and Ben? (I won’t reveal that answer here!)
Despite weddings being a running motif through “TMCM” they really aren’t a focus. More thematic is the issue of safety, and the view of this may have changed significantly since the writing. Josh, the Town Man of the story, loves living in the city because he rarely feels unsafe in the places he frequents. Josh has a nice apartment in a nice part of the city and is in easy walking distance of many gay-friendly establishments. He and his best friend are known to cruise the local gay bars and clubs just about every weekend. The only safety issue they feel concerned with in those places is making sure the condoms haven’t expired.
Ben, the Country Man, also feels much safer when he and Josh go on a date to Josh’s favorite dance club. The only reason Josh and Ben receive stares when they dance together is because they can both cut a very sexy bachata on the dance floor. Away from the presumed safety of the club, though, Ben quickly becomes circumspect and cagey, keeping his hands in his pockets and barely talking to Josh when they go to pick up groceries at a market near Ben’s place.
Josh challenges himself when he considers that just because Ben lives in a rural area, that doesn’t mean that the locals are any less gay-friendly than they are in his own neighborhood. Josh also knows that even in his safe-zones things can get ugly – he’s seen Westboro protesters shouting at a child with lesbian parents and he’s seen his best friend’s nose broken outside a gay bar in town.
Josh is the one who is genuinely rattled, though, by someone yelling ‘faggots’ at him and Ben just as Ben is starting to get more comfortable being out publicly with Josh. And Ben’s acceptance of the slur as inevitable also upsets Josh, who sees that sort of thing as something to fight against. For Josh, safety and positive acceptance has been a given for so long that when someone’s ugly words cut into the beautiful glow he’s been basking in, he feels his whole worldview challenged and starts to realize that he and Ben really will have to address some real-life issues about their relationship.
Not being clairvoyant (if I were, I’d have hit the Powerball a long time ago!) I never intended Town Man, Country Man to be a metaphor for the state of things today. But maybe that reality was with us all along.
Town Man, Country Man
“Town man” Josh Douglass meets “country man” Ben Bauer at a mutual friend’s wedding, and passion kindles immediately. As urbanite wedding planner Josh and closeted contractor Ben spend more time together, they develop a deep, comfortable romance despite the fifty miles between their homes—and despite the drastic differences in their lifestyles. But as they grow closer, it becomes apparent that Josh and Ben have been enjoying the first flush of love without giving much thought to longer-term logistics.
A crisis leads Josh to ask himself serious questions about how his relationship with Ben can realistically work. But just as Josh is feeling ready to talk about the next step with Ben, a misunderstanding threatens to put an end to their love affair. Compromise is the key to any relationship, but it isn’t always easy to balance careers, friendships, and family expectations. Josh and Ben just need to see that bringing together the best of both their worlds is well worth the sacrifices they’ll have to make to remain in each other’s lives.
Jessica Skye Davies