Last fall, Center for Rural Affairs advisory board member Marcel LaFlamme wrote a review of the book "Out in the Country:Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America" for the blog Daily Yonder. I was reminded of it when a new Center intern sent me a list of books she'd like to review this summer for this blog, so I thought I would share it with you.
Out in the Country, by Indiana University communications professor Mary Gray, poses a deliberate challenge to that well-worn gay coming-of-age narrative that revolves around a one-way bus ticket to San Francisco. Based on nineteen months of fieldwork in and around rural Kentucky, Out in the Country sets out to understand the processes by which queer rural youth negotiate their identities, lay claim to public space, and organize for social change. Gray acknowledges the very real challenges that queer young people face in culturally conservative rural communities. But she refuses to portray these young people as victims or martyrs, focusing instead on the strategies that they use to create a sense of belonging and visibility in the rural places they call home.
Marcel's review mentions a few of the personal stories from "Out in the Country", which highlights not only the challenges of being queer in rural communities, but also some of the lighter sides.
In Chapter Four of Out in the Country, [Shaun, a teen interview for the book] describes being chased out of a local Wal-Mart by a high school acquaintance who accosted him as he walked out of the men’s fitting room: “What are you doing in the wrong dressing room, faggot?” Yet Gray also makes it clear that encounters like this one aren’t pushing Shaun and his friends back into the closet, or preventing them from living their lives. By letting us see these young people in more mundane, light-hearted moments, camping it up at a gas station donut shop, Gray shows that the experiences of rural queer youth are richer and more complex than a dreary string of suicide statistics. As Benoit Denizet-Lewis wrote in a recent article for the New York Times Magazine, “A new kind of gay adolescent was appearing on the page—proud, resilient, sometimes even happy.”
Marcel's review is insightful while challenging that the book doesn't provide an alternative vision besides a lifestyle that makes a political statement out of being visibly queer.
One part of "Out in the Country" that Marcel discusses makes me sad - the informants in the book have a rainbow decal on their car that they take off when they feel like the area they're in might be hostile to them. Clearly we don't all have the same stance on homosexuality. The ability to express different opinions is one of the ways that America is great, and I would hope that rural citizens would welcome everyone that visits their community with respect, regardless of who they are or the opinions they hold.
You can read Marcel's full blog post here.
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