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Out in the Country

Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America

Mary L. Gray
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 293
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  • Book Info
    Out in the Country
    Book Description:

    Winner of the 2009 Ruth Benedict Prize for Outstanding Monograph from the Society of Lesbian and Gay AnthropologistsWinner of the 2010 Distinguished Book Award from the American Sociological Association, Sociology of Sexualities SectionWinner of the 2010 Congress Inaugural Qualitative Inquiry Book Award Honorable MentionFrom Wal-Mart drag parties to renegade Homemaker's Clubs, Out in the Country offers an unprecedented contemporary account of the lives of today's rural queer youth. Mary L. Gray maps out the experiences of young people living in small towns across rural Kentucky and along its desolate Appalachian borders, providing a fascinating and often surprising look at the contours of gay life beyond the big city. Gray illustrates that, against a backdrop of an increasingly impoverished and privatized rural America, LGBT youth and their allies visibly - and often vibrantly - work the boundaries of the public spaces available to them, whether in their high schools, public libraries, town hall meetings, churches, or through websites. This important book shows that, in addition to the spaces of Main Street, rural LGBT youth explore and carve out online spaces to fashion their emerging queer identities. Their triumphs and travails defy clear distinctions often drawn between online and offline experiences of identity, fundamentally redefining our understanding of the term 'queer visibility' and its political stakes. Gray combines ethnographic insight with incisive cultural critique, engaging with some of the biggest issues facing both queer studies and media scholarship. Out in the Country is a timely and groundbreaking study of sexuality and gender, new media, youth culture, and the meaning of identity and social movements in a digital age.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3310-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface: Never Met a Stranger
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Introduction: There Are No Queers Here
    (pp. 1-32)

    I snaked my way through I-64 traffic, past two car wrecks and several police speed traps to reach Frankfort, Kentucky, by 8:20 that icy February morning in 2002. A regional field organizer from the Kentucky Fairness Alliance (KFA), a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) advocacy organization, had arranged for me to lobby with a dozen young people and four adults from Berea, a Central Kentucky town of 9,800 people, and I was running almost a half-hour late. I quickly found my fellow advocates crowded around a table in the Kentucky State Capitol’s smoky basement cafeteria. They stood out...

  6. PART I: Queers Here?: Recognizing the Familiar Stranger

    • 2 Unexpected Activists: Homemakers Club and Gay Teens at the Local Library
      (pp. 35-60)

      The Berea College students introduced in the previous chapter were exceptional advocates. The ecumenical Christian college’s mission to provide a free education to Appalachia’s poorest but most promising youth drew dynamic student leaders who were likely to be as socially progressive as they were deeply spiritual.¹ But, despite the students’ efforts in 2001, Representative Napier was never publicly compelled to explain his claim that no gay people lived in his district. So, in a well-crafted response to Napier’s assertion, students at the college conducted a signature drive the weeks preceding the Kentucky Fairness Alliance (KFA) Lobby Day the following year...

    • 3 School Fight! Local Struggles over National Advocacy Strategies
      (pp. 61-86)

      Boyd County sits along the border that stitches West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky together. While Ashland, Kentucky, Boyd County’s largest town, has more than 20,000 residents, Boyd County High School draws most of its 900 students from surrounding towns with populations smaller than that of the high school itself. In Spring 2001 a Boyd County High School graduating senior submitted a petition to his school’s Site-Based Decision Making (SBDM) Council requesting a new nonacademic student club—a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). At the time there were only four clubs in Kentucky listed on the national, chapter-based nonprofit Gay, Lesbian and Straight...

    • 4 From Wal-Mart to Websites: Out in Public
      (pp. 87-118)

      The Highland Pride Alliance (HPA), a community-based social support group for area lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and their straight allies, usually met at a member’s house or in the basement of a local public county library. Only a few members had homes with the space and welcoming families to accommodate the six to ten regular attendees. No one could host this particular week and another community group had booked the library’s meeting room. So, the HPA gathered at Dolly’s House, the Christian bookstore across the county line.

      Recently, the owner had decided to put some green plastic...

  7. PART II: Queering Realness

    • 5 Online Profiles: Remediating the Coming-Out Story
      (pp. 121-140)

      Amy, a white teenager living in Central Kentucky, cited the discovery of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) identities on the Internet as a defining moment in understanding her identity. Similar to many of her rural peers, she found that online representations of LGBT lives seemed more pivotal to this shift in her identity than fictionalized LGBT narratives, such asBaywatch’scampy queer subtexts orQueer as FolkandWill and Grace’sout and proud gay and lesbian characters. Fictional representations of LGBT people in popular media have long been theorized as a potential remedy to LGBT cultural marginalization and...

    • 6 To Be Real: Transidentification on the Discovery Channel
      (pp. 141-164)

      I argue in the previous chapter that online coming-out stories and personal ads are pivotal to rural young people’s negotiations of a queer sense of self. These stories and ads convey generic expectations of what lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) identities look like and beckon young people to authenticate their own identity claims through a logic of visibility. I suggest that these narratives of queer realness are compelling not as a particular grouping of cinematic, televisual, or digital texts but as situated, discursive practices that mark the local boundaries of LGBT identities. These practices offer rural queer and questioning...

    • 7 Conclusion: Visibility Out in the Country
      (pp. 165-176)

      I began this book with the story of rural young people and their adult allies employing a stalwart practice of gay-visibility politics. They doggedly lobbied legislators for greater awareness and legal recognition of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. For this kind of lobbying to succeed, particularly at the state and local level, it must mobilize more than appeals to a lawmaker’s sense of decency and justice. The recognition of LGBT rights tacitly relies on the financial clout and a critical mass of upstanding, respectable gay and lesbian (sometimes transgender but rarely bisexual) citizens. To advocate publicly for the...

  8. Epilogue: You Got to Fight for Your Right . . . to Marry?
    (pp. 177-184)

    As I finished my fieldwork in the summer of 2004, Kentucky became one of several battlegrounds over the issue of gay marriage in a state-by-state face-off between the conservative Christian Right and liberal gay-rights advocates. Like ten other states in the 2004 presidential election cycle, anti–gay marriage advocates worked with Republican (and a few Democratic) lawmakers to land a so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) initiative on Kentucky’s November 2004 ballot. The measure, called Amendment 2, asked the Commonwealth’s citizens to amend the state constitution to ban recognition of same-sex marriages.¹ August 6, 2004, a coalition of local, state,...

  9. Appendix: Methods, Ad-hoc Ethics, and the Politics of Sexuality Studies
    (pp. 185-196)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 197-228)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-260)
  12. Index
    (pp. 261-278)
  13. About the Author
    (pp. 279-279)