Monday, November 2, 2009

Out in the Country by Mary L. Gray

Often it feels like the national ethos is anti-rural. We urban dwellers distrust the farm, the country and the small town. It comes across in our films, television and new reports. We like rural as long as it is safe and sanitized: corn mazes and pumpkin patches and Christmas tree farms.

We also assume that anyone gay will leave the country immediately. No self respecting gay man or woman could stay in a rural place where they are hated and there is no support. Homosexuality and queer gender identity have no place in the country.

Out in the Country is an ethnography and cultural exploration of gay youth in Appalachia and rural Kentucky. It flips normal expectations about being gay and being rural on its head. While still an academic work and a cogent exploration of the gay cultural anthropology which came before this one, the author, Mary Gray, writes poetically about the struggle for equality and personal identity in the small towns of Kentucky.

I enjoyed reading about a local homemakers club which endeavored to present a forum for gay youth at the local public library and a gay drag show in the aisles of Wal-mart. One chapter in the book was devoted to how gay youth use the internet to connect and to understand coming out vis a vis their own personal identity.

Of course an anthropological look at rural gay youth is not going to come away with only happy endings or moral endings. Nothing in life has easy answers and no stories are necessarily ended happily or rightly. Gay people in the country do face challenges and battles to end discrimination, but they do everywhere. This book really helps to delve deeper into a place and a situation which is badly misunderstood and often stereotyped. In our age of culture wars and red states and blue states any narrative or study that helps us to think more fully about a place and a time is a welcome gift.

Full disclosure to my fair readers: Ms. Gray is a friend of mine, and she graciously offered me a copy of her book after I expressed skepticism that little old me could read and understand an academic work. I understand from the rumors that abound in my department that Mary is a gifted up and coming scholar, and her book is winning boatloads of awards from scholarly groups. As a reader of stories and narrative, I was not disappointed. There were pitchforks, there was wailing and gnashing of teeth, there was tension and drama and there was literature review. I take it however I can get it.


zenabu said...

Do you have a copy I could borrow?

Anonymous said...

Can I borrow it next? MKP

Steph said...

Your opening paragraph made me laugh, b/c I have had the opposite experience! Growing up in rural America, it seemed to me like no one trusted "city people". :-)

This seems like an important book.