Jun 23 2011

Rethinking Homophobia(s)

When Psychologist George Weinberg used homophobia—a fear of same-sex desire—to diagnose the collective loathing that met the rise of homosexual rights in the late 1960s, the implicit remedy seemed to be: get to know gay and lesbian people and everything will be ok (a take on immersion therapy, perhaps). But, today, when acceptance of gay and lesbian people feels like a no-brainer to some, particularly among those who consider themselves progressive (dare I say hip), the analytic purchase of homophobia falls short. Homophobia is, for example, unable to robustly address the geopolitics of queer-bashing, unpack the particularities of violence unleashed on bisexual or trans-identifying people of color, or shepherd gay and lesbian rights activists and allies through a thicket of profoundly complicated concepts like “marriage” and “human rights.” In other words, the explanatory promise of homophobia, its appeal to a kind of blind, idiosyncratic disgust, cannot carry the weight of such a complicated, intersectional world. And, just as importantly, attributing rejection of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer rights to individual ignorance, fear, or hatred, means we miss the chance to see how norms of love and sexual desire cut to the core and sharply organize a range of institutions, practices, and contexts. Homophobias: Lust and loathing across time and space (http://www NULL.dukeupress NULL.edu/Catalog/ViewProduct NULL.php?productid=12353), by David A. B. Murray, helps us imagine a more complicated paradigm that moves homophobia beyond the interpersonal and irrational to a place of collective and deliberative debate and interlocking systems of oppression.

Murray organizes the nine essays of Homophobias into two sections that, in turn, unpack the limits of universalizing the meaning of homophobia and examine the baggage of particular cases where homophobia means something far more than we typically give it credit. Section One’s five, relatively short essays, ask readers to consider the limits of attributing anti-queer violence and rhetoric to the analytic frame of homophobia alone. The first chapter, Don Kulick’s pithy assessment of the humanist roots that render anthropologists perhaps too hesitant to take on those we don’t like or who don’t like us, makes sense of the discipline’s conspicuous absence from a discussion of the good, bad, and ugly of human affect. Ultimately, Kulick’s essay argues that it is precisely the depth of anthropology’s rich critique of anything transcendently “transcultural” that positions the discipline to effectively step up to the task of breaking down the complexities of homophobia as intricate, layered cultural work. It is the perfect lens through which to read the Section’s remaining essays. For example, Martin Manalansan’s arguments in Chapter Two further drive home Kulick’s claims about homophobia’s symbolic flexibility. Manalansan uses four vignettes from his landmark fieldwork with New York City Filipino and other queer people of color to illustrate how white queer-identifying people’s invocations of homophobia illustrate the term’s capacity “as a mobile category located at the intersection of the traffic and travel of race, class, gender, and sexual identities and practices”(36). Careful to note the very real pain people feel when they speak of homophobic marginalization, Manalansan just as cautiously points out how attending to that pain can be part of shaping who is seen, heard, and privileged as the subject licensed to call out the quality and truth of homophobic vitriol. Constance Sullivan-Blum’s study of mainline Protestant churches in New York asks us to contextualize evangelical resistance to homophobia as not (just) mean-spirited scapegoating but a deeper ontological angst over the relationship between modern Christianity and secular scientific discourses. Her work cultivates an empathy for mainline Protestants that, I would argue, seems politically necessary for those who believe in the value of recognizing the polysemy of religion and, as such, sees it as a valuable tool in the arsenal of political battles for queer social justice.

If the first three essays of Section One suggest that we have vastly underestimated the complexities of homophobia and the power dynamics embedded in it, the final two essays illustrate that, far from an expression of universal fear, homophobia is the outcome of contingent processes that have, to date, aligned it with conservatism, but, arguably, also leave it wide open to contestation and change. For example, Steven Angelides’ analysis of the 1983 controversy that engulfed Alison Thorne, an Australian schoolteacher and lesbian activist, when she dared to challenge national media’s conflation of pedophilia and homosexuality argues that political actors face particular moments when the specific dimensions of sexual discrimination takes shape in relation to other pressing national debates. Angelides’ genealogy suggests where LGBT activists have the most work to do, namely challenging “panics” that position gay men’s sexuality as inherently risky while at the same time defending the very possibility of young people’s queer sexual agency. And Brian Riedel’s account of the Greek acquisition of ratsismos in response to the inadequacies of the import omofovia remind readers that linguistic anthropology offers a rubric for recognizing the rich cultural logics always at work when signs and signifiers float about in a global context (as they always have). Taken together, Section One builds a compelling case for the value of what Don Kulick calls, in Chapter One, “an anthropology of hate”—a close historical, political, and locational account of the social structures that organize and channel the flows of hate on and beyond same-sex desiring bodies (31).

While Section One asks us to consider what we take for granted about the motivations and meanings of homophobia, Section Two’s “Transnational Homophobias” offer cases to help readers reflect on how to hold complexities and double meanings in hand while also investigating the very real effects of homophobia in the lives of same-sex desiring people. This Section’s four essays ask us to grapple with the complicated global register, indeed plurality, of the term homophobia and its related discursive moves through a series of cross-cultural examples. Suzanne LaFont, for instance, delves into the power of heteronormativity in Jamaican popular music, arguing that homophobia can’t be understood outside of the context of British colonialist violence and racial and class ordering that shaped much of Jamaican history. While Jamaican dance hall stars position homoerotics as Western imports that threaten homegrown morality, wealthy gay, lesbian, and bisexual Jamaican jet-setters demonstrate that class status still holds the power to trump—or sidestep—the moral superiority of heterosexuality. Like LaFont, the next three chapters, by Tom Boellstorff, David Murray, and Lawrence Cohen, take up how intersecting racial, gendered, classed, and sexual hierarchies organize through and in response to the legacies and persistence of colonial violence. All three authors consider the colonialist underpinnings that set the stage for how to read the relatively recent rise in homophobic violence in Indonesia, Barbados, and India respectively. While Boellstorff poses the provocative question of whether or not Indonesian social order, organized by an orthodoxy of heterosexism, avoided investing in its evil twin, homophobia (Boellstorff believes it did) prior to the 1998 fall of the Soeharto regime, Murray argues that, at least in the case of Barbados, homophobic discourses circulate as ways to (literally) talk back to—and rage against—the brutal churn of modernity and its prerequisite unequal distribution of resources. In both cases, it becomes impossible to understand homophobia outside the logics of colonialism, postcolonialism, and the ruptures and flows that these logic produce. The final full chapter, Lawrence Cohen’s close read of media coverage and regional responses to the 1994 rape and murder of six men in the north Indian city of Lucknow, leave the reader with the haunting suspicion that homophobia can (and will) be used to mark deviation from societal norm as an “incessant desire” that deserves, perhaps is destined for, retribution (171). A poignant Epilogue, penned by Murray, chronicles the very real violence imposed on Edward, a gay Ugandan refugee now living in Canada, to underscore the need for “strategies of resistance” that draw on the force of global and local activism that resist the urge to reterritorialize where homophobia really resides (11).

As moving and illustrative as the Epilogue is, I want to highlight the significance of the collection’s opening reflections to close this review. Murray’s Introduction does a remarkable job crisply contextualizing the conversation and underscoring the value of the anthology’s contributions. The volume proffers nothing less than a paradigmatic shift in how we think and talk about homophobia. Murray also carefully qualifies the volume’s arguments. He notes the limited range of case studies available, but he also quickly points out that this volume should only be read as a first step in doing anything to undo homophobia; he suggests that this volume cannot resolve whether homophobia is a national or global problem, though he astutely suggests that this is a false and unproductive dichotomy; and he acknowledges the conspicuous attention to violence directed at male bodies to the exclusion of female-identifying and trans-identifying bodies. And it is the narrow framing of gendered homophobic violence that produced my only frustration with the collection.

While, as Murray points out, we may have few accounts of homophobic violence directed at female-identifying bodies for a range of reasons, not the least of which might be the misogyny that pushes such accounts to the margins, I felt that more could certainly be said to theorize the likelihood that homophobic violence might look very, very different for female-identifying bodies. Murray does note that such accounts are likely under-recorded and “institutionalized academic prejudice” renders queer women’s lives “too narrow” a topic in some disciplines otherwise well positioned to flesh out the experiences of homophobia directed at queer women. At the same time, I would draw on Murray’s volume to push us to consider how homophobias directed at female-identifying bodies might expand how we think about different kinds of violence, not just different kinds of homophobias. For example, public displays of affection with my female partner routinely embolden men to tell us how we’ve “made their day” or “fulfilled a fantasy.” These comments, sometimes said casually, other times, with lewd intonation, produce a violent, symbolic annihilation: lesbian and bisexual women’s desires for each other must constantly combat the spectacular, consumptive control of the heterosexual male gaze. While readers may consider this example too trite to count or a simple case of mundane heterosexism, it is precisely my reading of Murray that suggests we should think otherwise. Homophobia, in this case, does not just undercut queer difference; it attempts to control and subjugate women’s bodies and desires under the guise of heterosexuality but in the service of patriarchy and misogyny.

My one concern aside, Murray’s ethnographically rich and theoretically engaging collection accomplishes a critical feat: it moves the hatred experienced by those read as “queer” beyond an exchange of interpersonal feelings to the messier terrain of intersecting systems of power and privilege. As each of the essays in Murray’s collection deftly argues, a range of cultural contexts and intricacies come together to shape what we universalize as the individual (sinking) feeling of homophobia. There are no easy salves to sooth homophobia, as this collection so effectively illustrates, without considering how homophobia is always necessarily rooted and entwined in myriad other “historically grounded relationships of inequality produced through the intersections of local and global social, political, and economic forces” at work in any given time or space (3). Murray’s contributors offer us an opportunity to reexamine how hating us is about so much more than, well, us. As such, Homophobias provides scholars and political activists alike with a much-needed intervention in the global analysis of and fight for queer possibilities. Plainly put, this timely and prescient anthology underscores the social and political importance of attending to the complications of hate—a necessary step if we are ever to intervene.

The review above is a draft submission to the American Ethnologist

Homophobias: Lust and loathing across time and space
by David A. B. Murray
Durham: Duke University Press
227 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8223-4598-5

Mar 4 2011

It doesn’t get better for anyone if we don’t make it better for everyone

A spate of youth suicides made headlines in September 2010, but it wasn’t because suicides are social anomalies (see Durkheim on this point). No, the newsworthiness of these losses clustered around a common thread: young men violently and incessantly harassed for identifying or simply seeming to be gay found no other relief available to them than taking their own lives. In the first few months of 2010, mainstream media drove home the cost of bullying and its cyber manifestations with stories of the lives of 18-year-old Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi (9/22/10), originally from Ridgewood, N.J.; 15-year-old Billy Lucas of Greensburg, Indiana (9/9/10); Seth Walsh, 13, from Tehachapi, California (9/28/10); Asher Brown, 13, of Houston Texas (9/23/10); 19-year-old Johnson and Wales university sophomore Raymond Chase, originally from Monticello, New York (9/29/10); and Norman, Oklahoma’s Zach Harrington, 19 (10/5/10).

Within days of those first few heartbreaking stories, celebrities, like author Dan Savage and comedian Ellen DeGeneres, implored all young LGBT-identifying people to hang on. Give yourself time and, when you grow up, Savage and DeGeneres passionately asserted, you’ll blossom and fly away from the grief you’re weathering now. Persevere.

The problem with perseverance: it suggests that time, rather than social action, is the most effective weapon that protects us from anti-queer violence. While we can all agree that giving queer and questioning youth hope through allies and queers’ testimonies that it can get better (http://www NULL.itgetsbetter NULL.org), those narratives of survival only meet change halfway. It takes three more (big) things to transform queer young people’s lives: 1) honest reckoning with the social barriers that make it more likely for some young people’s lives to get better than others–rural, working poor youth, for example, don’t fly away as often as we think so they have to make do where they are; 2) active intervention of all adults and peers who are in spitting distance of harassment and violence and 3) recognition that anti-queer violence is less about hurting queer kids in particular and much more about using norms–shouting and pushing people into the shapes we expect, whether they be ideals of body, gender, immigrant status, or wealth–to contain us all. Emphasizing one strategy over or to the exclusion of the others not only fails to prevent LGBT-identifying suicides, it diverts our attention from the structural violence that permeates educational institutions and young people’s daily lives. Let’s stop looking for the clean or obvious line that divides teasing or youthful (“boyish”) antics from violence and harassment. When we collectively agree to stop and question any moment that plays difference against norms to diminish another human being or ignores how bullying interlocks with other social inequalities, we will be on the road to making it better. If you think that sounds crazy or too idealistic, just play through a few clips from The Make It Better Project (http://www NULL.makeitbetterproject NULL.org) to get inspired.

Sep 22 2010

Oh! Canada: queer journal publishes issue on rural life

Hey folks,

No More Potlucks!, a Canadian bi-monthly literary journal, published an issue on queer rural life and promises to do more of the same. This is a beautiful collection of essays that captures the flow of queer ruralities in provocative ways (full disclosure: there’s a reprint of an interview with me). I’ve posted the TOC below. Check them out!

no. 11 ~ Rural (http://nomorepotlucks NULL.org/)
Sept – Oct 2010

Online and print-on-demand journal of art, politics and culture
Magazine en ligne d’art, de politique et de culture, imprimé sur demande

Online: www.nomorepotlucks.org
Print: http://stores.lulu.com/nomorepotlucks

Open Source Communities of the North, Unite
Arctic Perspective Initiative | Dayna McLeod

Langsamkeit: Telling Stories in a Small World
Florian Thalhofer | Matt Soar

Chez les eux
Massime Dousset

Moonshine and Rainbows: Queer, Young, and Rural…An Interview with Mary L. Gray
Mary L. Gray | Mandy Van Deven

Queer in a Haystack: Queering Rural Space
Rosemary McAdam

The History of the Queer Crop Code: Symbology in the Settlement Era
Cindy Baker

Five Things You Need to Know about Sex Workers
Leslie Ann Jeffrey and Gayle MacDonald

Landlocked and Lonesome:
LIDS, Queer Feminism and Artist Run-Culture in Boomin’ Calgary
Anthea Black

The Illustrated Gentleman
Elisha Lim

“We Show Up”: Lesbians in Rural British Columbia, 1950s-1970s
Rachel Torrie

Assimilation in the Land of Cows
Bob Leahy

Sound Bites of Rural Nova Scotia
M-C MacPhee & Mél Hogan

Memory Hoarding: An Interview with Rocky Green
Rocky Green | M-C MacPhee

(http://queercountry NULL.fromthesquare NULL.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/cover11 NULL.png)

Sep 11 2010

ricochet (shout out to Henry Jenkins!)

At the risk of stating the obvious: blogging is not my forte (apologies to anyone who’s looked to Queer Country for an update lately). But I have the great privilege of being the feature interview on one of the finest media blogs out there: Henry Jenkins’ Confessions of an Aca/Fan. Thanks for the very kind shout out, Henry!

Here’s Part One (http://henryjenkins NULL.org/2010/09/an_interview_with_mary_l_gray NULL.html)

Here’s Part Two (http://henryjenkins NULL.org/2010/09/doing_drag_in_wal-mart_and_oth NULL.html)

And, lastly, Part Three (http://henryjenkins NULL.org/2010/09/doing_drag_in_wal-mart_and_oth_1 NULL.html)

Thanks again for the chance to say what I meant to say in the book, Henry!

Feb 16 2010

Me at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society

Ok. This is starting to feel like a personal photo album more than a blog. I’ll stop this soon (promise)…but here are links to the the Boston talks:

A really nice podcast (http://cyber NULL.law NULL.harvard NULL.edu/interactive/podcasts/radioberkman142) of the interview David Weinberger (of “Small Things Loosely Joined” fame) did with me after the Berkman Center talk

The archived webcast (http://cyber NULL.law NULL.harvard NULL.edu/interactive/events/luncheon/2010/02/gray) of the Berkman talk

…and, have to shout out to my friend and media scholar extraordinaire, Mark Deuze (http://deuze NULL.blogspot NULL.com/). I slipped in a reference to his work on “living in media” (a new project that follows up his book Media Work (http://amzn NULL.com/0745639259)) but the cite didn’t make its way from my brain to my mouth.

Feb 16 2010

It’s been a busy homo self-promo week!

I’ll post more about some of the questions that have come up since my talks in Boston (definitely some great food for thought for me). In the meantime, here’s a link to the op-ed (http://www NULL.guardian NULL.co NULL.uk/commentisfree/2010/feb/16/gay-country-urban-community) I published in The Guardian today. It’s a nice recap of my main arguments from the book. Enjoy!

Feb 11 2010

Marion, the Librarian (queering information access and digital inequality in the rural U.S.)

This week, I had the pleasure of playing with social media researcher (and fellow youth culture rabble rouser) danah boyd at the Microsoft Research (http://research NULL.microsoft NULL.com/en-us/people/dmb/) campus in Cambridge, MA. I also gave a talk at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society that gave me a chance to gush about librarians–and say gay and Internet policy in the same breath– something I’ve been meaning to do for years now!

You see, one of my favorite stories that didn’t make it into the book was the experience of a group of youth whose world changed the day their local public librarian decided to reposition the two Internet-accessible public terminals so that passers-by could not easily see patrons’ surfing. Many of us who enjoy the comfort and privacy of zippy home broadband access might think “so what?…they’re still in a public space, right?” But, for rural LGBT and questioning young people with no personal access to a home PC, living in communities still dependent on dial-up service, and facing the hurdles of draconian filtering and monitoring software on all their school computers, the public library’s computers became the primary “private” gateway for their queer explorations. I’m working on a more “academeze” version of this story but the upshot is this: Like policy analysts Paul DiMaggio and Eszter Hargittai argued back in 2001, information access is SOOO much more than whether a computer and the net are present or absent (what some folks in the biz call “media penetration” or “domestication”–an unfortunate choice of terms, I know). The divide between digital “haves” and “have-nots” involves a complicated set of conditions way beyond securing hardware. That public librarian in rural Eastern Kentucky addressed what DiMaggio and Hargittai called “digital inequality”–queer young people’s direct access to not just the equipment to browse but the social possibilities for their autonomous use and social validation to use the computers for something more than term papers.

Because I heard the story of the librarian’s cool move from the youth themselves somewhat after the fact, I never had the chance to go back and ask the library if they knew what a difference they were making for these young people (and if they did, would they be as happy about?)…But now’s my chance to dive back into the details of digital inequality in the rural U.S. and the strategies young people use to workaround and re-purpose the constrained access they have to rebuild their own senses of public-ness and queer visibility.

Nov 19 2009

Maine says yes to pot, no to same-sex marriage

If you’re like me, you were holding your breath and hoping that marriage equality would win the day in Maine on November 4. It didn’t. Mainers voted 53% in favor of repealing a law recently passed and signed by their Governor that granted marriage to same-sex couples. On the flip(pant) side: they did legalize distribution of medical marijuana. It’s not that I think these issues are related but they were on the same ballot (giving me an easy title for this blog post).

Marriage equality came to Maine through legislative action, distinguishing the campaign from the court fight it took to pass marriage in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Unfortunately, like the 30 states before it, when Maine’s residents had a chance to vote on the issue, they voted down the right of its citizens to choose a same-sex partner for marital bliss. The national news analysis (strangely less visible than you’d think) noted that Maine’s most populous city, Portland, overwhelmingly came out against the repeal of same-sex marriage but it was those “conservative regions to the north (http://www NULL.nytimes NULL.com/2009/11/05/us/politics/05maine NULL.html)” that could not be swayed.

While voting patterns can tell us something about where to take the fight (i.e., “regions to the north” in Maine), they can’t tell us how we might need to re-define what we’re fighting for when we’re working out in the country (punned intended).

Let me clarify: When we struggle over marriage equality (whether fought state-by-state or on the national stage) our strategies suggest that winning is a matter of clarifying our message and delivering it (personally) to folks who haven’t thought about our rights before. But, I’d argue, we also need to translate why our issues might (or should) matter to someone who sees LGBT life as strictly a city (or white or upper class) thing.

One of the most important moves LGBT rights advocates can do now is not just assess whether we need to shift from a state-by-state approach to a Federal frontal attack of the Defense of Marriage Act. We also need to ask why we find it so difficult to imagine doing both. To win in states like Maine (or states like Kentucky, Indiana, or Tennessee, discussed in Out in the Country), we have to engage rural communities and others we have long seen as an “immovable middle,” and reckon with the complicated questions they are asking like “Are we talking about the same thing when we talk about the meaning of family and marriage?” “Are we prepared to make a case for why young people should learn about same-sex couples in schools?” And, most pressing, “how will supporting marriage equality address basic needs and political goals in communities where struggles for equality are far from over for the majority of residents?”

This is the next stage of our struggle. What can we do to struggle effectively? Stay tuned as I hash out some innovative strategies from conversations with the folks I meet on the Queer Country Book Tour (next stop: A Different Light Bookstore in San Francisco’s Castro District, Thursday November 19, 7:30 p.m.)…come join the conversation?

Oct 22 2009

Federal inclusive hate crimes bill on its way to Prez Obama’s desk

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act (http://www NULL.nytimes NULL.com/2009/10/23/us/politics/23hate NULL.html) will move from the United States’ legislative branch to its executive west wing today (Thursday October 22, 2009 for the blogo-record). President Obama promised Matthew Shepard’s mother, Judy, that he would sign the bill if it made it to the Oval Office desk. This means a great deal in places where local officials don’t or can’t track crimes that target a person’s “perceived or actual gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability” without the aid of Federal resources. That includes most rural counties in the U.S. and my entire adoptive state of Indiana since we don’t recognize hate crimes of any kind.

To date, we’ve had nothing but anecdotal evidence and a patchwork of earnest non-profit organizations to make sense of the socio-spatial dimensions of queer-motivated hate crimes…Who commits these crimes? Where do they happen? Are they more likely to happen in places like Laramie, WY than Los Angeles, CA? What can we do to address them constructively? If/when passed, this new hate crimes law will include $5 million dollars for investigation of these critical questions (and, doing the math, that’s really not enough…so we should think of this as a start).

Perhaps as important as the legislation itself was the conversation it fueled in queer advocacy circles on two key issues: we had to discuss the importance of including (indeed, demanding) gender identity in hate crimes legislation and 2) we had to consider how the violence wrought be hate crimes can feed the violence wrought by an unjust justice/incarceration system.

As any butch grrl in a plaid shirt and buzzcut or sissy boi in skinny jeans and a fohawk can tell you, queer kids get bashed because they aren’t wearing their gender “properly.” in other words, they are targeted more often for disturbing a visual gender norm than because they’re swapping PDA with their LGBT sweeties. Transwomen and transmen (particularly transpeople of color) are bashed because they don’t meet some queerhater’s normative ideals of “the” gender boxes. While sexual orientation is in the mix, we’re usually not wearing it on our sleeves (except when we’re holding a matching-gender lover in our arms). No, we’re likely breaking gendercodes when the fisticuffs start flying. So excluding gender identity from hate crimes legislation is like turning the lights out before you burn down your own house. What’s the point?

Perhaps (perhaps) more challenging in the hate crimes legislation debate was pushing gay and lesbian people to think about how expansion of hate crimes legislation necessarily calls on us to examine the in/justice of the incarceration system (many have called it the “prison industrial complex”–I just don’t want to throw that term around on this blog…so, check out Critical Resistance (http://criticalresistance NULL.org) for more on PIC). At one stage of the legislative debate, Republican Senators planned to attach the death penalty to prosecution of hate crimes (presumably to shake some of the bill’s more liberal anti-death penalty supporters from their support). But there were plenty of gay and lesbian supporters who didn’t flinch. Bring it on their unwavering support for hate crimes legislation seemed to suggest. Kill the bashing bastards.

Whoa. To collectively get behind such a sentiment, we would have to believe (in addition to other things) that our system is flawless in its execution of justice. And it is not. Far from it. In fact, as the New York Times reported (http://www NULL.nytimes NULL.com/2008/04/23/us/23prison NULL.html) back in 2008, we lock up more (arguably young, poor, disabled, racially oppressed, politically marginalized, and gender-transgressive) folks than any other nation in the world.

Fortunately, the Senate amendments that would’ve made hate crimes necessarily carry the weight of the death penalty failed to make it to the final bill. But what if we had been willing to put the death penalty on the table? What about default extended prison sentences? Thanks to some heavy lobbying efforts by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, we don’t have to face ourselves in the morning in such a moral morass.

May this new legislation draw our attention to the complexities and intimacies that produce hate rather than lull us into believing we’ve found the legislative magic bullet to prevent it.

Oct 20 2009


October 2nd, I spent the length of the day (and into the night) surrounded by other folks deeply invested in discussing why LGBT studies scholars (among others) haven’t thought that much about queer life outside cities. The symposium, organized by the amazing Nadine Hubbs (http://www NULL.music NULL.umich NULL.edu/faculty_staff/bio NULL.php?u=&lname=hubbs&fname=nadine), Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and Music Theory at University of Michigan, looked at the state of queer debate when it comes to working class, rural, and nonmetropolitan studies. Two things that really struck me about not only the papers but the questions and comments from the audience participants: 1) the interdisciplinarity of the conversation and 2) the pressing desire for a return to a meatier, more critical analysis of class. In some cases, our different academic training pushed us to translate our work in ways that I found incredibly exciting. For example, I found myself constantly qualifying my comments–clarifying that, for the communities I worked with, poverty and rurality go hand-in-hand. Most (but not all) of the youth I worked with came from and continue to live lives defined by what they can’t access. Most have extremely limited social and economic resources. Even in cases where they or their families might tentatively occupy the middle class their rural surroundings complicate the value of their incomes (even if you make $50,000 a year, it doesn’t give you greater local access to better schools, medical care, or cultural scenes because those structures and services just aren’t there to buy).

There is so much more to say about this symposium but I need more time to digest my thoughts before I I can say much more here. I do feel like the graduate students I met suggest that there is now momentum to move us past the conversation of “gee, queer studies should really look at this.” Finally.

Thanks Nadine, Terri, and all the other UMich folks for hosting.