Queering the South

Movement and love making, heat and heritage, pursed lips and tongues wagging, culture’s enabling constraint—all implicated in this fanning of queer desire, and well suited to (dis)orient our mapping en route, but without ever reaching a specified destination, to southern queer world making. Or, as Dolly Parton sang in Transamerica (2005), we’re just ‘‘travelin’ thru. As of this writing it has been a dozen years since the publication of John Howard’s Carryin’ On in the Lesbian and Gay South, James T. Sears’ Lonely Hunters, and the ‘‘Queering the South’’ conference at Emory University. Though important scholarship on sexuality and the South preceded these works, it would be fitting in this context to call such a confluence, in the words of one of this field’s conspicuously gay Southerners, ‘‘catalytic events.’’ That is, with these works one witnessed accelerated queer movement in both Southern Studies and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Studies. Region and desire constituted pathbreaking perspectives by incongruity regarding and intersection between two academic regimes of the normal.

Since 1997 a diverse group of academics and activists have been traversing those varied experiential, cultural, and political southern terrains, disrupting predominant myths and imaginaries about southern queerness that had historically rendered it indigenous and invisible. Peculiar indeed it is that the South somehow could be both the citadel of perversity and too backwater for the gay social register, for gay history. Along the way, que(e)rying regionalism and sexuality in Dixie has helped us to rethink what we thought we knew about the South and same-sex desire, practice, identity, location, and community; not only same-sex desire, practice, identity, location, and community in the South, but how such a regional focus can provide fresh vantages on the sexual landscape of the United States writ large and beyond.

Explorations both pre-and post-Stonewall, within and among ‘‘southern queer ecologies,’’ have revealed many identifications and disidentifications, antagonisms and solidarities, continuities and ruptures, across gender, race, and class. Southern engagements of home and migration, homecoming and diaspora, church and state, congregation and legislation, nation and transnationality, space and place, time and memory, and violence, among others, have sounded new queer cadences even as we recognize the familiar drawl. From queering the southern literary canon to studies of queer rurality, James T. Sears’ observation has not only been substantiated but richly enacted: ‘‘Southern history is never simple and seldom straight.”

Morris, Charles E. “Introduction: ‘Travelin’ Thru’ the Queer South.” Southern Communication Journal 74, no. 3 (2009): 233–42. doi:10.1080/10417940903060963.

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