This site aspires to create an online space within which we are able to reconsider popular notions of what it means to be rural, country, Southern, small town, provincial, backwoods, backwards, AND queer. The work here seeks to offer an alternative to the irrevocable metronormativity of modern queer consumer culture and the unflinching “pride” of “post-liberation” LGBT identity politics. The discourse of queer liberation has been insistent upon equating a fruitful queer life with the utopia of the city and its cosmopolitanism. Country queers have no role in this narrative, save that of the naive migratory queer that escapes provincialism in a coming-of-age escape from the country into the city…
The rural landscape is defined discursively and materially by struggle for power and resources within that landscape; whether it is the popular discursive construction of rural subjects as backwards and un-evolved, or the literal construction of mining, fracking, or drilling in order to power the cities in the rest of America—both the reality and the perception of rural life emerges from the struggle over resources and representations that seem to constantly push the rural landscape to the margins of the American imagination. This struggle for definitional power is certainly not unique to rural spaces, but is indeed characteristic of all places—it is what gives them contour. It is a struggle to control meaning, above all else, and as it stands presently, the Rural as such has been constructed as a place on within the margins of so-called “modern” America. It is a space of exotic destitution, prelapsarian fantasies, and abject fascination; but the “margins” of any space are never fixed, indeed, they are fickle and depend on the ever-present struggle for power to throw them into relief. As such, I intend to investigate the discursive production of “the margins” as a spatialized receptacle within which rural subjects and places are represented and misrepresented as inherently backwards, neglected, and marginalized.
My hope is to extract from these rural landscapes any theoretically queer strategies that might be idiosyncratic to Rurality as such. Furthermore, I’d like to show that there is such a thing as a distinctly rural epistemology—and that this epistemology is what, to a large extent, electrifies the structures of feeling that power country queers and the queer country that they inhabit—both physically and imaginatively. Thinking rurally might seem elusive, but it’s not impossible
The discourses, actions, and material realities that coalesce to form modern conceptions of rurality and rural people—along with our recognition or misrecognition of queerness and queer people—are up for cross-examination here. Whether discursively, aesthetically, or epistemologically, I plan to disabuse the false dichotomy of the country and the queer, insisting instead on a theoretical approach that privileges the queerness of the country and its ascribed backwardness as a rich source of critique that is uniquely positioned to give the lie to metronormative academic discourses, especially within the contemporary discipline of Queer Studies as such.
Rural spaces are often used metaphorically as placeholders for something else, into which popular culture is able to pour its convenient misconceptions of rural life—from the innocence of the rural idyll to the ignorance of subjects who simply don’t know any better; but the rural metaphor is also a time capsule of sorts—one that never relents. It is a historical receptacle that is filled with anachronism and it serves as the point of reference upon which the rest of urban, civilized America interpolates its own essential modernity, which stands in stark contrast to the archaic, barbaric, and even prelapsarian idyll of rural existence.
A “modernist impulse” is essential to understanding the temporal dissonance between urban and rural dwellers, and it is particularly fundamental to understanding the prevailing contemporary definition of what it means to be queer these days. Modernity and fashionability have become the temporal markings of queer recognizability, and are irrevocably resigned to the city and to cosmopolitan living.
The perpetual march towards modernity is fundamental not only to critical conceptions of queer metronormativity, but also to what it means to be identified or recognized as either rural or urban; it is a mythological modernity that, as I will show later, is also hauntingly definitive of Southern history and the contemporary Southern imaginary inhabited by millions. For queers in particular, this fumbling towards modernity has a migratory element, and is a tale of metropolitan enlightenment and small-town escape for rural queers—what John Howard colorfully calls “the dirt-road-cum-boulevard to gay self-actualization—to identity, community, and political movement—begins in the dark hinterlands of naïveté and deprivations, and ends, happily, in the bustling corridors of wisdom and illumination.”
Without a doubt, the real venom of metronormativity lies in its (conscious or not) inability to recognize and incorporate country queers into contemporary queer narratives, contributing, furthermore, to the erasure of rural lives in the emergent meta-narrative that is known as Queer history. This is a double-erasure, to be sure, as Queer history itself is not only still a bourgeoning narrative, but it is also one that is founded in erasure, illegibility, ignorance, denial, and forgetting. It will be partly the task of this project then, to expand the project of queer history—a history already cloaked in its own invisibility—to include the rural subjects that have been, until now, largely excluded from queer history and struggles for queer recognition.
In contrast to the ghostly and often invisible project that is queer history, Southern history is unmistakable, unavoidable, and perhaps most importantly—undeniable. America’s original sin and the legacy of its founding fissure—the Civil War—followed by Reconstruction, Jim Crowe, and the Civil Rights Era have secured the South’s mythological place in the American imagination, and is inarguably the primordial force sustaining Southern identity to this day—and into the next.
Even today, national political discourse and popular media traffic heavily and ostentatiously in the imaginative Southern/Northern dipole—from the total grip of the Republican party on the South and thusly the U.S. House of Representatives—to Honey Boo Boo, Duck Dynasty, and the Chik-Fil-A marriage equality controversy—national discourse is consistently shaped by the South and other rural places as they become loaded metaphors, which are used to split Americans into dueling political lifestyles that we call “liberal” or “conservative”.
And from within this fissure emerges the ultimate question for queers in rural places:
To leave or to stay put?