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  • Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940 by Julio Capó Jr
  • Ariel Eisenberg
Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940. By Julio Capó Jr. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017. pp. xvi, 383. paper, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-4696-3520-0; cloth, $90.00, ISBN 978-1-4696-3519-4.)

In Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940, Julio Capó Jr. analyzes Miami, Florida, as a "queer frontier," a city more proximate to the Bahamas and Caribbean islands than to most of the continental United States, that its boosters promoted as a site of elite yet exotic tourism (chap. 1). This "fairyland" attracted wealthy white visitors seeking sunny climes and permissive social mores; yet the advertised pleasures of the city were made possible through the dispossession of land from indigenous people, U.S. and European colonial domination, the labor of Bahamian migrants and other workers, and the simultaneous exoticization and spatial and legal regulation of people of color and other nonelites. Viewing Miami through the lenses of sexuality and gender shows how the creation of the city's pleasure spaces was inextricably linked to the restriction of people and acts labeled transgressive. As Capó demonstrates, though, queer Miamians both made the city the fairyland it became and made space—however tenuous—for themselves within it.

Capó uses the term queer broadly to describe "disruptions to normative gender and sexuality" (p. 17). In this era before the cementing of identity-based sexual categories, Miami was known as a city of bachelors, filled with homosocial spaces that held the possibility for myriad sexual encounters, including both same-sex and interracial. The Miami elite's embrace of public figures such as interior designer Paul Chalfin and his lover, Louis Koons, demonstrates that queerness was not in and of itself unacceptable; rather, it was in the particular configurations of race, class, gender, sexuality, age, and (dis)ability that transgression became either acceptable (even celebrated) or abhorrent. Hence, municipal authorities continued their efforts to police sex between working-class men of color, and the port of Miami frequently refused entry to Bahamian women (deemed sexually suspect), even as city boosters advertised Miami as a place where anything goes. Queer is also the analytical thread that unites each chapter of Welcome to Fairyland, guiding Capó's analysis of topics as diverse as artistic and literary depictions of Miami's racial [End Page 216] and sexual otherness and the opportunities Miami afforded for unmarried white women, such as the journalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the painter Dewing Woodward. Together, such examples demonstrate the productivity of considering Miami from a queer perspective in the era of Jim Crow, Progressivism, and U.S. imperial ambition.

Miami's transnational history permeates Welcome to Fairyland. By centering the city's connections to the Bahamas, Cuba, and Haiti, Capó challenges U.S. historians' tendency to treat the spaces they study as insular and nation-bound. As he demonstrates, white elite demands for island tourism (and the approximation of the island tourist experience on the mainland, complete with imported flora, fauna, and laborers and the creation of sex districts) fueled Miami's growth. The city's status as an "urban frontier" takes center stage in the earliest chapters, extending discussions of U.S. imperialism and the control of nature and people beyond the western frontier and parsing the role of Jim Crow in this twentieth-century international city (p. 25). In later chapters, Capó shows how the ease of travel between the United States and Havana, Cuba—with its gambling, rum, stage shows, and sex workers—provided compelling incentive for Miami to remain "wide-open" in the era of Prohibition and beyond, creating the opportunity for the formation of nascent queer communities (p. 4). In each chapter, he demonstrates the perpetual juxtaposition of liberty and repression that Miami held for many of its occupants.

Capó tells these stories through the use of rich primary source collections from multiple countries and analyzes these sources with detail and dexterity. Welcome to Fairyland demonstrates the centrality of queer and transnational analysis to understanding the "'instant city'" of Miami and provides an important model for future scholarship in queer, urban, and southern...


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pp. 216-217
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