The Un-Natural State
Arkansas and the Queer South
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Arkansas Press
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There are so many people that deserve my gratitude that the task of thanking them all is near impossible. My roommate at the time this project was wrapping up joked that a more accurate title for the work should have been The Un-Natural State and Acknowledgments. All kidding aside, what follows are my attempts to include...
INTRODUCTION. Outing Opal, Outing Arkansas
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Let me start with telling you this. She was actually my great-aunt, my grandmother’s half sister, but everyone, including me, referred to her as simply “Aunt Opal.” I have few memories of her that are entirely my own. The vague recollections I do have of her are of a kind woman who was fanatical about college football...
PART ONE. The Diamond State
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Aged thirteen, eighth grade, junior high, I was a female cheerleader. Not a male cheerleader but a female one. I safely wore my miniskirt and danced with pompoms in front of my fellow students and proud parents in what was the most anticipated football match of the year, or at least it was...
TWO. Drag and the Politics of Performance
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Internees had their weekly dances and other social events, but causes for any real celebration and merriment must have been few and far between. However, on August 19, 1944, the Rohwer Outpost, the newspaper for the Japanese American interment camp just south of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, announced that the camp...
THREE. Drag in the Daylight
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If the war enjoyed an interesting union with drag, the war’s end made drag a most peculiar widow. The atmosphere following the war dictated a return to a normalcy that truly never was. The new look-a-like American suburb was evidence of an increasingly homogenized national culture. New television...
FOUR. Rags to Drag Riches
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In less than ten years Norman Jones would go from a dental assistant on an aircraft carrier to the belle of the southern drag-queen circuit.1 Soon after, Jones would amass a small fortune owning and operating the Discovery Nightclub, one of the South’s largest drag venues. In Arkansas drag was moving from...
FIVE. The Current Reigning Symbol of Excellence
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Alone in his house, he put on his mother’s dresses and applied her makeup for his own personal amusement, a personal experience and a private pleasure. Drag was just a hobby really, something David Lee enjoyed doing but nothing he ever would consider as a career. After all, the future...
PART TWO. The Natural State
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SIX. A Crime Unfit to Be Named
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Many Arkansans saw it as inconceivable. Many more thought it was about time. Arkansans sat over their breakfasts the morning of July 1, 1986, peering at the Arkansas Democrat headline that read “High Court Upholds Georgia Sodomy Law.”1 It had been nearly four years since an Atlanta policeman...
SEVEN. The Ingredients of Offense
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I have pieced together the following two episodes from sparse court and newspaper records. As far as I can tell, it might have happened like this: it was cold in the train station, and two young men quickly grew tired of waiting for the irregular holiday trains. It was New Year’s Day 1925, and Sam Jackson, sixteen, and...
EIGHT. Race, Sex, and Queer Renegotiated
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Johnson, a strict segregationist and one of the nastier figures to come out of Arkansas politics, faced a tough fight in the 1966 governor’s race. It was the first governor’s race after the Faubus era, a governor’s race still well within the long shadow of Central High. The unthinkable was about to happen. The man of boots of leather and...
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Seven days after receiving the above letter, Arkansas governor David Pryor was told that representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union were outside his office. This was expected. However, the Quakers, representatives from the Society of Friends, were a bit unexpected.2 In fact, both groups were part of a long parade of...
TEN. Public and Private Prejudice
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Begun in the 1950s, the interstate highway system, the great victory of the automotive lobby, soon symbolized the postwar economic boom, connecting far-flung cities and the citizens therein, and so began the American love affair with the automobile and leisure in general.2 The highway rest area offered...
ELEVEN. Constructing a Gay Life
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According to sociologist Laud Humphreys in his work Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places, the Morgan rest area would easily qualify as a tearoom. A tearoom, used here in the context of what Humpheys calls “a homosexual subculture,” is a place forged by reputation and facilitated by gay men...
PART THREE. The Land of Opportunity
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TWELVE. Creating Space, Separating the Self
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You couldn’t miss it: two men walking down the winding streets of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, holding hands and nary a cross word or disapproving glance thrown in their direction. In fact, any negative comment or gesture toward them would have been seen not only as rude but as out of place...
THIRTEEN. Losing Space, Separating Identities
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Gay men could claim a variety of spaces reserved for them in and around Little Rock. Few such spaces in Arkansas were reserved for lesbians. The exception lay in the mountains of northwest Arkansas. Settling around the then liberal college town of Fayetteville, a short drive from Eureka Springs, lesbians...
FOURTEEN. The Mansion on the Hill
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The Ozarks never offered land of great value. Rocky, hilly, unsuitable for farming, the Ozarks had a reputation as a sanctuary for the hillbilly, the subversive, the outlaw—a place where polite, educated people dare not tread. Then something of value was discovered and with it the possibility of generating...
FIFTEEN. Economic Opportunity and the Queer Community
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The town had an appeal, especially for those seeking independence; longhairs, hippies, artists and others flocked to Eureka Springs. An advertisement was posted in Ms. magazine to attract this very set. Barbara Scott fled New Orleans, Louisiana, and a bad marriage. After coming out as a lesbian, she often traveled...
SIXTEEN. And Then She Came
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Despite how AIDS had changed the landscape of Eureka Springs, gay and lesbian tourists, many unaware of what had happened there, still flocked to the mountain town for weekend getaways. Queer tourists wanted desperately to take advantage of what People magazine dubbed “the gay capital of...
EPILOGUE. Queer Comes Home
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On May 18, 1992, Bill Clinton entered the crowded Palace Theater in Los Angeles, California. It was a full month before the crucial California Democratic primary, and Clinton was lagging behind and fighting hard to be the party’s presidential nominee. There, in front of an audience of hundreds...
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Page Count: 275
Illustrations: 21 photographs
Publication Year: 2010