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Queerying the Countryside
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Queerying the Countryside
Queering the Countryside: New Frontiers in Rural Queer Studies. Edited by Mary L. Gray, Colin R. Johnson, and Brian A. Gilley. New York: New York University Press, 2016. vii + 396 pp. Notes, bibliography, index. $30.00 paper.
Oklahomo: Lessons in Unqueering America. By Carol Mason. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2015. xiii + 217 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $80.00 cloth, 23.95 paper.

Over the past decade, scholars have increasingly paid attention to the importance of place in relation to discussions of queerness in the United States, resulting in a burgeoning field of scholarship that has come to be known as rural queer studies. This vein of scholarship has criticized the bias toward the city and the prejudice against the nonurban in scholarly debates, activism, and the popular (urban) imagination regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (lgbtq) people and issues. J. Halberstam, author of In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: New York University Press, 2005), has labeled this preclusion of the rural an example of “metronormativity” (12). The narrative to which the term points is surely familiar: the lgbtq subject leaves the singularly oppressive rural area, where one must hide one’s “true” (gay) self, and enters the city, where one is able to finally find belonging and be one’s “full” (gay) self. Rural queer studies scholars emphasize the dichotomous logics that this totalizing narrative gives rise to and ask us—as with any totalizing narrative, perhaps—to think again. Or as the editors of Queering the Countryside put it, to “think twice.”

In their introduction, the editors note that for many “the term ‘rural’ seems to imply certain things these days, not the least important of which is a stubbornly persistent attachment to highly traditional views regarding gender and sexuality and, by extension, an aggressive, even murderous, antipathy toward gender and [End Page 57] sexual difference” (11). This depiction of the rural is illustrated most clearly in E. Cram’s chapter, “(Dis)locating Queer Citizenship,” which outlines the “metronormative optics” that surrounded national press coverage of Matthew Shepard’s 1998 murder in Laramie, Wyoming. Cram’s analysis of the representations of the event reveals that Shepard’s violent death became seen almost as an inevitability given the rural locale. This sequestering of violent homophobia serves to uplift urban spaces as the proper place of queer citizenship—the urban becomes a place of belonging and liberation when set against rural prejudice and aggression. It is a separation deeply entrenched in the lgbtq imaginary and lies at the foundation of most contributions to Queering the Countryside, with contributors seeking to question this organizing structure. Some contributors temper it, such as Kelly Baker in “Out Back Home,” whose interviews with lgbt people in rural Nova Scotia showed that her interviewees all experienced acceptance in their hometowns, albeit to varying degrees. While some left for the city to find lgbt community, for others “lgbt community was experienced most intensely within the rural setting” (44) whereas the urban was found to be exclusionary. Baker shows, then, that while space and place are important, there are no absolutes in terms of the proper place for lgbtq belonging. Other contributors seek to dismantle the very notion of urban/rural corresponding to liberated/oppressed, such as Katherine Schweighofer, who in “Rethinking the Closet” challenges the binaristic logics that lead to the oft-rehearsed suggestion that rural areas serve as gay America’s “closet.” On the contrary, she argues, rural areas are constitutive of queer space and can play host to novel forms of queer relationality. Taken as a whole the volume leaves the reader in little doubt that the rural is a far more complex space than its homogeneous rendering suggests.

As its title indicates, much of the volume’s work goes into depicting the rural otherwise, injecting queerness into an area previously seen as devoid of it. In “Queering the American Frontier,” Robin Henry takes us back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, showing that the Colorado frontier afforded men a space to engage in same-sex sexual practices at a time when anti-vice and reform...