- Can a Redneck Love a Queer?
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014. ix +225 pp.
There is a growing movement in LGBTQ studies to challenge assumptions about how rural and working-class communities view queer genders and sexualities. This subfield challenges the conventionally held beliefs that rural spaces are inherently dangerous for LGBTQ individuals, that the end goal for all rural queers is to escape to the relative freedom of a major urban area, and that cosmopolitan spaces are inherently more desirable for sexual and gender minorities. All these assumptions rely on associations that are embedded not only in queer studies scholarship but also in broader social understandings of queer spaces and desires.
In Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music, Nadine Hubbs speaks to these issues by taking on what is perhaps one of the most unchallenged associations in the American cultural imagination: the linkage between white, working-class identities and rampant bigotry. In particular, she engages the perceived antagonism between the figure of the "redneck" and the "queer." Using country music as an entry point to this tension, Hubbs challenges the "implicit assumptions and explicit claims that assert vast and meaningful differences between [rednecks and queers]" and "contest[s] the skewed, ill-fitting cultural perspectives on the white working class that these claims and assumptions often rely on" (4–5). This work explicitly undermines the connections between white working-class identities and homophobia by making explicit the historical conditions that initially facilitated the development of these assumptions.
Part 1 takes on the relationship between working-class subjectivities and country music, directly tackling the accompanying stigma. Hubbs opens by engaging the common refrain in conversations about musical preferences: "anything but country." Following Pierre Bourdieu's (1984) claim that taste is explicitly class-based, chapter 1 interrogates the cultural meaning attached to country music and, by extension, to the working class. It tackles Thomas Frank's What's the Matter [End Page 434] with Kansas? (2007) thesis, which argues that white, working-class Americans have been duped into voting against their own physical and economic well-being by a Republican Party that uses hot-button social issues — most notably, abortion, gay marriage, and gun rights — to polarize voters. Hubbs counters this narrative by drawing attention to evidence suggesting that the real dogma in American politics stems from the social elites of both political parties, not working-class voters. Country music becomes centered in these misconceptions, deployed as a social marker to reinforce existing beliefs about working-class white folk. Chapter 2 continues an interrogation into the social meaning of country music by considering the ways that the genre has been explicitly politicized in its linkage to the working class. This chapter engages with the recurring critiques leveled against country music: that it lacks authenticity and acts as a site to harbor the racism, sexism, and heterosexism inherent among its white working-class listeners. Hubbs turns this narrative on its head by conceptualizing country music as a site where the working class can reclaim the language used to diminish the genre, the same language that has been used to diminish its listeners. Words such as redneck, hillbilly, and country transform from sites of condemnation to sites of collective identity production.
Part 2 shifts away from the connections between class and country to consider the messages about gender and sexuality embedded in the music. Chapters 3 and 4 engage in close readings of "Redneck Woman" by Gretchen Wilson and "Fuck Aneta [sic] Bryant" by David Allan Coe, respectively, to argue for country music as a potential site for queer subversion. In this reading, Wilson becomes a champion for working-class women who violate bourgeois gender norms, and Coe becomes an unlikely ally and antidote to respectability politics among contemporary gay and lesbian activists. In both instances, country music acts as a vessel for countercultural ideologies to challenge mainstream assumptions about the politics and investments of its audience. The book closes with an Outro that taps into scholarship highlighting the ways in which visibility and community operate differently in rural queer communities. Hubbs argues that the "politics of LGBTQ visibility — built on the invisibility of...