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Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America (Sexuality Studies)by Colin Johnson
Synopses & Reviews
"With a thesis that homosexuality existed in rural America in the first half of the 20th century, this slight volume breaks little new ground. 'Innuendo is a notoriously frustrating brand of evidence,' Indiana University gender studies professor Johnson writes. The author provides a strained interpretation of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, which suggests that Lenny's relationship with George went beyond the bounds of friendship. Along with an obscure section from Erskine Caldwell's In the Shadow of the Steeple, he cites Steinbeck's work as evidence that rural communities dealt with homosexuality in a balanced way. Johnson posits that hetero-normalization was an early-20th-century phenomenon rooted in the discredited eugenics movement of its time and was a middle-class morality handed down from urban elites. Despite previous research by Will Fellows, Jonathan D. Katz, and others exploring stories of rural gay life in the 19th and 20th centuries, Johnson doggedly decodes contrasting versions of 'Big Rock Candy Mountain' that hint at gay sex, and pores over pages of the journal of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and 1940s to breathlessly report that gay people did, in fact, exist in rural areas. The book concludes with an account of a sting operation in 1960s Ohio that rooted out men having sex in a public restroom, complete with explicit photographs, ending the book on prurient note. 18 halftones. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Most studies of lesbian and gay history focus on urban environments. Yet gender and sexual diversity were anything but rare in nonmetropolitan areas in the first half of the twentieth century. Just Queer Folks explores the seldom-discussed history of same-sex intimacy and gender nonconformity in rural and small-town America during a period when the now familiar concepts of heterosexuality and homosexuality were just beginning to take shape.
Eschewing the notion that identity is always the best measure of what can be known about gender and sexuality, Colin R. Johnson argues instead for a queer historicist approach. In so doing, he uncovers a startlingly unruly rural past in which small-town eccentrics, "mannish" farm women, and cross-dressing Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees were often just queer folks so far as their neighbors were concerned. Written with wit and verve, Just Queer Folks upsets a whole host of contemporary commonplaces, including the notion that queer history is always urban history.
About the Author
Colin R. Johnson is Assistant Professor of Gender Studies and Adjunct Assistant Professor of American Studies, History, and Human Biology at Indiana University, Bloomington.
Table of Contents
1 Life Science: The Agrarian Origins of American Sexuality
2 Town and Country: Country Life and the Nationalization of Middle-Class Morality
3 Casual Sex: Homosociality, Homosexuality, and the Itinerant Working Poor
4 Community Standards: Village Mentality and the Queer Eccentric
5 Camp Life: The Queer History of “Manhood” in the Civilian Conservation Corps
6 Hard Women: Rural Women and Female Masculinity
Conclusion: Mansfield, Ohio
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