This week we're taking a closer look at Powell's Pick of the Month Real Queer America by Samantha Allen.
Samantha Allen traveled thousands of miles looking for thriving queer individuals and communities in America’s most conservative states. She found them. And in telling their stories and her own, she overturns many of the narratives held by those of us in coastal cities. — Keith M.
Samantha Allen heard the clarion call of red-state exodus after the 2016 election — and she told it to shut the heck up. Frustrated with the cost of living and lackluster LGBTQ activism she observed in coastal cities, and equally irritated by progressive dismissal of “flyover country,” Allen turned to the vast American interior to examine how queer people and communities fight and thrive in deeply conservative states.
Originally from the west coast, Allen attended Utah’s BYU and has since spent a considerable amount of time living and working in the South and Midwest. Her story is an interesting one: Allen started college as a devout, male-presenting Mormon. Over the course of 10 difficult years, she transferred schools, transitioned, earned a PhD in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, and met her wife while on fellowship at the famed Kinsey Institute. Throughout Real Queer America
Allen is open about both the challenges she faced while coming-of-age and transitioning and the joys she experiences as a happily married woman with a successful journalism career and, as becomes clear, a rich and growing community of friends and mentors.
Chatty and diligently informative (there are footnoted sources on nearly every page), Real Queer America
is a hybrid travelogue-corrective that asks readers to reconsider their preconceptions about LGBTQ bias and violence in red-state America, and it succeeds on every level. Allen’s narrative voice is bubbly and candid, adorable and quirky enough to engage the reader on a personal level (there’s a photo of a “creepy bird” spotted in Sherman, TX), while maintaining journalistic credibility and academic mastery over the book’s subject matter. She’s especially deft with character studies, so that even chance encounters with the many interesting people she meets on her “something gay every day” road trip — activists, academics, drag performers, homeless youth, among others — feel fully fleshed-out and sensitive to each person’s story.
In its review of the book, the LA Times
notes, “[Allen] doesn’t try to sell middle America as a fuzzy warm place that is unilaterally safe for or welcoming of queer folk....But she’s sharing the beauty of the spaces that LGBTQ+ people have carved out for themselves and she’s giving credit where credit is due.” It’s impossible to read Real Queer America
and not share Allen’s optimistic conclusion that despite major political setbacks for LGBTQ communities across the U.S., queer people will continue to win personal and legislative victories by fighting back in the simplest but bravest way: By living their lives as they need to, wherever they want to.
Check out the rest of our Picks of the Month here