Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South

Article excerpt

The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South. By Brock Thompson. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2010. Pp. xi, 247. Acknowledgments, introduction, illustrations, epilogue, notes, bibliography, index. $29.95.)

A few years ago, the New York Times featured a travel article on new gay vacation meccas. Not San Francisco and New York but small towns, including Eureka Springs, Arkansas. It was probably a surprise to most Times readers, gay and straight, as it would be to any of those who travel to Eureka Springs to see the Passion Play. How this came to be is just one of the issues Brock Thompson tackles in The Un-Natural State.

Thompson's work has already gained much attention statewide, including rare, pre-publication excerpts in the Arkansas Times. That recognition in itself demonstrates changes in attitudes about sexuality in Arkansas and the nation, or, at least, that there is a segment of the population supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals. As Thompson makes clear, in Arkansas's past, self-identification was not always easy. Use of the term "queer," previously heard as offensive, has become a way for many historians to describe the myriad ways in which individuals have expressed their own sexuality, sometimes within suffocating social restrictions and under dehumanizing laws.

The sexuality of many of the Arkansans described by Thompson was and is not easily defined. For much of Arkansas history, Thompson argues, social circumstances framed and in some cases dictated the creation of unique queer lives. Following Men Like That, John Howard's groundbreaking study of Mississippi queers, Thompson uses oral history to uncover these lives. …

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