Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

Four: Encountering Metronormativity: Geographies of Queer Visibility in Central New York

Academic journal article Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies

Four: Encountering Metronormativity: Geographies of Queer Visibility in Central New York

Article excerpt

In July of 2012, I drove from Syracuse, toward Chenango County. The few weeks prior had been filled with anxiety as I worked hard to make contacts with potential interviewees for my research project.i After two rounds of calls for participants of various private adoption agencies, non-profits, and county departments of social services that serve the gay and lesbian community around central New York, I finally was able to schedule an official interview with Josh, who works at a health-related non-profit. He and his fiancé, Todd, had been considering adoption, and they wanted to make some connections with an 'expert' in the field who might know the ins and outs of the local child welfare system.

Initially, I was quite hesitant. I confessed that I did not have any personal experience with local adoption agencies, and I was interested in speaking with gay and lesbian parents who had already adopted. Unfortunately, I was not having any luck getting on-the-record interviews, so we all agreed to meet.

Chenango County sits within the triangle made up of three interstate highways - I-81 connecting Syracuse and Binghamton to the south, I-90 the New York thruway, and I-88 that cuts northeast from Binghamton to the Capital Region.

Unlike the Finger Lakes to the southwest of Syracuse, which is famous for its wineries and Cornell University, Chenango County looks like an empty space on the map. It contains a number of state forests and small towns. Todd, who is pursuing his graduate degree in human services, called Chenango County and much of the surrounding rural areas a "welfare county" (Interview, July 2012).

As I drove on U.S.-92 and later N.Y. Rt. 80, I was struck by the immediate change in landscapes - Syracuse's deindustrialized core, followed by a zone of calm and quiet suburbs, quickly gave way to gently sloping fields, sparsely littered with barns and sheds. As a graduate student, I was literally driving out of place. The routes were connected by a string of small towns with a short main street, sundry storefronts, and a gas station. I could not help but think, "Are there really queer folks out here? More importantly, queer adoptive parents?"

It was not a surprise to learn during the interview that Josh and Todd shared some of my uneasiness. As a gay couple living in this rural area their experience with this uneasiness is vastly different than mine.

This article draws on my engagement with the non-metropolitan and the divergent queer subjectivities in central New York. On the one hand, the challenges of recruiting gay and lesbian adoptive parents for my project proved to be almost insurmountable, not because there were too few of them, but rather due to an almost universal reluctance to go on the record with an academic researcher.

The parents I contacted often expressed this reluctance in two ways: first, they questioned their own ability to make any contribution to my project; and second, they questioned the value of my project. These two responses often depend upon a discourse of normality and tolerance that hangs in delicate tension. For one to be tolerant, it is necessary to recognize a perceived negative difference, which contradicts the claim to normality. Such a discourse has been criticized by many radical queer theorists (Lehr, 1999; Duggan, 2003), though clearly there is an alternative politic at work in my encounter with, for example, Josh and Todd. My first goal in this article,is to avoid generalizing a global queer politics, and instead look to the ways in which these gay and lesbian parents choose to be political everyday.

On the other hand, I resort to particular rural stereotypes to understand my fieldwork. As one based in Syracuse, Chenango County is on the outer edge among the places I went to for interviews.

As a researcher and an urban queer, to drive out is to profoundly displace myself. My displacement - and my affective reactions to it - reveals a largely metronormative subject position that recent queer engagement with the rural has been critiquing. …

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