Academic journal article American Studies

JUST QUEER FOLKS: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America

Academic journal article American Studies

JUST QUEER FOLKS: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America

Article excerpt

JUST QUEER FOLKS: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America. By Colin R. Johnson. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. 2013.

Ethnographies, social histories, and cultural studies of queer American life in particular nonmetropolitan areas now abound. Colin R. Johnson's Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America continues the trend of focusing on rural scenes and also carries out the best impulses of queer theory. Just Queer Folks embraces the "distrust of identity as an analytical category" (17) and historically examines discourses that led to the "heteronormalization" of rural America (3).

The first part of the book disabuses readers of the idea that rural places are naturally more prone to heteronormativity. Chapter 1 looks at discourses from U.S. agriculture that informs eugenics, hence the production of sexual knowledge, in the 1910s and 1920s. Johnson examines horticulture and animal husbandry to assert that "the American eugenics movement was born on the farm" (35), an argument that reorients inquiry away from the overtly racialized perspectives associated with fascism, settler colonialism, and plantation life to provide an analysis akin to feminist histories that recognize eugenics as mainstream rhetoric infusing daily discussions of marriage and parenting. Chapter 2 then examines progressive-era rural sex education campaigns that standardized bourgeois "notions of sexual virtue and sexual vice" nationally (78).

With these two foundational analyses in place, the second part of Just Queer Folks turns more documentarian to supply cases proving "that same-sex sexual behavior and gender nonconformity were anything but rare in nonmetropolitan America during the first half of the twentieth century" (20). Johnson devotes chapters to itinerant laborers, queer eccentrics in small towns, cross-dressers in the Civilian Conservation Corps, and "hard" women-the country "drudges" (167) whose practical styles and lack of city fashion became increasingly shameful as consumerism proliferated. …

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