Florence King's Queer Conservatism and the Gender Politics of Southern Humor

By Pugh, Tison | The Mississippi Quarterly, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Florence King's Queer Conservatism and the Gender Politics of Southern Humor


Pugh, Tison, The Mississippi Quarterly


A LONGTIME COLUMNIST FOR WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.'S CONSERVATIVE journal National Review, Florence King is also the author of Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady, a memoir detailing her Southern upbringing and her bisexual affairs, in which she outs herself with her pointed wisecrack, "No matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoked on the street" (2). With this admission threading the needle between bisexual passion and Southern propriety, King assures readers that she satisfied her ostensibly errant sexual desires while simultaneously respecting her grandmother's admonitions about Southern womanhood. King's ferocious humor links her disparate literary endeavors, in that her voice--caustic, precise, unmercifully funny, and emphatically conservative--unites them into a unique canon of queer Southern humor. Her comic musings span the 1970s through the early 2000s and include the mock sociological studies Southern Ladies and Gentlemen; WASP, Where Ls Thy Sting?-, and He: An Irreverent Look at the American Male, which collectively satirize the various personalities and genders of Southern and WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant) culture. King's novel When Sisterhood Was in Flower charts an unlikely alliance of conservative and progressive women forming a California commune and their ensuing shenanigans. The essay collections Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye, Lump It or Leave Lt, and With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look at Misanthropy sport King's suffer-no-fools dismissals of American culture and its excesses. STET, Damnit! compiles her "Misanthrope's Corner" columns published in National Review, and Deja Reviews reprints her literary criticism and book reviews. Blossoming from this multiplicity of form, King's writings teem with contradictions: she is a groundbreaking feminist who expresses starkly anti-feminist sentiments; she is a bisexual evincing little sympathy for gay and lesbian rights; and she proudly trumpets her conservative politics while lambasting leading conservative figures. Her humor provides ample explanation for many of these contradictions--after all, a joke is just a joke--but King entwines her wit with questions concerning both the social value accorded to women's humor and to the very meaning of conservatism in queer culture.

To put it mildly, gay conservatives perplex many queers, who often seek to explain away political views diverging from the left while also diagnosing the conditions that would lead otherwise normative homosexuals into the ostensible perversion of conservatism. Kenneth Cimino, in his sociological analysis of gay conservatives, ponders, "why don't LGBT conservatives use sexual identity as the main group identification?" (6). Cimino's corollary assumption appears to be that queer conservatives should connect their sexualities seamlessly to their political views, and if they did so, they would liberate themselves from their conservatism. By framing the question as why some gays become conservative, scholars tacitly naturalize liberal as the de facto, if not proper, political identity for queers, with conservatism serving as an aberration needing correction. Given the prejudices the gay community has endured over the years, such an interpretive formulation is ironic, for it reasserts the type of binary of identity that queer liberation otherwise dismantles. (1) Yet the effort to explain queer conservatism suffers from a similar intrinsic bias, as it pathologizes a political worldview, often with flippant assertions decrying greed as a primary motivation for gay conservatives apparently more concerned about their pocketbooks than the advancement of queer equality. (2) Still, it appears that roughly one-fifth of gays and lesbians identify as conservatives; thus, although they are a minority within the wider minority of queer culture, they are a sizable subpopulation. (3) And so while some readers might desire to view King's queerness and her conservatism as at odds, in the early 1990s she defended her sexual identity and her conservative political views in the same breath: "I don't mind being regarded as perverted and unnatural, but I would die if people thought I was a Democrat" (Lump It 173). …

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