Allen, Samantha. “Real Queer America”, Little Brown, 2019.
Queer in Red States
Samantha Allen takes us on a transgender reporter’s narrative tour through the queer communities sprouting up in red states that are very real and vibrant and give us “a vision of a stronger, more humane America.” Allen’s purpose is to show us how members of the LGBTQ community live in seemingly LGBTQ unfriendly areas. She visits LGBTQ hot spots and interviews the people who run them asking them what drives them, why they stay, etc.
We go to Provo Utah, Texas, Bloomington Indiana, Johnson City Tennessee, Jackson Mississippi, and Atlanta Georgia. Samantha wants to prove that middle America is not just as queer, but queerer, than those havens we are aware of. Samantha is able to make what are statistics and facts sound interesting by using people to illustrate them and the journey we take with her is not only engrossing but fun and educative and through using the voice of her road brother Billy and everyone they meet along the way, we really see that all of America has queer people.
We have blended interviews and research together with personal experience that come together to show what it is to be LGBTQ in ‘red’ states. Samantha makes a compelling case for the idea that America is incredibly queer, and that queerness is more active and even more potent, more inclusive, and more important in the south and Midwest. She is none too fond of those traditionally queer-friendly places like New York and San Francisco and she shares her reasons for the same. She loves the south and the people she interviews love it too, fiercely. I can tell you as someone born and raised in the south that there is a certain mystique that is as enchanting as it is bigoted. But then I also loved for 7 years in Arkansas and would not wish that on anyone. I now call Boston home and love it but must admit I long for the south. We also see that many queer people have straight friends who have no problems with sexuality or lifestyle.
Allen doesn’t ignore the very real discrimination and lack of rights faced by LGBTQ people in these states. She includes these realities, but makes the important point that places known for being queer friendly can be just as discriminatory. It is basically the sense of community and family among all the people of the queer community that are the heart of the story and the point of interest. The media has basically focused on the more liberal coastal enclaves yet we know that LGBTQ people have created homes for themselves everywhere, even in seemingly hostile places. To prove this, we have this fun book. Even though I was forced to do so myself as a result of Hurricane Katrina, I’ve often wondered why anyone who is gay would want to live in a place that refuses to recognize their basic humanity. So, as you can imagine, there are surprises here and we also feel the frustrations of those living in places where open identification as LGBTQ can be a problem (like Pine Bluff, Arkansas or Poplarville, Mississippi).
By creating communities in areas hostile to their rights, the LGBTQ communities in red states are providing much-needed visibility to the LGBTQ community as a whole. As we know regarding any prejudice, the cure is exposure to people who are part of these marginalized groups,. In that way, those with privilege and power learn that the people they fear are really just like them. The communities that we read about here are very strong and committed to their way of life. In loving where they live, they make these places better for everyone. so however little some of those places might want to acknowledge it, they are the richer for the presence of their LGBTQ communities. I have seen so much change for our community that sometimes I want to pinch myself to believe it is important to acknowledge that we are far from done yet.