Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Queering rurality: asking for visibility for rural queers

Industrialization in the United States during the last century created a national social narrative of evolving one's personal self through relocation from the "farm" (rural) to the city (urban). Relocating oneself from the rural to the urban also relocated one's presumed access to greater possibility of increasing personal economic class privilege. The binary journey linking self-betterment to self-urbanization through rural to urban migration has only been magnified in the social history and identity narrative of queer Americans.

Queer scholars like Judith Halberstam in A Queer Time and Place identify this process as "metronormativity" and further suggest that the actual physical migration of a queer person from rural to urban parallels the "psychological journey from closet case to out and proud." Layered into the assumptions of this dichotomous trajectory are the typical stereotypes equating rurality to backwardness or social stagnancy. As Halberstam illustrated, these stereotypes are profoundly magnified in the current socially encouraged trajectory for queer Americans.

Urbanization as the acceptable normative queer American social experience results in an invisibility of non-urban queer Americans. Queer metronormativity also increases the assumptive associations between safety/coming out linked to the city and hate crimes/being closeted linked with rurality. Possibly similar to the social narrative of many other American minorities struggling for power and visibility, rurality has become something queer Americans leave behind for the presumed safer and more diverse haven of city life. Scott Herring in Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism and Mary Gray in Out in the Country: Youth, Media and Queer Visibility in Rural America further analyze the urbanization of this queer social narrative through examinations of films, art, media and other expressions of rural queer Americans throughout the last century.

Citing countless resources and examples, Herring addresses the complexity of the intersection of rurality and queerness through providing robust support for a long history of rich rural queer visibility. Herring aptly surmises that such queer rurality complicates
"geophobic claims that ruralized spaces are always and only hotbeds of hostility, cultural and socioeconomic poverty, religious fundamentalism, homophobia, racism, urbanoia, and social conservatism, their works question knee-jerk assumptions that the 'rural' is a hate filled space for queers as they archive the complex desires that contribute to any non-metropolitan identification."
Herring goes further to examine how the urban has become linked with homonormativity; or that to be a 'good queer’ is to be an ‘urbanized queer.’ The book's worth of examples that Herring provides deeply impress his overall argument that to be a rural queer is to be inherently "infinitely disruptive" to the current model of homonormativity.

Rural queers face many challenges in everyday living very specific to being both rural persons and queer persons. An integral step in eradicating the daily oppressions faced by rural queers is to redefine queer rurality according to the merits of its own experience, not just as the backward "other" to the modernized, urban "normative" queer. Gray summarizes the importance of such increased visibility of rural queers as a tool to reconfigure the social narrative of queer identity:
"..the narrative of rural to urban migration graphed gay visibility as a political accomplishment onto the space of the city. A politics of visibility needs the rural (or some otherness, some place) languishing in its shadow to sustain its status as an unquestionable achievement rather than a strategy that privileges the view of some by eliding the vantage point of others."

No comments: