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Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America

Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America

by Colin R. Johnson

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With a thesis that homosexuality existed in rural America in the first half of the 20th century, this slight volume breaks little new ground. “Innuendo is a notoriously frustrating brand of evidence,” Indiana University gender studies professor Johnson writes. The author provides a strained interpretation of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which suggests that Lenny’s relationship with George went beyond the bounds of friendship. Along with an obscure section from Erskine Caldwell’s In the Shadow of the Steeple, he cites Steinbeck’s work as evidence that rural communities dealt with homosexuality in a balanced way. Johnson posits that hetero-normalization was an early-20th-century phenomenon rooted in the discredited eugenics movement of its time and was a middle-class morality handed down from urban elites. Despite previous research by Will Fellows, Jonathan D. Katz, and others exploring stories of rural gay life in the 19th and 20th centuries, Johnson doggedly decodes contrasting versions of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” that hint at gay sex, and pores over pages of the journal of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and 1940s to breathlessly report that gay people did, in fact, exist in rural areas. The book concludes with an account of a sting operation in 1960s Ohio that rooted out men having sex in a public restroom, complete with explicit photographs, ending the book on prurient note. 18 halftones. (July)
Library Journal
Forget neat explanations. In this splendid book, Johnson (gender studies, Indiana Univ.) teaches us to suspect received wisdom and acknowledge, in this instance, that "identities are always riven, unstable, and discursively entropic." The author's goal is to dispel the notion that in the first half of the 20th century, same-sex intimacy and gender noncomformity were urban specific. Johnson demonstrates how this "rural repressive hypothesis" ignores social, political, and geographic facts that tell a very different story. Using striking evidence from newspapers, archival sources, books, music, and more, Johnson illustrates that life on the farm, at the local YMCA, in Civilian Conservation Corps camps, and in small towns such as Mansfield, OH, was a lot more nuanced than most of us, including scholars and "ordinary citizens," knew. Johnson proves the worth of rigorous, scholarly interdisciplinary research. With relatively little discipline-specific jargon and keeping close tabs on the research process itself, he unearths new evidence while also calling into question the way we make assumptions. VERDICT This complex and original work should be read widely by all readers in its interrelated disciplines.—Ellen Gilbert, Princeton, NJ

Product Details

Temple University Press
Publication date:
Sexuality Studies Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Colin R. Johnson is Assistant Professor of Gender Studies and Adjunct Assistant Professor of American Studies, History, and Human Biology at Indiana University, Bloomington. 

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