Men Like That: A Southern Queer History / Edition 2

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We don't usually associate thriving queer culture with rural America, but John Howard's unparalleled history of queer life in the South persuasively debunks the myth that same-sex desires can't find expression outside the big city. In fact, this book shows that the nominally conservative institutions of small-town life—home, church, school, and workplace—were the very sites where queer sexuality flourished. As Howard recounts the life stories of the ordinary and the famous, often in their own words, he also locates the material traces of queer sexuality in the landscape: from the farmhouse to the church social, from sports facilities to roadside rest areas.

Spanning four decades, Men Like That complicates traditional notions of a post-WWII conformist wave in America. Howard argues that the 1950s, for example, were a period of vibrant queer networking in Mississippi, while during the so-called "free love" 1960s homosexuals faced aggressive oppression. When queer sex was linked to racial agitation and when key civil rights leaders were implicated in homosexual acts, authorities cracked down and literally ran the accused out of town.

In addition to firsthand accounts, Men Like That finds representations of homosexuality in regional pulp fiction and artwork, as well as in the number one pop song about a suicidal youth who jumps off the Tallahatchie Bridge. And Howard offers frank, unprecedented assessments of outrageous public scandals: a conservative U.S. congressman caught in the act in Washington, and a white candidate for governor accused of patronizing black transgender sex workers.

The first book-length history of the queer South, Men Like That completely reorients our presuppositions about gay identity and about the dynamics of country life.

"Men Like That goes a long way towards redressing the urban bias in American lesbian and gay-history writing. . . . Howard's rigorous scholarship, which is based both on oral history and traditional historical documents . . . is enhanced by a disarmingly personal touch. . . . His insights into queerness and the mentality of the American South should be of great interest both to the professional gay historian and the general reader."—Madeleine Minson, Times Higher Education Supplement

"Howard creates a history remarkable in its complexity yet intimate in its portraiture. At long last an intimate and full vision of queer lives in America that did not unfold in San Francisco's discos."—Kirkus Reviews

"In this groundbreaking and engrossing analysis of gay male life in postwar Mississippi, Howard . . . boldly demonstrates that gay culture and sex not only existed but flourished in small towns."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
For three decades, social historians have claimed that for gay people, sexual freedom was only found in cities because rural areas were draconian in their regulation of nontraditional sexual practices. In this groundbreaking and engrossing analysis of gay male life in postwar Mississippi, Howard, a professor of American Studies at the University of York, boldly demonstrates that gay culture and sex not only existed but flourished in small towns and agricultural communities throughout the state. Supporting his challenging argument with a compelling mixture of postmodern theory, reportage, cultural analysis, conjecture and personal anecdote, Howard not only convinces but paints a vivid, complex and often startling portrait of the lives of Southern gay men between 1945 and 1985. While the 55 personal interviews and oral histories--which are alternately funny, poignant, informative and sometimes unsettling--form the emotional backbone of the book, Howard is terrific at explicating obvious homosexual content in popular culture. His reading of the gay themes in Bobbie Gentry's 1967 country hit "Ode to Billy Joe" and of Joe Hains's spirited defenses of homosexuality in his popular entertainment column in the Jackson Daily News from 1955 to 1975, and Howard's own interpretation of an infamous murder trial, support his thesis that homosexuality was anything but hidden. Most provocative of all, however, is Howard's innovative analysis of how gay sexual activity and homophobia fueled and shaped white resistance to the black civil rights movement. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Howard (lecturer, American history, Univ. of York) provides a stirring analysis of gay male life in Mississippi from the end of World War II to the onset of the AIDS crisis. The author reveals that contrary to popular belief, gay culture not only existed but also thrived in the state's small towns and rural areas. Homes, churches, schools, and workplaces saw prospering gay sexuality. Howard's account depicts historical periods of great progress and times of extreme oppression. While the 1950s were years of "queer networking," the days of heady sexuality in the 1960s were a time of hostile oppression. Most controversially, Howard reveals how gay sexual behavior and homophobia prompted white resistance to the Civil Rights movement. Men Like That will confront and challenge readers' thinking about gay life in the South and rural America. Recommended for all gay studies collections.--Michael A. Lutes, Univ. of Notre Dame Libs., South Bend, IN Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Madeleine Minson
John Howard aims to debunk the myth that all gay roads lead to the metropolis by writing a history of queer life in the small towns and rural areas of the American South…His insights into queerness and the mentality of the American South should be of great interest both to the professional gay historian and the general reader.
Times Higher Education Supplement
Kirkus Reviews
With a scrupulous eye for detail, Howard traces the evolution of homosexual identities in Mississippi from 1945 to 1985 and, in the process, offers a perceptive look into queer lives away from America's urban centers. Howard (American History/Univ. of York, England) takes a twin approach in his history, recounting and contextualizing the oral histories of queer Mississippians, as well as uncovering queer lives through documents of historical record. Howard's informants provide an insider's view into how gay networks developed and evolved in rural Mississippi, how men found one another despite the manifold dangers of discovery involved. Concluding against the conventional wisdom that the 1950s were a period of sexual repression, Howard explores how queer men of the time carried on a lifestyle pulsating with sexuality, through an analysis of their lives at home, school, church, college, and work. He also argues that for gay men in Mississippi, the 1960s brought about a tightening of sexual codes (in order to combat racial activism), which ended with disastrous results for the many men whose lives and careers were ruined after they were exposed as homosexuals. The stories that Howard uncovers—the murder of a gay interior decorator in 1955, a congressman's sex scandal, and queer rumors in a gubernatorial election among them—parade an eclectic cast of characters through the wilds of Mississippi's queer life and the thickets of public opinion. Complementing Howard's historical analysis is his reading of queer representations in the media, including physique art, pulp fiction, and Bobbie Gentry's song "Ode to Billy Joe." With his clear methodology and circumspect analysis, Howardcreates a history remarkable in its complexity yet intimate in its portraiture. At long last an intimate and full vision of queer lives in America that did not unfold in San Francisco's discos. (22 b&w photos)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226354712
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 395
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

John Howard is a Lecturer in American studies at King's College, University of London. He is the editor of Carryin' On in the Lesbian and Gay South and The Bitterweed Path.

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Table of Contents

Part One
1. Ones and Twos
2. Sites
3. Movements
Part Two
4. Norms and Laws
5. Representations
6. Politics and Beliefs
7. Scandals
Appendix 1: A Note on Interviews
Appendix 2: Carl Corley Bibliography
Appendix 3: Population of Selected Mississippi Communities, Towns, and Cities

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2000

    I love this book-almost as much as I love men!

    This book was fabulous for the average homosexual(like me). It describes the history of gays in the south! I found this book to be very insightful and I had a lot of pleasure reading it. A little too much pleasure if you ask me. The pictures were very sexy looking, the guys muscles ripped out of there shirts and I couldnt get enough of it. Overall, if you want to call yourself a TRUE homo, buy this book my fellow gays. Love Andrew

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