In this clever combination of easy travelogue and thoughtful exploration of queerness in America, journalist Allen retraces her transformation from a Mormon missionary in Utah to a transgender woman living happily in rural Florida. With Billy, her wife’s ex (also trans), in the passenger seat, she tours the country looking for what she calls the “real” stories of LGBTQ experience, finding a vibrant bar in Jackson, Miss., featuring fabulous drag queens, and the comfortable LGBTQ youth center in Provo, Utah, fittingly named Encircle. Allen makes the case, bolstered by statistics, that these red-state oases produce tight-knit, supportive queer communities, which can result in measurable happiness. Allen combines stories of hope and even a funny reunion with her wife at the place where they first met—the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction in Bloomington, Ind., appropriately enough—with events happening at the same time elsewhere in the country: the 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va., and attempts to remove legal protections for LGBTQ people. Her approach is firmly inclusive; she acknowledges the limitations of her perspective as a white woman, giving readers a brief explainer on Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of intersectional oppression. Queer readers will nod knowingly at the descriptions of finding gay-friendly hangouts and questioning whether public hand-holding is safe in a new area, and readers without that experience will still enjoy Allen’s charming, humorous recounting of the ultimate road trip through rainbow-colored America. (Mar.)
"Samantha Allen's America is filled with buoyant queer people in supposedly red states living their lives with resilience and joy. This moving journey starts out in Utah--but Allen's road ultimately takes the reader to the center of her heart. Surprising, inspiring, and thoughtful."Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of She's Not There and Long Black Veil
"Allen argues that queerness thrives everywhere, perhaps even more so in states like Indiana, Texas, and Tennessee, precisely because there's still so much advocacy work to do. Allen's openness about her personal story--including growing up Mormon, living an angst-filled double life in Provo, coming out as transgendered,
meeting her wife in an elevator at the Kinsey Institute, and undergoing surgery to get a vagina--invites respect. She writes with loving curiosity about other people in the LGBTQ community and blends this with national-level reporting on political and historical LGBTQ issues."Booklist (Starred Review)
"I love Samantha Allen! Her voice is an essential part of the movement and a new brand of queer hero for these dark times.
In the face of the alt-right and crypto fascists, I say- Queeros
Assemble!"Lilly Wachowski, co-writer and co-director of The Matrix trilogy and co-creator of the GLAAD Award winning Netflix series Sense8
"In this clever combination of easy travelogue and thoughtful exploration of queerness in America, journalist Allen retraces her transformation from a Mormon missionary in Utah to a transgender woman living happily in rural Florida...Queer readers will nod knowingly at the descriptions of finding gay-friendly hangouts and questioning whether public hand-holding is safe in a new area, and readers without that experience will still enjoy Allen's charming, humorous recounting of the ultimate road trip through rainbow-colored America."Publishers Weekly
is a delight to read...an engrossing journey full of humor, vulnerability, insight,
and joy. What results is a beautiful tapestry of, well, the real queer America... Real
Queer America is well-written and well-researched, and it's a blast to read, but perhaps its most essential question is that of how complicit 'blue state' LGBTQ people are in dismissing red states as scary places for queers. The whole world is scary, for queers and for everyone.
Perhaps Real Queer America will inspire the reader to be more involved in fighting discrimination everywhere."Rewire
"Samantha Allen doesn't just have her finger on the pulse of queer and trans America--the pulse runs through her fingers and onto the screen and page. I am always amazed at her capacity to get the story, convey the facts, and yet leave no doubt as to what really matters behind the buzzwords and slogans: real people with real lives you'll be grateful to have encountered."Jay Michaelson, author of God vs. Gay?: The Religious Case for Equality
"In her generous, clear-eyed reporting, Samantha Allen invites us to see ourselves for who we really are: a country of queer possibility. Her work proves these American stories are too powerful to ever be kept in their place."Melissa Gira Grant, author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work
In a cross-country journey, a transgender reporter revisits red-state locations from her past.
In 1989, before the United States was quite as divisively separated into red and blue states, reporter Neil Miller traveled across the country interviewing men and women living openly gay lives in settings outside of the usual urban gay meccas. The resulting book, In Search of Gay America, is a clear precursor for the present volume by Allen (Love & Estrogen, 2018), a GLAAD Award-winning journalist who covers LGBT issues for the Daily Beast. Despite some progress over the last several years, discrimination and human rights violations continue to plague the LGBT community, particularly in rural regions within red states. The author traveled from Provo, Utah, where she attended Brigham Young University, to locations in Texas, Bloomington, Indiana, where she met her wife at the Kinsey Institute, as well as Tennessee and other spots in the South. Along the way, she reacquainted herself with friends and mentors from her past or recent social media contacts, many of whom are also transgender. Readers old enough to recall the memorable profiles captured in Miller's book might expect a similar approach here, at least based on the book's summary and the author's journalist credentials. However, Allen tells a more personal story relating to her own transformational experience, which, while often instructive, pulls attention away from the fascinating individuals she encountered on her trip. Though she generously acknowledges the strong work they are doing within their communities and sheds meaningful light on the progress achieved within these red-state regions, she doesn't allow their portraits to come into clear focus; all too often their stories revert back to her. By the end of the book, few of these folks will be memorable for readers.
While expanding awareness on the efforts being made in the LGBT community within red states, this journey feels somewhat perfunctory, and the narrative rarely sustains the promise shown in the opening chapters.
In this part memoir, part casual sociological survey, and part love letter, Daily Beast senior reporter Allen (Love & Estrogen) takes readers on a journey across the continental United States. Allen makes stops in Utah, Texas, Georgia, Indiana, and other locations while describing her encounters there, sharing the experiences of friends, and telling her own accounts of coming out, transition, and romance. Allen presents an optimistic look at states that seem or are hostile to LGBT-identified folks, including tales about Encircle, the LGBT youth and family safehouse in Provo, UT, as well as the story of Jess Herbst, the first openly transgender mayor in Texas. Allen handles events with grace and regularly reminds readers of the immediacy of her subjects with hope for the future. Her prose is highly engaging and fun despite the seriousness of her book. VERDICT Suitable for fans of memoirs and travelogs, this collection is a soothing and motivating balm for readers engaged with social justice issues. It is also a revealing and surprising tour through the country for readers both within and outside the LGBT community.—Abby Hargreaves, Dist. of Columbia P.L.