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.)
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.
"Real Queer America is a book necessary for anyone in or allied with the queer community, especially those of us who see the bad news day after day. [Allen is] sharing the beauty of the spaces that LGBTQ+ people have carved out for themselves, and she's giving credit where credit is very much overdue, because it's the queer folk who live and stay in red states whether by choice or due to a lack of options who have to survive there and work to make them better."—Los Angeles Times
"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 Utahbut 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
"A powerful book of memoir and reportage...It is difficult to capture universality in a way that also celebrates uniqueness. Allen does so through the diversity of the individual stories she uplifts, giving any reader an entry point into LGBTQ lives... [She writes] with a vulnerability and humility as approachable and accessible as it is profoundly moving."—New York Times Book Review
"It's kind of like a trans Travels with Charley in Search of America, but without Steinbeck's lightly misogynist depictions of women and meandering, stream of consciousness. As Samantha Allen travels across the country's reddest states and perhaps the most unsafe for queer people, she unearths a humanity that the midwest and south are rarely afforded. Queer people exist everywhere, not just cities, and this book is a fierce testament to that."—Out Magazine
"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 storyincluding 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 vaginainvites 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 andco-director of The Matrix trilogy and co-creator ofthe 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
"Real Queer Americais 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 Americais 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 Americawill 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 Americathe 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?
"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
"Real Queer America ends on a note of hope, predicting that its portrait of queer lives will eventually become antiquated as America grows more and more inclusive of all genders and sexualities. But this will only happen if people of all kinds choose to create communities where we can thrive together. In giving us humanizing portraits of places that many queer people fear and will not visit, Allen has done much to close this divide, and now we, her readers, must take up this message and manifest it in our own lives."—LitHub
"Allen is smart-as-hell, but inclusive and impassioned. Hers' might not be the book all the gay boys are talking about in an exclusive NYC salon, but it is the book the rest of us can read aloud at the kitchen table with our queer family and our blood family, with our chosen sisters and our yet-to-be-educated uncles...So many wonderful books get written for the NYC and San Francisco LGBTQ community. I'm glad Samantha Allen wrote Real Queer America for the rest of us."—Lambda Literary
"[Allen] sheds a light on the struggles and triumphs of rural LGBTQ+ people, and smashes misconceptions about how they live. Part memoir, part journalism, and all heart, this is an important book about queer communities today."—BookRiot
"Real Queer America might be the best travel book of the year...a must-read for all Americans."—Refinery29
"Allen's award-winning work as an LGBT journalist for platforms like Fusion and The Daily Beast is both radically empathetic and comprehensively analytical. This is a balance she has upheld admirably in Real Queer America, an exploration of queer communities in conservative parts of the country-communities that are often overlooked in conversations about what it means to be queer, American, or both. Use this title to help you chart the course of your next cross-country road trip."—Harper's Bazaar
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.