Last week I reviewed Sarah Schulman’s Ties That Bind which explored from a very personal perspective the ravages of familial homobigotry. This week I picked up and read Mary L. Gray’s Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America (New York University Press, 2009). Gray’s ethnographic study of queer teen lives in rural Kentucky took place in the early 2000s and she published her book in the same year as Schulman. Both authors write thoughtfully about the importance of family in the lives of their queer subjects — though from very different perspectives. Ironically — given our usual narrative of urban tolerance vs. rural bigotry — Gray’s consideration of the place of family within queer lives is much more nuanced than Schulman’s.
As a researcher, Gray came from a rural California childhood followed by an urban California adulthood working with queer youth organizations. Her exploration of teen lives in rural Kentucky was prompted by national attention on the ways in which the Internet and other media connectivity and queer visibility might work differently in the lives of rural young people rather than urban young people. As she (and others before her) have pointed out, much of our understanding of queer coming-of-age posits a rural-to-urban migration in which our queer selves are incapable of being fully discovered and/or nourished until we “escape” our hometown settings and find the LGBT community in physical locales — gay bars, lesbian bookstores, gay ghettos, queer action groups. Pushing back against this assumption, Gray sought out youth who were either unable or uninterested in making such a migratory journey of self-discovery. How would young queer people without the resources or desire to leave rural life for the city construct a queer identity? Continue reading