Taking New Directions: How RuralQueerness Provides Unique Insightsinto Place, Class, and Visibility
Growing up different in a smallhomogenous town is not easy. Discoveringyou are queer
in a place where boys will be boys and girls are, unequivocally, expectedto love, desire, and marry them is not easyeither. Hailing from a Nova Scotian fishingvillage of approximately 200 people andalmost a two hour’s drive from Halifax, thenearest city, I can recount first-hand thefeelings of fear and isolation. “Am I the onlyone?” and the perhaps more poignant “willmy family disown me?” were two questionsthat, like most rural queer youth, plaguedmy mind. The sixth generation to come of age in this village, I grew up enmeshed in aweb of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents,and parents, all of whom served as keysources of both support and validationthroughout my childhood and teenage years.The acceptance I received, though in somecases more gradual, from both my familyand the wider community, was thereforewithout a doubt pivotal in allowing me tosafely explore my new-found queer identitywhilst maintaining my sense of self as amember of my family and rural community.My upbringing encompassed to astrong degree what Mary Gray calls “a‘never met a stranger’ friendliness” (Gray2009:5) - an ideology to which I attribute the bulk of my acceptance. Though suffocatingto the average urbanite, and perhaps
I use GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, andtransgender) and queer (as a reclaimed, and moreinclusive umbrella term) interchangeably throughoutthis article. References to queer theory as a body of theory that encompasses ‘queer’ as both a sexualidentity and a non-normative positionality areexplicitly noted.
repulsive to the urban queer, this “pervasiveethos” (Gray 2009:5) worked to familiarize(or at the very least minimize) my queer difference. A queer teenager in a rather conservative, homogeneous community, Iwas still the granddaughter of so-and-so andhad the last name to prove it, and thatcounted for something. Tolerance andacceptance, not to mention queer identityitself, are however often equated with theanonymity and diversity of the city. Ruralqueerness has been either misrepresented or unacknowledged, and so the realities of ruralqueer individuals have been largely ignored.A number of recent critiques haveilluminated the urban bias or “metro-normativity” (Halberstam 2003) withinmuch queer research and writing (for example, Bell and Valentine 1995; Weston1998; Gray 2009). Indeed, only a handful of works (namely in the disciplines of humangeography and literary and cultural studies)have examined sexual identity andcommunity as it manifests outside of NorthAmerican urban centres (Gray 2009:10).‘The urban’ has often operated as theassumed reference within much socialtheory and has overshadowed the continuingsignificance of rural-based identities ingeneral and rural queer identities in particular (Ching and Creed 1997:7). Withinmuch queer popular culture, theory, andwriting, rural places are continually deemedsignificant insofar as they are left behind;they are presented as playing an unimportantrole in the actual constitution of queer identity (Weston 1998; Halberstam 2005). Not only do such “metronormative”(Halberstam 2005) conceptions of queernessspatialize queer individuals as inherentlyurban and thus blatantly disregard thosequeer individuals who identify with and livewithin rural areas, such understandings alsofail to conceptualize how queer identity can be rooted in place. Indeed, because queer identity is often situated within a symbolic
Baker: Rural Queerness & Unique Insights into Place, Class, & VisibilityProduced by The Berkeley Electronic Press,