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Taking New Directions: How Rural Queerness Provides Unique Insights into Place, Class, and Visibility

Taking New Directions: How Rural Queerness Provides Unique Insights into Place, Class, and Visibility

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Published by Kelly Baker

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Published by: Kelly Baker on Jun 26, 2012
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Manuscript 1226
Taking New Directions: How Rural QueernessProvides Unique Insights into Place, Class, and Visibilit
Kelly Baker
is Article is brought to you for free and open access by Scholarship@Western. It has been accepted for inclusion in Totem: e University of WesternOntario Journal of Anthropology by an authorized administrator of Scholarship@Western. For more information, please contactskechnie@uwo.ca,kmarsha1@uwo.ca.
Taking New Directions: How RuralQueerness Provides Unique Insightsinto Place, Class, and Visibility
Kelly Baker
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,
 urban space that necessitates a departure or escape from one's home, the ways that queer identities can be tied to or embedded within physical locations (one's rural hometown,for instance) and the ways spatial mobilities(or lack thereof) are framed by class, have been ignored. At the same time, urban-focused conceptions of queerness also fail tointerrogate the challenges rural queerness poses to the closet model of sexual identityand the politics of visibility that underlie thecurrent GLBT or queer movement.This article demonstrates that anattention to rural queerness provides fruitfulopportunities for looking into queer identities in-place, and how attachments to place (which are themselves often classed)can actually frame the development of queer subjectivity. This article also conceptualizes‘the rural’ as an alternative mode or intersection of identification that works tocomplicate and in some cases run counter tothe basic tenets of queer visibility politics. I begin the discussion with a synopsis of myresearch, which, seeking to uncover thespatiality and inherent urban-ness of queerness and queer subjectivity, exploredthe lives of queer individuals living in rural Nova Scotia. The discussion then splintersoff in two directions: I first argue that anattention to rural queerness offers a beneficial and necessary opportunity toexamine queer subjectivities through thelenses of space, place, and class,highlighting how individuals' claims toqueerness can actually be embedded withinidentifications with class and place. I thendemonstrate how such identifications with place are illustrative of a broader conceptionof rurality, an often ignored yet immensely pervasive thread of identity, which,governed by familiarity, familial affiliation,and community participation, can actually provide rural queer individuals with a meansof both acceptance and queer expressionalternative to dominant models. I close byillustrating how rurality is not only absentfrom hegemonic urban conceptualizations of queer visibility, but is actually in some waysincompatible with the basic tenets of mainstream urban queer visibility politics.Rurality thus provides a compelling vehicleof critique and alternative envisioning for contemporary queer politics.
 Part 1: Introducing my Research and Overall Findings
As Mary Gray argues, spatialrelations play a pivotal role in the particularities and meaning of individuals’claims to queerness (Gray 2009:8). In thisway, gay culture has been theorized ashaving a special relationship with urbanspace. Indeed, the establishment of queer urban public space has been historicallylinked to the emergence of gay politicsduring early 20
century America (D’Emilio1989). For example, throughout the 20
 century gay spaces such as bars, cafes, andneighbourhoods created the possibility for collective consciousness, struggle, andcommunity (D’Emilio 1989; Valentine2002). The establishment of such spaces provided safety, visibility, and a sense of commonality for queer individuals, andcontexts within which political conscious-ness and movements for public recognitioncould emerge (Valentine 2002).Much of gay and lesbian history hasthus mirrored the history of the city, withmajor urban centres being intrinsicallylinked to the formation of global gay politicsand the historical construction of gayidentity and community (Halberstam2005:34; Weston 1998:33). As D’Emilio points out, gay identity emerged in concertwith the historical development of urbancapitalism, which spearheaded a boom of rural to urban migration and transformed therole of the family and the meanings behindheterosexual relations (1989:102). Similarly,Gayle Rubin has argued that gays and
Submission to Totem: The University of Western Ontario Journal of Anthropology

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