Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States

Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States

A transgender reporter's narrative tour through the surprisingly vibrant queer communities sprouting up in red states, offering a vision of a stronger, more humane America. Ten years ago, Samantha Allen was a suit-and-tie-wearing Mormon missionary. Now she's a senior Daily Beast reporter happily married to another woman. A lot in her life has changed, but what hasn't chang...

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Title:Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States
Author:Samantha Allen
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Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States Reviews

  • Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd)

    I have so many thoughts about this brilliant book and I don’t know how I’ll ever say them all in a video. Maybe it deserves its own dedicated discussion just to break down the incredible breadth and heart of this story and the queer communities we create in conservative states. I know that it has impacted me in a myriad of ways and I will never stop recommending it, and I implore you to pick it up if you want to see the colorful queerness in America today. There are so many of us, and we are so

    I have so many thoughts about this brilliant book and I don’t know how I’ll ever say them all in a video. Maybe it deserves its own dedicated discussion just to break down the incredible breadth and heart of this story and the queer communities we create in conservative states. I know that it has impacted me in a myriad of ways and I will never stop recommending it, and I implore you to pick it up if you want to see the colorful queerness in America today. There are so many of us, and we are so powerful. And those of us born and bred in red states are tough motherfuckers who are going to fight for our right to change the world.

  • Madalyn (Novel Ink)

    This one hit me DEEP, and this is a book that I think will always hold a dear place in my heart. Fellow queer folks, especially those in red states: this is a must-read. Samantha Allen perfectly captured the unique experience of being queer in a conservative community, and both the wonderful and not-so-great things about it. And the Atlanta chapter? So much love. I will be thinking about these stories for quite a long time to come!

  • Ryan McIlvain

    What really surprised me in this memoir-cum-travelogue-cum-sociological-study was not how smart it was but how fun! I've come to expect remarkable insight from Allen--that's long been on display in her reporting and editorializing on LGBT issues in The Daily Beast. Yet something about the long form here liberates her to be consequential and breezy at the same time, colloquial and lyrical, dropping statistics (but not too many!) alongside seemingly throwaway lines of sharp poetic beauty. "Time is

    What really surprised me in this memoir-cum-travelogue-cum-sociological-study was not how smart it was but how fun! I've come to expect remarkable insight from Allen--that's long been on display in her reporting and editorializing on LGBT issues in The Daily Beast. Yet something about the long form here liberates her to be consequential and breezy at the same time, colloquial and lyrical, dropping statistics (but not too many!) alongside seemingly throwaway lines of sharp poetic beauty. "Time is mostly measured in dog walks," Allen writes about a visit to friends and queer activists in Tennessee. "By day we take Doc, Red, and Lilly around the neighborhood in the musty aftermath of the summer rain. By night we go to the flooded quarry in neighboring Elizabethton, under an overcast sky illuminated by a full Aquarius moon."

    The musty aftermath of summer rain! That's so right! And yet until that sentence I hadn't been given the eloquence to fit the feeling. I'm nerding out to sentences, inevitably, but that really is one of the chief pleasures of this short book. And I can see how the importance and news worthiness of Real Queer America might crowd out appreciation of its elegant form, its humor, and all the great scenes of late-night eating, drinking, dancing, talking and laughing among friends and allies. So let me appreciate! This book is a reminder that social progress often happens not in spite of friendships and loveships but exactly because of them, through them. And that an important and timely book about the strength of queer America can double as a beautiful portrait gallery of twenty-first-century Americans.

  • Bookphile

    I found this both interesting and moving. As a straight, cis person who wants to be a good ally, this book provided me a lot of insight. RTC

    Full review:

    As a straight, cis person who wants to be a good ally, I picked this book up to give me a broader perspective of the lives of LGBTQ people, especially since most of the media focus seems to be on those living in the more liberal coastal enclaves. The premise of the book intrigued me, because as the author points out throughout the course of the b

    I found this both interesting and moving. As a straight, cis person who wants to be a good ally, this book provided me a lot of insight. RTC

    Full review:

    As a straight, cis person who wants to be a good ally, I picked this book up to give me a broader perspective of the lives of LGBTQ people, especially since most of the media focus seems to be on those living in the more liberal coastal enclaves. The premise of the book intrigued me, because as the author points out throughout the course of the book, LGBTQ have created homes for themselves everywhere, even in seemingly hostile places. To prove this, she sets out on a road trip with a friend, winding a path across red states to meet up with and learn about the various communities LGBTQ people have carved out for themselves. I myself don't live in a red state, nor do I live in a liberal coastal enclave, but my own home state has lots of work to do when it comes to advancing the civil rights of LGBTQ people, and I've often wondered why anyone who is LGBTQ would want to live in a place that refuses to recognize their basic humanity.

    I have to say, this book surprised me. I admire the tenacity and determination of those living in states with laws that blatantly discriminate against them. So many of the people Allen profiles in this book express frustration with the draconian laws where they live, yet they don't want to move because they're determined to effect change. It's not hyperbole to say that they may be putting their lives at risk in the interest of helping forward progress.

    However, it's also clear that while the areas where they live may not be entirely safe for them--many of them speak about being afraid to walk down the street holding hands with their same-sex spouse--they have also managed to create safe spaces. I was particularly touched by the story of Encircle, an LGBTQ center in Utah. As Allen notes, the leading cause of death for young people in Utah is suicide, and a big factor in the alarming rate of suicide among Utah youth is the vehemently anti-LGBTQ position the state has taken. The Mormon church plays a big role in this, since the vast majority of state legislators are of Mormon faith, and the faith itself not only refuses to accept LGBTQ people, it actively excommunicates them. Encircle provides a much-needed place for LGBTQ youth to go where they can truly be themselves and be accepted. It is literally life-saving.

    Yet while it is wonderful to know that such a place exists, it's a cure for the symptoms, not the disease, as Allen illustrates. While she clearly dislikes what she terms as the cliquishness of the liberal coastal enclaves, she also vividly illustrates how those progressive enclaves aren't enough, and how problematic anti-LGBTQ laws and attitudes are. Teenagers and young adults are literally dying because they live in areas that refuse to acknowledge their humanity. As Allen shows, LGBTQ people need to create these communities for themselves as a matter of life and death. But the only real way to save LGBTQ people and put an end to generations of pain and suffering is by reversing discriminatory laws and changing prejudiced attitudes.

    By creating communities in areas hostile to their rights, the LGBTQ communities in red states are providing much-needed visibility to the LGBTQ community as a whole. As with any -ism or prejudice (racism, sexism, Islamophobia, etc), the cure is exposure to people who are part of these marginalized groups, so that those with privilege and power learn that the people they fear are really just like them. There's no real way of sitting in comfort with this knowledge, though, since it's very troubling to know that some human beings have to put their lives at risk to convince other human beings that they deserve to be treated like human beings.

    I think what impressed me most about this book, though, was how strong and committed these LGBTQ communities are. Yes, necessity plays a role in their commitment, but what stands out is the fierceness of their love for the places they live in. They want to make the places they live better for everyone, so however little some of those places might want to acknowledge it, they are the richer for the presence of their LGBTQ communities.

    I'm old enough that I've lived to see progress happen in what seems to be leaps and bounds. I remember the days of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, when states were passing laws prohibiting people from marrying the person they loved, and when the majority opinion was against LGBTQ people and their rights. I was shocked and delighted when the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land. (Frankly, I didn't think it would happen for some time to come. Boy, am I glad I was wrong about that!) I'm also uplifted by American youth, whose views on sexuality and gender identity are so vastly different from those of my generation and the generations before us.

    But for as much progress as has been made, there's still a lot more to be done, and while I'm grateful for and respect the LGBTQ people who have taken it upon themselves to make America pay attention, I'm also increasingly aware of the part straight allies have to play. We can't just sit back and let our LGBTQ brothers and sisters take the responsibility on themselves, we need to acknowledge the systemic forces contributing to their oppression and do our part to dismantle those systems.

  • Sarah

    The story of an endlessly endearing queer trans journalist who sets out on a road trip to prove that middle America is not just as queer, but queerer, than the coastal havens? Yes please!

    To start with, Samantha Allen’s unique voice comes through so strongly in this book, turning what could be a dry list of statistics and anecdotes into an engrossing journey full of humor, vulnerability, insightfulness and joy. Her voice is joined by the voices of her road brother Billy and everyone they meet alo

    The story of an endlessly endearing queer trans journalist who sets out on a road trip to prove that middle America is not just as queer, but queerer, than the coastal havens? Yes please!

    To start with, Samantha Allen’s unique voice comes through so strongly in this book, turning what could be a dry list of statistics and anecdotes into an engrossing journey full of humor, vulnerability, insightfulness and joy. Her voice is joined by the voices of her road brother Billy and everyone they meet along the way. What results is a beautiful tapestry of, well, the real queer america.

    Allen does an excellent job of blending interviews and research with her personal experience to paint an eye-opening picture of what it’s really like to be queer in ‘red’ states. She makes a compelling case for the idea that America is incredibly queer, and that queerness is more potent, more inclusive, and even more important in the southern/midwestern oases she visits. She doesn’t have much love for ostensibly queer-friendly places like New York and San Francisco, for some good reasons. She loves the south and the people she interviews love it too, fiercely. It’s a perspective not often present in the media and I found it very moving and thought-provoking. It made me question my own queer haven of Seattle, and how queer it really is. Tbh most of my friends are straight, and even though I love them dearly I don’t feel like I have the same kind of queer family found in the places Allen describes.

    To be clear, Allen doesn’t brush off the very real discrimination and lack of rights faced by LGBTQIA+ people in these states, especially those who are POC. She includes a lot of discussion about these realities, but makes the important point that places known for being queer friendly can be just as discriminatory. I know this to be true in Seattle and in other big ‘gay’ cities.

    Ultimately it’s the sense of community and family among all the people of the LGBTQIA+ umbrella in these southern oases that I found to be the most vital heart of the story. This book is well-written and well-researched, and it’s a blast to read, but the thing I appreciate most about it is that it made me question my own role in getting too comfortable with sitting in my safe bubble and dismissing red states as scary places for queers. The whole world is scary, for queers and for everyone, and the stories in this book made me want to be more involved in fighting discrimination everywhere. I highly recommend this read to everybody, especially if you’re a coastal queer.

    I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, opinions are my own.

  • Brooke

    As a small town Southern queer, I want everyone to read this book. Not everyone can, should, or *wants* to leave their Southern and Midwestern towns. Those that stay build a better future for everyone that comes after. I hope this is especially eye opening to those in urban enclaves like San Francisco, New York, LA, and Chicago: there are beautiful, thriving queer communities everywhere. The book itself meanders and doubles back on itself a few times, but I can't fault it too much - it is, after

    As a small town Southern queer, I want everyone to read this book. Not everyone can, should, or *wants* to leave their Southern and Midwestern towns. Those that stay build a better future for everyone that comes after. I hope this is especially eye opening to those in urban enclaves like San Francisco, New York, LA, and Chicago: there are beautiful, thriving queer communities everywhere. The book itself meanders and doubles back on itself a few times, but I can't fault it too much - it is, after all, a road trip.

  • Mel

    So enjoyed gaining the perspective from a trans woman reporting on the very conservative parts of the country which all too many liberals are always quick to discredit as bigoted & dangerous for the LGBT+ populations there. The author made a great point about how even though some towns or states are vehemently working against them (Indiana for example under Mike Pence), it is still their home and they want to have a life and feel safe and flourish regardless of the narrow minded people in ch

    So enjoyed gaining the perspective from a trans woman reporting on the very conservative parts of the country which all too many liberals are always quick to discredit as bigoted & dangerous for the LGBT+ populations there. The author made a great point about how even though some towns or states are vehemently working against them (Indiana for example under Mike Pence), it is still their home and they want to have a life and feel safe and flourish regardless of the narrow minded people in charge of local governments. I especially liked how she described and aligned her transition and how she met her wife with her travels across the country for this book, and how though she had lived in many states, like in her Mormon hometown, where it didn’t feel great on a large scale, she knew that even though Brooklyn and NYC are queer “hubs” they aren’t really the same as the communities built up in Atlanta or Texas. There are fewer people overall and they seemed more insular and protective and safe.

  • Sarah Swedberg

    I wanted to like this book more.

    Maybe the problem is that I live in red America and do the really hard work of trying to make it a safer place for LGBTQ+ people. Many days I feel like the work is impossible, despite some gains. This doesn't stop me from working toward those gains, but it also exhausts me.

    Maybe because of that I think Allen mythologizes people like the people I know to too great an extent.

    I also think that she dismisses the good work of people in cities too easily. She writes of

    I wanted to like this book more.

    Maybe the problem is that I live in red America and do the really hard work of trying to make it a safer place for LGBTQ+ people. Many days I feel like the work is impossible, despite some gains. This doesn't stop me from working toward those gains, but it also exhausts me.

    Maybe because of that I think Allen mythologizes people like the people I know to too great an extent.

    I also think that she dismisses the good work of people in cities too easily. She writes of her friend Michael that "he realized that many of his new coworkers at the HIV/AIDS advocacy organization were more interested in climbing ladders than they were in saving lives" (19). While that may very well have been Michael's experience, in 1980s San Francisco and in 1990s Boston, the people I worked alongside were radicals who wanted to save lives and make a better world, who weren't cliqueish, and who worked across all sorts of dividing lines.

    While I may find myself living in this red community for the rest of my life, I will never stop yearning for a city. Not only did I feel like I was home in cities in a way I never will in this community, I also had access to other things that are important to me.

    I miss independent cinema and film festivals. I miss vegetarian restaurants (and the ones I frequented were not the expensive ones). I miss theater. I miss so many things that cities offer. For someone like me, these other things that are tied to my lesbianism but also apart from it, help to make the world a better place.

    There are definite strengths to this book. I loved the introduction and may use it when I teach LGBTQ Studies this fall. I loved Allen's discussion of *queer*. But, in the end, the red America she painted rang false to me. In the end, it seemed too much like the other books I have read recently where experiences are inflated to become a universal rather than the individual stories they really are.

  • TK

    This audiobook helped me pin point some of my feelings about queer organizing in the US South and my feelings around being a transplant from the NE. But I am not without criticism of this book. Many of these are based on my expectations of the book. I was expecting the book to be a little heavier on the road trip narrative- instead it leans on modern queer history. This is not inherently bad, but since much of the recent history is lived history for me I found myself being disappointed that the

    This audiobook helped me pin point some of my feelings about queer organizing in the US South and my feelings around being a transplant from the NE. But I am not without criticism of this book. Many of these are based on my expectations of the book. I was expecting the book to be a little heavier on the road trip narrative- instead it leans on modern queer history. This is not inherently bad, but since much of the recent history is lived history for me I found myself being disappointed that the stories weren't more of the center. This isn't to say those stories aren't rich and relatable- I just wanted more of them. My other criticism is how autobiographical the story is overall- again no inherently bad but it also pushed the narrative further from the other voices and stories in the book and centers Samantha Allen in the narrative more often than not. I really did enjoy this and I did end up learning a lot and having a whole range of emotional moments I think I just wanted a deeper delve into the rich history and diversity of the Southern States.

  • Bookworm

    I had been very excited to read about the stories of LGBTQ+ people in "red" states in the US. It sounded like it would be an interesting look at what it's like, at how they live their lives and deal with living in "red" states. The author herself went through a similar journey, going from a "suit-and-tie-wearing Mormon missionary" to a reporter now married to another woman.

    The author takes us through various red states and interviews people there: their lives, how they realized who they were, ho

    I had been very excited to read about the stories of LGBTQ+ people in "red" states in the US. It sounded like it would be an interesting look at what it's like, at how they live their lives and deal with living in "red" states. The author herself went through a similar journey, going from a "suit-and-tie-wearing Mormon missionary" to a reporter now married to another woman.

    The author takes us through various red states and interviews people there: their lives, how they realized who they were, how they were affected by (sometimes) moving to blue areas and why they moved back (or why they never left), the work they do, etc. Sometimes it's not all that different and sometimes the experiences are fairly unique to that state or person.

    But...I have to agree with some of the negative reviews. I've never been a big fan of books by journalists and this is another case. I was honestly bored by a lot of the book. It also felt like the author inserted herself into the book too much, perhaps if not herself then her friends who came along the journey, whereas I was a lot more interested in the people she was talking to who she encountered.

    I was also really not a big fan of the "real America" vs. the "coastal elites" narrative that was an undercurrent throughout the book. No, places like NYC or San Francisco or Washington DC isn't for everyone and that's totally understandable. But after reading through the introduction, I began to look at the title a little differently, from seeing "real" not as "very" but rather "authentic," which is not always true. And sometimes work gets done in places like Washington, DC to allow people to have the rights they have now.

    The resentment is real and while the author wanted to tell a particular story, there ARE people who do want to escape these red states and go to some place like NYC, San Francisco, or even just other blue areas. Again, that wasn't what the author was writing about and I respect the story she was trying to tell but it just seemed to color the writing a bit.

    Overall it just wasn't for me, but I see a lot of people liked this book. I think for the right person it would definitely a great read and/or a good gift. Otherwise I'd recommend the library.

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