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!

  • ☼Shannon☼

    Samantha Allen embarks on a road trip to show us how LGBTQ live in seemingly LGBTQ unfriendly areas. Along the way she visits LGBTQ hot spots and interviews the people who run them or some other noteworthy people about what drives them, why they stay, etc. I don't identify as LGBTQ (heteroromantic asexual in a hetero marriage) but it seemed like a good portrayal of LGBTQ life.

    The places she travels to are : Provo Utah, Texas, Bloomington Indiana, Johnson City Tennesse

    Samantha Allen embarks on a road trip to show us how LGBTQ live in seemingly LGBTQ unfriendly areas. Along the way she visits LGBTQ hot spots and interviews the people who run them or some other noteworthy people about what drives them, why they stay, etc. I don't identify as LGBTQ (heteroromantic asexual in a hetero marriage) but it seemed like a good portrayal of LGBTQ life.

    The places she travels to are : Provo Utah, Texas, Bloomington Indiana, Johnson City Tennessee, Jackson Mississippi, and Atlanta Georgia. I might be biased (I'm totally biased) but my favorite was the Provo one, which made reading the rest of the book kind of a let down, but that's a me problem.

    I definitely think that anyone can get something out of this book: be they LGBTQ, cis/hetero, red state, blue state, liberal or conservative. Even those not living in America could find some value in it.

  • Lindsay

    Such a beautiful reflection--so timely, and something I hope becomes outdated very, very soon. I wasn't quite expecting its trajectory, probably mostly because I avoid synopses and reviews apart from identifying something I want to read, and so I was a little surprised that this focused on cities that are more or less progressive bubbles in mostly conservative, Southern states. I loved the discussions of identity in all its iterations, but particularly that of geographical identity (obviously?)

    Such a beautiful reflection--so timely, and something I hope becomes outdated very, very soon. I wasn't quite expecting its trajectory, probably mostly because I avoid synopses and reviews apart from identifying something I want to read, and so I was a little surprised that this focused on cities that are more or less progressive bubbles in mostly conservative, Southern states. I loved the discussions of identity in all its iterations, but particularly that of geographical identity (obviously?) and the reclamation of areas that are only reported for their unfavorable conditions. This hits home for me particularly right now, having moved from St. Louis, MO, (another locale that would fit in with this book) to the rural, conservative Western Slope of Colorado--both in hearing constantly from the residents of my tiny town what a terrible place St. Louis is, and also living in an area where it is not very safe to be out. I love Allen's writing, and I would be thrilled if she took on a similar writing assignment in the future to discuss places like these--places where LGBTQ+ folk carve out fulfilling lives despite living in hostile communities.

  • 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.

  • Gary  Beauregard Bottomley

    Our self identity is a complex thing. It gets stamped on to us from the community around us including the bars we go to, the churches we prayer in and the malls we shop at. Our image of ourselves that others stamped onto us gets formed into shaping our

    . What we authentically think and desire for ourselves forms the masks that we wear as we present it to the world and ourselves, and it helps creates our

    , who we strive to be and to become despite the distractions, ambiguities

    Our self identity is a complex thing. It gets stamped on to us from the community around us including the bars we go to, the churches we prayer in and the malls we shop at. Our image of ourselves that others stamped onto us gets formed into shaping our

    . What we authentically think and desire for ourselves forms the masks that we wear as we present it to the world and ourselves, and it helps creates our

    , who we strive to be and to become despite the distractions, ambiguities, and the mood of the world that we are thrown into through mere chance and circumstance.

    Bars, churches and malls are dying a slow merciful death. They each are disappearing at a faster rate than their replacement rate. They are becoming less influential in shaping our

    . I mentioned bars because a lot of the author’s travels seemed to focus around bars (or at least night clubs or social gathering places with drinking, music and such). I mentioned churches because they legitimize the ‘hurtful demeaning’ of people not conforming to the imaginary norms of the prevailing mob, and I mentioned malls because they at one time were a central meeting place for consumers at large. My real point is that things which lie outside of us shape who we are and distracts us from our ownmost selves by entangling us in the ‘they’ around us through the idle chatter that permeates us and takes us further away from the self that allows us to understand ourselves most appropriately.

    Let’s face it. All the places the author travels to on her journey tended to be populated by people who support a person who says ‘windmills cause cancer’, calls people ‘varmints and animals’, thinks ‘climate change is a Chinese hoax’, says ‘vaccines cause autism’, and recently babbled something about transgender people don’t belong in the military because of reasons only known to him, and chose Mike Pence a homophobe admired by homophobes for his vice president, and believes in separating and caging children from their parents in order to convince hateful rubes to the efficacy of his immigration policy. I find all of those items vile and really have a hard time tolerating, associating or not holding my noise around people who enable that kind of behavior. Without a doubt the ‘they’, the idle chatter, and the entanglements and the attunement (mood of our world) that surrounds us influence who we become, and I would prefer not to be around those people if given a choice, but I am fully cognizant that most of life is about survival and we do what we have to do to survive, and that there are ‘nine million stories in the naked city’ and each of us have a complex interconnected web that determines what we do even if that means associating with bigots, Trump enablers or haters.

    The epilog had a story of a Baptist Preacher in Texas who realized her conformist ways towards one of her flock was ‘hurtfully demeaning’ and she realized that it was time to change her hurtful judgmental ways. As I mentioned, the number of new churches being built is less than the number of churches disappearing. Fundamentalist (or Mormons and Trump enablers and supporters) are still predominate in all of the places the author visited on her travels. The hate is still there, but seems to get less than the day before. That’s a good thing, but it is still there and people will still have to find ways to walk and talk around the hate when most appropriate and in the process compromise who they are at their corps more so than one would have to in most other places.

    The author’s real point is that anybody who does not conform to the norms of the society at large can still have a meaningful and fulfilling life even if surrounded by bigots and Trump enablers. She’s right, but compromises and adjustments will be required and the world around us does contribute to who we become and helps define our purpose and meaning since no person is an island and complete within themselves. This book did have a good narrative when she was talking about her own experiences. It misfires with ignoring how toxic and hateful bigots, Trump supporters, Evangelicals and Mormons can be. (I noticed today (4/8/19), the NYT tells me Poland is no longer limiting their hate to immigrants, but they want to have a more inclusive hate and now are coming for gays and other non-conforming to the imaginary mean humans for no reason but to hate and spread their hate. I don’t think I’ll be moving to Poland).

  • 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.

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