Review 1 for Bingo (Own Voices):
Here’s the scenario for Real Queer America: A transgender reporter and a friend/scribe take a trip across the American Southwest, South, and the Midwest to document LGBTQ lives and history. Along the way, old friends are visited, new ones made, memories evaluated, and research is done.
Two things surprised me about this book: first, how deeply researched it is (I will be looking up some of the historical and theoretical references cited), and second, how hopeful it is about the future. Samantha Allen decides to confront her past and present as a transgender woman by revisiting some of the places she lived in before coming out and transitioning, and she documents the resulting 6-week long road trip as a series of encounters, interviews, and episodes, past and present.
She starts by reviewing her own realization of her identity and coming out as a graduate student in Atlanta, GA, then starts the trip going back to Utah, where she grew up Mormon and went to college, goes through Texas, returns to Bloomington Indiana where she had a fellowship at the Kinsey Institute and met her now-wife, visits Johnson City TN and Jackson MS, and passes through Atlanta, before arriving back home. Each general place gets a historical review of local LGBTQ history, key people are interviewed for their experiences, and reflections of various kinds are made each time. It’s all interesting, both in the human interest sense, but also in terms of culture and history. Several times people bring up the idea of how they thought about leaving their area to find somewhere friendlier but realize that the community around them needs them. Allen points out somewhere, maybe more than once, that in spite of many conservative areas’ reputations for how LGBTQ people might be viewed and treated, the LGBTQ communities are not only present but very willing to help anyone who needs them.
That’s basically the theme of the book: how especially in places that are traditionally seen as unfriendly to people of certain identities, there are established communities that might be small but they thrive or at least help each other survive.
In spite of the ugly history, both personal and public that gets presented, the tone is also hopeful. Things may not be as bad as you think, and there’s a community out there near you that is willing to accept you if you can find them is the impression that Real Queer America gives. The only thing I’m left wonder is that if you’re not a skilled reporter like the author, how does an individual manage that kind of thing on their own?