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Men Like That: A Southern Queer History by…

Men Like That: A Southern Queer History

by John Howard

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Men Like That focuses on Mississippi, 1945-1985. It occasionally spills over into other southern states, and I feel the title is accurate, but it’s about one southern queer history in particular. It essentially functions as a summary of queer history in that time, because southern/rural queerness had been pretty much ignored in favor of the big, more-easily-studied coastal cities. Further, Howard’s argument is “men like that” in Mississippi didn’t fit into the traditional urban narrative. They didn’t “come out” in the same way, they didn’t generally find liberation by migrating to the cities, and they largely didn’t partake in identity politics at all during this time period. However, that doesn’t mean they were exactly “closeted” or even “oppressed” in the way we might think. They were actually incredibly active, just not in the same way as queer men in the cities. They had their own networks and systems and ways of being, and it’s those activities Howard will describe.

The book is separated into two parts. The first uses oral histories to narrate a loose history, an impression of the time period as a whole for queer men. He frankly discusses the limits of this type of history, the types of narratives received when a historian asks for queer interviewees — you miss out on the huge pool of men who “liked that,” but weren’t “like that.” Still, even though it’s limited, it’s useful. The second part of the book, larger in size, deals with more traditional historical methods. It’s more chronological, and covers such history-ish things as laws, activist organizing, public backlash, the civil rights movement, and fictional representations (not in that order).

Full review: https://hannahgivens.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/book-review-men-like-that-a-southern-queer-history-by-john-howard/ ( )
  FFortuna | Jan 7, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226354709, Paperback)

We don't usually associate thriving queer culture with rural America, but John Howard's unparalleled history of queer life in the South persuasively debunks the myth that same-sex desires can't find expression outside the big city. In fact, this book shows that the nominally conservative institutions of small-town life—home, church, school, and workplace—were the very sites where queer sexuality flourished. As Howard recounts the life stories of the ordinary and the famous, often in their own words, he also locates the material traces of queer sexuality in the landscape: from the farmhouse to the church social, from sports facilities to roadside rest areas.

Spanning four decades, Men Like That complicates traditional notions of a post-WWII conformist wave in America. Howard argues that the 1950s, for example, were a period of vibrant queer networking in Mississippi, while during the so-called "free love" 1960s homosexuals faced aggressive oppression. When queer sex was linked to racial agitation and when key civil rights leaders were implicated in homosexual acts, authorities cracked down and literally ran the accused out of town.

In addition to firsthand accounts, Men Like That finds representations of homosexuality in regional pulp fiction and artwork, as well as in the number one pop song about a suicidal youth who jumps off the Tallahatchie Bridge. And Howard offers frank, unprecedented assessments of outrageous public scandals: a conservative U.S. congressman caught in the act in Washington, and a white candidate for governor accused of patronizing black transgender sex workers.

The first book-length history of the queer South, Men Like That completely reorients our presuppositions about gay identity and about the dynamics of country life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:58 -0400)

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