This summer I had the opportunity to interview my best friend, Stina, on her women’s/gender studies PhD work on rural queer communities. The interview was published in issue #5 of one of my favorite feminist zines, Hoax, edited by Rachel and Sari. Stina’s work is really fascinating, and I figured I’d post some of the interview here for anybody interested in reading! (Anyone interested in buying copies of Hoax should check out their Etsy shop!)
1. K: The second I learned that Hoax #5’s topic is feminism and community I knew I wanted to try and interview you for it. As a city dweller, can you please tell me a little bit about what got you interested in rural queer communities?
S: I don’t really like living in a big city — it’s stressful! I try to go away in the summers. I read about the queer community Bucky’s (note: name has been changed to protect the privacy of the community’s residents) in Sandor Ellix Katz’s book Wild Fermentation. I learned that Bucky’s takes garden interns, so I went down there. Then I went back again to spend more time with them. I had been doing research on lesbian land before that, and I found the differences and similarities between lesbian and queer land groups really fascinating.
2. K: I’m a librarian and the majority of work I’ve seen on queer geography has been on urban queers. Why do you think so much more work (as I perceive it) has been done on urban queers communities?
S: I wonder that too. I think it’s correct. The theory I’ve read about this question seems believable. During the 1950s there was a research team at the University of Chicago that did some of the first gay-related research ever. They argued that cities are the natural habitat for gay people because there isn’t as much community regulation, that it’s easier for people to live a deviant life in cities. I think that’s how people have seen it ever since. And now researchers often take queer as an urban category for granted. Luckily, some great work is being done to challenge this stereotype.
3. K: I’m aware that you’ve visited several queer land communities. How many such communities are you aware of in the U.S.? Do you know of any outside of the country as well?
S: I’ve read that there are 100 women’s/lesbian land communities in the U.S. There are a couple of directories of them- Maize and Shewolf. I don’t know how many Radical Faerie sanctuaries there are – maybe ten? There are a few mixed gender queer projects too- probably less than five. There are some Radical Faeries in Australia and there also used to be women’s land in Denmark.
4. K: Given your research, would you mind discussing a couple of the reasons interviewees have given for their decision to move to such a community?
S: A big one in Tennessee is TennCare. This was an expanded Medicare program from 1994- it was gradually dismantled between 2005-2010. TennCare was an experimental program- they wanted to see if they could insure more people for less money than Medicare. This would insure the “uninsurable”- such as those with HIV/AIDS. If you lived in TN and were denied health care coverage through a provider, you could get health care through the state. Some people moved to TN and applied for health care, but were denied and received TennCare.
A lot of people have gone to Bucky’s to visit and ended up staying. The most fun story I heard was one involving a guy those boyfriend lived near Bucky’s. The boyfriend performed a magic ceremony at a nearby Radical Faerie sanctuary, and the next time they met the first guy decided to move to TN to be with his boyfriend.
5. K: Could you please recommend a few authors/books people interested in learning more about rural queer studies could peruse?
S: There aren’t that many now but more and more are being done, which is really exciting. Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism by Scott Herring, definitely. And Mary Gray’s Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America. Also, E. Patrick John’s Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South. Scott Morgensen is doing some really interesting work on Radical Faeries and settler colonialism; I can’t wait for his book to come out. As this list hints at, there’s a clear dominance of white men in rural queer studies. This is something that definitely needs to be addressed.