Queer South Rising: Voices of a Contested Place
reviewed by Kris Tunac De Pedro - October 13, 2015
Title: Queer South Rising: Voices of a Contested Place
Author(s): Reta Ugena Whitlock (Ed.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623961688, Pages: 458, Year: 2013
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Queer South Rising is a timely piece for both educators and scholars. Recent media controversies surrounding queer issues (e.g., the visibility of transgender individuals in mainstream media and the Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage) and Southern White supremacy (e.g., the recent Charleston massacre and the removal of the Confederate flag) have placed race, gender, and sexuality at the center of public discourse. Whitlocks Queer South Rising is a significant contribution to queer studies in education and curriculum theory. The majority of queer work has focused on urban centers and the experiences of gay, White men, depicting a monolithic, racially homogenous queer life. Drawing from the work of Richardson (1997), Whitlock argues that the stories in Queer South Rising fracture the homogenous representation of queer identities through creative storytelling and humor. Queer identities in these stories are multi-dimensional, historicized, and dependent on meanings attached to place.
These stories also fracture popular representations of the South, challenging readers to think of the South beyond universal tropes. The authors in this interdisciplinary volume are from a range of professional backgrounds, geographical regions in the South, and social identities. They include social activists, community organizers, academics, local AIDS activists, and museum curators. Their stories create a world where being queer and Southern can be from a field of limitless possibilities. The volume frames this diversity in the interactive relationship between the individual and place. Whitlock conceptualizes this as place in self and self in placethat is, how place constructs the self and in turn, how the self constructs place.
The stories commonly call into question the ambivalence toward the South. A history of oppression and political conservatism (e.g., the influence of ultra-conservative, fundamentalist Christian social and political activism), may elicit contempt for the South. Whitlock notes that Southerners often turn a blind eye to a painful history in favor of celebrating Southern myths. In the spirit of decentering universal representations of the South, the queer contributors reveal a creative tensionloving the South versus hating the South.
SUMMARY AND HIGHLIGHTS
Whitlock organized the volume into three sections. Part One, Ghosts, Myths, and Treasures, is made up of individual narratives of queer places in the South. Brock Thompsons Drag and the Politics of Performance examines the Southern drag spectacle of the womanless wedding. Bettina L. Love re-stories her research with straight Black teenagers in Atlanta, re-conceptualizing her past relationship with Southern place and queer identity. Inspired by Pinar (2010), Whitlock discusses how myths crosscut Part One stories. Mythswhich comprise the universal representations of a straight, White Southdepict what Whitlock calls the Southern ghosts of the Lost Cause, Southern Womanhood, the Happy Darkie, and the Honor Myth. The contributors draw positive memories from Southern myths while at the same time invalidating them with representations of queer spaces and identities.
Part Two, Sacrilege! Confronting Southern Institutions, includes essays that offer a queer decentering of quintessential Southern institutions, including the prison system, churches, and universities. Jamie Daviss I Have the Right to Remain Silent narrates his story as a gay policeman, and his partner, a gay military service member, involved in the It Gets Better Project. Davis describes his experiences of racism and homophobia and their associations with geographical context and class. Part Two also intersects with immigration issues. Long T. Buis Reorienting the South: Locating Queer Refugees and Geographies in Texas uncovers queer Vietnamese refugee identity in the context of US and Mexico border politics.
In Part Three, Ye Mama Nem: Contemplating Webs of Relations, contributors describe their relationships with friends and family. Humor plays a role in demonstrating the wide range of queer experiences in the South. The essays reflect self-in-place as self-in-relation, that is, the construction of meaning in place through relationships with friends and family. This section also uncovers dimensions of bi-racial identity in lesbian relationships (i.e., Laura Daviss Dude). The volume ends with GLSEN founder, Kevin Jennings, and his story of becoming a gay activist during the AIDS crisis. Jennings story unexpectedly shows how his devout Confederate roots actually prepared him for becoming a gay activist.
CONTRIBUTION TO CURRICULUM THEORY AND TEACHER EDUCATION
Queer South Rising may leave readers with a need for application to the daily practices of educators in K-12 and higher education. A common criticism in schools of education is the need to make critical theory translatable to daily challenges in K-12 classrooms and schools, as seen in recent volumes outlining school and classroom strategies for LGBTQ youth, including Blackburn, Clark, Kenney and Smith (2009). While beyond the scope of this volume, readers can further explore how these stories directly relate to teaching about the South and queer lives in classrooms. For queer educators with Southern cultural backgrounds, these stories may inspire them to revisit and retell their own professional and personal stories.
The stories in this volume are situated in curriculum studies, adding to the fields aim of uncovering the social and political dimensions of school curriculum and the notion of curriculum as a representation of lived experiences. As teachers develop curriculum about the South and queer lives, they can account for context, self-in-place, and fluidity of experiences. Stories from this volume could be added in multi-cultural education courses in teacher, administrator, and school counseling preparation programs.
Collectively, this volume is a significant contribution to queer curriculum studies. The use of humor and storytelling engage readers to explore the complexity of Southern queer lives, and the stories impress readers to advocate for equity and social justice on behalf of queer individuals.
Blackburn, M. V., Clark, C. T., Kenney, L. M., & Smith, J. M. (2009). Acting Out! Combating homophobia through teacher activism. Practitioner inquiry series. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Pinar, W. (2010, July). A Southern treasure. Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies, 6. Retrieved from http://www2.uwstout.edu/content/jaaacs/Pinar_V6.htm
Richardson, L. (1997). Fields of play. Constructing an academic life. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.