Year of Publication

2010

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Geography

First Advisor

Dr. Anna J. Secor

Abstract

Stereotypes about Appalachia abound through dubious and reductive representations of the ‘hillbilly’ icon. Sexuality and how it functions in Appalachia is usually cast from the outside as wild, violent, bestial, incestuous and generally base. Movies such as Deliverance and television shows such as The Beverly Hillbillies and The Dukes of Hazard render images of Appalachian sexuality as hyper-sexual, both naive and violent. These images of Appalachian sexual ignorance and violence that permeate popular culture have had problematic and reductive implications for rural gay/trans Appalachian folk. Mainstream gay culture has often used the perceived meanings of these images to circumscribe and foreclose upon the possibility of rural queer life, rendering the rural as monolithically homophobic and impenetrable.

This research attempts to destabilize this perspective and critique the impulse for mainstream gay culture to further marginalize rural gay/trans folk in Appalachia. The project reveals the possibility for rural queer life to exist in Appalachia to show not only its presence, but also its varying forms of visibility. To do this, experimental methodologies are employed, drawing on autoethnography that have located my body as an active participant and research object in one particular Appalachian queer geography. By actively participating in a rural queer network, the possibility for Appalachian queer geographies to exist in ways that surpass popular representations emerge in a way that force us to renegotiate our understandings of homophobia and what sets its conditions.

This project begins to uncover and theorize the ways in which kinship as a ‘social technology’ mitigates social strangeness and operates as a means for social protection and intimacy within rural queer populations. This research is presented in a way that neither dismisses nor emphasizes homophobic violence, but rather argues the imperative for strong political advocacy that recognizes both the struggles and accomplishments of rural gay/trans folk. Three interlinked approaches are used to highlight these possibilities and foreclosures: the exterior representation of Appalachian sexuality in American metropolitan gay cultures and its politico-cultural effects on rural gay/trans folk, a more nuanced interpretation of homophobia in Appalachia, and how ‘place’ is made through the operation of rural queer networks.

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