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I need to start this review with a confession: I am a decidedly urban queer. I was born in Los Angeles, and I live in New York City now. I spent a few summers as a teenager on my uncle’s farm in northern Idaho. My cousins and I would spend our days scheming how to get to Coeur D’Alene, the closest thing to a city within a 100-mile radius. These rural visits only intensified my urban identification. I have never used the word “y’all” non-ironically.
I am guilty of being one of those people who thinks—no, knows—that New York City is the center of the universe. In some ways, this means that I am exactly the type of queer that Scott Herring is writing against in Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism (NYU Press). I’m also exactly the type of queer that should read it.
Throughout the book, Herring explores queer culture’s overwhelming “metronormativity” (a term he borrows from J. Halberstam) and makes a strong argument for examining the varied dimensions of queer life’s rural iterations. The book relies on a diverse and persuasive archive of literature, painting, photography, and performance, incorporating artists ranging from James Weldon Johnson to Alison Bechdel. Herring is mostly successful at including gay and lesbian artists and artifacts in his considerations of critical rusticity and anti-urbanism, but I was disappointed to note that transgender subjectivities were barely referenced throughout this queer studies text. While there are limitations to what any single book can address, it would have been nice if the text had referenced rural gender non-conformity beyond the well-known story of Brandon Teena.
Herring distinguishes between anti-urbanism and anti-urban. He is resistant to narratives that construct cities and urban space as THE site of queer culture, rather than as one of many possible milieus. He advocates queer politics that embraces rurality as another possibility for queer lives, refuting metronormative arguments that present cities as the only locus of queer cultures, communities, and identities. The writing is at times fervent in its defense of the rural, but not to the point that urban readers will feel unduly attacked.
The book’s main weakness stems from Herring’s passionate defense of rural spaces as potentially queer sites. While I appreciate his attention to the rustic and rural as possible queer worlds, it also concerned me that he avoided and minimized the material violence and risks that queers have historically faced in rural settings. I understand that this is a difficult balance; rural spaces already have a reputation as being “unsafe” to urban queers, and Herring’s argument depends on unraveling the migratory mandate that queers leave the small towns they grew up in and move to comparative safety in an urban environment. Nonetheless, it seems idealistic to me to ignore or minimize the dangers and violence that rural queers face. Undermining metronormativity and promoting an anti-urbanist queer politics will only be effective if it is attentive to the material and social realities that lead so many queers to abandon their rural roots.
Another Country is a welcome reminder that queers aren’t only in urban spaces, pushing readers to embrace the varied queer topographies of the USA. This urban queer won’t be moving to the country any time in the near future, but now (at least), I have a broader appreciation of America’s rural queer landscape.
Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism
by Scott Herring
Paperback, 9780814737, 256pp