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Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South (Caravan Book) [Hardcover]

by E. Patrick Johnson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 26, 2008 080783209X 978-0807832097
Giving voice to a population rarely acknowledged in writings about the South, Sweet Tea collects life stories from black gay men who were born, raised, and continue to live in the southern United States. E. Patrick Johnson challenges stereotypes of the South as "backward" or "repressive," suggesting that these men draw upon the performance of "southernness"—politeness, coded speech, and religiosity, for example—to legitimate themselves as members of both southern and black cultures. At the same time, Johnson argues, they deploy those same codes to establish and build friendship networks and to find sexual partners and life partners.

Traveling to every southern state, Johnson conducted interviews with more than seventy black gay men between the ages of 19 and 93. The voices collected here dispute the idea that gay subcultures flourish primarily in northern, secular, urban areas. In addition to filling a gap in the sexual history of the South, Sweet Tea offers a window into the ways that black gay men negotiate their sexual and racial identities with their southern cultural and religious identities. The narratives also reveal how they build and maintain community in many spaces and activities, some of which may appear to be antigay. Ultimately, Sweet Tea validates the lives of these black gay men and reinforces the role of storytelling in both African American and southern cultures.

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Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South (Caravan Book) + Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This fascinating—if excessively detailed—oral history subverts countless preconceptions in its illustration of black gay subcultures thriving in just about every imaginable rural and religious milieu in the South. Johnson (Appropriating Blackness) has an obvious fondness for the 63 men he interviews. Unfortunately, these interviews suffer from his failure to ask follow-up questions to revelatory or troubling responses and his adherence to set questions, for example, his insistence on asking his churchgoing subjects why they are attracted to the choir, keeps him from exploring the more interesting intersections (and contradictions) of their faith and sexuality. Responses are arranged by topics (Coming Out; Love and Relationships), an organization that provides thematic coherence, but makes it difficult to follow each recurring narrator. Still, the courage and honesty of Johnson's interviewees humble, and readers will find much to treasure in the stories of Stephen, who adopts the mannerisms of straight classmates because he lacks masculine gay role models; proudly effeminate Lamar, transgendered Chastity and gay men in every state in the South falling in love, growing up and growing old, negotiating and redefining their identities. (Sept.) ""
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved."


"Offers a treasure trove of primary sources for those interested in the intersection of race, region, and gay experience in the twentieth century. . . . Fascinating. . . . For deep insights into the development of black-gay relationships and community in the South, Sweet Tea is unsurpassed."
-Journal of American Ethnic History

"Challenges queer, black, men's, and southern historiographies. . . . Illuminates the fabric of black gay men's history . . . [and] debunks the myth that southern black gay men live only fearful, silenced, and secret lives."
--Journal of Southern History

"A seamless and previously untold sexual history of the South. . . . . distinguishes itself [from] previous gay histories."
-- Lambda Book Report

"Profiles more than seventy men, from teenagers to elders, hairdressers to executives, in every southern state. . . . A calm chronology of growing up black and gay. . . . Illuminat[ing]."
-- Arkansas Historical Quarterly

"Easily shatters many narrow perceptions around the intersections of class, sex, love, age, religion, family and gender expression in Southern communities, as well as the simple and complex reasons that the men profiled have chosen to remain in the south."
-- ColorLines

"Contains a wealth of information about Southern black gay men and makes a valuable addition to gay cultural history."
-- The Gay & Lesbian Review

"Contains a wealth of information about Southern black gay men and makes a valuable addition to gay cultural history."
-- The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review

"This fascinating . . . oral history subverts countless preconceptions in its illustration of black gay subcultures thriving in just about every imaginable rural and religious milieu in the South. . . . The courage and honesty of Johnson's interviewees humble, and readers will find much to treasure in the stories."
-- Publishers Weekly

"Johnson, who has never been one to shy away from the intricacies of race theory or queer theory, has put together a complex oral history of gay black men in the South."
-- The Independent

"Sweet Tea is an amazing book. Engaging from the very start, it is well written and thought provoking throughout. There were times I simply could not put it down."
-- E. Lynn Harris, New York Times bestselling novelist

"Interjecting apt questions only occasionally, the author allows his subjects to speak for themselves, which they do articulately, colloquially (a glossary is included), and graphically. . . . [A] very good book."
-- Library Journal

"It's pretty rare to pick up a book, turn randomly to any page, and find such a powerful personal story that you have to close the book for a moment to take it in. But the oral histories featured in Sweet Tea . . . cast just that kind of spell."
-- The Advocate

"A variety of biases, oversights, and material circumstances have conspired to push the narratives of southern black gay lives to the margins. Sweet Tea makes a monumental achievement by getting these stories out into the world. Every subsequent, serious engagement with the topic will have to address Johnson's work. This book is certain to be consulted, referenced, and discussed for many years to come."
-- John Howard, author of Men Like That: A Southern Queer History and Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow

Product Details

  • Series: Caravan Book
  • Hardcover: 584 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (August 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080783209X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807832097
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #695,443 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sweet Tea March 6, 2009
Thoroughly researched and completely engaging, "Sweet Tea" is a look into an overlooked minority: black, gay men of the South. The author spent time interviewing dozens of men - all natives who still call the South home -from all age ranges and transcribed the conversations. The interviews are eye-opening. The South is one of the most stereotyped and misunderstood regions of the United States and the personal histories these Southern men relate are illuminating. They are the stories of men who pursued an active gay lifestyle even while remaining part of their families, their communities and their churches.

One of the more unforgettable interview subjects is Chaz/Chastity, a drag queen whom the author discovers almost by accident in his own North Carolina hometown. There are several photos of Chaz scattered throughout the various sections of the book, as well as those of other subjects. The photos are intimate and touching, showing the breadth of these men's lives.

Another strength of the book is the author's own personal story: in the introduction, Johnson discusses his reasons for embarking upon this project and his own experience growing up in the South as a black, gay man. It's fortunate that Johnson wrote this book as it's an important piece of scholarship that deserves all the accolades it receives.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sweet Tea June 17, 2012
By Writer
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I found the book very interesting and the author manages to set his story narratives in a way that brings the reader into the lives of all the characters. Excellent read.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars May I Pour? March 29, 2009
The author, E. Patrick Johnson, is to be commended for the end product of his research into the lives of black gay men of the southern United States! Through numerous interviews with men of varying degrees of "outness" he has recorded their stories, and grouped them in 7 primary subject headings. While they cover the full range from joyous to tragic, they all deserve to be heard, and Mr. Johnson has let them tell their stories. Now, it is up to us to read, and hear, those stories! It is a journey that will not leave you unmoved... you WILL take away a new heightened awareness of the issues facing these men, whether they are 19 or 90. Kudos to each and every one of the men who shared their lives and stories!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sweet Tea Comments February 25, 2010
By No One
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Sweet tea is a qualitative analysis of several southern gay black males with a mixture of stories about their past histories. It rarely touches on the "gay" aspect of their lives, yet it presents almost every other aspect. The book is mostly ethnographic verbatim interviews (some rather difficult to read, as at times the subjects' English is non-standard and hard to follow). This book is important should the reader wish to understand southern gay male black culture with its many and varied histories and dynamics.
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8 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Bittersweet Tea September 24, 2008
E. Patrick Johnson's new book SWEET TEA purports to dignify the lives of Black Gay men from the American South by allowing them to tell their own stories. Maybe that's what Johnson meant to do when he began research on this lengthy book of interviews. Unfortunately, he seems to have gotten sidetracked by his ego, his condescending attitude and his willingness to exploit other Gay men in the pursuit of a theatre career. His one-man stage show based on this book may be artistically valid, but the book itself fails as valid scholarship. Johnson stages a freak show in print of apparently inarticulate, self-aggrandizing sex and gender exotics, all friends of his or friends of his friends. After making them appear as unsophisticated and quaint as he possibly can, he lines them up for curious Straight folk to gawk at. Johnson's fondness for idle gossip, for using sexual slurs as endearments, and his ill-begotten warts-and-all style of editing(???)transcripts all reinforce the freak show aspect of his book. While some passages do convey warmth, wisdom, fortitude and personal empowerment, all too often they're undermined by frivolty, stereotype, sensationalism and braggadocio. If only that were the worst of it: Johnson's downplaying of Southern Black heterosexism is disturbing, his stated method of turning interview subjects into "performers" is manipulative, and his characterization of Black churches as vehicles for sex cruising is offensive! Black Gay identity deserves far more dignity than it gets in this overpriced volume. Sweet Tea is spiked with rotgut whiskey, and the flavor is more bitter than sweet.
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