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The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South Hardcover – October 15, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-1557289438 ISBN-10: 1557289433 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A must-read for anyone interested in the history of southern culture and sexuality." --Southern Historian, May 2012


"...may be the most important recent study of the state's past." --Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Autumn 2011


"Thompson's book is of vital importance for all historians and queer scholars alike." --Journal of American History


"Ultimately, what Thompson's book establishes most persuasively is the fact that Arkansas is not, and never has been, New York, San Francisco, or any of the other gay metropolises about which historians of queer life in the United States have taught us so much. And that is precisely why we should all be queuing up to buy a copy and read it." --American Historical Review, Feb. 2012


"Thompson's book is a readable, informative, and thoroughly researched addition to scholarship about LGBT life in the South." --Appalachian Journal

From the Inside Flap

The Un-Natural State is a one-of-a-kind study of gay and lesbian life in Arkansas in the twentieth century, a deft weaving together of Arkansas history, dozens of oral histories, and Brock Thompson's own story. Thompson analyzes the meaning of rural drag shows, including a compelling description of a 1930s seasonal beauty pageant in Wilson, Arkansas, where white men in drag shared the stage with other white men in blackface, a suggestive mingling that went to the core of both racial transgression and sexual disobedience. These small town entertainments put on in churches and schools emerged decades later in gay bars across the state as a lucrative business practice and a larger means of community expression, while in the same period the state's sodomy law was rewritten to condemn sexual acts between those of the same sex in language similar to what was once used to denounce interracial sex. Thompson goes on to describe several lesbian communities established in the Ozark Mountains during the sixties and seventies and offers a substantial account of Eureka Springs's informal status as the "gay capital of the Ozarks." Through this exploration of identity formation, group articulation, political mobilization, and cultural visibility within the context of historical episodes such as the Second World War, the civil rights movement, and the AIDS epidemic, The Un-Natural State contributes not only to our understanding of gay and lesbian history but also to our understanding of the South.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 260 pages
  • Publisher: University of Arkansas Press; 1 edition (October 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1557289433
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557289438
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,050,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Brock Thompson received his PhD in American studies at King's College, University of London. A native Arkansan, he now lives in Washington, DC, and works at the Library of Congress.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Garrett Peck on November 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"It should not have come as a shock to anyone that not all gay people lived in cities," writes Brock Thompson in his eye-opening history of his home state, "The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South." While many gay people have flocked to cities, rural Arkansas has developed its own distinct gay identity. "There are certain things about southern culture - the closeness to the land, church on Sunday - that so many do not want to give up to be another face in the city. It is their version of modernity that they cling to. No other will do."

At the center of the narrative are oral histories. Thompson's original research included interviewing dozens of people. He explains, "In the South, a region where so much of a person's lineage and history are passed down by the spoken word, the discovery of life stories and images of those who came before are perhaps the best way to commemorate and see exactly how things have changed in Arkansas." He organizes his history around these interviews in three distinct sections, all named after Arkansas nicknames. The first section, the Diamond State, tells of the rich history of drag across the South, and how it moved from a church-oriented institution to gay expression after World War II.

In the Natural State section, Thompson covers the emergence of the gay community - and how Arkansas repealed its sodomy law, but only to reinstate it a year later (the state supreme court wisely ruled it unconstitutional in 2002, a year before Lawrence v. Texas struck down sodomy laws nationwide); and how the state closed the Morgan rest stop on Interstate 40, rather than allow it continue as a gay cruising area.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By kaijmus on November 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Part history, part sociology and a dash of memoir -- Thompson's work offers up a whole new way of looking at gay history. Using Arkansas history as his platform, Thompson demonstrates rural gay culture as something much more than a pale imitation of its urban counterpart. From lesbian communes to church-sponsored drag, Thompson offers a glimpse of gay that many of us never knew existed. Extremely readable, the author's sense of irony and wit occasionally flash through, and make the book all the more compelling. Highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Wesley Dickson on October 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is a must read for anyone interested in Southern gay culture. Thompson writes a winner.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Thompson's Un-Natural State pushes against the assumption that it is the goal of every lgbt person to migrate to a city like New York or San Francisco. Rural places can be every bit as queer. Thompson injects his historical and ethnographic research with his own experiences, giving this book a very intimate, personal flavor. From bathroom sex to powderpuff football to blackface, this book has it all!
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By StevenM on March 10, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bought for a co worker and didn't know about all the history and culture of the area and time. Just a different perspective on things.
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