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social sciences

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Rural Life  
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Another literary reversal of the familiar narrative is Isabel Miller's landmark historical novel, Patience and Sarah (1972), which recounts the joyous trials of painter Patience White and cross-dressing farmer Sarah Dowling, who leave their native Connecticut in order to set up house together in rural Greene County, New York, where they are free to live their lives unconventionally but in accordance with their natures.

Moreover, the early gay liberation movement was often allied with the progressive hippy counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, and, like the hippies, many lesbians and gay men regarded going "back to the land" an essential part of building community and spirituality.

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This reverence for the land finds contemporary expression in the Radical Faeries, a movement founded by gay rights pioneer Harry Hay in 1979. The group sponsors gatherings of the tribe in rural settings, such as Blue Heron Farm in DeKalb, New York; Kawashaway Sanctuary in Minnesota; Short Mountain Sanctuary in central Tennessee; and Wolf Creek Sanctuary in southern Oregon. In these enclaves, the faeries commune with nature away from the distortions of an urban environment.

Similarly, many lesbians retreated to the countryside in the 1970s, forming women's land trusts to allow a wide range of women access to a rural lifestyle. Some women's land remains in existence today, including the Oregon Women's Land Trust (OWL), founded during the 1970s near Coos Bay, Oregon; the Huntington Open Women's Land Trust (HOWL), established in 1986 in northwestern Vermont; and Camp Sister Spirit, founded in Ovett, Mississippi in 1993.

It is no coincidence that the largest annual celebration of women's music, the legendary Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, which was launched in 1976, is held on 650 acres of privately owned women's land in remote Hart, Michigan.

At the same time, however, it is well to remember that both the pastoral and the Western frequently have tragic endings. In the film Brokeback Mountain, directed by Ang Lee and based on Annie Proulx's short story, for example, the love between two men is doomed at least in part by the and violence sometimes said to be endemic to rural life.

Country Life

While many glbtq people who were raised rurally have found it necessary to leave the countryside in order to come out, others, economically or emotionally bound to their families or to the land itself, have stayed, often living closeted lives, but sometimes finding creative ways to build queer community where they live.

In addition, many gay and lesbian people, whether born in the country or the city, simply prefer the slower pace of small-town or rural life to the stressful rat race of urban existence, and find that they are happiest where they feel a greater connection with the earth and with the seasons of the year.

Even though rural areas are often perceived as socially and politically conservative and even dangerous for glbtq people, many glbtq people are drawn to the country for its beauty, peace, and promise of a more natural and self-sufficient lifestyle.

Recent demographic studies based on the 2000 census have revealed that self-identified gay and lesbian couples live in 99% of the counties in the United States. Although gay rural life has sometimes been described as the embodiment of the "don't ask, don't tell" mentality, and some rural gay men and lesbians have reported anxiety over a felt need to hide their sexual orientation, in even the most conservative of American rural areas, there are gay and lesbian couples who feel safe enough to identify themselves on confidential census documents if not necessarily to their neighbors.

Still, the biggest challenge of rural life for glbtq people is a feeling of social and geographic isolation and invisibility. In some rural areas, there simply may not be enough out gay men and lesbians to constitute a community or to allow one to connect with others. The social and geographic isolation and invisibility experienced by rural gay men and lesbians is both the cause and effect of a general lack of resources in the broader community to support citizens who identify as gay or lesbian.

Nevertheless, most rural gay men and lesbians do form friendship groups and make connections with other gay men and lesbians in the country. Through these friendship circles, gay people in rural areas can become visible, at least to each other.

Indeed, as Paul Cogan has observed, "Friendship is a central element of rural gay life. Through friendship, rural gays are able to create, transform, maintain, and reproduce their identities and communities."

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