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social sciences

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Rural Life  
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Though community has often been seen as an urban phenomenon, there have always been glbtq people who, by choice or necessity, live in rural areas. Rural life offers both challenges and satisfactions for glbtq people.


Perhaps the most familiar narrative of "coming out" begins with a young person who lives in a small town or rural area realizing that they are gay or lesbian and deciding to move to the big city where they are more likely to meet others who share their sexual interests.

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This plot-line informs literary works as different as Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar (1948) and Ann Bannon's Beebo Brinker series of pulp novels (1957-1962).

The narrative is not merely the stuff of literature. Historians of homosexuality have posited that in the pre-modern era, the rise of large cities was a prerequisite to the development of a subculture of sexual minorities. Certainly, the anonymity afforded by cities facilitated same-sex sexual activity, while the sheer numbers of people in cities made possible the creation of communities based on minority sexual interests.

Similarly, the disruptions of World War I and World War II both hastened the urbanization of the United States and contributed to the development of an American glbtq community that made possible the twentieth-century gay rights movement.

In these wars, hundreds of thousands of young men, many from small towns and rural areas, were thrown together in situations where they were free to form associative networks based on their sexual interests and identities, while women, including lesbians, were afforded new employment opportunities that gave them hitherto unknown independence.

Many of these gay men and lesbians chose not to return to their rural roots, and instead remained in cities such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles, where they could participate in burgeoning gay and lesbian communities.

As the nation became increasingly urbanized during the twentieth century, American gay men and lesbians migrated from rural areas and small towns to find work in cities where they could pursue their sexual interests and live their lives more freely than they could in small towns. Hence, cities became the locus of gay and lesbian life in the United States.

At the heart of this familiar story are assumptions that go beyond the indisputable fact that large cities offer gay men and lesbians more potential partners than they are likely to find in less populated areas.

One assumption is that rural areas are unsophisticated and intolerant. Another is that cities not only offer a zone of privacy and anonymity that rural areas do not, but also that gay and lesbian community is dependent on the amenities customarily found in urban "gay ghettoes," such as clubs and bars and restaurants and other businesses that cater to sexual minorities, as well as the legal protections and social validation that cities often provide glbtq individuals.

There is some truth to those assumptions, but it is important to realize that there are alternative narratives to the familiar one of rural gay men and lesbians finding happiness in the city.

Indeed, one of the earliest literary genres associated with homosexuality is the pastoral, in which the country setting signifies the naturalness and innocence of homosexuality. This genre, which evokes nostalgia for a long-past golden age before the artificiality of city life corrupted human interaction, represents rural life as idyllic and unpretentious, simple and genuine, especially as opposed to the artificiality and competitiveness of the city.

In the distinctively American narrative genre, the Western, which frequently includes elements of the pastoral, often leads to intense, though usually suppressed or barely recognized, . This homoeroticism is rendered explicit in such fantasies as Richard Amory's Song of the Loon (1966) and its sequels Song of Aaron (1967) and Listen, the Loon Sings (1968), which celebrate love-making in the great outdoors, including passionate encounters between frontiersmen and Native Americans, and in Ronald Donaghe's Common Sons (2000), The Blind Season (2001), and The Gathering (2006), novels in which unapologetic gay men live openly and defiantly in rural New Mexico.

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T. Joe Murray's film, Farm Family: In Search of Gay Life in Rural America (2004) is one of several documentaries that address glbtq rural life.
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