Urban Bodies and Rural Spaces in “Dykes to Watch Out For”

In Allison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For, there is a brief comic strip that takes place in a Howard Johnson’s in middle America. Prior to this episode, the women are driving from a different city to Washington DC to attend an LGBT rights march. From the beginning of the vignette, it is clear that the women are uncomfortable in a rural setting. The comic’s illustrations portray the women as angry and nervous. Someone complains that the chili has meat in it, and Mo is frustrated that a child asked his mom if she is a boy or a girl. The episode gets incredibly tense when two white cowboys approach their table, and Harriet grips her fork as if she is prepared to physically defend herself by stabbing one of the men. Thankfully, the women assumed wrong; it appears that the men are a couple from Iowa who are also on their way to the same march. 

Dykes to Watch Out For primarily focuses on a queer community in an urban setting, but for a brief moment, this episode focuses on queer, urbanized bodies in rural spaces. These women are clearly used to urban anonymity and ability to live in queer communities, and those commodities are taken from them once they are in a rural space. Out of defense, the women insult surrounding people, calling them “corn fed kids” and “escapees from Heritage USA” (Bechdel 17). Additionally, it is important to note that the women appear closed off and distant from everyone else in the restaurant, which is a stark contrast to Cafe-Topaz’s close-knit atmosphere. Based on these observations it is clear that these women assume that rural spaces are not only homophobic areas to escape, but are also areas that lack queerness entirely. Because they are in a rural space, these women assume they are the only queer people at the HoJos. Proof of this mindset is further reinforced after the two rural-looking men from Iowa tell the women that they are also on their way to the LGBT rights march in DC– illustrations portray Harriet and Mo’s faces as shocked and surprised before looking relieved. 

The idea of rural queerness is not new to me, as I have just spent the past half a semester reading stories that illustrate these identities and communities. Yet for many people, this episode of Dykes to Watch Out For might be a revelation. Through consistently written stories of marginalization, many people believe that rural spaces are unsafe for queer bodies and should be escaped. I acknowledge that these narratives are important to read and that homophobia in the countryside is a real issue. Yet sometimes these narratives go so far to say that queerness in rural spaces do not exist, and homophobia exists because queer bodies are incredibly rare and easily singled out. I think that Bechdel does a really nice job of acknowledging the lesbians’ discomfort of spending a night in middle America AND acknowledging that the main characters in Dykes to Watch Out For are not the only queer people in the county.

One thought on “Urban Bodies and Rural Spaces in “Dykes to Watch Out For””

  1. I agree that this is an interesting point worth talking about. It’s interesting that those from a marginalized group, like the characters from Bechdel’s comic, would so readily make assumptions about people based on appearances. I think it’s understandable as a defense mechanism against discrimination, because it’s not safe to assume every person is friendly and supportive of the LGBT community in some cases, but still it’s interesting to note. It speaks to the severity of homophobic discrimination that these sort of harmful stereotypes often emerge as a result, for both the “cowboys” and the “dykes” in the case of this comic, which allows a cycle of hatred to persevere.

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