Continuation of Classism within Queer Activism

In Dykes to Look Out For, the group of women travel to D.C. for a rally but must stop at a rest stop in a rural area of the US. While sitting at the stop, two very masculine cowboys approach the group and ask if they’re headed to Washington. The women are apprehensive, responding in a protective manner before the cowboys explain that they’re on the same journey. The women share a chuckle as they realize their own assumptions- that people in rural America are overwhelmingly homophobic, bigoted, and dangerous.

This theme of negative stereotypes directed at rural working-class Americans has been reoccurring throughout the semester, first in Exile and Pride and again in Brokeback Mountain. I think this phenomenon is both extremely interesting and important, especially within our own political climate, as people from rural areas of the US are often demonized. However, this demonization does not come without reason. With the advent of Donald Trump, and the blatant displays of bigotry that his followers idolize, came a rise in hate crimes and language. Obviously, this is terrifying for any American who is not white, straight, or cis. The face of Trump’s followers is a working-class, white man from the rural south. Even though it’s true that not every Trump supporter matches these characteristics, many of his most outspoken supporters do. These specific stereotypes and fears stem from images we’ve seen of these characteristics- a screaming man decked out in all Trump gear at a rally, a mass shooter being escorted out of a church in handcuffs, etc. It is easy to understand why queer people and activists would form these stereotypes.

Although this is understandable, these stereotypes still bring harm to the people within these rural communities who do not align themselves with hateful political ideology. By establishing these stereotypes as truth, like saying “all southern people are racist”, we limit the existence of working-class and rural queer-identifying people with cruel and classist rhetoric. These stereotypes, in conjunction with cultural norms surrounding masculinity, contribute to the suffering Jack and Ennis endured in Brokeback Mountain. Even though Jack and Ennis were queer-identifying men, they were subjected to the same stereotypes queer-activists apply to modern-day Trump supporters. Even though activists have good intentions, these stereotypes often mirror the same social restrictions that they fight so tirelessly against. This quote from Exile and Pride perfectly sums up my argument, stereotypes against rural Americans are problematic and contradictory to the movement as a whole; “if queer activists and communities don’t create the “options that hold the promise of wholeness [and] freedom” for all queer people, rural as well as urban, working-class and poor as well as middle- and upper-class, we have failed. And if we fail, those of us who are rural or rural-raised, poor and working-class, even mixed-class, will have to continue to make difficult choices, to measure what our losses are worth.”(46)


4 thoughts on “Continuation of Classism within Queer Activism”

  1. Hi Emma! I really love the focus of this blog post. I think that another point to this argument is how the stereotyping done in these types of media happens, it also pushes a very elitist narrative that is frankly unappealing to the rural South (or anywhere rural). I am from a more rural community and I see so many people who continue to have bigoted beliefs or support politicians like Trump because everybody else shares the ideas that they are uneducated or “hicks.” While I don’t support the beliefs of many of these people, it is easy to understand how the elitism/classism within activists communities makes it seem exclusionary of rural people, which continues a political divide when it is entirely possible as well that it could create a less polarizing state and that some people in these spaces would be more open to joining activist movements if they did not feel isolated either. It is a very nuanced discussion and hard to decide what to do when wanting to protect marginalized communities but also not ostracize those in rural communities who may share the same beliefs as well.

  2. This is a thorough examination of intersectional thought in regards to the perception of rural areas of the country. I don’t think it’s necessarily a stereotyping problem but rather a representation problem: even in Brokeback Mountain, we’re treated to tropes of homophobia in the South and what not.

    There’s a line of realism that is acceptable, and far too often I think media takes that line and crosses it to keep reiterating a problem that is far more magnified in these stories. Instances of Southern/rural homophobia end up being conflated as a much larger issue, and dominate the conversation that takes away from very real, very valid queer experiences in the South.

  3. Hi! I found the way you discuss stereotypes as truth extremely revealing and compelling. We all make snap judgements and assumptions about people based on physical/visual qualities. Growing up I had always been told don’t judge a book by its cover but to also not trust strangers. Our society has learned that certain qualities are deemed good, safe, trustworthy; and others are deemed bad, dangerous, sketchy. I 100% agree with you that stereotyping is harmful. So how do we as a society teach each other how to unlearn these problematic habits?

  4. Hi Emma! I agree with your argument- while there are certainly real dangers in the rural south, especially for queer identifying people, we establish rural spaces as solely areas to escape. Not only does this imply that there is no queer thrivance in the rural south but it also implies that the rural south is a place that should be abandoned and left untouched. It is easy to escape and forget about homophobic spaces for sure, and it is sometimes necessary if there is a concern of safety. But ultimately, these are not the spaces to be left untouched- they should be uplifted, re-established, and in some cases re-educated in order to become safer spaces for queer-identifying citizens.

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