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)


Rural Queerness and Nature

Jack and Ennis’ love story in Brokeback Mountain is a story of gay men yearning for a place within their extremely masculine and exclusionary community. Jack and Ennis were both born in very poor and rural areas in Wyoming. Their occupations require backbreaking and terrifying hard labor- leading sheep through the ridges of Brokeback mountain. The culture they belong to celebrates individualism, hard work, and masculinity- while completely rejecting homosexuality. Both men were apprehensive when realizing their attraction, fearing what this development would mean for their future and safety. The only time they feel safe enough to be intimate is totally secluded from their community and in nature, never able to share their sexuality with those they love.

This interaction between homosexuality and hyper-masculine culture reminds of Eli Clare’s connection to his home in Exile and Pride. Clare describes an environment strongly connected to the land, cushioned between the pacific ocean and Siskiyou mountains. While Clare feels a strong sense of pride in his homeland, he also recounts the rampant homophobia and bigotry that caused him to seek out a more accepting environment. While it is true that Clare faced oppression and violence in his home of rural Oregan, he urges the reader to avoid generalization. Rural America is stereotyped as being firmly anti-queer and conservative, restricting existence for anyone with an identity that isn’t white, cis, and straight. While some Americans may certainly behave in this way, Clare reminds us that queer people were born and exist in these communities. Despite their oppression, queer people from rural America form the same bonds with their environment and culture that straight people do. An appreciation for nature and a tightly knit community will always be a part of them, even if homophobia drives them away.

“In writing about the backwoods and the rural, white, working-class culture found there, I am not being nostalgic, reaching backward toward a re-creation of the past. Rather I am reaching towards my bones”(Clare, 12).

This quote perfectly describes Clare’s dichotomy of resistance and pride. Resistance to the bigotry and trauma he experienced in his hometown and pride in the environment that birthed him. This idea connects to Ennis and Jack relationship’s with their communities and each other. When their relationship first began, both men knew that they had to keep their time together a secret. In their “real” lives they had to work, be married to women, and produce children. Attempting to build a life together was almost out of the question, two men living together could lead to death and violence. Since they could not be together in their community, Ennis and Jack connect through their environment. Their most intimate and happiest times together were spent in tents on Brokeback mountain- totally isolated in the environment that bonds them together in shared connectivity. When ostracized from the communities they were born into, Clare, Ennis, and Jack reach for the embrace of nature, one that would never reject them for their identities. Queer people exist in rural areas and deserve support and representation without being lumped into the stereotype of “bigots” or being excluded from their communities.

The Legacy of Biochemical Warfare in “Pedagogy”

Qwo-Li Driskills’ poem Pedagogy, describes the impact of medical abuse endured by Native Americans in our modern age. The history between the United States government and biochemical warfare enacted against Native people is a long one, beginning with intentionally placed smallpox blankets to poverty-induced carbon monoxide poisoning. Redlining and genocide have forced Native Americans to live on reservations that often have restricted access to grocery stores, hospitals, and schools. Reservations began as prisoner camps and now house millions of Native Americans in mostly dilapidated and crowded homes. Driskill writes about these experiences in Pedagogy, while also describing their simultaneous dismissal and usage of higher education.

I worry about the cancer cells on my little sister’s cervix

My oldest sister’s gallstones

The hepatitis C in my father’s liver

The most recent accidental carbon monoxide poisoning that put my mother in bed for days

I am worrying about my friend who can’t leave the house because of toxic air

my partner’s depression and HIV

Through the listing of their loved one’s ailments, Driskill addresses a wide array of commonly experienced illnesses that befall Native communities. Carbon monoxide poisoning and toxic air can both be attributed to poor housing/living conditions on reservations. Native people are often forced to live in overly crowded multi-generational homes that would sometimes be considered inhabitable. The line regarding depression is also a sweeping issue on reservations as mental healthcare, and healthcare, in general, is extremely hard to come by.  This segment of the poem is extremely powerful- Driskill points to the lack of medical care and deplorable living conditions that are literally killing millions of Native Americans.

What does this classroom have to do with you anyway?

What does it have to do with any of us?

You are here because Dad said

or to finally get out of that damn town

or to survive a country whose tongue yearns for your blood

This class will not save you

This class will not save any of us

I pray you take some words with you

like sharpened spoons ferry them away up your sleeves

under your tongues

Throughout their segments regarding education, Driskill describes college as useless but also as a tool for survival. They feel out of place in academic settings, feeling as though their time spent in class has nothing to do with them or their incredibly complicated life. Education will not solve all of Driskill’s very real problems, but as the last line reads, can be used as a tool against the violent oppression that consistently tries to silence Native voices.

This poem powerfully articulates the struggles of young Native Americans who strain under the weight of generational trauma and the pressures of success. Qwo-Li Driskill’s poem highlights this constant battle in a way that poignantly describes Native peoples’ pain through art.


Analysis of Addie’s Jealousy

“I thought I told you about the girl sleeping with me whether I injoyed it or not. I can’t say that I injoyed it very much. I don’t care about her sleeping with me again. I don’t know what kind of excitement I refer to now. I presume I know at the time. I can’t recalled.”(186)

Addie Brown and Rebecca Primus’ relationship, analyzed in No Kisses Like Yours, points to a deeper understanding of female relationships in the 19th century. The two women, both African American living in Hartford, provide insight into their intimate relationship through their recovered letters. This quote comes from a point in the letters where Rebecca is telling Addie about a woman she met while teaching in the American south. She wrote about the women’s desire to have “bosom sex” with her, a sex act that Addie is familiar with. Rebecca shares a bed with this woman, indicated by her writing that this is where bosom sex is expected to occur. Addie responds jealously to this information causing Rebecca to respond with the above quote. She responds rather defensively to Addie’s jealousy and puts on an air of impartiality. She acts as if she can’t remember her own desire from the night she slept with the woman and reassures Addie that it was no big deal.

Their relationship is difficult to apply contemporary examples of queerness to as LGBTQ identities hold a very different place in our culture than in the 19th century. At the time, middle-class white women also enjoyed “romantic” friendships with other women- including kissing, terms of endearment, and bed-sharing. Addie and Rebecca’s relationship differentiates from white female relationships as they clearly display examples of eroticism in their letters. This quote explicitly points to their eroticism as Addie feels jealous after Rebecca expresses her interest in another woman and subsequently denies her excitement later.

“I can’t say that I injoyed it very much. I don’t care about her sleeping with me again. I don’t know what kind of excitement I refer to now.” In this line, Rebecca feigns amnesia and can’t seem to recall why she slept with the woman in the first place. She seems to have felt some excitement for the other woman at some point if she was willing to sleep with her and possibly encounter the sexual intimacy that comes from sharing a bed with Addie.

Through this retort to jealousy, we can understand Rebecca and Addie’s relationship as queer and sexual- with examples of them feeling both sexual attraction and jealousy. This quote, in particular, expresses their commitment to each other and solidifies that sleeping with another woman would imply sex acts that Addie and Rebecca frequently experienced.