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Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States

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A transgender reporter's narrative tour through the surprisingly vibrant queer communities sprouting up in red states, offering a vision of a stronger, more humane America. Ten years ago, Samantha Allen was a suit-and-tie-wearing Mormon missionary. Now she's a senior Daily Beast reporter happily married to another woman. A lot in her life has changed, but what hasn't chang A transgender reporter's narrative tour through the surprisingly vibrant queer communities sprouting up in red states, offering a vision of a stronger, more humane America. Ten years ago, Samantha Allen was a suit-and-tie-wearing Mormon missionary. Now she's a senior Daily Beast reporter happily married to another woman. A lot in her life has changed, but what hasn't changed is her deep love of Red State America, and of queer people who stay in so-called "flyover country" rather than moving to the liberal coasts. In Real Queer America, Allen takes us on a cross-country road-trip stretching all the way from Provo, Utah to the Rio Grande Valley to the Bible Belt to the Deep South. Her motto for the trip: "Something gay every day." Making pit stops at drag shows, political rallies, and hubs of queer life across the heartland, she introduces us to scores of extraordinary LGBT people working for change, from the first openly transgender mayor in Texas history to the manager of the only queer night club in Bloomington, Indiana, and many more. Capturing profound cultural shifts underway in unexpected places and revealing a national network of chosen family fighting for a better world, Real Queer America is a treasure trove of uplifting stories and a much-needed source of hope and inspiration in these divided times.


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A transgender reporter's narrative tour through the surprisingly vibrant queer communities sprouting up in red states, offering a vision of a stronger, more humane America. Ten years ago, Samantha Allen was a suit-and-tie-wearing Mormon missionary. Now she's a senior Daily Beast reporter happily married to another woman. A lot in her life has changed, but what hasn't chang A transgender reporter's narrative tour through the surprisingly vibrant queer communities sprouting up in red states, offering a vision of a stronger, more humane America. Ten years ago, Samantha Allen was a suit-and-tie-wearing Mormon missionary. Now she's a senior Daily Beast reporter happily married to another woman. A lot in her life has changed, but what hasn't changed is her deep love of Red State America, and of queer people who stay in so-called "flyover country" rather than moving to the liberal coasts. In Real Queer America, Allen takes us on a cross-country road-trip stretching all the way from Provo, Utah to the Rio Grande Valley to the Bible Belt to the Deep South. Her motto for the trip: "Something gay every day." Making pit stops at drag shows, political rallies, and hubs of queer life across the heartland, she introduces us to scores of extraordinary LGBT people working for change, from the first openly transgender mayor in Texas history to the manager of the only queer night club in Bloomington, Indiana, and many more. Capturing profound cultural shifts underway in unexpected places and revealing a national network of chosen family fighting for a better world, Real Queer America is a treasure trove of uplifting stories and a much-needed source of hope and inspiration in these divided times.

30 review for Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd)

    I have so many thoughts about this brilliant book and I don’t know how I’ll ever say them all in a video. Maybe it deserves its own dedicated discussion just to break down the incredible breadth and heart of this story and the queer communities we create in conservative states. I know that it has impacted me in a myriad of ways and I will never stop recommending it, and I implore you to pick it up if you want to see the colorful queerness in America today. There are so many of us, and we are so I have so many thoughts about this brilliant book and I don’t know how I’ll ever say them all in a video. Maybe it deserves its own dedicated discussion just to break down the incredible breadth and heart of this story and the queer communities we create in conservative states. I know that it has impacted me in a myriad of ways and I will never stop recommending it, and I implore you to pick it up if you want to see the colorful queerness in America today. There are so many of us, and we are so powerful. And those of us born and bred in red states are tough motherfuckers who are going to fight for our right to change the world.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Madalyn (Novel Ink)

    This one hit me DEEP, and this is a book that I think will always hold a dear place in my heart. Fellow queer folks, especially those in red states: this is a must-read. Samantha Allen perfectly captured the unique experience of being queer in a conservative community, and both the wonderful and not-so-great things about it. And the Atlanta chapter? So much love. I will be thinking about these stories for quite a long time to come!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bookphile

    I found this both interesting and moving. As a straight, cis person who wants to be a good ally, this book provided me a lot of insight. RTC Full review: As a straight, cis person who wants to be a good ally, I picked this book up to give me a broader perspective of the lives of LGBTQ people, especially since most of the media focus seems to be on those living in the more liberal coastal enclaves. The premise of the book intrigued me, because as the author points out throughout the course of the b I found this both interesting and moving. As a straight, cis person who wants to be a good ally, this book provided me a lot of insight. RTC Full review: As a straight, cis person who wants to be a good ally, I picked this book up to give me a broader perspective of the lives of LGBTQ people, especially since most of the media focus seems to be on those living in the more liberal coastal enclaves. The premise of the book intrigued me, because as the author points out throughout the course of the book, LGBTQ have created homes for themselves everywhere, even in seemingly hostile places. To prove this, she sets out on a road trip with a friend, winding a path across red states to meet up with and learn about the various communities LGBTQ people have carved out for themselves. I myself don't live in a red state, nor do I live in a liberal coastal enclave, but my own home state has lots of work to do when it comes to advancing the civil rights of LGBTQ people, and I've often wondered why anyone who is LGBTQ would want to live in a place that refuses to recognize their basic humanity. I have to say, this book surprised me. I admire the tenacity and determination of those living in states with laws that blatantly discriminate against them. So many of the people Allen profiles in this book express frustration with the draconian laws where they live, yet they don't want to move because they're determined to effect change. It's not hyperbole to say that they may be putting their lives at risk in the interest of helping forward progress. However, it's also clear that while the areas where they live may not be entirely safe for them--many of them speak about being afraid to walk down the street holding hands with their same-sex spouse--they have also managed to create safe spaces. I was particularly touched by the story of Encircle, an LGBTQ center in Utah. As Allen notes, the leading cause of death for young people in Utah is suicide, and a big factor in the alarming rate of suicide among Utah youth is the vehemently anti-LGBTQ position the state has taken. The Mormon church plays a big role in this, since the vast majority of state legislators are of Mormon faith, and the faith itself not only refuses to accept LGBTQ people, it actively excommunicates them. Encircle provides a much-needed place for LGBTQ youth to go where they can truly be themselves and be accepted. It is literally life-saving. Yet while it is wonderful to know that such a place exists, it's a cure for the symptoms, not the disease, as Allen illustrates. While she clearly dislikes what she terms as the cliquishness of the liberal coastal enclaves, she also vividly illustrates how those progressive enclaves aren't enough, and how problematic anti-LGBTQ laws and attitudes are. Teenagers and young adults are literally dying because they live in areas that refuse to acknowledge their humanity. As Allen shows, LGBTQ people need to create these communities for themselves as a matter of life and death. But the only real way to save LGBTQ people and put an end to generations of pain and suffering is by reversing discriminatory laws and changing prejudiced attitudes. By creating communities in areas hostile to their rights, the LGBTQ communities in red states are providing much-needed visibility to the LGBTQ community as a whole. As with any -ism or prejudice (racism, sexism, Islamophobia, etc), the cure is exposure to people who are part of these marginalized groups, so that those with privilege and power learn that the people they fear are really just like them. There's no real way of sitting in comfort with this knowledge, though, since it's very troubling to know that some human beings have to put their lives at risk to convince other human beings that they deserve to be treated like human beings. I think what impressed me most about this book, though, was how strong and committed these LGBTQ communities are. Yes, necessity plays a role in their commitment, but what stands out is the fierceness of their love for the places they live in. They want to make the places they live better for everyone, so however little some of those places might want to acknowledge it, they are the richer for the presence of their LGBTQ communities. I'm old enough that I've lived to see progress happen in what seems to be leaps and bounds. I remember the days of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, when states were passing laws prohibiting people from marrying the person they loved, and when the majority opinion was against LGBTQ people and their rights. I was shocked and delighted when the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land. (Frankly, I didn't think it would happen for some time to come. Boy, am I glad I was wrong about that!) I'm also uplifted by American youth, whose views on sexuality and gender identity are so vastly different from those of my generation and the generations before us. But for as much progress as has been made, there's still a lot more to be done, and while I'm grateful for and respect the LGBTQ people who have taken it upon themselves to make America pay attention, I'm also increasingly aware of the part straight allies have to play. We can't just sit back and let our LGBTQ brothers and sisters take the responsibility on themselves, we need to acknowledge the systemic forces contributing to their oppression and do our part to dismantle those systems.

  4. 5 out of 5

    TK

    This audiobook helped me pin point some of my feelings about queer organizing in the US South and my feelings around being a transplant from the NE. But I am not without criticism of this book. Many of these are based on my expectations of the book. I was expecting the book to be a little heavier on the road trip narrative- instead it leans on modern queer history. This is not inherently bad, but since much of the recent history is lived history for me I found myself being disappointed that the This audiobook helped me pin point some of my feelings about queer organizing in the US South and my feelings around being a transplant from the NE. But I am not without criticism of this book. Many of these are based on my expectations of the book. I was expecting the book to be a little heavier on the road trip narrative- instead it leans on modern queer history. This is not inherently bad, but since much of the recent history is lived history for me I found myself being disappointed that the stories weren't more of the center. This isn't to say those stories aren't rich and relatable- I just wanted more of them. My other criticism is how autobiographical the story is overall- again no inherently bad but it also pushed the narrative further from the other voices and stories in the book and centers Samantha Allen in the narrative more often than not. I really did enjoy this and I did end up learning a lot and having a whole range of emotional moments I think I just wanted a deeper delve into the rich history and diversity of the Southern States.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brooke

    As a small town Southern queer, I want everyone to read this book. Not everyone can, should, or *wants* to leave their Southern and Midwestern towns. Those that stay build a better future for everyone that comes after. I hope this is especially eye opening to those in urban enclaves like San Francisco, New York, LA, and Chicago: there are beautiful, thriving queer communities everywhere. The book itself meanders and doubles back on itself a few times, but I can't fault it too much - it is, after As a small town Southern queer, I want everyone to read this book. Not everyone can, should, or *wants* to leave their Southern and Midwestern towns. Those that stay build a better future for everyone that comes after. I hope this is especially eye opening to those in urban enclaves like San Francisco, New York, LA, and Chicago: there are beautiful, thriving queer communities everywhere. The book itself meanders and doubles back on itself a few times, but I can't fault it too much - it is, after all, a road trip.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    The story of an endlessly endearing queer trans journalist who sets out on a road trip to prove that middle America is not just as queer, but queerer, than the coastal havens? Yes please! To start with, Samantha Allen’s unique voice comes through so strongly in this book, turning what could be a dry list of statistics and anecdotes into an engrossing journey full of humor, vulnerability, insightfulness and joy. Her voice is joined by the voices of her road brother Billy and everyone they meet alo The story of an endlessly endearing queer trans journalist who sets out on a road trip to prove that middle America is not just as queer, but queerer, than the coastal havens? Yes please! To start with, Samantha Allen’s unique voice comes through so strongly in this book, turning what could be a dry list of statistics and anecdotes into an engrossing journey full of humor, vulnerability, insightfulness and joy. Her voice is joined by the voices of her road brother Billy and everyone they meet along the way. What results is a beautiful tapestry of, well, the real queer america. Allen does an excellent job of blending interviews and research with her personal experience to paint an eye-opening picture of what it’s really like to be queer in ‘red’ states. She makes a compelling case for the idea that America is incredibly queer, and that queerness is more potent, more inclusive, and even more important in the southern/midwestern oases she visits. She doesn’t have much love for ostensibly queer-friendly places like New York and San Francisco, for some good reasons. She loves the south and the people she interviews love it too, fiercely. It’s a perspective not often present in the media and I found it very moving and thought-provoking. It made me question my own queer haven of Seattle, and how queer it really is. Tbh most of my friends are straight, and even though I love them dearly I don’t feel like I have the same kind of queer family found in the places Allen describes. To be clear, Allen doesn’t brush off the very real discrimination and lack of rights faced by LGBTQIA+ people in these states, especially those who are POC. She includes a lot of discussion about these realities, but makes the important point that places known for being queer friendly can be just as discriminatory. I know this to be true in Seattle and in other big ‘gay’ cities. Ultimately it’s the sense of community and family among all the people of the LGBTQIA+ umbrella in these southern oases that I found to be the most vital heart of the story. This book is well-written and well-researched, and it’s a blast to read, but the thing I appreciate most about it is that it made me question my own role in getting too comfortable with sitting in my safe bubble and dismissing red states as scary places for queers. The whole world is scary, for queers and for everyone, and the stories in this book made me want to be more involved in fighting discrimination everywhere. I highly recommend this read to everybody, especially if you’re a coastal queer. I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, opinions are my own.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ryan McIlvain

    What really surprised me in this memoir-cum-travelogue-cum-sociological-study was not how smart it was but how fun! I've come to expect remarkable insight from Allen--that's long been on display in her reporting and editorializing on LGBT issues in The Daily Beast. Yet something about the long form here liberates her to be consequential and breezy at the same time, colloquial and lyrical, dropping statistics (but not too many!) alongside seemingly throwaway lines of sharp poetic beauty. "Time is What really surprised me in this memoir-cum-travelogue-cum-sociological-study was not how smart it was but how fun! I've come to expect remarkable insight from Allen--that's long been on display in her reporting and editorializing on LGBT issues in The Daily Beast. Yet something about the long form here liberates her to be consequential and breezy at the same time, colloquial and lyrical, dropping statistics (but not too many!) alongside seemingly throwaway lines of sharp poetic beauty. "Time is mostly measured in dog walks," Allen writes about a visit to friends and queer activists in Tennessee. "By day we take Doc, Red, and Lilly around the neighborhood in the musty aftermath of the summer rain. By night we go to the flooded quarry in neighboring Elizabethton, under an overcast sky illuminated by a full Aquarius moon." The musty aftermath of summer rain! That's so right! And yet until that sentence I hadn't been given the eloquence to fit the feeling. I'm nerding out to sentences, inevitably, but that really is one of the chief pleasures of this short book. And I can see how the importance and news worthiness of Real Queer America might crowd out appreciation of its elegant form, its humor, and all the great scenes of late-night eating, drinking, dancing, talking and laughing among friends and allies. So let me appreciate! This book is a reminder that social progress often happens not in spite of friendships and loveships but exactly because of them, through them. And that an important and timely book about the strength of queer America can double as a beautiful portrait gallery of twenty-first-century Americans.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gary Beauregard Bottomley

    Our self identity is a complex thing. It gets stamped on to us from the community around us including the bars we go to, the churches we prayer in and the malls we shop at. Our image of ourselves that others stamped onto us gets formed into shaping our character. What we authentically think and desire for ourselves forms the masks that we wear as we present it to the world and ourselves, and it helps creates our personality, who we strive to be and to become despite the distractions, ambiguities Our self identity is a complex thing. It gets stamped on to us from the community around us including the bars we go to, the churches we prayer in and the malls we shop at. Our image of ourselves that others stamped onto us gets formed into shaping our character. What we authentically think and desire for ourselves forms the masks that we wear as we present it to the world and ourselves, and it helps creates our personality, who we strive to be and to become despite the distractions, ambiguities, and the mood of the world that we are thrown into through mere chance and circumstance. Bars, churches and malls are dying a slow merciful death. They each are disappearing at a faster rate than their replacement rate. They are becoming less influential in shaping our character. I mentioned bars because a lot of the author’s travels seemed to focus around bars (or at least night clubs or social gathering places with drinking, music and such). I mentioned churches because they legitimize the ‘hurtful demeaning’ of people not conforming to the imaginary norms of the prevailing mob, and I mentioned malls because they at one time were a central meeting place for consumers at large. My real point is that things which lie outside of us shape who we are and distracts us from our ownmost selves by entangling us in the ‘they’ around us through the idle chatter that permeates us and takes us further away from the self that allows us to understand ourselves most appropriately. Let’s face it. All the places the author travels to on her journey tended to be populated by people who support a person who says ‘windmills cause cancer’, calls people ‘varmints and animals’, thinks ‘climate change is a Chinese hoax’, says ‘vaccines cause autism’, and recently babbled something about transgender people don’t belong in the military because of reasons only known to him, and chose Mike Pence a homophobe admired by homophobes for his vice president, and believes in separating and caging children from their parents in order to convince hateful rubes to the efficacy of his immigration policy. I find all of those items vile and really have a hard time tolerating, associating or not holding my noise around people who enable that kind of behavior. Without a doubt the ‘they’, the idle chatter, and the entanglements and the attunement (mood of our world) that surrounds us influence who we become, and I would prefer not to be around those people if given a choice, but I am fully cognizant that most of life is about survival and we do what we have to do to survive, and that there are ‘nine million stories in the naked city’ and each of us have a complex interconnected web that determines what we do even if that means associating with bigots, Trump enablers or haters. The epilog had a story of a Baptist Preacher in Texas who realized her conformist ways towards one of her flock was ‘hurtfully demeaning’ and she realized that it was time to change her hurtful judgmental ways. As I mentioned, the number of new churches being built is less than the number of churches disappearing. Fundamentalist (or Mormons and Trump enablers and supporters) are still predominate in all of the places the author visited on her travels. The hate is still there, but seems to get less than the day before. That’s a good thing, but it is still there and people will still have to find ways to walk and talk around the hate when most appropriate and in the process compromise who they are at their corps more so than one would have to in most other places. The author’s real point is that anybody who does not conform to the norms of the society at large can still have a meaningful and fulfilling life even if surrounded by bigots and Trump enablers. She’s right, but compromises and adjustments will be required and the world around us does contribute to who we become and helps define our purpose and meaning since no person is an island and complete within themselves. This book did have a good narrative when she was talking about her own experiences. It misfires with ignoring how toxic and hateful bigots, Trump supporters, Evangelicals and Mormons can be. (I noticed today (4/8/19), the NYT tells me Poland is no longer limiting their hate to immigrants, but they want to have a more inclusive hate and now are coming for gays and other non-conforming to the imaginary mean humans for no reason but to hate and spread their hate. I don’t think I’ll be moving to Poland).

  9. 4 out of 5

    ☼Shannon☼

    Won in a Goodreads giveaway Samantha Allen embarks on a road trip to show us how LGBTQ live in seemingly LGBTQ unfriendly areas. Along the way she visits LGBTQ hot spots and interviews the people who run them or some other noteworthy people about what drives them, why they stay, etc. I don't identify as LGBTQ (heteroromantic asexual in a hetero marriage) but it seemed like a good portrayal of LGBTQ life. The places she travels to are : Provo Utah, Texas, Bloomington Indiana, Johnson City Tennesse Won in a Goodreads giveaway Samantha Allen embarks on a road trip to show us how LGBTQ live in seemingly LGBTQ unfriendly areas. Along the way she visits LGBTQ hot spots and interviews the people who run them or some other noteworthy people about what drives them, why they stay, etc. I don't identify as LGBTQ (heteroromantic asexual in a hetero marriage) but it seemed like a good portrayal of LGBTQ life. The places she travels to are : Provo Utah, Texas, Bloomington Indiana, Johnson City Tennessee, Jackson Mississippi, and Atlanta Georgia. I might be biased (I'm totally biased) but my favorite was the Provo one, which made reading the rest of the book kind of a let down, but that's a me problem. I definitely think that anyone can get something out of this book: be they LGBTQ, cis/hetero, red state, blue state, liberal or conservative. Even those not living in America could find some value in it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Swedberg

    I wanted to like this book more. Maybe the problem is that I live in red America and do the really hard work of trying to make it a safer place for LGBTQ+ people. Many days I feel like the work is impossible, despite some gains. This doesn't stop me from working toward those gains, but it also exhausts me. Maybe because of that I think Allen mythologizes people like the people I know to too great an extent. I also think that she dismisses the good work of people in cities too easily. She writes of I wanted to like this book more. Maybe the problem is that I live in red America and do the really hard work of trying to make it a safer place for LGBTQ+ people. Many days I feel like the work is impossible, despite some gains. This doesn't stop me from working toward those gains, but it also exhausts me. Maybe because of that I think Allen mythologizes people like the people I know to too great an extent. I also think that she dismisses the good work of people in cities too easily. She writes of her friend Michael that "he realized that many of his new coworkers at the HIV/AIDS advocacy organization were more interested in climbing ladders than they were in saving lives" (19). While that may very well have been Michael's experience, in 1980s San Francisco and in 1990s Boston, the people I worked alongside were radicals who wanted to save lives and make a better world, who weren't cliqueish, and who worked across all sorts of dividing lines. While I may find myself living in this red community for the rest of my life, I will never stop yearning for a city. Not only did I feel like I was home in cities in a way I never will in this community, I also had access to other things that are important to me. I miss independent cinema and film festivals. I miss vegetarian restaurants (and the ones I frequented were not the expensive ones). I miss theater. I miss so many things that cities offer. For someone like me, these other things that are tied to my lesbianism but also apart from it, help to make the world a better place. There are definite strengths to this book. I loved the introduction and may use it when I teach LGBTQ Studies this fall. I loved Allen's discussion of *queer*. But, in the end, the red America she painted rang false to me. In the end, it seemed too much like the other books I have read recently where experiences are inflated to become a universal rather than the individual stories they really are.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    Such a beautiful reflection--so timely, and something I hope becomes outdated very, very soon. I wasn't quite expecting its trajectory, probably mostly because I avoid synopses and reviews apart from identifying something I want to read, and so I was a little surprised that this focused on cities that are more or less progressive bubbles in mostly conservative, Southern states. I loved the discussions of identity in all its iterations, but particularly that of geographical identity (obviously?) Such a beautiful reflection--so timely, and something I hope becomes outdated very, very soon. I wasn't quite expecting its trajectory, probably mostly because I avoid synopses and reviews apart from identifying something I want to read, and so I was a little surprised that this focused on cities that are more or less progressive bubbles in mostly conservative, Southern states. I loved the discussions of identity in all its iterations, but particularly that of geographical identity (obviously?) and the reclamation of areas that are only reported for their unfavorable conditions. This hits home for me particularly right now, having moved from St. Louis, MO, (another locale that would fit in with this book) to the rural, conservative Western Slope of Colorado--both in hearing constantly from the residents of my tiny town what a terrible place St. Louis is, and also living in an area where it is not very safe to be out. I love Allen's writing, and I would be thrilled if she took on a similar writing assignment in the future to discuss places like these--places where LGBTQ+ folk carve out fulfilling lives despite living in hostile communities.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Shelby Lynne

    Gosh this was hopeful. I'd almost say TOO hopeful, at least in the epilogue, but what a dose of joy this brought me two years into the fallout of my own coming out. I especially loved the chapter on found family; the intrinsic queerness of ALL relationships in the LGBTQ+ community, regardless whether they're romantic or not, is something to be affirmed and celebrated. And this book did just that. I also appreciated Allen's effort to include all corners of the community, highlighting the diversity Gosh this was hopeful. I'd almost say TOO hopeful, at least in the epilogue, but what a dose of joy this brought me two years into the fallout of my own coming out. I especially loved the chapter on found family; the intrinsic queerness of ALL relationships in the LGBTQ+ community, regardless whether they're romantic or not, is something to be affirmed and celebrated. And this book did just that. I also appreciated Allen's effort to include all corners of the community, highlighting the diversity-from-necessity of many queer Southern spaces. Gay, bi, lesbian, ace, pan, trans, genderqueer, black, white, brown, &etc -- they all found places of honor in the narrative arc of this book. Truly pleased with this one; I'll be recommending it to many friends. 4.5 stars

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Macklin

    I cannot say enough good things about Real Queer America. Samantha Allen writes clearly and compassionately, and it's clear that she loves the people that she is interviewing and the states that she's visiting. This is a gorgeous travel memoir, and it was the perfect read for Pride. Also, it goes to show how small the queer community is that I've been to literally all the cities that she wrote about, and that one of the interviewees is a friend of a friend

  14. 5 out of 5

    Katrisa

    I loved this book! These are the kinds of books that I need to read right now so I don't get too depressed with the state of the world.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    The world does not deserve the closing scene of this book, which showcases a turtle in a crystal-clear natural spring living up to its full potential. I won’t say more. Samantha Allen, who is a GLAAD Award-winning reporter with the Daily Beast, has written a truly lovely, warm, funny, poignant, and important travel memoir about visiting queer communities in states usually overlooked or maligned (in many cases deservedly so) because of the cruel and punitive laws they subject their queer citizens The world does not deserve the closing scene of this book, which showcases a turtle in a crystal-clear natural spring living up to its full potential. I won’t say more. Samantha Allen, who is a GLAAD Award-winning reporter with the Daily Beast, has written a truly lovely, warm, funny, poignant, and important travel memoir about visiting queer communities in states usually overlooked or maligned (in many cases deservedly so) because of the cruel and punitive laws they subject their queer citizens to. What Allen importantly delivers here is a report on what these very citizens are doing to agitate against this hatred and to shore up their communities for the road ahead and their enjoyment of their everyday lives. She rightly points out that the progressives in the coastal centers, who too often write off places like Indiana entirely because of the state’s backward laws, ignore all the queer people who make these places their home and who work every day putting their financial lives and their futures on the line to effect change in the places they love best. You will also get to meet many fabulous people who are activists and allies in the queer community, one of whom warmed my heart for days with this statement (which got the attention of her future partner) on her OKCupid dating profile. When asked how she felt about the “controversial” bathroom laws then obsessing the nation, she wrote: “I would rather pee with a transgender woman sitting on my lap than share a bathroom with a bigot.” To use a food metaphor (since this book also makes you very hungry with all the descriptions of the local on-the-road food), Real Queer America has all the warmth and comfort of a Cracker Barrel meal mixed with the vibrancy and skill of some of the best cooking you’ve ever had.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Monika

    Samantha Allen's book Real Queer America is an inspiring, optimistic, heartfelt letter to fellow queer folks living in red states in the United States. But it's also incredibly informative (and gently corrective) to cishet liberals living in blue states. You know, the people who tend to look down from their high horse, putting us on their personal "no travel" lists, making assumptions about what life is like in conservative areas of the country. Allen's book offers a more realistic perspective on Samantha Allen's book Real Queer America is an inspiring, optimistic, heartfelt letter to fellow queer folks living in red states in the United States. But it's also incredibly informative (and gently corrective) to cishet liberals living in blue states. You know, the people who tend to look down from their high horse, putting us on their personal "no travel" lists, making assumptions about what life is like in conservative areas of the country. Allen's book offers a more realistic perspective on queer life in Red State America than the media prefers to show (and for that matter, a more honest perspective on life in blue and swing states, too). She shows us how these places and the people in them are so much more than a headline. It was a joy to take this road trip with her—to read about her own experiences as a trans person in all the places she's lived and traveled, and the connections she's made with others along the way.  I love how she spoke to so many different people! There's a wonderful message throughout that your identity is valid, period, and it just felt like a big hug. Allen shows readers that, when your numbers are small and you only have each other, a deep, authentic, diverse queer community is created—and this community gets things done.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Heather Larocchia

    I couldn't wait to get my copy of this book when it was released mostly because I'm queer and love to travel, and I have been experiencing strong desires to road trip across the states. When I think of the red states, I don't think of queer people, although of course I know they must be there. I am thankful that Samantha not only brought some of their stories to light, but that she also shared her perspective as a transwoman traveling through the places that, on a surface level, seem to be the w I couldn't wait to get my copy of this book when it was released mostly because I'm queer and love to travel, and I have been experiencing strong desires to road trip across the states. When I think of the red states, I don't think of queer people, although of course I know they must be there. I am thankful that Samantha not only brought some of their stories to light, but that she also shared her perspective as a transwoman traveling through the places that, on a surface level, seem to be the worst places for any queer person to be. I think this book disproves that stereotype without neglecting to mention the very real ways in which queers are still actively discriminated against. I am giving this book four stars instead of five for one big reason: I could not stand the level of disgust for New York! As a New Yorker, I understand where the hate is coming from - it's hard to find a supportive close-knit community of queers because we are all so spread out. It's loud, and dirty, and expensive. We are not known for being the kindest of people. HOWEVER, the way I view the NYC skyline is, I imagine, the same way Samantha views the mountains of Utah: with awe and love. It seems that every other page of this book has some minor comment about how horrible NYC is, and some of these comments seem to come out of nowhere and serve no purpose (at one point, Samantha writes about how she dislikes people calling Atlanta "Hotlanta" and makes a comment about how NYC is actually hotter than Atlanta...like, okay, we get it, you don't like the city). I assume this is a reaction from having NYC queers talk down about southern or rural areas (which I am, of course, not justifying), but I think it's unnecessary to constantly hate on a place SO many queers love and call home. I bet a small community of queers is wonderful in many ways, but I personally prefer to be able to go out to a local lesbian bar and not have to run into my ex, so it's NYC all the way for me. A few favorite lines: "There is a difference, it seems, between an oasis and a utopia: when you're in a desert, an oasis can be a single well of water in the sand - or, in this case, one college town with an incredible queer bar. A watering hole doesn't make the desert safe; it just makes it habitable...And utopias - well, utopias don't exist. If one did, every LGBT person in the country would move there and queer world-making would end." "The Back Door is a perfect example of the red-state queer ethos that being politically active is a responsibility, not a choice." "Indeed, before Pride parades in big cities were corporatized, this is the purpose they served: simply to prove that queer people are here, living among you."

  18. 4 out of 5

    David

    4.5 It's hard to quibble about a book's shortcomings when the author's overall tone and POV are so infectiously upbeat. Journalist Samantha Allen has certainly gone at this 'See The Real America' project with optimistic gusto - and there is a great deal to be culled from it. Allen set out to revisit places in her not-too-distant past - to give the reader a rare look into views of the kinds of gay lives that (according to her) do not get sufficient coverage in the press. As she says, "...we still 4.5 It's hard to quibble about a book's shortcomings when the author's overall tone and POV are so infectiously upbeat. Journalist Samantha Allen has certainly gone at this 'See The Real America' project with optimistic gusto - and there is a great deal to be culled from it. Allen set out to revisit places in her not-too-distant past - to give the reader a rare look into views of the kinds of gay lives that (according to her) do not get sufficient coverage in the press. As she says, "...we still have little cultural understanding of queer sociality outside major urban centers because so little is written about it." (And, as she feels, much of it can be preferable.) So I was all for this and dove in to gain more understanding. But, after reading the book, I felt a bit short-changed, esp. in the first half - which covers areas in Utah, Texas and Indiana. The second half - covering Tennessee, Mississippi and the particular gay hub of Atlanta, Georgia - fares better. In the second section, it seems more locals were interviewed, so the reader begins to get a better grasp of what life in their cities is really like in 2019 for LGBT folk. For one reason or another, Allen had previously spent time in each place she covers and was already acquainted with most of the interviewees. But, as a journalist covering LGBT life, Allen networks a lot online; she had also set-up meetings with those she felt were doing particularly interesting, progressive work. (Perhaps there was just less to pull from in UT, TX and IN.) A number of points are well-made, esp. re: practical reasons for living in Red States (yes, there are some). As well, Allen exhibits a refreshing sense of humor as she highlights eccentricity when she sees it. ("I have never been to a state as obsessed with itself as [Texas]. Sure, other states have 'pride' but I have never eaten a Vermont-shaped waffle. Just saying.") She's also very good at promoting activists and their personal forms of activism wherever she goes. (She ultimately admits to feeling not as brave as those who, for the sake of change and progress, continue to live in areas ruled by government policy that's against them.) Allen mixes her book with a fair amount of MTF-transition memoir. ~which is fine and I wouldn't begrudge that. I was just really taken with her premise and felt she could have gone deeper with it. But, who knows? Perhaps she'll be back with 'RQA2'. There's a lot of ground (and road) to cover - and she has made a great start. Note to author: In your book, you mention a few times that you have a fondness for Chick-fil-A. That did give me pause. Perhaps the book was published before it was brought to light just how much money that company gives to anti-LGBT organizations.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    Wow. I have more to say, but for now all you need to know is: wow. That was incredible, and it's incredibleness can pretty much be condensed into a solid, whispered "wow." I will admit that in the past I, too, have fallen into the trap of dismissing the South as a place of unabated hatred towards people like me and my friends, a place that I could never possibly live for fear of being myself (and for fear of spiders and scorpions, but that's a different matter entirely). But this book took my bel Wow. I have more to say, but for now all you need to know is: wow. That was incredible, and it's incredibleness can pretty much be condensed into a solid, whispered "wow." I will admit that in the past I, too, have fallen into the trap of dismissing the South as a place of unabated hatred towards people like me and my friends, a place that I could never possibly live for fear of being myself (and for fear of spiders and scorpions, but that's a different matter entirely). But this book took my beliefs about the South and unceremoniously threw them out the window while speeding down an interstate from queer hotspot to queer hotspot. Not only did this book and this collection of amazing, beautiful people and their stories rearrange my thinking about the South, but it gave me hope for the community as well. As a queer person who has dealt with what feels like nothing but exhaustion over intracommunity fighting online, never quite feeling like I belong with any segment, much less the community as a whole, not to mention the constant barrage of anti-queer sentiments from our government battering the community from the outside while I felt that the inside was battering itself to pieces, this book was a light at the end of a dark, exhausting tunnel. It was proof that the world is bigger, more beautiful and complicated, and far more loving and accepting than the loud voices on social media would like me to believe. That even in the roughest places, there are the strongest people out there still fighting the good fight, people who can and will accept me as a part of their family. It's given me more hope and courage to seek out where the queer community in my own home can be found. This is a beautiful, beautiful book, and every person in the queer community, especially people like me who have long begun to feel a disconnect from the community, needs to read. We're here, and we aren't alone out there, no matter where you go.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tad

    This book felt so real and so personal to me. I'm a queer person who grew up in the very red state of Texas. While I no longer live there, the place will always hold a special place in my heart and I sometimes consider moving back there, especially as I tire of San Francisco life and San Francisco rent prices. I also have a deep fondness and affection for the South. Some of my favorite people, places and memories are from Southern states. Not to mention the food there is incredible. That's why I This book felt so real and so personal to me. I'm a queer person who grew up in the very red state of Texas. While I no longer live there, the place will always hold a special place in my heart and I sometimes consider moving back there, especially as I tire of San Francisco life and San Francisco rent prices. I also have a deep fondness and affection for the South. Some of my favorite people, places and memories are from Southern states. Not to mention the food there is incredible. That's why I hate it when people who aren't from the South belittle or insult it. It has always bugged me because yes, there are definitely a lot of issues in the south but also there are some amazing things happening out there that are inspiring and life giving. And this book paints a vivid picture of it all. Samantha Allen traveled to red states to give us a portrait of what life is really like down there for LGBTQ people. She wanted to get outside of the headlines and talk to the people who actually live in those places. And what she reports is that the situation is neither as bleak nor as dire as it might appear to be to those of us "coastal elites". LGTBQ people in red states do face some hurdles that others in more progressive states don't. But they also have formed amazing communities and have made a lot of progress even in deep red states like Mississippi and Tennessee. Allen paints a vivid picture of the lives of these people and makes them feel very real. Her chapter on Texas made me deeply nostalgic for my home state, a place that I have many complicated feelings about. This is a book that speaks to the deep divide in our country right now. Not just the one between red and blue states but the one between straight and LGTBQ people and the one between liberals and conservatives. It is a timely and relevant book and one that I think anyone who lives on the coast should read for a better picture of what life is really like in the South. Highly recommended.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Samantha Allen took a road trip through America's red states, hanging out with the LGBTQ+ activists and organizers who call these places home. I loved the variety of people she profiled: college administrators, nightclub owners, Mormon youth. Her subjects brought such a tenacity and persistence to uphill battles: admirable energy that progressive activists anywhere can learn from. I liked how Allen wove her own story--coming out, finding love, and cultivating her chosen family--throughout the st Samantha Allen took a road trip through America's red states, hanging out with the LGBTQ+ activists and organizers who call these places home. I loved the variety of people she profiled: college administrators, nightclub owners, Mormon youth. Her subjects brought such a tenacity and persistence to uphill battles: admirable energy that progressive activists anywhere can learn from. I liked how Allen wove her own story--coming out, finding love, and cultivating her chosen family--throughout the story. A minor quibble, but I was frustrated with the time spent in the text complaining about large cities in the US; I get that blue state city life isn't for everyone, but I would have rather had her just focus on the positives of the places she visited.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mariah Jensen

    This book spoke to me on several levels. The author is a queer ex-mormon (check, check) who feels a connection with the road (mmmhmm check) and took a cross country trip to several red states to find queer communities. The book starts off with Utah which was perfect for me because I grew up in Southern Utah and am uncomfortably familiar with the culture. The problems she faced were familiar and the queer spaces she found filled me with longing. If only I had found such groups when I was younger This book spoke to me on several levels. The author is a queer ex-mormon (check, check) who feels a connection with the road (mmmhmm check) and took a cross country trip to several red states to find queer communities. The book starts off with Utah which was perfect for me because I grew up in Southern Utah and am uncomfortably familiar with the culture. The problems she faced were familiar and the queer spaces she found filled me with longing. If only I had found such groups when I was younger I probably would have been better for it. The book felt like a blend of memoir/essay collection and you could probably open up to a random chapter and enjoy by itself. Will definitely be purchasing my own copy.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Cunningham

    4.5 stars. I loved this road trip book. It made me proud to be from a small town, from a red state, and to continue the fight here. I loved reading about the activists in “real” America and their incredible work ethic. It’s true that the battles are harder here, but the victories are so much sweeter. It reminded me of watching my home state elect a lesbian Native American congresswoman, equal parts astounded and unsurprised. To read about states like the one I grew up in - written about with lov 4.5 stars. I loved this road trip book. It made me proud to be from a small town, from a red state, and to continue the fight here. I loved reading about the activists in “real” America and their incredible work ethic. It’s true that the battles are harder here, but the victories are so much sweeter. It reminded me of watching my home state elect a lesbian Native American congresswoman, equal parts astounded and unsurprised. To read about states like the one I grew up in - written about with love and healthy criticism - was so refreshing. The writing style felt like a long article, and it wasn’t astounding, but the story was so damn good. Love.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bethany

    I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read and it opened my eyes to what queer life looks like in the rest of the country. Being from Boston and having grown up my whole life in the Northeast, it is very comforting to know about all the fierce advocates for LGBTQ rights all over the country, to know I don't have to move to San Francisco or New York to be safe. It was a really easy read, and while I enjoyed the bits that were more memoirish, and I did tear up at times, it felt like the book I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read and it opened my eyes to what queer life looks like in the rest of the country. Being from Boston and having grown up my whole life in the Northeast, it is very comforting to know about all the fierce advocates for LGBTQ rights all over the country, to know I don't have to move to San Francisco or New York to be safe. It was a really easy read, and while I enjoyed the bits that were more memoirish, and I did tear up at times, it felt like the book was missing something. I'm not exactly sure what it was missing. Maybe detail. It skimmed over everything, it felt like.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alex Moccia

    The concept behind this book was amazing and I loved everyone who the author spoke about and interviewed. But I felt this book had far too many metaphors, pop culture references and badly integrated statistics that didn’t allow it to flow the way I really wished it had. I hope the author writes more books about things like this because I feel the things they are discussing here are worth exploring further, but I would need their writing style to change/improve for me to enjoy their content more.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

    This made me think a whole slew of thoughts I had never considered before. Like, maybe it won't be terrible if I move to a red state when we relocate next year (destination unknown). I loved Samantha's tone throughout--informative without being dry, personal without sacrificing the quality of her writing; it felt like a conversation-- one that was witty, humane, and engaging, as well as thought-provoking. As a lifelong coastal blue stater, it definitely had me reevaluating my presumptions about This made me think a whole slew of thoughts I had never considered before. Like, maybe it won't be terrible if I move to a red state when we relocate next year (destination unknown). I loved Samantha's tone throughout--informative without being dry, personal without sacrificing the quality of her writing; it felt like a conversation-- one that was witty, humane, and engaging, as well as thought-provoking. As a lifelong coastal blue stater, it definitely had me reevaluating my presumptions about "flyover territory."

  27. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This was the perfect read for me at this point in my life when I’m moving away from acclaimed queer metropolis of Seattle to Indianapolis and made me fall in love and get excited about going back to the Midwest and embracing my country roots. I have missed it all along but felt I *must* try the coast. This book resonated with me in so many ways and I felt like Samantha was someone who could be my friend.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bookworm

    I had been very excited to read about the stories of LGBTQ+ people in "red" states in the US. It sounded like it would be an interesting look at what it's like, at how they live their lives and deal with living in "red" states. The author herself went through a similar journey, going from a "suit-and-tie-wearing Mormon missionary" to a reporter now married to another woman. The author takes us through various red states and interviews people there: their lives, how they realized who they were, ho I had been very excited to read about the stories of LGBTQ+ people in "red" states in the US. It sounded like it would be an interesting look at what it's like, at how they live their lives and deal with living in "red" states. The author herself went through a similar journey, going from a "suit-and-tie-wearing Mormon missionary" to a reporter now married to another woman. The author takes us through various red states and interviews people there: their lives, how they realized who they were, how they were affected by (sometimes) moving to blue areas and why they moved back (or why they never left), the work they do, etc. Sometimes it's not all that different and sometimes the experiences are fairly unique to that state or person. But...I have to agree with some of the negative reviews. I've never been a big fan of books by journalists and this is another case. I was honestly bored by a lot of the book. It also felt like the author inserted herself into the book too much, perhaps if not herself then her friends who came along the journey, whereas I was a lot more interested in the people she was talking to who she encountered. I was also really not a big fan of the "real America" vs. the "coastal elites" narrative that was an undercurrent throughout the book. No, places like NYC or San Francisco or Washington DC isn't for everyone and that's totally understandable. But after reading through the introduction, I began to look at the title a little differently, from seeing "real" not as "very" but rather "authentic," which is not always true. And sometimes work gets done in places like Washington, DC to allow people to have the rights they have now. The resentment is real and while the author wanted to tell a particular story, there ARE people who do want to escape these red states and go to some place like NYC, San Francisco, or even just other blue areas. Again, that wasn't what the author was writing about and I respect the story she was trying to tell but it just seemed to color the writing a bit. Overall it just wasn't for me, but I see a lot of people liked this book. I think for the right person it would definitely a great read and/or a good gift. Otherwise I'd recommend the library.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ryn Baginski

    This book is so realistically hopeful for the future of LGBT people in the US. I loved how inclusive and queer and heartwarming it was, even in a political climate like the one we are currently experiencing. As a queer person who doesn’t want to move to a big city, this book gave me a lot of hope and joy.

  30. 4 out of 5

    rosalind

    there are a LOT of good things to say about this book (especially, i think, about the portrayal of chosen family and the very light, very effective use of queer theory) but as a houstonian the way allen showed houston was just. so incredibly perfect. like she hung out with cool queer people (one of whom i know, actually!) and went to a giant kitty show at walter's (#ripwalters)! that's houston baby. in any case big kudos to allen for really beautifully highlighting what those of us in the south there are a LOT of good things to say about this book (especially, i think, about the portrayal of chosen family and the very light, very effective use of queer theory) but as a houstonian the way allen showed houston was just. so incredibly perfect. like she hung out with cool queer people (one of whom i know, actually!) and went to a giant kitty show at walter's (#ripwalters)! that's houston baby. in any case big kudos to allen for really beautifully highlighting what those of us in the south already been knew : we have beautiful communities here. being queer in the south isn't about isolation, it's about finding one another and carving out our own spaces.

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