BETWEEN F* WORDS: RURAL & GAY LIBERATIONIST REFRAINS IN THE SOUTHEAST, 1970-1981
Ezell, Samuel Jason
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Between F* Words is an affective history of how gay liberationism persisted through its intersections with back-to-the-land movements in the 1970s Southeast. In telling an affective history, I show how liberationism is best understood as more than a reasoned political choice; rather, it crucially involves specific ways of viewing and feeling in an increasingly globalized world. Specifically, its politics complemented critiques of a divisive system with lateral strategies for staying connected. By tracing gay liberationist networks from rural Ozark and Appalachian sites to cities like New Orleans and Atlanta, I prioritize a regional analytic which, unlike models predicated on the urban “gay ghetto,” hinges on rural-urban connection. This project, then, sets gay liberation both within everyday life and in unexpected places as a way to imagine expanded LGBT political cultural maps. Employing analysis of oral history interviews, newly available archival materials, and the print culture of RFD (a rural gay serial published in the Southeast from 1978-2009), Between F* Words is a description of the subject formations of Southeastern gay liberationist collectives who felt the word gay no longer represented their political cultures. Using Felix Guattari’s concept of the refrain, I read the words and images of those in the culture to characterize the orientational, emotional, psychic, and corporeal dimensions of improvised subjectivities like the faggot, sissie, gentle man, and Radical Faerie. At the same time, I show how these regional refrains emerged in contrast to similar West Coast ones. Their Southeastern networks were acutely aware of their proximity to the fomenting Moral Majority which would become a conservative cornerstone of the Reagan-era national political economy. Galvanized by the racism, sexism, and homophobia at the heart of the conservative political culture which they saw taking root in the Jim Crow geography around them, these gay liberationist subjectivities were shaped by regional forces. Between F* Words draws upon this history not only to propose the regional as a crucial scale for any radical analysis responsive to economic development schemes but also to imagine radical LGBTQ political subjectivities to be affectively formed within the daily experience of such divisive regional development.