Books

Black. Queer. Southern. Women.

Conveyed with urgency and mindfulness, Johnson's Black. Queer. Southern. Women. creates a space for revisioning critical race and sexual ideologies while affirming the voices of queer black women.

E. Patrick Johnson
Black. Queer. Southern. Women. An Oral History

UNC Press

November 2018

Other

E. Patrick Johnson's contributions to the conversations on sexuality and race have been remarkable. The author of Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South (2011) transformed the dominant understanding of southern gay men to enrich sexuality discourses and deconstruct oppressive narratives. In Black. Queer. Southern. Women. An Oral History, Johnson lends his writing prowess to the voices of queer women born, raised, and continuing to reside in the American South. As a whole the text is insightful, but it is the lived experiences of these courageous individuals that will restructure the readers' understanding of a community pushed to the margins of society.

Black. Queer. Southern. Women. is both an oral history and an ethnography. The accounts are heavily located in the past with the subjects' recollections leading to an awareness of their identity within the contemporary moment. These memories portray cultural fluidity and the mercurial ideologies fortifying individual and collective identities. As Johnson explains in the introduction, "I wanted to learn more about the interior lives of southern black lesbians and their journey toward selfhood in the South" (1).

Johnson includes his voice only when asking questions, otherwise, the text amplifies the women's standpoints without imposing his agenda. Black. Queer. Southern. Women. is a pivotal text as it brings clarity to the myriad of ways black southern women identify and perform their sexualities. Using storytelling, gender, and sexual theory, in addition to critical race theory, Black. Queer. Southern. Women. fills "a void in the historical accounts of black women's sexual history in the South" (5). The text complicates the understanding of sexuality, class, and racial identity as situated within a southern cultural identity.

It took 14 months for Johnson to collect 77 narratives for Black. Queer. Southern. Women. The women's ages range from 19 to 74 and their geographies span from Maryland, south to Florida, then as far west as Oklahoma and Texas. Johnson broadened his view of the South to include Puerto Rico, and indeed, these narratives bolster his purpose and highlight commonalities across space.

Johnson mostly interviewed the women in their homes, in sessions lasting between 90 minutes to five hours, resulting in an amiable textual tone. Consciousness and humanity radiate from the pages, especially when the women address intimate details, empowering and problematic social schematics, and violence. Black. Queer. Southern. Women. disavows patriarchal discourses and holds space for women to construct their own identity narratives.

Black. Queer. Southern. Women. is divided into two sections with the first half of the text grouped by thematic chapters. Part I addresses access to education, courtship, love and coming-out stories, trauma, and violence. Intersectionality is fundamental throughout. Johnson ends the section by identifying art and activism as a "vital part of the patchwork quilt that makes up the cultural representation of the black south" (323).

The chapter "Walk Like a Man, Talk like a Woman: Gender Nonconformity" undertakes how these subjects subverted dominant gender and sexual norms. Q, for example, recalls being given Barbie and Cabbage Patch Kids instead of Ninja Turtles and G.I. Joes. Whereas Q's narrative is personal, her oral history expands the understanding of gender conditioning and the infinite ways society demands gender conformity.

As demonstrated in the chapters exhibiting the relationships between mothers and daughters or "G.R.I.T.S., girls raised in the South" (19), the experiences were, and are, informed by gendered dress codes, domestic responsibilities, and career and education trajectories, while reflecting behavioral and cultural expectations. This is quotidian to anyone with an understanding of gender theory; what is distinct are the ways in which these women navigated gender expectations.

In Sweet Tea, the church and organized religion are situated as sanctuaries for gay men. For many, the church "encouraged queer gender expression and budding homosexuality" (165). Johnson, however, realized this was not the case for women who begrudgingly attended church, many eventually choosing not to attend. These women found alternative spiritualities including African practices or women-centered and all-inclusive worship.

Others turned to self-discovery as a form of awakening a higher power. Anita, for instance, articulates using religious narratives as a way to reject her own sexuality. Only when studying the bible did she realize religious narratives can be tools of the oppressors, "they don't understand it and they don't like it, so they're doing what they're doing to try to get rid of it" (170). As reiterated by Kei, "if you want to believe the book you've' got to believe all the book" (180).

Indelibly, there are narratives that do not easily fit into the defined chapters. Hence, Part II illustrates the lives of six women who overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges. Aida Rentas' narrative recognizes the fluidity of space and experience across temporalities. As she aged, she witnessed the evolution of gay visibility, essential in accepting her mother's prejudices while living within a culture entrenched in homophobia.

Likewise, Cherry Hussain's history is a breathtaking model for finding strength in forgiveness. Juxtaposing abuse, violence, addiction, and incarceration to the systematic oppression delivered by poverty, racism, and homophobia, these women edify how injustices cultivate identity. It is this adversity that led to their tenacity. As "Ida Mae" asserts, "I have no qualms with the things that shaped me. I'm alright with it. I understand the process. So, I'm cool with that" (533).

A magnificent text, Black. Queer. Southern. Women. invites the reader to witness the lives of extraordinary individuals. Conveyed with urgency and mindfulness, Johnson creates a space for revisioning critical race and sexual ideologies while affirming the voices of queer black women. The result is rewarding and enlightening.

9
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".

Music

The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?

Music

Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.

Music

Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.

Music

Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.

Music

Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.

Film

Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.

Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.