Storytelling in Queer Appalachia
228 pages, 6 x 9
12 B&W images
Release Date:11 May 2020
Release Date:01 Jul 2020
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Storytelling in Queer Appalachia

Imagining and Writing the Unspeakable Other

West Virginia University Press
In one of the first collections of scholarship at the intersection of LGBTQ studies and Appalachian studies, voices from the region’s valleys, hollers, mountains, and campuses blend personal stories with scholarly and creative examinations of living and surviving as queers in Appalachia. The essayists collected in Storytelling in Queer Appalachia are academics, social workers, riot grrrl activists, teachers, students, practitioners, scholars of divinity, and boundary crossers, all imagining how to make legible the unspeakable other of Appalachian queerness.
Focusing especially on disciplinary approaches from rhetoric and composition, the volume explores sexual identities in rural places, community and individual meaning-making among the Appalachian diaspora, the storytelling infrastructure of queer Appalachia, and the role of the metronormative in discourses of difference. Storytelling in Queer Appalachia affirms queer people, fights for queer visibility over queer erasure, seeks intersectional understanding, and imagines radically embodied queer selves through social media.
Storytelling in Queer Appalachia offers us a beautifully disruptive way to rethink our understandings of a singular Appalachia—as a place, as a people, as an ideology. These insightful chapters approach queerness-in-place through a host of engaging lenses and frameworks.’
—William P. Banks, coeditor of Approaches to Teaching LGBT Literature
Hillery Glasby is an assistant professor in the writing, rhetoric, and American cultures department and a faculty fellow for the Center for Gender in Global Context at Michigan State University.
Sherrie Gradin is a professor of English at Ohio University.
Rachael Ryerson is the director of composition and a lecturer at Ohio University.
Hillery Glasby, Sherrie Gradin, and Rachael Ryerson

For a decade I had bought into the dominant narrative in LGBTQIA spaces that because I am queer I could never live back home. I was told—in not so many words—that I could not have my queerness and my mountains, too, that I would not be safe there, that I would not be able to survive, much less thrive. This is a common experience for those of us who have left the small towns and rural areas where we grew up.
—Garringer, “Country Queers,” 80

Appalachia as a geographic, mythic, and cultural place is multifaceted and difficult to understand as monolithic or singular. Queer identities and experiences are equally multifaceted and non-monolithic; they are crossed by and created within economics, destructive land practices, political turmoil, and stereotyping. This collection of essays, imaginings, zines, and photographic records takes up what it might mean to live, embody, and/or perform queerness in Appalachia through personal reflections, researching, teaching, learning, composing, and rhetorical positions and selves. What weight is born by being both queer and Appalachian? What might it mean to be queer in Appalachia? What might it mean to be “quare” in Appalachia? What might it mean to actively queer Appalachia? What might it mean to live, or write as queer in Appalachia post the 2016 election process, the results of which seem to have ushered in a new sense of vulnerability and fear for many LGBTQ persons (who might also be undocumented, of color, disabled, and/or Muslim)? While work in Appalachian Studies and Queer Studies have produced interesting and important work that is quite rich, we wish to contribute to the writings of queers about queerness in Appalachia through this eclectic set of queer renderings because we believe that Appalachian queerness remains underrepresented, misunderstood, sometimes muted, and sometimes invisible. The writers of these essays are doing everything they can to make queer visible, to make queer viable, to make queer thrive in Appalachia, and to allow Appalachia to thrive in queers. Although we first imagined this collection as more narrowly about composition studies and pedagogy, our call seems to have traveled through social pathways into the Appalachian hills and hollers, calling forth writing from a more eclectic set of writers and scholars, and we now assume, an equally eclectic audience. We think the book is better for this diversity. It works directly against any simple, static, or stereotypical academic relationship or understanding to Appalachia. The contributors to Storytelling in Queer Appalachia: Imagining and Writing the Unspeakable Other are academics, social workers, riot grrrl activists, teachers, students, practitioners and scholars of divinity, and crossers of boundaries. Some of us were born in Appalachia and some have come to call it home after arriving from other climes. Whichever the case, the marks this land and culture leave on us are deep and contested.
Appalachia can be a place of isolation—geographically, economically, linguistically, culturally; boundaries between insiders and outsiders are clear and felt. For queers in the region, being made to feel like an outsider—suspicious—in the context of insiderness creates a certain kind of alienation and loneliness, a sense of being what Trinh Minh-ha calls, “elsewhere, within here.” The alienation lingers as a displacement, the feeling of existing in one space while always recalling another, more familiar home space. As Minh-ha (2011) explains, “the traveling self is here both the self that moves physically from one place to another, following ‘public routes and beaten tracks’ within a mapped movement; and, the self that embarks on an undetermined journeying practice, having constantly to negotiate between home and abroad, native culture and adopted culture, or more creatively speaking, between a here, a there, and an elsewhere” (27). Appalachian queers who leave Appalachia, especially those who leave because of their queerness, experience a unique form of displacement, a certain kind of exile, forming a queer (Appalachian) diaspora, often finding themselves in places that, although accepting of their queer identity, are not always accepting of their Appalachian identity.
Notions of exile and diaspora are rooted in transnational studies and globalization, belonging primarily to the experiences of those who have either been driven out of, or felt compelled to leave, their home country due to persecution, war, despair, economic collapse, and ethnic cleansing. Individuals, families, and entire communities are left spread across the world—isolated, lonely, made to feel alien in other places than what is known as home. Their exile, although hopeful for a safer, better life, can be laced with pain, instability, and longing. In her book Citizenship, Exile, and the Logic of Difference, Katarzyna Marciniak (2006) describes exile as, “a performative condition, one that evokes a sense of shifting, or quivering, identity location—an experience of liminality and undecidability that destabilizes the traditionally static notion of national identity” (27). Certainly there is much at stake when one is crossing national borders, whether through processes that provide documentation or as an undocumented transnational.
In his analysis, “The ‘Diaspora’ Diaspora,” Rogers Brubaker (2005) discusses the uptick in applications of notions of diaspora, beyond its Greek, Armenian, and Jewish roots and previous theoretical discussions bound to academia. Brubaker identifies patterns in the proliferation of diasporic applications, noting three main criteria: dispersion, homeland orientation, and boundary-maintenance, all of which seem fitting to the (queer) Appalachian diasporic application we invoke. As Brubaker describes, dispersion is, “forced or otherwise traumatic dispersion; more broadly as any kind of dispersion in space, provide that the dispersion crosses state borders”; homeland orientation implies, “the orientation to a real or imagined ‘homeland’ as an authoritative source of value, identity and loyalty [ . . . ] maintaining a collective memory or myth about the homeland”; and boundary-maintenance consists of a sense of hybridity, “the preservation of a distinctive identity vis-à-vis a host society” (6).
We are not implying that a queer Appalachian moving from West Virginia to Illinois experiences the same dangers, poverty, illness, language barriers, and anti-immigrant rhetoric as a refugee from Syria. However we see these understandings of “unbelonging”, exile, and diaspora as generative in understanding the experience of queer Appalachians who are either dislocated—separated from their home region and geographical landscape to find acceptance, validation, and queer community—or made to feel like outsiders in their own region due to their queerness. Leaving Appalachia to be more safely and fully out as LGBTQ may bring one identity into the light, but often at the cost of forcing another identity into the shadows, since some Appalachians face scrutiny and discrimination based on the assumptions and stereotypes their dialects and home culture carry. These struggles are not limited to queer Appalachians who leave home, since queer Appalachians at home are also made to feel like strangers in their own region.
In his keynote address at the 2014 Annual Appalachian Studies Conference, Silas House describes the ways queer Appalachians are reminded of—and made to feel—their difference at home:
Often I hear people talk about how accepting Appalachians are of people who are different. “He’s just a little bit quare,” people in my community sometimes said when referring to a person they accepted as part of their world but who didn’t quite fit in, whether he was socially inept or actually queer in the most modern sense of the word. I’d be interested to hear how many of you are familiar with that colloquial word “quare”? Will you raise your hands? Of course it’s a colloquial distortion of the word “queer.” That’s easy to figure out. As a people, Appalachians have always had “quare” folks amongst them. Always, these people were only accepted with some wariness. Consider the quare women who changed the region at the settlement schools. They were eventually folded into the community, but not without skepticism. Not without having to prove themselves the extra mile. Anyone who is different—whether it be by their origins, their actions, their race, or their orientation—has always been accepted only with a fair amount of suspicion. That is a kind of halfway acceptance, and an acceptance that demands the quare not be too awfully visible. The common phrase among the homophobe is: “Just don’t rub it in my face how gay you are [ . . . ] Homophobia lurks in the hollers, and slithers along the ridges of Appalachia. The reason why is because Appalachia is in America. What is happening here is happening throughout the rest of the country. (“Our Secret Places” 109, 110)
In response, House calls for a “New Appalachia,” where collective discrimination and subtle homophobia are acknowledged, discussed, and fought—among neighbors and in community classroom conversations. Rather than continuing the “exodus,” out-migration, and “exile” of young (queer) Appalachians seeking better economic opportunities and acceptance, he imagines Appalachia as a place where they feel wholly themselves, at home, in the place they love. Rather than seeing queer(nes)s as separate or apart from Appalachia, we hope to show how queers are a part of Appalachia, “shap[ing] the region as it shapes them” (Sohn 2006, 5). The writers in this collection reveal those connections and draw parallels between queer pride and empowerment and regional pride and empowerment, the closeness of (found) family and community formations in opposition to the mainstream at the heart of both.
The underrepresented, muted, invisibility that gives rise to this collection, Storytelling in Queer Appalachia: Imagining and Writing the Unspeakable Other, has multiple points of origin, including that much of Appalachia is also, geographically and geopolitically, rural. Rurality complicates queer identity, queer community, and queer experiences. Rural queers often combat stereotypes that associate their ruralness with backwardness, ignorance, and dirt(iness), and their queerness with urbanity. Scott Herring (2010) finds that “the rural . . . is shelved, disavowed, denied, and discarded in favor of metropolitan sexual cultures such as New York city, San Francisco, or Buffalo. In each the rural becomes a slur” (Another 5). As a result of this characterization, queers who occupy rural places are left out of what Halberstam (2006) describes as “the metronormative story of migration from ‘country’ to ‘town’ [which] is a spatial narrative within which the subject moves to a place of tolerance after enduring life in a place of suspicion, persecution, and secrecy” (36–37). These narratives characterize, foreclose, and silence rural queer identities, especially those that refuse to assimilate to heteronormative, homonormative, metronormative ideals. This story suggests rural queers have no stories of their own, or at least, not ones worth hearing, reading, and viewing.
And yet, rural queer texts can be found, as Scott Herring (2007) demonstrates in his analysis of the quarterly journal, Radical Faerie Digest (RFD), an analysis that shows how, in the 1970s, the journal “was one of the first anti-heteronormative, anti-urban, and anti-middle-class journals to appear as a challenge to and a critique of . . . normalizing urban gay culture” (341). These early issues of RFD imagine other ways of queer being and belonging, and they value the regional, the rural, and the nonmetropolitan (Herring, “Out” 367). In his book, Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism, Herring (2010) explores queer rural texts, finding their rural stylistics foreground an anti-urbanism that counters queer metronormativity. Fairly recent publications such as Blevins and McElmurray’s (2015) Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean: Mediations on the Forbidden from Contemporary Appalachia, Garringer’s (2017) “‘Well, We’re Fabulous and We’re Appalachians, So We’re Fabulachians’: Country Queers in Central Appalachia,” Gorman-Murray, Pini, and Bryant’s Sexuality, Rurality, and Geography, Gradin’s (2016) “Can You See Me Now?: Rural Queer Archives and a Call to Action,” Gray’s (2009) Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America all provide a place for queer and Appalachian writers, artists, teachers, and scholars to dwell. As mentioned above, our collection captures and illustrates Queer Appalachia through a variety of genres, queer positionalities, and identities. Some veer toward the visual, some toward the academic, some toward storytelling, and some toward reflection on living, teaching, and researching as queers in hostile yet familiar territory.
This collection of essays mixes traditional and queer(ed) elements of storytelling, personal essay, personal reflections, Appalachian writing/composing, a coming to voice alongside or as a way of doing the more traditional academic work of theorizing and analyzing. We find such composing practices—practices that seem too sexual, too excessive, too personal—critical to the queer work and meaning of this collection. As others have argued, queer being is inextricably linked with language, with composition, with expression and meaning making, and it is this connection that has led scholars like David Wallace (2011) to suggest we “allow for writers to be more personally present in their texts and for inclusion of a wider range of discourse practices, particularly the genres, vocabulary, dialogue, and syntax often used by members of marginalized groups” (11). Queer scholars and writers have already moved in that direction, with Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes (2011) crafting texts that demonstrate the queer possibilities of composition; for example, their JAC article, “Queer: An Impossible Subject for Composition”, pairs an academic, theoretical discussion of queer theory and composition, with lyrics from Eurythemics, “Sweet Dreams,” narrative asides, single-sentence paragraphs, multiple genres, the word “fuck,” and their sex/uality. These authors compose and gesture queer(ly) in the very form of their text, enacting their claims that,
If queerness means more than just one more static representation of ‘diversity,’ containable in its knowability, then it must move in multiple directions at once, embracing multi-modality, multi-genre texts, and even, when available or perhaps necessary, multi-media . . . we want to make room for the kinds of writing—and the kinds of subjects—that challenge such composure, that offer rich, capacious, and (yes) excessive ways of thinking and writing. (Alexander and Rhodes, “Queer” 183).
In response, our collection seeks to queer genre and identity, invoking a sense of hybridity and the esprit of voice.
We have clustered essays into four sections: “The Heart Over the Head”: Queer-affirming Epistles and Queer-phobic Challenges, Queer Diaspora: Existence and Erasure in Appalachia, Both/And: Intersectional Understandings of Appalachian Queers, and Queer Media: Radical Acts of Embodiment and Resistance. Amanda Hayes’ “A Letter to Appalachia” opens our first section, but in its demand “to listen up” it also acts as an opening to the entire body of work that follows. As its title indicates, this contribution is an epistle, a time-honored rhetorical form for establishing more intimate connections with those close to us as well as with wider audiences and publics. The epistle in the hands of women has often been a rhetorical gesture that establishes close relationship while critiquing oppressive power (think Sarah Grimke). Following in this tradition comes Hayes’ “A Letter to Appalachia,” in which she demands that we examine closely our own hypocrisies and biases against all that seems queer. Hayes engages us in a discussion of queerness and difference with an imagined, yet very real audience of family, friends, neighbors, teachers, and readers through the evocation of the old Appalachian definition of queer—simply different. As a very beautiful storyteller and rhetorical scholar of Appalachia who moves through standard academic prose and her home Appalachian dialect, Hayes connects that old time Appalachian understanding of queer to family, current political climates, and her own sexual and gender identities. Not only does she challenge Appalachian stereotypes, like the unquestioned conflation of Appalachian-ness with whiteness, she challenges Appalachians themselves. For example, she cannot reconcile the strength she sees and knows in Appalachian women with a majority vote against a strong woman for president and instead for a man known for his disrespect and mistreatment of women and other minority groups. The form of the letter allows her to be confrontive with her fellow citizens and us as readers about anti-queerness and homophobia because it allows for her story to emerge while simultaneously calling for the stories of her fellow Appalachians to yield their own queerness. Along the way she manages to show us how to enact cultural change through storytelling, framing common rhetorical ground, and informal teaching. Her closing salutation, “Give my love to the family,” reverberates with sincerity but is also rich with queer irony.
Like Hayes’ contribution, Justin Dutton’s essay, “Challenging Dominant Christianity’s Queerphobic Rhetoric” explores ways to make Central Appalachia a more welcoming environment for all persons—Appalachian natives, citizens, and tourists alike. Dutton offers an alternative story of and challenge to the queerphobic mountain Christianity that has done great harm to Appalachian queer people. His alternative story and challenge suggests that Christian concepts of deep love and acceptance actually complement Appalachian culture and can be a means by which queerphobic folk learn about queer lives and listen to queer stories. This chapter demonstrates that the Appalachian traditions of pride in place and telling stories—traditions that hold much sway in mountain Christianity, both historically and currently—present Appalachian Christians with the unique opportunity, often denied to those who desire and/or seek to preserve the historic and current status quo in other forms of the faith, to move beyond queerphobia into a state of Christ-like love that continually expands. For Dutton, being queer in Appalachia means being in the “toxic closet,” which reminds readers why reconciling Appalachian (Christian) culture with queer culture remains such important work. And like Hayes, Dutton sees such work happening from inside Appalachia, from his people. In other words, when it comes to developing new understandings of the world—a process made famous by a first-century Jewish man who challenged the comfortable religious and political status quos of his time—mountain Christians have advantages that cannot be claimed by other Christian traditions, even those that seem similar on the surface. We chose to open with the section “The Heart Over the Head”: Queer-affirming Epistles and Queer-phobic Challenges” and its two contributions, “A Letter to Appalachia” and “Challenging Dominant Christianity’s Queerphobic Rhetoric,” because they are both a calling out, a calling to action, and a calling to the heart, that the essays that follow try to enact.
The next section of the collection, Queer Diaspora: Existence and Erasure in Appalachia, begins with Adam Denney’s lyrical essay, “A Drowning in the Foothills.” Denney’s chapter starts at Lake Cumberland, a large reservoir within a 101-mile stretch of land in Southeastern Kentucky, and an important ecological, economical, and recreational resource to the region. The waters of Lake Cumberland are full of many stories, quite literally as underneath its surface are the remnants of communities and farms that were vacated in the 1950’s when the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers damned the region. Local narratives likely include tales of those who drowned alongside the foothills, either unable or unwilling to leave. To drown at/for home is an all too familiar feeling for many queers in the Bible Belt. It is within this affect of drowning that this essay mobilizes a departure. “A Drowning in the Foothills” negotiates the times when holding one’s breath is an act of both resistance and survival in the face of hostile environments. The essay explores specific geographical sites/historical moments while weaving stories of personal queer experiences in order to create new imaginations of self and land. By reinvestigating the natural vis-à-vis the personal, Denney utilizes a blended methodology of scientific inquiry and storytelling to create a provocative exploration of life and death—and queerness—in this region.
In his essay, “A Pedagogy of the Flesh: Deconstructing the ‘Quare’ Appalachian Archetype,” Matthew Thomas-Reid moves us from the mythic waters of Lake Cumberland to Appalachian classrooms, where the ‘boy who is good to his momma’ excels in the arts and becomes the sweet submissive pleaser in a performance allowing no fully embodied identity. In other words, he can be quare [pronounced kwar] as in strange, unusual, or colorful, but not queer [pronounced kwir] as in a sexual being. Thomas-Reid further contends that although this separation of the spirit and the flesh proliferates in K–12 settings, it can be mended through (opportunities for) storytelling. Narratives for and by queer youth are missing in schools, and there is more than the academic at stake, as in our classrooms right now queer bodies are starving themselves, cutting themselves, and drugging themselves. Using a blend of familial, personal, and student narrative in a queer phenomenological approach, this author advocates for a pedagogy in Appalachia that embraces the narratives of the flesh, the voices of fully formed queer identities liberated from the quare constructs that favor cultural safety by promoting queer folk in Appalachia as sexless curiosities. This pedagogy aims to disrupt quare archetypes by allowing the flesh to be communicated through explicitly embodied queer narratives.
“Pickin’ and Grinnin’: Quare Hillbillies, Counterrhetorics, and the Recovery of Home,” Kimberly Gunter’s chapter also begins with narrative, with a story of her father’s response to her uncle’s verbal homophobia in a feed store. Indeed, this chapter is academic and personal, combining queer theories with queer stories that mirror the alienation, the sense of being neither here nor there that so many Appalachian queers experience. Gunter, a self-described country dyke, also troubles binaries like urban/rural and blue-collar/white-collar, while also insisting that queer rhetorical analyses also consider how class and place can reveal anti-queer, anti-Appalachian discourses. In a series of vignettes, Gunter weaves together autobiography, queer composition, and rhetorical studies to highlight the disconnects she experiences among competing yet overlapping identities as Appalachian, academic, and queer. Moreover, Gunter sees a similar negotiation of identities, performances, and places in the experiences of her (queer) writing students. In response, she calls for an intersectional approach to classrooms, to scholarship, to people that allows for these identities to simultaneously exist and be heard, to enable counter-rhetorics, counter-publics, and counter-world-making. This essay describes agentive life after deconstruction, the possibilities of quare counter-publics, and applications of a re-construction of self to the composition classroom as a public response to those personal experiences.
Opening our third section, Both/And: Intersectional Understandings of Appalachian Queers, Lydia McDermott’s essay, “The Crik is Crooked: Appalachia as Moveable Queer Space,” beautifully merges the personal with the academic, the private with the public, combining story with theory to explore multiple senses of queerness in/out of Appalachia; queer for McDermott, includes what Halberstam (2005) calls “an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices” (1). As an imagined space, Appalachia is queer—queer as a “crik is crooked.” McDermott asks and explores whether or not queer can be deployed as a verb of subversion—whether Appalachia also moves and subverts? In answer, she combines personal anecdote, family history, pedagogical practices, and queer theorization in a quilted form to disturb the academic ground she regularly walks. As well as a powerful story, McDermott’s essay is a powerful family history, which moves her (us) queerly through the hills of Pennsylvania, to Athens, Ohio, to Washington State, and finally back to a queer state of mind and memory where we feel, with McDermott, our “feet sunk into the Appalachian ground, the hills and hollows.”
In their essay, “Are Y’all Homo?”: Mêtis as Method for Queer Appalachia” Travis Rountree and Caleb Pendygraft also describe their experiences in/out of Appalachia. Like so many in this collection, these authors start with storytelling because they believe stories are foundational to Appalachian and Southern queer culture, and because the retelling of them is a powerful narrative tool that honors and gives voice to the identities and people of a given place and time. The co-authors, in the spirit of cultural rhetorics scholars and for the sake of queering the genre conventions and methods of scholarly writing, begin with story, individually relating their version of the same event: their somewhat terrifying experience of being researchers and strangers in a small Appalachian town, and of being asked at a local restaurant/bar, “are y’all homos?”; their “yes” response led to a warning that they had better leave before certain locals showed up and caused trouble, and they did leave. Yet, from this experience, Rountree and Pendygraft offer a methodology for (queer) person-based research grounded in the rhetorical concept of mêtis, which calls for rhetorically responding to rough situations with cunning, wit, and wisdom. The second half of the chapter theorizes mêtis to suggest a performative precarity and a performative disidentification as methods for other queer scholars and queer research in Appalachia. The authors see mêtis as not only an embodied intelligence, but an enacted strategy that can protect queer folx in the queerphobic places where they might work.
Focusing on their experiences as the former director of a university LGBT Center that serves both campus and community in a rural part of the country, delfin bautista’s chapter, “Queering Trauma and Resilience, Appalachian Style!” highlights both the challenges and resiliencies of queer narratives in Southeast Appalachian Ohio. bautista observes the preponderance of queer narratives, especially in popular media, that are set within the city, and they—as so many do in this collection—call for more queer narratives from/of rural places. As a person who moved to Athens, OH from Miami, FL, they have worked to create their own home in rural area that also hosts a state university, and it is from there they recast the queer stories and lives of students negotiating being displaced because of their queerness. Not surprisingly, LGBTQ+ students fear for their safety, face discrimination and abuse, and have a lack of access to a larger rainbow community. Like Gunter, bautista argues that an intersectional approach might offer the support that these students need and bridge gaps between the Ohio University campus and community, and specifically these LGBTQ+ folks.
The fourth and final section of the collection, Queer Media: Radical Acts of Embodiment and Resistance, opens with Tijah Bumgarner’s chapter, “Working Against the Past: Queering the Appalachian Narrative,” where she explores, through queer art, films screened at the Appalachian Queer Film Festival (AQFF), and student work, how master narratives of Appalachia are being reworked by artists, citizens, and students. Together, these folx and Bumgarner imagine and represent a more diverse Appalachia that challenges the usual dueling banjos/Deliverance tropes attached to the region. By focusing on minor narratives and voices often elided or erased, this chapter subverts silencing homogenous grand narratives, such as those that render themselves invisible while shoring up devastating extraction industries and mountaintop coal removal. Bumgarner calls for an intersectional approach within the “rooted” framework of Appalachia in order to argue against homogeneous tropes. As Appalachia transitions into an economically post-coal landscape, its cultural landscape is also in transition making room to dive (queerly) into the cultural gaps created by this transition. This essay argues that art is most beneficial in representing the differences and diversity in the region within the cultural gaps.
Savi Ettinger, Katie Manthey, Sonny Romano, and Cynthia Suryawan’s chapter, “Writing the Self: Trans Zine Making in Appalachia” highlights the connections between the material making of zines and their lived queer experiences at Salem College, a small women’s college nestled in the heart of Appalachia. This essay focuses on the theoretical and pedagogical contexts and practices that led to a creation of a zine project at Salem College that features writing by and about trans authors. The chapter is structured as vignettes of an interview between a cis professor and three trans students. While Salem College is not openly accepting of trans students, many of the students at Salem do not self-identify as women. The cis and trans writers of this chapter offer the Salem College Writing Center as a queer space in the vein of “thirdspace”—a space in-between the classroom and the outside world, in-between the public and the private, in-between the professional and the personal. In this space students have room to interrogate their identities in the context of writing, tutoring, and making in Appalachia. By offering vignettes from multiple student zine authors and the director of the Writing Center, this piece offers a theoretical approach to navigating story as queer theory while investigating tensions between the institution and individuals for both students and faculty and the place of academic thirdspaces as queer havens, all within the larger context of a women’s college in Appalachia. This essay also includes a copy of the first zine, titled “Trans Embodiment.”
Finally, we close the collection with a powerful tribute to Bryn Kelly, a transgender artist and activist who killed herself, leaving behind a deep and painful absence for many in the queer community. Yet, Gina Mamone and Sarah E. Meng in their essay “Queer Appalachia: A Homespun Praxis of Restorative Justice and Rural Resistance in Appalachian Media,” revive our hearts and create a space of evocative queer power and subjectivity in their tribute to Bryn. Their chapter details the birth and blossoming of an online community called Queer Appalachia. Since 2015 the digitized space of Queer Appalachia has provided a place to share stories of resistance and resilience, mobilize against legislation villainizing queer communities and policing queer bodies. Through social media, Queer Appalachia has become a contemporary zine, an online place to call to one another over the mountains of our closets, and a counter to the violence that isolations wreaks on the lives of too many queers. Queer Appalachia offers a rural, accessible, queer space/place that celebrates representation and visibility at the crossroads of queerness and Appalachian culture. This chapter shares these stories through images taken from their Instagram page, images that illustrate survival and tell tales of wildcrafting Appalachian queerness, foraging for pieces of ourselves within the intersections of coal mines and class, race and religion, food justice and colonialism. With nearly 4,000 social media followers and a publishing contract offer, Queer Appalachia is building on online space for these stories while helping community find each other.
The Editors’ Place: Queers in Appalachia
It is ethical and important, we believe, to acknowledge that we are not queer Appalachians. We are queer(nes)s in Appalachia, but we are not of Appalachia. We are queers living in Appalachia. We are outside-insiders—“elsewhere, within here,” as Trinh Minh-ha puts it. And so, these stories are not ours to tell. We consider ourselves blessed and humbled to have this opportunity to curate and archive the extraordinary stories of those who negotiate and experience Appalachian queerness. To that end, let us say something about who we are in relation to Appalachia and to queerness.

A few months after moving from Athens, OH to East Lansing, MI, to start my position at Michigan State University, my partner and I attended a concert hosted by The Ten Pound Fiddle, a local folk music scene/community. It was chilly outside, and it poured rain that night. The show was held indoors, with no alcohol served. So right off the bat, it felt very different from any folk show I’d been to in Southeast Ohio; honestly, it felt different from any folk or bluegrass show I’d ever been to. But as more people entered the concert room, and I watched them chatting among friends, that feeling changed. I realized it was the first time I felt at home since leaving Appalachia, despite having lived in Lansing 15 years prior. There were men in their 70s with long silver ponytails, homemade dresses—patchworked with colorful and playful patterns—worn over pants, and there was a strong sense of friendship and community all around us. I found myself, again, among a tight knit community and in the presence of the banjos and fiddles.
We took our seats and a hush fell over the room. Run Boy Run began to play, and upon hearing that first string plucked, I couldn’t help myself: I began to cry. After the third or fourth song, my wife nudged me and asked, “are you going to cry through the whole thing?!” And I basically did. Tears rolled down my cheeks for the first half of the show, until intermission. I cried because I missed Athens. I missed the community I had formed there, the friends who had become family. I cried out of longing. Because it sounded like hilltops, hollars, ridges, and criks. Banjos and fiddles have become lush, green sounds of home.
I am a Midwestern queer, but my heart beats for Appalachia and since I have moved away, I feel a sense of loss similar to those described in these stories. Although I have since left Appalachia, it has not left me. For me, this collection was a way to reconnect, to recollect and re-collect—as I have been apart from Sherrie and Rachel, two important pieces of my found queer family—and to go home again. There will always be a part of me that will imagine myself back in foothills of Appalachia, exploring the people, music, beer, caves, rocks, and rivers of the Hocking Hills. I may have moved away, but I will never move on.

I was born in Wyoming and have spent 52 of 6 decades living in rural America from the Rocky Mountain West, to rural New England, to Mississippi’s deep south, to, for the past 18 years, Appalachian Ohio. I am not from Appalachia, but I am (mostly) home, and queer, in Appalachia. I live up in the hills outside a small village off two-nine holler, and just a few miles from the old Sunday Creek Coal mine, where Ohio’s worst coal mine disaster took the lives of eighty-two men on November 5, 1930. My water source is Sunday Creek itself, which runs nearby, bright orange from years of acid run off.
My neighbors hunt and fish. They live on family owned land as multi-generational families, including cousins, where when every new generation comes of age, gets married, begins having children of their own, a piece of the family land is set aside and another simple trailer house or modular home is added. They accept me into their hills and as their neighbor. I know they know I’m a bit different from them, a bit quare, yet they come to my aid when I need help and I to theirs when they need help. Side by side we’ve pulled 4-wheelers out of mud holes, hauled trees out of the road, and returned each others’ coon dogs at the end of an errant hunt. They are here for me no matter how quare, and I hope the same would be for no matter how queer, but I leave those grounds untested in times of Trump. This dog don’t hunt trouble today. Maybe tomorrow.

I’m not from Appalachia, as I was planted and grown amidst the wheat, cattle, and red dirt of Oklahoma. Yet, after living in southern Ohio for seven years, in the foothills of the Appalachians and forty minutes north of the West Virginia state line, I have come to call Appalachia home. I am surprised by how much this place and its people recall rural, rugged, religious memories of Oklahoma. Down there in cowboy, cattle country, in the buckle of the Bible belt, heart-warm people hold tightly to tradition, to family, and to the land, and this little country girl did too.
I was rooted in that place and it deeply affected how I thought and felt about myself and the world around me. In fact, it wasn’t until I moved away from Oklahoma to Appalachia, and found a queer family here, that I began to openly tell people that I am queer. Close friends in Oklahoma knew of my bisexuality, but I didn’t call myself queer, and I certainly didn’t come out to my blood relatives.
And here’s why: I attended a Temptations concert with my aunt at the Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa. At the same time, we both noticed two women dancing in front of us, one standing behind the other with her arms wrapped around her beloved. Against the backdrop of five men dancing and singing in sparkly green suit jackets, I watched this couple dance in sincere embrace and it warmed my heart. At the young age of 14, I also had a flash of pride that these women openly displayed their affection for each other in a public space in Oklahoma. Yet, where I felt warmth and love, my aunt felt disgust and revulsion. Loudly she said, “You two should get a room. That’s disgusting.” I remember being shocked, and palpably feeling the great distance and disparity between my world view and my aunt’s. And this experience, and experiences like these marked me, leading me to disregard and not factor into my identity the relationships I would have with women in the years to come.
Yet, in two unlikely places, Appalachia and academia, I was fortunate to find a queer family and home that gave me the safe space and love I needed to fully embrace my queer identity. I am a rural queer living and loving in Appalachia and that is what I see this collection offering to queers within/without Appalachia: a place where the rural and the queer can and do co-exist.
Part I: The Heart Over the Head: Queer-affirming Epistles and Queer-phobic Challenges
A Letter to Appalachia
Amanda Hayes
Challenging Dominant Christianity’s Queerphobic Rhetoric
Justin Ray Dutton
Part II: Queer Diaspora: Existence and Erasure in Appalachia
A Drowning in the Foothills
Adam Denney
A Pedagogy of the Flesh: Deconstructing the “Quare” Appalachian Archetype
Matthew Thomas Reid
Pickin’ and Grinnin’: Quare Hillbillies, Counter Rhetorics, and the Recovery of Home
Kim Gunter
Part III: Both/And: Intersectional Understandings of Appalachian Queers
The Crik Is Crooked: Appalachia as Moveable Queer Space
Lydia McDermott
“Are Y’all Homo?”: Mêtis as Method for Queer Appalachia
Caleb Pendygraft and Travis A. Rountree
Queering Trauma and Resilience, Appalachian Style!
delfin bautista
Part IV: Queer Media: Radical Acts of Embodiment and Resistance
Working against the Past: Queering the Appalachian Narrative
Tijah Bumgarner
Writing the Self: Trans Zine Making in Appalachia
Savi Ettinger, Katie Manthey, Sonny Romano, Cynthia Suryawan
Queer Appalachia: A Homespun Praxis of Restorative Justice and Rural Resistance in Appala-chian Media
Gina Mamone and Sarah E. Meng
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