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.
Author: Samantha Allen | Publisher: Little, Brown
I chose Real Queer America for my office’s Pride Month book club. I wanted to read something by either a cisgender woman or a transgender person, and I wanted to spark conversation about experiences that even our very diverse team had not considered before. This. book. was. it. Samantha Allen’s prose is clear and impactful, yet warm and fun. I’m so, so glad I read it, and I can’t wait to talk about it more.
To write this book, Allen and one of her good friends set off in a car to visit red states from Utah to Georgia, finding and getting to know queer communities along the way. They interview a lot of different people to ask them what it is they love about their home and why they choose to stay there rather than move to New York or California. We get to meet so many beautiful humans and hear so many important stories.
Along the way, we also get a lot of Allen’s own backstory, starting when she first dared to dress as the woman she was while living as a man in Mormon Utah, grappling with her upbringing and her identity. We also meet a lot of the people who have been instrumental in Allen’s life as she got to where she (very happily) is today.
I live in NYC. It’s so different here from the communities described in this book. And that’s exactly why I wanted to read it. It’s easy to get stuck in a blue bubble here, partly because of the day to day, and partly because it’s simply easier to pretend that there aren’t these other places where not everyone around you agrees on social justice issues. It’s easier to think that NYC is the world, because it’s closer to what we’d like the world to look like.
But that’s not true. We can’t live in our bubble all the time. We can’t just treat our own city as a haven and leave the rest of the country to struggle on its own. We can’t write off entire states as terrible places to live. We can’t think of them as a lost cause. Because would we really be the inclusive, progressive community that we think we are if we did all that?
Read this book. It’s a quick one; ~300 pages and wide margins. But it’s important — and it’s also really well written and uplifting!