Queer Places Without Queer Politics: Small City Gay Bars

02/07/2020 - 3:30pm
Classroom Building Room 122
Speaker(s) / Presenter(s): 
Gregor Mattson, Oberlin College

Gay bars are failures for both queer and mainstream LGBT politics. They are too identitarian, normative, and capitalistic for the former, too frivolous and banal for the latter, and too exploitative for both. What little we know about gay bars comes in the context of gay neighborhoods or as backdrops for more interesting, transgressive performances. But gay bars exist primarily outside gayborhoods—there are more cities with lone gay bars than there are gay bars in San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles combined.

This talk reports on the queerness of one of 52 gay bars I studied that are more than an hour’s drive from another. I argue that these “outpost” bars are queer places without queer politics, best conceived in relation to both the regions they serve and to big-city LGBT life: relatively cosmopolitan and dumpy, relatively un-capitalistic and Republican, relatively queer and apolitical. They are unique sites of convergence for the rural and urban, the cosmopolitan and provincial, tensions that can help extend the metronormative critique away from binaries or a rejection of “the” city. A reorientation towards places, rather than abstract spaces, helps make sense of what might otherwise seem surprising about the small-city lives of the majority of LGBT people: that the gay bars that fail most deeply at both queer and mainstream LGBT expectations might be the queerest places of all.

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