May 12th

Tropes in Gay YA: Rural Communities and Gay Flight

This is the first installment of a short series about tropes surrounding LGBT+/GNC (gender nonconforming) characters in YA lit. Today I’ll be discussing the myth of gay flight from rural areas, its inaccuracy, and its damage. This is something extremely important to me in this post, something that affects deeply on a personal level as someone who lives at the intersection of gayness, gender transgression, and youth.

To start, let’s see if this sounds familiar:

I live in a small, rural town. Everyone is intolerant, ignorant, and one dimensional. I do something very gender normative (IE: play football, cheerlead, etc) because I am normal and TOTALLY not a stereotype. I either decide to come out of the closet or am forced out. I live for the dream of escaping to the big city which is full of Accepting People and Other Gays.

Alternatively, I am a flamboyantly gay person in a small, rural town every where everyone is intolerant, ignorant, and one dimensional. I have one friend and we’re probably going to fall in love. I leave for the big city which is full of Accepting People and Other Gays.

There’s something rather loathsome about how the only line of hope given to LGBT/GNC youth in rural areas is escape. The rural flight narrative is not only far too common, it’s damaging. What it says is: “Your identity and your home are incompatible”. It seems not often considered that we may want to stay in our homes or maintain a positive emotional relationship with them. It’s not self-sacrificing to stay. A question few seem to ask themselves: if everyone leaves, how does anything change? Who will carve out the space for those who fall outside the “norms” of gender and sexuality?

Another facet of this issue: Rural areas often have lower income and in literature are depicted as such. The aggressors in these books are often that specific rural stereotype: poor, stupid, perhaps the children of farmers or struggling local businessmen. Poverty, ignorance, and hatefulness become invariably entangled, existing together in association. This mindset is antiquated, a by-product of the Kennedy-era War on Poverty and exploitative charity-porn like Christmas in Appalachia. It feels demeaning to read these things and creates an inherent desire in youth to distance themselves from their homes because of what their homes have come to be associated with.

All these things aside, it’s grotesquely overdone. I’ve read and seen it hundreds of times. This trope does more than just dominate YA fiction, it saturates almost every piece of media that falls within the confines of “rural” and “gay”. I don’t want to read the same thing over and over again, especially not when it’s a condemnation of my identity, home, and loved ones. It’s important to closely examine the message we send to others through the things that we write and produce, particularly when the audience is largely our youth.

Have any thoughts on what you’ve just read? The purpose of this series is to create discussion, so feel free to comment! Please, remember to be respectful.

This is the first installment of a short series about tropes surrounding LGBT+/GNC (gender nonconforming) characters in YA lit. Today I’ll be discussing the myth of gay flight from rural areas, its inaccuracy, and its damage. This is something extremely important to me in this post, something that affects deeply on a personal level as someone who lives at the intersection of gayness, gender transgression, and youth.

To start, let’s see if this sounds familiar:

I live in a small, rural town. Everyone is intolerant, ignorant, and one dimensional. I do something very gender normative (IE: play football, cheerlead, etc) because I am normal and TOTALLY not a stereotype. I either decide to come out of the closet or am forced out. I live for the dream of escaping to the big city which is full of Accepting People and Other Gays.

Alternatively, I am a flamboyantly gay person in a small, rural town every where everyone is intolerant, ignorant, and one dimensional. I have one friend and we’re probably going to fall in love. I leave for the big city which is full of Accepting People and Other Gays.

There’s something rather loathsome about how the only line of hope given to LGBT/GNC youth in rural areas is escape. The rural flight narrative is not only far too common, it’s damaging. What it says is: “Your identity and your home are incompatible”. It seems not often considered that we may want to stay in our homes or maintain a positive emotional relationship with them. It’s not self-sacrificing to stay. A question few seem to ask themselves: if everyone leaves, how does anything change? Who will carve out the space for those who fall outside the “norms” of gender and sexuality?

Another facet of this issue: Rural areas often have lower income and in literature are depicted as such. The aggressors in these books are often that specific rural stereotype: poor, stupid, perhaps the children of farmers or struggling local businessmen. Poverty, ignorance, and hatefulness become invariably entangled, existing together in association. This mindset is antiquated, a by-product of the Kennedy-era War on Poverty and exploitative charity-porn like Christmas in Appalachia. It feels demeaning to read these things and creates an inherent desire in youth to distance themselves from their homes because of what their homes have come to be associated with.

All these things aside, it’s grotesquely overdone. I’ve read and seen it hundreds of times. This trope does more than just dominate YA fiction, it saturates almost every piece of media that falls within the confines of “rural” and “gay”. I don’t want to read the same thing over and over again, especially not when it’s a condemnation of my identity, home, and loved ones. It’s important to closely examine the message we send to others through the things that we write and produce, particularly when the audience is largely our youth.

Have any thoughts on what you’ve just read? The purpose of this series is to create discussion, so feel free to comment! Please, remember to be respectful.

By Oliver Lumpkin

Oli oli oxen-free
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Tropes in Gay YA: Rural Communities and Gay Flight

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