Cover image for Men like that : a southern queer history
Men like that : a southern queer history
Howard, John, 1962-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xxiii, 395 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ76.3.U52 M74 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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We don't usually associate thriving queer culture with rural America, but John Howard's unparalleled history of queer life in the South persuasively debunks the myth that same-sex desires can't find expression outside the big city. In fact, this book shows that the nominally conservative institutions of small-town life--home, church, school, and workplace--were the very sites where queer sexuality flourished. As Howard recounts the life stories of the ordinary and the famous, often in their own words, he also locates the material traces of queer sexuality in the landscape: from the farmhouse to the church social, from sports facilities to roadside rest areas.

Spanning four decades, Men Like That complicates traditional notions of a post-WWII conformist wave in America. Howard argues that the 1950s, for example, were a period of vibrant queer networking in Mississippi, while during the so-called "free love" 1960s homosexuals faced aggressive oppression. When queer sex was linked to racial agitation and when key civil rights leaders were implicated in homosexual acts, authorities cracked down and literally ran the accused out of town.

In addition to firsthand accounts, Men Like That finds representations of homosexuality in regional pulp fiction and artwork, as well as in the number one pop song about a suicidal youth who jumps off the Tallahatchie Bridge. And Howard offers frank, unprecedented assessments of outrageous public scandals: a conservative U.S. congressman caught in the act in Washington, and a white candidate for governor accused of patronizing black transgender sex workers.

The first book-length history of the queer South, Men Like That completely reorients our presuppositions about gay identity and about the dynamics of country life.

"Men Like That goes a long way towards redressing the urban bias in American lesbian and gay-history writing. . . . Howard's rigorous scholarship, which is based both on oral history and traditional historical documents . . . is enhanced by a disarmingly personal touch. . . . His insights into queerness and the mentality of the American South should be of great interest both to the professional gay historian and the general reader."--Madeleine Minson, Times Higher Education Supplement

"Howard creates a history remarkable in its complexity yet intimate in its portraiture. At long last an intimate and full vision of queer lives in America that did not unfold in San Francisco's discos."-- Kirkus Reviews

"In this groundbreaking and engrossing analysis of gay male life in postwar Mississippi, Howard . . . boldly demonstrates that gay culture and sex not only existed but flourished in small towns."-- Publishers Weekly, starred review

Author Notes

John Howard is a lecturer in American history at the University of York

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

For three decades, social historians have claimed that for gay people, sexual freedom was only found in cities because rural areas were draconian in their regulation of nontraditional sexual practices. In this groundbreaking and engrossing analysis of gay male life in postwar Mississippi, Howard, a professor of American Studies at the University of York, boldly demonstrates that gay culture and sex not only existed but flourished in small towns and agricultural communities throughout the state. Supporting his challenging argument with a compelling mixture of postmodern theory, reportage, cultural analysis, conjecture and personal anecdote, Howard not only convinces but paints a vivid, complex and often startling portrait of the lives of Southern gay men between 1945 and 1985. While the 55 personal interviews and oral historiesÄwhich are alternately funny, poignant, informative and sometimes unsettlingÄform the emotional backbone of the book, Howard is terrific at explicating obvious homosexual content in popular culture. His reading of the gay themes in Bobbie Gentry's 1967 country hit "Ode to Billy Joe" and of Joe Hains's spirited defenses of homosexuality in his popular entertainment column in the Jackson Daily News from 1955 to 1975, and Howard's own interpretation of an infamous murder trial, support his thesis that homosexuality was anything but hidden. Most provocative of all, however, is Howard's innovative analysis of how gay sexual activity and homophobia fueled and shaped white resistance to the black civil rights movement. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Howard (lecturer, American history, Univ. of York) provides a stirring analysis of gay male life in Mississippi from the end of World War II to the onset of the AIDS crisis. The author reveals that contrary to popular belief, gay culture not only existed but also thrived in the state's small towns and rural areas. Homes, churches, schools, and workplaces saw prospering gay sexuality. Howard's account depicts historical periods of great progress and times of extreme oppression. While the 1950s were years of "queer networking," the days of heady sexuality in the 1960s were a time of hostile oppression. Most controversially, Howard reveals how gay sexual behavior and homophobia prompted white resistance to the Civil Rights movement. Men Like That will confront and challenge readers' thinking about gay life in the South and rural America. Recommended for all gay studies collections.--Michael A. Lutes, Univ. of Notre Dame Libs., South Bend, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Howard's book is a study of homosexuality (predominantly male) in the state of Mississippi between 1945 and '85. The book consists partly of life stories, excerpts of reminiscences taken from exceptionally sensitive and well-done interviews. A second major component covers a variety of specific incidents and individuals--political scandals, sensational trials, important activists, writers, and artists--that brought gay issues into heightened public attention. Howard finds a ubiquitous interaction between religion and homosexuality in Mississippi. He also argues that the traditional trajectory of gay history--from Cold War-era hostility and repression to contemporary liberation and freedom--does not work well when applied to Mississippi. Antagonism and intolerance actually increased beginning in the 1960s, partly because of an association in Mississippi of homosexuality with the Civil Rights Movement and also because homosexuality was increasingly seen as an identity rather than an activity. Howard's study is a superb work about an important and timely topic. It provides a relatively rare account of gay life outside the nation's major urban centers. Belying its origins as a dissertation, it tackles important issues with a minimum of theoretical jargon. Remarkably subtle and powerful, this is one of the most important books yet written about gay life in the US. General readers; upper-division undergraduates and above. K. Blaser; Wayne State College

Table of Contents

Part 1
1 Ones and Twos
2 Sites
3 Movements
Part 2
4 Norms and Laws
5 Representations
6 Politics and Beliefs
7 Scandals
Appendix 1 A Note on Interviews
Appendix 2 Carl Corley Bibliography
Appendix 3 Population of Selected Mississippi Communities, Towns, and Cities