A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
Fellows, Will. Farm Boys: Lives of Gay Men from the Rural Midwest. Madison: U of Wisconsin Press, 1998.
This book has been on my shelf for over twenty years. If I had read it when it was new, it might have seemed fresher. As it is, the men featured here, born between 1907 and 1967, seem stuck in their contemporary argot. I wonder if gay farm boys are still experiencing the same universals, some of which dovetail well with so-called urban gays. Young farm boys seem to have more interest in growing beautiful things like gardens instead of livestock; they enjoy cooking more than being outside. Insofar as it is possible, given small rural school districts, they become involved in the arts and often excel in them. Over and over again, you see gay farm boys say they don’t care for picking up tricks or one-night stands, that they would prefer long-term relationships but that rural life makes that kind openness impossible. The reader cannot imagine the number of these men who have sex with male siblings and other relatives before they begin to engage with and marry women. Perhaps the most prevalent commonality is the harm religion, particularly Catholicism, causes young boys and men as they search for a way to express their sexuality and find a partner with whom they can share a life. Like the urban gay youth, they more often than not experience a sympathetic mother and a distant or hostile father because the gay son doesn’t fall into line. By the end, I almost felt as if I were reading the same four or five profiles over and over again. And yet I know I wasn’t. Every gay man’s story has something in common with others and every story has its differences, its unique qualities, which set that man apart.
What would be interesting now would be for Fellows (or some other courageous writer/scholar with boundless energy) to interview gay farm boys born between 1970 and 1995. Have their experiences been different than the generations before them? How does arranging for sex online compare to picking someone up at a bar or at some Interstate rest room? Are fathers still as intractable about masculinity and what that means? Has the world at large made any dent at all into the sequestered lives of rural Americans? This fascinating book seems to invite an ongoing discussion in which these and other questions are explored.
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