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date: 11 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

Regional variation, race, gender presentation, and class differences mean that there are many “Gay Souths.” Same-sex desire has been a feature of the human experience since the beginning, but the meanings, expressions, and ability to organize one’s life around desire have shifted profoundly since the invention of sexuality in the mid-19th century. World War II represented a key transition in gay history, as it gave many people a language for their desires. During the Cold War, government officials elided sex, race, and gender transgression with subversion and punished accordingly by state committees. These forces profoundly shaped gay social life, and rather than a straight line from closet to liberation, gays in the South have meandered. Movement rather than stasis, circulation rather than congregation, and the local rather than the stranger as well as creative uses of space and place mean that the gay South is distinctive, though not wholly unique, from the rest of the country.

Keywords: gay, South, queer, LGBTQ+, gay bars, respectability, race, class, gender, AIDS

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