The Un-Natural State


Arkansas and the Queer South
Brock Thompson
978-1-55728-943-8 (cloth)
October 2010


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The Un-Natural State is a one-of-a-kind study of gay and lesbian life in Arkansas in the twentieth century, a deft weaving together of Arkansas history, dozens of oral histories, and Brock Thompson’s own story. Thompson analyzes the meaning of rural drag shows, including a compelling description of a 1930s seasonal beauty pageant in Wilson, Arkansas, where white men in drag shared the stage with other white men in blackface, a suggestive mingling that went to the core of both racial transgression and sexual disobedience. These small town entertainments put on in churches and schools emerged decades later in gay bars across the state as a lucrative business practice and a larger means of community expression, while in the same period the state’s sodomy law was rewritten to condemn sexual acts between those of the same sex in language similar to what was once used to denounce interracial sex. Thompson goes on to describe several lesbian communities established in the Ozark Mountains during the sixties and seventies and offers a substantial account of Eureka Springs’s informal status as the “gay capital of the Ozarks.”
Through this exploration of identity formation, group articulation, political mobilization, and cultural visibility within the context of historical episodes such as the Second World War, the civil rights movement, and the AIDS epidemic, The Un-Natural State contributes not only to our understanding of gay and lesbian history but also to our understanding of the South.

Brock Thompson received his PhD in American studies at King’s College, University of London. A native Arkansan, he now lives in Washington, DC, and works at the Library of Congress.

“Thompson’s book is a readable, informative, and thoroughly researched addition to scholarship about LGBT life in the South.”
Appalachian Journal
“Thompson’s book is of vital importance for all historians and queer scholars alike.”
Journal of American History
“An innovative look at Arkansas and the South more generally.”
Journal of Southern History, Nov. 2012
“A must-read for anyone interested in the history of southern culture and sexuality.”
Southern Historian, May 2012
“Ultimately, what Thompson’s book establishes most persuasively is the fact that Arkansas is not, and never has been, New York, San Francisco, or any of the other gay metropolises about which historians of queer life in the United States have taught us so much. And that is precisely why we should all be queuing up to buy a copy and read it.”
American Historical Review, Feb. 2012
“…may be the most important recent study of the state’s past.”
Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Autumn 2011

“Brock Thompson not only adds Arkansas to the list of places with a fascinating queer history but also contributes to our understanding of gay and lesbian history in the South and in rural communities more generally.”
—Leila Rupp, author of A Desired Past: A Short History of Same-Sex Love in America
“A valuable and unique contribution to the history of sexuality as well as to cultural and historical studies of the American South.”
—Pippa Holloway, author of Sexuality, Politics, and Social Control in Virginia, 1920–1945