Life, Death, Queerness, and Fieldwork in “the Armpit of Iowa”

Authors: Christopher Neubert*, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Topics: Sexuality, Gender, Rural Geography
Keywords: fieldwork, queer geography, feminist geography, ethnography, Iowa, rurality, masculinity
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 15
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper draws on my experiences conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Fort Dodge, IA for two years as part of my dissertation studying the relationship between white masculinity and agriculture. Though trained in feminist and queer theories and methods, when I first arrived in Fort Dodge in August 2018 I still expected to maintain some emotional distance between my field site and my gender, sexuality and political commitments. I also worried about the potential risks of being openly queer in very conservative rural Iowa. Instead, I found that queerness is an ever-present, destabilizing force, even in a cultural landscape that demands adherence to principles of tradition, order, and security.

During my time in Fort Dodge I found myself confronting unexpected experiences – babysitting the child of a recovering mother; the suicide of a young queer friend; unwanted advances from otherwise straight men – that challenged my assumptions about my own queerness and relationship to this place. I frequently found myself frustrated by the inevitable difficulty to maintain neat boundaries between my various identities, unsure how I was being recognized in these moments and whether I was accurately recognizing others. But queerness cannot be ignored: it forces attention on relationships and ways of being that would otherwise appear natural or sacred. It also demonstrates the power and dominance of masculine ideologies in small-town and rural Iowa, where queerness often remains a topic only discussed under the influence, in dark bar bathrooms, in fleeting moments with strangers, or through tears with a friend.

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