On Steve Grand and Rural Gay Life

Upon a recent watching of the video for YouTube/country/gay sensation Steve Grand’s “All American Boy,” I was immediately struck by how many chords the video struck with me and, I venture to guess, for many other queers who grew up in a small town or in a rural area.  For better or worse, for many rural/small town queers of my generation (and, I suspect, for the one after me and most certainly for the ones before), falling in love with the straight boy (or boys) was an inevitability, since that was largely what surrounded us.  Whether we like to admit it or not, for many LGBT youth growing up in the small towns and rural communities that comprise so many parts of our country, being the only LGBT person in town is an inevitable part of life.  And so is falling in love with a straight man.

I was therefore especially struck by Bryan Lowder’s commentary for Slate that the video, rather than capturing a segment of rural queer life, instead argues that it is ” like something out of a homo smut story from before Stonewall.”  Perhaps for urban queers living in large cities, such might be the case, as big cities tend to be the place where queers of every variety can find a welcoming community of others like us.  But for many of those who still live in the country, or who live in small towns, that is very likely not going to happen.

What is perhaps most troubling about Lowder’s dismissal of the video, however, is that it neglects the powerful affect that the video engenders in those whose own life experience closely matches that presented in the video.  There is a rawness and a pain to Grand’s lyrics, and to the narrative of the video itself, that captures the emotions that those of us who grew up in a rural area (such as my own Appalachia) have experienced when we fall or fell helplessly, hopelessly in love with that which we know we cannot/could not have.  I know that this treads dangerously close to the self-destructive and self-hating gay stereotype that has been so thoroughly dismissed and disavowed by the mainstream gay movement (“Oh no, we are good homos who don’t lust after straight men”).  But, whether we like it or not, that stereotype has some truth to it, especially for those who don’t have the advantage of growing up in a community of queers where the odds of finding someone who is of your same sexual orientation are substantially greater.  The fact that Lowder, and no doubt others like him, fail to see this fact suggests more about their lack of knowledge about the enormous segment of the LGBT population that lives outside the mainstream than it does about the video’s failings.

All of this is not to suggest that the video is perfect; far from it.  It still panders to many of the gay stereotypes that continue to shape public perception of gay male life.  Most notably, the boys in the video are all model-perfect, including Grand himself.  However, what it does do is portray a little slice of gay life that, for better or worse, hasn’t really changed that much since Stonewall, at least for those of us living outside of the gay, urban mainstream.  Although the video may not be revolutionary, as Lowder laments at the end of his review, it is nevertheless a noteworthy contribution to the broader public perception of the pain and the loneliness that many gay men still face as they struggle with their emotions and with their identities.

If you want to see the video, you can find it here.

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