Book Review: “Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States” by Samantha Allen

Blurb and Info

A transgender reporter’s narrative tour through the surprisingly vibrant queer communities sprouting up in red states, offering a vision of a stronger, more humane America.

Ten years ago, Samantha Allen was a suit-and-tie-wearing Mormon missionary. Now she’s a senior Daily Beast reporter happily married to another woman. A lot in her life has changed, but what hasn’t changed is her deep love of Red State America, and of queer people who stay in so-called “flyover country” rather than moving to the liberal coasts.

In Real Queer America, Allen takes us on a cross-country road-trip stretching all the way from Provo, Utah to the Rio Grande Valley to the Bible Belt to the Deep South. Her motto for the trip: “Something gay every day.” Making pit stops at drag shows, political rallies, and hubs of queer life across the heartland, she introduces us to scores of extraordinary LGBT people working for change, from the first openly transgender mayor in Texas history to the manager of the only queer night club in Bloomington, Indiana, and many more.

Capturing profound cultural shifts underway in unexpected places and revealing a national network of chosen family fighting for a better world, Real Queer America is a treasure trove of uplifting stories and a much-needed source of hope and inspiration in these divided times.

Published: March 5, 2019

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (division of Hachette Book Group)

Pages: 321

Series: standalone

Target Audience: all ages

Content Warnings: mentioned homophobia and transphobia


Alright, confession time: I finished this book in July.


It’s freakin’ September, people! I have just had so many feelings over this book that I’ve had the hardest time figuring out how to write this review without an inordinate amount of unintelligible gushing. (Mind you, some gushing is definitely in order; this is my first five star review on this blog).

To me, a five star review is extremely personal. I have to care deeply about the characters and themes, and probably have to cry at least once while reading. A five star review should be reserved for books that give me a hangover when I finish and make me feel as though the Earth has shifted on its axis.

When I finished Allen’s book, I certainly felt as though the world was changed — for the better.

I picked up this book expecting a road trip story with some queerness thrown in. And that’s what I got! In spades! And I also got one of the most thoughtful, relevant, and above all hopeful stories that I have read all year. Allen does so much more than take us with her on a journey; in telling her own story of how she struggled toward love and self-acceptance as well as embarking on a quest to find queerness in America’s reddest states, she made me feel real, genuine hope for the future.

It’s difficult to write this review without being overly personal about why it matters so much to me. In some ways, Allen and I are similar: we both despaired over the 2016 US presidential election results and care deeply about LGBT+ issues. In other ways, however, Allen is different from me: she’s a trans woman, and because of this is the target of so much more violence and vitriol than I will likely ever face as a (closeted) enby. In spite of this, Allen has faith in America and its people, especially the ones in states that leftists like me used to write off as lost causes.

Real Queer America is a love letter to the queer communities in small cities and smaller towns in the Midwest and the deep South. Allen travels to Utah, Indiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Mississippi, revisiting places where she had been unable to find community earlier in her life or else finding new places entirely. Her book is part memoir and part exploration, and all of it is told in compelling, conversational prose. I felt like I was being told a story as I sat on a porch with a glass of sweet tea!

The meat of Real Queer America concerns the differences between queer communities in supposed “safe havens” like San Francisco and New York City and queer communities in traditionally conservative states. Allen believes — and she’s done a good job convincing me as well — that city life just isn’t worth the hype. In the face of hostile state legislatures, queer folks in red states are drawn together in activism and even just existence, forming friendships and found families of mutual support. According to Allen’s research (which is abundantly supported with citations at the end of each chapter) these ties and community bonds are actually weaker in big cities and more traditionally liberal states.

Ultimately, I think Real Queer America can best be summarized in this quote:

“And utopias — well, utopias don’t exist. If one did, every LGBT person in the country would move there and queer world-making would end.”

Samantha Allen

In the face of every legislature and hackneyed Presidential administration, LGBT+ people will continue to fight to create communities where queerness is accepted. Allen has it right: queer world-making is at its most profound in the face of hostility, and we should never take our safe harbors for granted — if we do, they will surely be taken from us.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ out of 5 stars

I’m remodeling this post half a year after creating it in order to make sure that it fits my new review format. If you’ve enjoyed this review and are thinking of picking up Allen’s book, please also consider donating to your local or national LGBTQA+ organizations.

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