The Times this week presents four excerpts from a new book from the University of Arkansas Press, "The Un-Natural State" by Brock Thompson.
His book is a study of gay and lesbian life in Arkansas in the 20th century, a weaving together of Arkansas history, dozens of oral histories, and Brock Thompson's own story.
Among other topics, Thompson analyzes the meaning of rural drag shows (a photo of one was used on his book cover and this week's Times cover), including a description of a 1930s seasonal beauty pageant in Wilson, 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. By then, as Thompson's lead excerpt shows, homosexuality had already been put in play as a political issue.
Thompson describes several lesbian communities established in the Ozark Mountains during the '60s and '70s and offers a substantial account of Eureka Springs' informal status as the "gay capital of the Ozarks."
All excerpts are by Brock Thompson and from his new book, "The Un-Natural State." They are reprinted with permission of the University of Arkansas Press, www.uapress.com.
About the author
Brock Thompson, who grew up in Conway, is a graduate of Hendrix College. He received his Ph.D. in American studies at King's College, University of London. He now lives in Washington and works at the Library of Congress.
His book is due in stores this month. He has several Arkansas book signings planned in November:
6 p.m. Nov. 17, sponsored by the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, in the East Room of the Main Little Rock Library.
7 p.m. Nov. 18 at Nightbird Books, 205 W. Dickson St., Fayetteville
2 p.m. Nov. 20, Faulkner County Library, 1900 Tyler St., Conway.