Sapphic Scarletts, Dixie Dykes, and Tomboys: Representing Female-Bodied Queerness in Contemporary Southern Novels and Films Open Access

Parsons, Abigail Louise (2013)

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This dissertation examines how representations of female-bodied queerness in contemporary fiction and film challenge dominant cultural narratives about the U.S. South. The events and images that configure prevailing narratives of southern exceptionalism - slavery, segregation, the Civil War, antebellum courtship rituals, evangelism, Southern Baptist doctrine, and redneck culture, for example - present few, if any, possibilities for a visible queer southern history. Queer southerners are all too aware of how hegemonic conceptions of the region erase or obscure their very existence, yet certain fictional texts capitalize on the flaws, contradictions, and ellipses in these conceptions to show that southern queerness is always already a possibility.

Through close analyses of twentieth- and twenty-first-century novels and films set in the U.S. South, I illuminate how a concept I call female-bodied queerness is represented, and how, where, and when it manifests. I situate textual representations of queer female bodies, identities, and experiences within a distinctly regional context in order to ascertain what cultural and narrative work they perform on dominant narratives of the South. I critique the tendency in scholarship and creative works to reduce queer U.S. history to a series of binaries - urban/rural, North/South, gay/straight - that render the concept of southern queerness untenable or invisible. I examine how racial, class, religious, political, and cultural narratives of the region place limits on representations of queer characters, images, themes, and stories but then explore what strategies particular texts use to render queerness visible in spite of those limits. I draw on scholarship in the fields of history, cultural studies, film and literary theory, queer studies, and southern studies to in order to understand how dominant cultural narratives are produced and how they function as regulatory fictions that govern representations and perceptions of the South and southerners. Ultimately, this dissertation suggests that representations of female-bodied queerness in contemporary southern novels and films create counter-narratives about the region that demand we acknowledge and embrace the existence and complexity of queer southern histories.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Foreword 1

Chapter One 19

"Behaving Like a Lady:" Crossdressing Women and Same-Sex Desire in

Contemporary Civil War Novels

Chapter Two 48

"I just cain't wait to get to heaven": Nostalgia and Idealized Queer Community

in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café and Fried Green Tomatoes

Chapter Three 75

Neither Here Nor There: Black Female Sexuality and Queer (Invisibility) in

The Color Purple

Chapter Four 107

"Share Our Anger and Our Love": Imagining Queerness in Hostile Spaces

in Ann Allen Shockley's Say Jesus and Come to Me and Dorothy Allison's


Afterword 149

Works Cited 156

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