Sunday, February 11, 2018

Japonica Brown-Saracino's "How Places Make Us"

Japonica Brown-Saracino is Associate Professor of Sociology at Boston University. She is the author of A Neighborhood That Never Changes, and editor of The Gentrification Debates.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, How Places Make Us: Novel LBQ Identities in Four Small Cities, and reported the following:
Page 99 falls at the end of the second chapter of How Places Make Us. It contemplates findings from my fieldwork with lesbian, bisexual and queer identified (hereafter “LBQ”) residents of San Luis Obispo, a small city on California’s Central Coast. More specifically, page 99 considers the origins and significance of differences between the sexual identities of those I studied in San Luis Obispo and Ithaca, New York – the college town that the book’s first chapter profiles. I conclude that despite parallels between the demographic characteristics of the two cities and their LBQ populations,
Being LBQ in San Luis Obispo clearly means something vastly different than it does in Ithaca, New York. The enormous contrast between the residents in these two communities reminds that there is no neat chronological progression out of the closet or away from gay and lesbian communities. Contrary to some popular assumptions, gay life in America has not moved away from identity-politics; though the narrative is tempting, we have not stepped in unison from Stonewall to marriage registries and baby showers…. At least in San Luis Obispo, even amid a string of legal and cultural victories, and with unprecedented mainstream acceptance of alternative lifestyles, identity politics – predicated on notions of a common “lesbian” identity – is alive and well.
The persistence of identity politics in San Luis Obispo, evidenced by lesbian-themed clubs, networks, and self-descriptions, presents two puzzles that page 99 begins to wrestle with, and that the rest of the book pursues. First, San Luis Obispo’s lesbian identity politics presents a puzzle because the identities of the LBQ residents I studied in three other cities (Ithaca, NY; Portland, ME; Greenfield, MA) – all of whom share a similar demographic profile – are wildly disparate. In Ithaca and Greenfield most eschew identity politics, thinking of sexual identity as ancillary (one Ithacan told me, “Sometimes you can take sisterhood and shove it”), while Portlanders embrace personalized and hyphenated sexual and gender identities, such as queer-kinky-femme. My discovery of identity politics in San Luis Obispo presents a second puzzle, because, if identity politics persists, many of us would anticipate finding it in less hospitable environs where LBQ residents forge a protective sense of “outside togetherness,” such as in a rural, conservative town. In other words, its persistence in a politically progressive coastal university town challenges extant accounts. This finding from San Luis Obispo, with the rest of the book,
calls us away from strictly temporal and demographic explanations for the formation of LBQ identities, as well as from a spatial map that only recognizes variation across red and blue states, rural and urban locales, and coastal and inland cities.
In this sense, page 99 sets the stage for the book’s argument that cities make us; that subtle differences in city ecology – related to the abundance and acceptance of LBQ residents, local LBQ demographics, and place narratives – shape what it feels like to be LBQ in a city, our interactions with others who do and do not share our traits, and, ultimately, how we think about who we are. We are, in this sense, fundamentally local creatures; despite the confidence many of us have in our ability to shape ourselves and the widespread belief that our core sense of self is immutable, our interactions and self-understanding respond to even very subtle differences in city conditions, creating city-specific identities and communities.
Learn more about How Places Make Us at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: A Neighborhood That Never Changes.

--Marshal Zeringue