Allen, in this book, pushes back against the singular narrative of suffering in these states, choosing instead to showcase the resistance, the community-building and the culture of LGBTQ folks who live in Utah, Texas, Indiana, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia ... Allen shares her path to transition in short anecdotes that unfold over the chapters, cleverly keeping readers enthralled with both her careful reporting and personal narrative ... far more than one trans woman’s coming out story ... The bulk of the book is spent doing what Allen has been doing for years, and doing well: reporting ... doesn’t try to sell middle America as a fuzzy, warm place that is unilaterally safe for or welcoming of queer folk. Real Queer America is a book necessary for anyone in — or allied with — the queer community, especially those of us who see the bad news day after day. But she’s sharing the beauty of the spaces that LGBTQ+ people have carved out for themselves, and she’s giving credit where credit is very much overdue, because it’s the queer folk who live and stay in red states — whether by choice or due to a lack of options — who have to survive there and work to make them better.
In straightforward and readable prose, Allen argues that queerness thrives everywhere, perhaps even more so in states like Indiana, Texas, and Tennessee, precisely because there’s still so much advocacy work to do. Allen’s openness about her personal story—including growing up Mormon, living an angst-filled double life in Provo, coming out as transgendered, meeting her wife in an elevator at the Kinsey Institute, and undergoing surgery to get a vagina—invites respect. She writes with loving curiosity about other people in the LGBTQ community and blends this with national-level reporting on political and historical LGBTQ issues.
Allen’s strategy is different in that she goes for breadth rather than depth. As a result, Allen’s book is a Whitmanesque catalogue of America’s queer population: male and female; cis and trans; young and old; gay, bi, lesbian, pan; white, black, Asian, and Hispanic ... Allen tells their stories—and hers—in a casual, intimate style, effortlessly comparing and contrasting their Red State experiences with the ways LGBT issues are playing out at the state and national levels. In this, her book is admirable, because it allows her subjects to escape both the stereotypes and the condescension that normally surface when east or west coast journalists pay occasional notice to the LGBT population in 'flyover country' ... But there is a problem with Allen’s encyclopedic approach; just as some of the people in Walt Whitman’s catalogs get lost among the sheer number of figures competing for the reader’s attention, so do many of the people Allen speaks to on her journey ... a fun read in which Allen’s copious research informs, but never overwhelms, the many stories of disparate, fascinating LGBT lives.