In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.
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Representations of Appalachian queerness are especially rare. West Virginia has the highest rate of trans youth per capita of any American state, according to a 2017 study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, but advocates for queer people in Appalachia have struggled to mobilize national attention or resources. “Queers aren’t supposed to survive in the mountains in a region that’s not supposed to survive in the landscape of our culture,” says Caleb Pendygraft, a scholar based in Massachusetts who studies queer Appalachian language and representation. “Our survival tactics have always been creative, and they are often visual.”
That’s another reason for Queer Appalachia’s success. There is a lot of joy in the account, and striking beauty, and a sense of scrappy survival. There is contradiction and anger, fat bodies and the beloved breakfast chain Tudor’s Biscuit World. There are the Appalachian Mountains in the background, green and old and gorgeous; here in the foreground is a femme man with a rattail posing against a pickup truck. There is a sense of refusing to apologize in the account’s messaging, of being exactly who you are, as shocking or crass as that might seem to others. “QA is radical,” says Pendygraft. “A lot of fundraisers, a lot of nonprofits [in Appalachia] really shy away from using the words ‘queer’ and ‘racist’ and ‘sex worker’ because they’re trying to be inclusive, to not offend anyone. But QA does.” Posts are often filled with long strings of comments from queer Appalachians saying they finally feel seen.
Amid all the hope and beauty, however, is another side of Queer Appalachia. Almost from the beginning, the account engaged in financial activism to benefit important social issues—ending white supremacy and combating transphobia, for example—by asking for donations from its followers. The project clearly aspired not just to chronicle the experiences of queer people in Appalachia, but to fix many of the problems it was identifying. Fixes that required money.
Editorial Assistant Dan Goff
Excerpt from “The Tale of Queer Appalachia” in the Washington Post
Over the past few years, museums have been forced to confront politics at every turn, from legacies of colonialism to the provenance of their funding. In the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police and subsequent protests, museums have come under renewed fire for their handling of race in exhibitions, on social media, and in the workplace….
Museums are in the process of confronting how they educate the public about the art on their walls—arguably the most important thing a museum can do, but also a job that often falls to unpaid employees. These volunteers were historically dubbed “docents,” though many museums have abandoned that term. The work a docent job entails varies by institution, but it is often public-facing, and can range from manning an entrance desk to leading student tours. It also tends to skew toward a certain demographic. As one museum education employee who has worked at New York’s Museum of Modern Art said, “It’s not totally this, but mostly, it’s an army of privileged old white women.”
Managing Editor Allison Wright
Excerpt from “Museums Have a Docent Problem” in Slate
Whatever our backgrounds, we’re all the children of Americans who fought the good fight. Great grandparents working in firetraps and sweatshops without rights or representation. Farmers losing their dreams to dust. Irish and Italians and Asians and Latinos told to go back where they came from. Jews and Catholics, Muslims and Sikhs, made to feel suspect for the way they worshipped. Black Americans chained and whipped and hanged. Spit on for trying to sit at lunch counters. Beaten for trying to vote.
If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work, and could not work, it was those Americans. Our ancestors. They were on the receiving end of a democracy that had fallen short all their lives. They knew how far the daily reality of America strayed from the myth. And yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work. We are going to bring those words, in our founding documents, to life.
I’ve seen that same spirit rising these past few years. Folks of every age and background who packed city centers and airports and rural roads so that families wouldn’t be separated. So that another classroom wouldn’t get shot up. So that our kids won’t grow up on an uninhabitable planet. Americans of all races joining together to declare, in the face of injustice and brutality at the hands of the state, that Black Lives Matter, no more, but no less, so that no child in this country feels the continuing sting of racism.
To the young people who led us this summer, telling us we need to be better—in so many ways, you are this country’s dreams fulfilled. Earlier generations had to be persuaded that everyone has equal worth. For you, it’s a given—a conviction. And what I want you to know is that for all its messiness and frustrations, your system of self-government can be harnessed to help you realize those convictions.
You can give our democracy new meaning. You can take it to a better place. You’re the missing ingredient—the ones who will decide whether or not America becomes the country that fully lives up to its creed.
Director of Center for Media and Citizenship Siva Vaidhyahathan
Excerpt from Barack Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention, August 18, 2020