Two steps. This way, two more that way, tap your heels together, step-and-bow left, step-and-bow right, turn and again.

Eventually, you'll get the hang of doing this and you won't bump into everybody on the dance floor. Also eventually, you'll see that country music has a place for you even when, as in the new book "Queer Country" by Shana Goldin-Perschbacher, you never thought you had a place for it.

Usually, when one thinks about country music, rural living comes to mind: cowboys, pick-ups, Christian values, conservatism, heartbreak and honky tonks. Stereotypically, few of those things have seemed LGBT-inclusive and listeners might have felt unwelcome, were it not for today's boundary-breakers and "queer country" which, says Goldin-Perschbacher, is becoming more of a music category with fans.

Goldin-Perschbacher is quick to say that "queer country" is not a genre on its own. Some out musicians might closer identify themselves with Americana or folk music; k.d. lang's music is more countrypolitan, but with humor; and you can attend queer Bluegrass festivals, if you want. None of this defines the various artists: in many ways, gay, lesbian, and trans artists have really had no other options than to embrace all labels.

Then there's the issue of how to do queer country: Goldin-Perschbacher refers often to Patrick Haggerty, who was the first gay artist to officially record the album Lavender Country. He recorded it in Seattle, shortly after Stonewall; at that time, Haggerty was especially determined that his album be honest and sincere in its reflection of gay life – things that continue to concern queer artists who use irony, drag, and camp in their work.

And there's that struggle to go mainstream. Goldin-Perschbacher writes about k.d. lang's career and how it progressed. You'll read about Chely Wright and Lil Nas X and how they used non-

traditional ways to rise to stardom. And you'll read about many artists who do what seems best for them, and count LGBT listeners and cis audience members among their fans.

There really is no way "Queer Country" could ever be considered a "beach read."

This isn't the relaxed, rangy kind of book you want to sunbathe with; instead, author Shana Goldin-Perschbacher speaks to the academic, rather than the casual listener, with language that seems to fit better in school, than in sand. The analyses border on the high-brow just a bit, with some amount of repetition to underscore various points.

Even so, this is important work.

In writing about this almost-hidden branch of country music, Goldin-Perschbacher also tells of the efforts she's made to help some artists to gain a wider audience. This lends more of an insider feel; the intimately extensive interviews with artists, and excerpts from other works, let readers know that they should keep their eyes (and ears!) open...

Give yourself some room to absorb, if you tackle this book. It's not for everyone, but C&W listeners and "queer country" fans may find it necessary. Step one is to find somewhere comfortable to sit. Reading "Queer Country" is step two.


"Queer Country" by Shana Goldin-Perschbacher

c.2002, University of Illinois Press $110 hardcover; $24.95 paperback 288 pages


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