Printed from:

Welcome to Columbia Magazine  

Tom Chaney No. 248, 4 April 2010:
Out in the Country

Of Writers and Their Books, No. 248 Tom Chaney book review of Out in The Country By Mary L. Gray
The next earlier Tom Chaney essay: Billboard Dreaming The Man Everybody Was Afraid of

By Tom Chaney
Email: Tom Chaney

Where Do We Go From Here?
Sociology and Compassion

Once, during my shortish college teaching career, I had a magnificent colleague in the history department of one school who gave short shrift to the field of sociology and to the adherents and practitioners thereof.

He once defined a sociologist for me as "one who stands in constant amazement at the perfectly obvious." Experience has proven that to be true over and over.

But still I am gullible. Every now and again I pick up a sociological study looking for new insight only to realize that it spells out in great detail what I suspected all along.

So it was with my latest foray into the sociological literature of gay America.

I was attracted to a study by Mary L. Gray, assistant professor of communication and culture at Indiana University at Bloomington. New York University Press has just published her Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America. The material for her study is rural Kentucky.

Gray discovers some obvious conditions. There are gay young people in rural Kentucky. Like such young folks in the rest of the country, these young Kentuckians are choosing to become more visible. They are finding each other at libraries, Wal-Marts, homemakers clubs, on the internet and in school.

The study was made all across the state including groups in Berea, Ashland, and Leitchfield.

Well, Ho, Hum.

I expect the real question is where do we go from here?

The book set me to thinking about my experience looking for employees in a bookstore and cafe in rural Kentucky in the mid-1990's.

My partners and I set for ourselves the goal of an educated staff - no easy matter at minimum wage. We put the educational bar pretty low. All we asked of our applicants was that they have a high school diploma or be actively working toward the equivalent General Education Diploma (GED).

Some patterns began to emerge.

Many of the most promising applicants had dropped out of high school. When asked "why?" they were reluctant to talk about it. I was given facile excuses that did not ring true. One young man finally said that he had dropped out because he felt "uncomfortable" in school.

As I pursued the matter through his discomfort, it gradually emerged that he was gay and that he could no longer take the taunting he was getting at school. He was a victim of bullying because of a personal condition over which he had no control.

I began to ask other applicants about reasons for their leaving school without diplomas and found this to be a common theme. Their reaction to the growing awareness of their sexuality was as varied as could be from jaunty acceptance to slowly lessening shame, but, to a student, they were willing to sacrifice their education to escape the abuse of their peers as well as that of the educational system within which they found themselves.

The gratifying part of the Gray study is that she describes many instances of young gay Kentuckians coming together in the face of family and community disapproval.

Too often, in the past, such young folks have sought the anonymity of the large and distant cities to work out their identity. This solution produces great loss for the community and often for the individual. The community loses the contribution of the differing folk and the enrichment that provides.

For the gay person, the result is often tragic. For the past quarter century we have been living in the years of the HIV/AIDS plague. The community silence in the matter of the acceptance of gay young folks has resulted in a health related ignorance that has been fatal.

In our graveyards are lonely graves of victims of the plague. We have lost our sons and our daughters senselessly and to our shame.

What price silence?

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2010-04-04 09:42:32
Printable: this page is now automatically formatted for printing.
Have comments or corrections for this story? Use our contact form and let us know.


Quick Links to Popular Features

Looking for a story or picture?
Try our Photo Archive or our Stories Archive for all the information that's appeared on


Contact us: Columbia Magazine and are published by D'Zine, Ltd., PO Box 906, Columbia, KY 42728.
Phone: 270.403.0017

Please use our contact page, or send questions about technical issues with this site to All logos and trademarks used on this site are property of their respective owners. All comments remain the property and responsibility of their posters, all articles and photos remain the property of their creators, and all the rest is copyright 1995-Present by Columbia! Magazine and D'Zine, Ltd. Privacy policy: use of this site requires no sharing of information. Voluntarily shared information may be published and made available to the public on this site and/or stored electronically. Anonymous submissions will be subject to additional verification. Cookies are not required to use our site. However, if you have cookies enabled in your web browser, some of our advertisers may use cookies for interest-based advertising across multiple domains. For more information about third-party advertising, visit the NAI web privacy site.