APPALACHIA HAS a bad reputation, especially West Virginia, the only state whose borders lie entirely within anyone’s definition of the Appalachian Mountains. Moonshine swillers and feuding hicks—these are the images that most people hold. “Hillbillies,” despite today’s politically correct climate, are still regular objects of mockery. City dwellers have been alternately romanticizing and demonizing country dwellers since Greek and Roman times, and American popular culture’s relation to Appalachia is our version of it.
Several summers ago, some friends and I walked into a Mexican restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The young man who escorted us to our table, noticing my West Virginia Writer’s Workshop T-shirt, asked if we still slept with our siblings back in the hollers. My Appalachian Studies students have heard many a thoughtless comment, to wit: “You’re from West Virginia? But you have teeth! You wear shoes?!” One young woman told me that an acquaintance had been so amazed by her accent that he asked permission to audiotape her speech for the amusement of friends!
Queer folk and mountain folk have something very important in common: both are frequent objects of satire, hostility, and contempt. Both feel the pressure to assimilate, to blend in “for their own well-being.”