To understand the role that scale and region have played in queer history, this essay tracks the narratives produced about the life of Ralph Kerwineo — a biologically female, mixed-race Milwaukee resident who was arrested in 1914 after living as a male for over eight years. This essay explores Kerwineo's narrative production across numerous scales (looking at local and national newspapers, as well as sexological literature), calling attention to how the narratives converge and diverge as they enflesh Kerwineo as social deviant, innocent victim, or idle curiosity. Grappling with the ways that Kerwineo's story was and was not haunted by the debates over eugenics, border security, and homosexuality on both the national and local scales provides new insight into how local communities negotiated the boundaries of social membership in ways that occasionally defied nationalizing narratives of proper citizenship. Indeed, while newspapers elsewhere produced pathologized accounts of Kerwineo's life, Milwaukee seemingly provided a supportive space for Kerwineo and his wives. In exploring how Kerwineo and his wives were able to carve out livable lives for themselves in early twentieth-century Milwaukee, this essay adds to the emergent scholarship within queer studies that has challenged the previously dominant notion of what Judith Halberstam has termed metronormativity, wherein large metropolitan areas are assumed to provide queer subjects with opportunities that rural spaces and smaller cities cannot.
1 April 2014
Siobhan B Somerville
Martin F. Manalansan
Emily Skidmore; Ralph Kerwineo's Queer Body: Narrating the Scales of Social Membership in the Early Twentieth Century. GLQ 1 April 2014; 20 (1-2): 141–166. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-2370279
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