American Sociological Association

Small‐City Gay Bars, Big‐City Urbanism

Despite the widely hailed importance of gay bars, what we know of them comes largely from the gayborhoods of four “great cities.” This paper explores the similarities of 55 lone small‐city gay bars to each other and the challenges they pose to the sexualities and urban literatures. Small‐city gay bars have long been integrated with straight people in their often red‐state communities; they are undifferentiated and unspecialized subcultural amenities not just for LGBT people, but for straights as well, fostering cosmopolitan lifestyles for large geographical regions whose residents nevertheless prefer small‐city living for reasons, including proximity to kin or nature, and the fact that many big‐city pleasures can be found everywhere. Contrasts between these findings and previous scholarship reveal the ways in which the latter has often implicitly defined urbanism and cosmopolitanism in terms of commercial diversity, as do studies of gentrification or gayborhoods. Small cities provide a way to integrate studies along the urban–rural interface, including places left to rural studies by both sexualities and urban scholarship. As an analytic object of comparison, small cities can help to disentangle urban effects from the cosmopolitanism of modern life generally.


Greggor Mattson





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