Willie Ray's Queer Mississippi: Gender Deviance in Rural Prentiss County at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Saturday, January 5, 2013: 11:30 AM
Chamber Ballroom II (Roosevelt New Orleans)
Emily E. Skidmore, Texas Tech University
This paper will discuss the surprising case history of one Willie Ray, an individual who was born female but lived as male for many years in rural Prentiss County, Mississippi.  Ray moved to the area in the late 1890s, and successfully passed as a man for eight years while working as a farm hand.  Although his "true sex" was revealed to the community in 1903 (a revelation which attracted widespread newspaper attention), Ray was not ostracized from the area, and instead remained in Prentiss County for many more years.  Indeed, the 1910 census lists Ray as "partner" to another woman, with whom he lived along with her two children from a previous relationship.  This paper will explore what Willie Ray's story reveals about queer lives at the turn of the twentieth century, particularly in regards to the geography of queer identity formation.  Indeed, in a period in which the United States was rapidly urbanizing, Ray was one of many queers who chose to live not in the nation’s large cities, but rather sought refuge in the quiet of rural Prentiss County.  This paper will think through these choices, and reflect on what they may reveal about the South's queer past.
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