A Full Bookshelf for the Gender and Women’s Studies Department in 2012


By Victoria Dekle

Why do some students seek a tiara as well as a diploma? What is it like to live in the Bible Belt as part of a same-sex relationship? What are the advantages of living with a LBGTQ identity in today’s world?

If you find these questions intriguing, you are in luck because they are the basis of three recently published books by faculty members and an alumna of the UK Gender and Women’s Studies Department.

The first volume is “A Positive View of LGBTQ: Embracing Identity and Cultivating Well-Being” by Ellen Riggle, Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies and Sharon Rostosky, Professor of Counseling Psychology. “A Positive View of LGBTQ” was published in February by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

“Queens of Academe: Beauty Pageantry, Student Bodies, and College Life” by Karen Tice, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation is the second book in this scholarly trio. Oxford University Press published “Queens of Academe” in April.

The last and most recent volume is “Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays” by Bernadette Barton, Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Morehead State University. Barton received her graduate training at the University of Kentucky in Sociology and the Gender and Women’s Studies Program. “Pray the Gay Away” was published in October 2012 by New York University Press.

Not only are these texts intended for the academic bookshelf, but they were also written with public audiences in mind.

“This book really is intended to share the stories that we’ve learned, that we’ve heard from people through our research…this is all based off solid psychological science, but it is written so that anyone can read this book and hopefully be inspired by it”, said Riggle and Rostosky in a podcast with the College of Arts & Sciences earlier this year.

All of the authors reached out to public audiences with book signings and readings in Lexington and surrounding communities.

Writing New Chapters on Equality
“A Positive View of LGBTQ” is an original and uplifting study of the positive side of living with an LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer and/or Questioning) identity. As Riggle and Rostosky explain in the introductory pages of their book, the term “queer” still holds a negative connotation with some audiences. They suggest that “questioning” can be an appropriate substitute in this circumstance. At times, “allies,” or individuals with heterosexual identities that recognize and support LGBTQ identities, are also included in this list of identities (LGBTQA).

Riggle and Rostosky interviewed over 1000 people from several different countries in their study of the advantages of LGBTQ identities. They asked individuals the simple but revealing question: “What are the positive aspects of LBGTQA identities?”

“A Positive View of LGBTQ” is a wonderful supplement and counter to many negative stories we often hear or read about LGBTQ experiences in the modern world.

Riggle explains, “The culture we live in is not totally accepting and celebratory of LGBTQ identities.  Some of the challenges faced as a result of this are very serious - such as bullying, discrimination, or prejudice. These are issues that everyone in society has the responsibility to address and resolve. And while we absolutely acknowledge the importance of these issues, we know that there is another story - that LGBTQ people have positive experiences and positive identities. By focusing on these positive experiences we hope to help people create positive life stories that help to cultivate the skills and resources so that, if faced with challenges - any kind of challenge, even those not just related to LGBTQA identities, people can meet those challenges.”

The results of this study are positive and exciting for all individuals who desire equality and cooperation.

“When we measure well-being in other studies, we find that LGBTQ people are, on average, leading very satisfying and fulfilling lives,” said Riggle.

“This is a story that does not get talked about very much so we think that it's important to state this clearly. While this doesn't mean that every LGBTQ person is blissfully happy all the time, what it does mean to us is that each person has the opportunity to experience well-being and even flourish in their lives. Part of this opportunity to experience well-being is related to experiences connected to LGBTQ identities, and to being Allies, and embracing those identities.”

Riggle and Rostosky’s volume has also earned professional praise. “A Positive View of LGBTQ” won the 2012 Book Award for Division 44 of the American Psychological Association.

Wildcats and Tiaras
“Queens of Academe: Beauty Pageantry, Student Bodies, and College Life” by Karen Tice is a historical and ethnographic study of beauty and pageants on college campuses. In this delightful study, Tice takes the reader from football fields and fraternity houses to the dimly-lit stage of the modern Mr. UK pageant.

Tice’s book has also earned acclaim – “Queens of Academe” was named to the 2012 list of Critics Choice Book Award for the American Educational Studies Association.

Tice found that some of this research could be conducted in her own backyard. “The University of Kentucky has numerous pageants such as the Mr. and Ms. Black UK, Mr. UK, and Miss UK, and the Black & Gold pageant. I also have gone to pageants at Kentucky State University, Berea College, Georgetown College, as well as state-wide pageants such as the Kentucky Mountain Laurel Festival and the Kentucky Derby Princess Festival for college women.  I have interviewed numerous pageant contestants and supporters, both men and women, to explore their rationales for competing in a pageant including, in some cases, by wearing bathing suits or speedos.”

Tice was inspired to explore this topic from an experience in her classroom. She spoke about this in a podcast with the College of Arts & Sciences earlier this year:

“I was teaching a class and I was aware that many of the students were talking about going to the Mr. UK men’s pageant that was being held that night,” Tice began.

“I was very intrigued by the idea of having campus beauty scholarship pageants on college campuses. So decided to go and I found that that was only the tip of the iceberg. I thought that campus beauty pageants were a thing of the past, something people did in the 1920s and the 1950s, and I was quite surprised to find out that there has been an upsurge in popularity especially racial/ethnic pageants and pageants for men.”

Tice took this inspiration to explore the influence of beauty pageants, popular culture, and body politics on campus life. She asked, “Why in 2012 are beauty/bodies and campus catwalks still a part of higher education?” More specifically, “Why do so many different students seek both a tiara and a diploma? Why do some universities reward campus queens with free tuition and board?”

Preaching from the Pulpit
Bernadette Barton, Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Morehead State University, released her second book, “Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays,” in October 2012.

Barton gives the reader insight into her own religious and sexual background in her book. In doing so, she wants to let us know how her own experiences growing up outside of the Bible Belt made these religious-based judgments stand out to her as a scholar of gender and also as a lesbian living in the Bible Belt.

For Barton, the subject matter of “Pray the Gay Away” is ultimately very personal:

“I moved from Lexington to a small town in Kentucky in 2002 and began to notice more obvious manifestations of open homophobia, something I had been completely oblivious to before this, as odd as it sounds. I came out when I was doing my graduate work at UK in Sociology and Women’s Studies in 1995 and was well-treated in all social environments, and, of course, GWS was a haven.”  

“I had an incident soon after my partner and I moved out of Lexington,” Barton started – “in which a neighbor called homosexuality an abomination to me after I had shared that I was in a lesbian relationship. I found this experience disturbing and my distress with it, coupled with the open political hate speech against homosexuals during the 2004 election season made me consider researching the lives of what I call ‘Bible Belt gays’ in the book.”

Barton wrote “Pray the Gay Away” not only for her own academic and personal interests, but she also intended the book to be read by a wider audience. “While Pray the Gay Away is my book and I am certainly in it, I perceive it also as a community work with an important message that I believe many people will find motivating and validating,” she stated.

From tiaras to pulpits, the scholars of the Gender and Women’s Studies Department illustrate that gender and sexuality are relevant identities in all times and places.

If you’d like to know more, look no further than the bookshelf!

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