Brock Thompson is the kind of person who can take a germ of an idea and run with it.
Upon coming out to his father at age 18, the 34-year-old Toad Suck, Ark., (it’s about 30 miles from Little Rock) native was told there were probably other gays in the family, it just wasn’t discussed in those terms.
His father told him his “Great Aunt Opal” was mostly likely a lesbian and had lived with a woman most of her life.
“I barely knew her as a child, but it was a different time in Arkansas and women could get away with living together as old maids or spinsters, and two men could be bachelors sharing a place,” Thompson says. “It was a different time and people had different ways of categorizing these relationships, but it encouraged me to look into Arkansas’s past and I found there was a very rich gay history there.”
Thompson, a historian and Ph.D. who works in the Library of Congress’s American Folk Life division, thus began an eight-year odyssey that came to fruition when the University of Arkansas Press published his 260-page book “The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South.” He’ll read from the book Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the D.C. Center (1318 U Street, N.W.) as part of its OUTWrite Author Series.
He found a surprising amount of drag, especially in hetero-normative gatherings, in Arkansas in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. “Womanless weddings,” would have men play all the roles in mock wedding ceremonies that were held as fundraisers for regional charities and guards in Japanese-American prison camps would conduct drag shows for the inmates. A lesbian commune flourished and still exists.
“So often with gay and lesbian history, we tend to focus on the cities and tend to not think much about these flyover states, but they have a rich and unique gay and lesbian history that you can’t discard,” Thompson says.
He did years of research and says a lot of his most interesting finds came about by knowing where to look — some of the gayest tidbits were filed under non-LGBT tags. He also conducted about 50 interviews with older residents of the state who remembered the era. Thompson also intentionally tried to make it a reader-friendly, accessible volume.
“If it’s too starchy and impenetrable for a general audience, then what’s the point,” he says.
Thompson still has family in Arkansas but has been in Washington for about five years. He previously lived in London for four years for a doctoral program at King’s College, University of London.
Thompson, who’s single, lives in Adams Morgan and enjoys cycling, cooking, wine tasting, sailing and working out in his free time. His book can be purchased on Amazon for about $20.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I’ve been out since I was 18, my freshman year of college. The hardest person to tell was my father.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Oscar Wilde, Harvey Milk, Michelangelo, Barney Frank
What is Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
I’m partial to JRs. It’s the bar I feel most comfortable in.
Describe your dream wedding.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
What historical outcome would you change?
Probably the 2000 presidential election.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Sitting on top of my parents’ station wagon watching “Star Wars” at the drive-in movie theater back home. I was 4.
On what do you insist?
Punctuality. This “running on gay time” thing is ridiculous.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
A short note thanking friends for their birthday wishes.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“How to Drink and Eat One’s Feelings: The Brock Thompson Story”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Stay put. I’m having a blast.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I believe in a loving God.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Look beyond the urban cities to the gays and lesbians in the rural areas. Also, you are doing a lousy job painting gay rights in the larger light of civil rights in America.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That we are all sissies and wimps. I’ve been in more bar fights than I care to remember.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“The Celluloid Closet,” “Jeffrey,” “Angels in America,” “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert,” “Beautiful Thing.”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
I’m from the South. All we have are social customs.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
The publication of my book.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That the liberal arts often equal poverty.
Chicago, too cold. New York, too pricey. Washington, just right.