Queer Suburban Imaginaries

299 pages

August, 2011

ISBN: 9780814783108



Also available in


American StudiesLGBT Studies

Part of the Sexual Cultures series


Karen Tongson is Associate Professor of English and Gender Studies at University of Southern California. She is co-editor for NYU Press’s Postmillennial Pop series and is also co-editor-in-chief of The Journal of Popular Music Studies.

All books by Karen Tongson

What queer lives, loves and possibilities teem within suburbia’s little boxes? Moving beyond the imbedded urban/rural binary, Relocations offers the first major queer cultural study of sexuality, race and representation in the suburbs. Focusing on the region humorists have referred to as “Lesser Los Angeles”—a global prototype for sprawl—Karen Tongson weaves through suburbia’s “nowhere”spaces to survey our spatial imaginaries: the aesthetic, creative and popular materials of the new suburbia.

Across southern California’s freeways, beneath its overpasses and just beyond its winding cloverleaf interchanges, Tongson explores the improvisational archives of queer suburban sociability, from multimedia artist Lynne Chan’s JJ Chinois projects and the amusement park night-clubs of 1980s Orange County to the imperial legacies of the region known as the Inland Empire. By taking a hard look at the cosmopolitanism historically considered de rigeur for queer subjects, while engaging with the so-called “New Suburbanism” that has captivated the national imaginary in everything from lifestyle trends to electoral politics, Relocations radically revises our sense of where to see and feel queer of color sociability, politics and desire.


  • “Karen Tongson takes us on a wild ride to the hinterlands, the inner empires and the disturbing yet vital ‘burbs.’ She skillfully re-routes well-trodden tales of white flight and gay migration and deftly navigates the theoretical freeways to trace the emergence, lives and furtive affective and creative aspirations of queer of color cultures and communities in what have been long been considered the spatial edge of American social life. Relocations is fierce, eloquent and compelling.”

    —Martin F. Manalansan IV, author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora

  • “Reading Relocations is akin to listening to a soundtrack of a favored movie from your teenage years, one whose details are perhaps forgotten, but the sound memory of which can take you, affectively, to another time, another world—to a different mode of being. With considerable style and expansive insight, Karen Tongson makes palpable the proliferation of queerness in such putatively normative sites as suburban Los Angeles. Thoroughly multi-disciplinary, theoretically savvy, archivally and methodologically innovative, this book is a lesson in how to cruise critically through the aesthetic, historic, personal, and political routes that connect places to persons and performances to identities, and present times to as yet unrealized elsewheres.”

    —Kandice Chuh, author of Imagine Otherwise: on Asian Americanist Critique

  • "Relocations is luminous, hilarious, rigorous, and profoundly moving. Tongson turns the tables on the critical commonplace that the U.S. suburbs have been and will always be spaces of stultifying sameness."

    —Scott Herring, International Journal of Communication

  • "Relocations makes powerful contributions across queer, Asian American, Latin, American, and suburban studies, cultural geography, and scholarship on affect and sound, and should be a must-read for scholars interested in Los Angeles, empire, suburbia, gentri?cation, music, sexuality and space, or queer of color critique. It is also a simply exhilarating read, at once rich in its theoretical considerations and refreshingly lucid."

    — David Seitz, The Journal of Emotion, Space and Society

  • "Relocations offers many elegant and playful challenges to [the] logic [of] queer spatial imaginaries [which are] thought through an urban/rural binary."

    Society and Space

  • "Tongson forwards novel and powerfully interwoven interventions into queer studies’ metronormativity, the suburbs’ white heteronormative ethos, and the neoliberal and imperialist complicities that undergird not only suburban queers’ subordination but also their agency." 

    GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies

  • "This is provocative and works well, in particular Tongson’s risk-taking with regard to formal structure and narrative voice [...] Tongson’s style is adamantly interrogative and personal."

    Oxford Journal