Cigarettes & Wine
Number 24 in the Social Fictions Series
2017 – 250 pages
Imagine the terror and exhilaration of a first sexual experience in a church where you could be caught at any moment.
In Cigarettes & Wine, this is where we meet an unnamed teenage narrator in a small southern town trying to make sense of their own bisexuality, gender variance, and emerging adulthood. When our narrator leaves the church, we watch their teen years unfold alongside one first love wrestling with his own sexuality and his desire for a relationship with God, and another first love seeking to find herself as she moves away from town. Through the narrator’s eyes, we also encounter a newly arrived neighbor who appears to be an all American boy, but has secrets and pain hidden behind his charming smile and athletic ability, and their oldest friend who is on the verge of romantic, artistic, and sexual transformations of her own. Along the way, these friends confront questions about gender and sexuality, violence and substance abuse, and the intricacies of love and selfhood in the shadow of churches, families, and a small southern town in the 1990’s. Alongside academic and media portrayals that generally only acknowledge binary sexual and gender options, Cigarettes & Wine offers an illustration of non-binary sexual and gender experience, and provides a first person view of the ways the people, places, and narratives we encounter shape who we become. While fictional, Cigarettes & Wine is loosely grounded in hundreds of formal and informal interviews with LGBTQ people in the south as well as years of research into intersections of sexualities, gender, religion, and health. Cigarettes & Wine can be read purely for pleasure or used as supplemental reading in a variety of courses in sexualities, gender, relationships, families, religion, the life course, narratives, the American south, identities, culture, intersectionality, and arts-based research.
“With same-sex marriage rights having been ruled constitutional, people who differ from the binary gender norm are finding new ways to communicate the countless ways in which reality challenges simplistic gender stereotypes. To some observers, this seems a nightmare of terrifying disorder. To others, it is a moment for true, even sacred, liberation. Still others won’t know what to make of it at all. This small- town coming-of-age novel might help people anywhere along this spectrum to understand what it is like to live where navigating others’ conceptions of masculinity and femininity is at once a necessary survival skill and an obstacle to self-understanding. In fact, I suspect that many people who have even unrecognized ambivalences about sexual and gender binaries might find in it an illuminating reflection of their own paths. This fast-paced, introspective romp through high school and beyond keeps the pages turning with love, sex, and an understanding grandma.” – Dawne Moon, Ph.D., Marquette University and author of God, Sex, and Politics: Homosexuality and Everyday Theologies
“Weeks after reading Cigarettes & Wine, I’m still having a hard time believing it is a work of fiction. The characters feel so real in their emotions, interactions, complexities, and flaws that I assumed the author had simply done a good job of recounting experiences from zir own life. The characters are people I would want to know in real life, their experiences are the kind I would become engrossed in as a friend. When I finished the book, I was disappointed that my time as an observer in their lives had come to an end. Cigarettes & Wine is entertaining, thrilling, heartbreaking, while also a bit educational about the often invisible members of the LGBTQ community – bi and pan sexual, trans and gender non-conforming, and polyamorous folks. You won’t want to put it down!” – Eric Anthony Grollman, Ph.D., University of Richmond and Editor of ConditionallyAccepted.com
“J Sumerau’s novel is a funny, painful, powerful exploration of identity in the rural American South. Grounded both in Sumerau’s personal experience and zir extensive research in gender, religion, and sexualities, the novel depicts the complex processes involved in existing and connecting with others in social settings that are at once hidden and highly visible, and in which the risk of exposure of multiple kinds creates an ever-present structural force that shapes the narrator’s developing identity. Written from a first-person perspective that allows the reader to envision zirself in the narrator’s shoes, Cigarettes & Wine provides a fantastic teaching tool, addressing myriad issues related to inequalities and identities.” – Brandy Simula, Ph.D., Emory University
“Cigarettes & Wine offers a humanizing look into an adolescent’s journey through desire, love, and discovering their place in the world. A bold and brave contribution to the discipline, Cigarettes & Wine is an exemplary model for coupling storytelling and Sociology. A captivating read for all those studying gender and sexuality and for anyone interested in a coming of age narrative of a gender and sexually nonconforming individual navigating a heteronormative world. Much praise to J Sumerau for what can best be described as a one-of-a-kind narrative of pain and passion.” – Katie Acosta, Ph.D., Georgia State University
“In my classes, I seek to emotionally engage students with the powerful ways of knowing sociology offers for everyday life, reflexivity, and social change. Unfortunately, standard textbooks typically fall entirely short in this regard, and often leave many marginalized communities and experiences unrepresented. On the other hand, Cigarettes & Wine is an exceptional example of how evocative, captivating, accessible, and inclusive storytelling can and should be used to promote sociological lessons for students far beyond classrooms. It is quite difficult to think of a course where I would not incorporate this work as it speaks to so many topics of great importance to sociologists – gender, sexualities, religion, relationships, families, and emotion to name just a few. What I find most appealing is its raw and unapologetic honesty, as well as its unique privileging of complexity. Sumerau makes no use of ‘sunshine’ or ‘smoke,’ but instead constructs a ‘show-don’t-tell’ exhibition of the type of confusion and sense-making, love and loss, pain and endurance, life and death, support and abdication that may accompany ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ Queer youth in our society.” – Maggie Cobb, Ph.D., University of Tampa