Joseph Plaster, “Kids on the Street: Queer Kinship and Religion in San Francisco’s Tenderloin” (Duke UP, 2023)

In Kids on the Street: Queer Kinship and Religion in San Francisco’s Tenderloin (Duke UP, 2023), Joseph Plaster explores the informal support networks that enabled abandoned and runaway queer youth to survive in tenderloin districts across the United States. Tracing the history of the downtown lodging house districts where marginally housed youth regularly lived beginning in the late 1800s, Plaster focuses on San Francisco’s Tenderloin from the 1950s to the present. He draws on archival, ethnographic, oral history, and public humanities research to outline the queer kinship networks, religious practices, performative storytelling, and migratory patterns that allowed these kids to foster social support and mutual aid. He shows how they collectively and creatively managed the social trauma they experienced, in part by building relationships with johns, bartenders, hotel managers, bouncers, and other vice district denizens. By highlighting a politics where the marginal position of street kids is the basis for a moral economy of reciprocity, Plaster excavates a history of queer life that has been overshadowed by major narratives of gay progress and pride.

In this episode, Dr. Plaster references an oral history that was produced called “Polk Street Stories.” You can listen to “Polk Street Stories” here.

Clayton Jarrard is a Research Project Coordinator at the University of Kansas Center for Research, contributing to initiatives at the nexus of research, policy, and community efforts. His scholarly engagement spans the subject areas of cultural anthropology, queer studies, disability and mad studies, and religious studies.

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