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Cigarettes & Wine

2017 - 250 pages

J. E. Sumerau

ISBN Paperback: 9789463009270 ($ 25.00)
ISBN Hardcover: 9789463009287 ($ 99.00)
ISBN E-Book: 9789463009294

Subject: Gender and Education, Gender, Gender Studies, Social Fiction

Number 24 of the series: Social Fictions Series

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Cigarettes & Wine

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.


“This work evokes a passionate emotional response as the reader is drawn into a world where keeping secrets about one’s identity, behaviors, and feelings ensures safety. Readers of this work are shown the great lengths to which some of us have to go in order to feel love, intimacy, and avoid the dehumanizing effects produced by isolation. The author does a fabulous job of showing us the internal psychological turmoil that is embodied within the characters’ psyches as they move through life stigmatized as nonnormative and nonconforming. Another struggle of the book is how it sustains the action across its entirety, thereby maintaining interest until the very end—unlike some traditional ethnographies which can be selectively read based on one’s interest in a particular sociological concept, rather than concern for the actors in the study.

“Cigarettes & Wine is grounded in the author’s personal experiences as a bisexual, genderqueer person raised in a small town located in South Carolina during the 1990s, and as a social science researcher studying these issues. It is perhaps best described as an autoethnographically informed fictional account of nongender binary conforming persons. It is the author’s intent to produce a work that provides an emotionally moving account of what it is like to be and feel different in a geographically heterogeneous small town. While traditional ethnographic accounts give us a bird’s eye view of the social world, they are often incapable of evoking the emotional responses that produce understanding and identification with others as human beings, which seems more characteristic in artistic and literary works.

“How we evaluate these new forms of ethnography remains a contested area which J. E. Sumerau has cleverly resolved by offering a tool for teaching rather than a standard academic text. Traditional ethnographies are evaluated based on their adherence to scientific standards, including validity and reliability. By framing zir work under the rubric of teaching, alternative forms of evaluative criteria emerge. These questions—such as does this work connect with students, does it engage the target audience, and whether it leaves a lasting impression—are perhaps far more useful than more traditional criteria. As such, Cigarettes & Wine makes for an interesting pedagogical tool for an introductory course in sociology, or perhaps a topical course on gender and sexuality. It is a text that is accessible, entertaining, evocative, and can serve to unpack larger sociological concepts in class discussions. (NOTE Ze and zir are gender neutral pronouns which the author introduces in his author biography”” -- Christopher T. Conner, Washburn University, writing in Symbolic Interaction, (2017), p. n/a, ISSN: 0195-6086 print/1533-8665 online.

“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

“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

“This wonderful novel uplifts as it challenges us to consider the invisible lives of queer and bisexual working class teens living and loving in the Evangelical South of the 1990s. Nostalgic, joyous, painful, and raw, Cigarettes & Wine strips away the shiny veneer of the coming-of-age novel and delivers powerful lessons about sexuality, gender, class, and youth. Sumerau’s characters inspire, reminding us of the best that can exist in people even in the worst of circumstances. Cigarettes & Wine is a valuable contribution to social science fiction, which may prove invaluable in classes focused on gender, sexualities, class, and the ways our social experiences influence the people we become.” – Katherine McCabe, MA, Doctoral Candidate and Instructor, University of Illinois Chicago

“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

Cigarettes & Wine is not just a marvelously written coming of age story, it is the bisexual, transgender coming of age story we so desperately need today. I cried my eyes out, laughed until my abdomen was sore, and felt connected to these characters in a way that transcends time and space. Be ready to feel the wind through your hair on the ride to the lake, the cool Carolina grass between your toes while walking through the park, and the very real pain of loss mixed with the joy of teenage discovery. As a bisexual, genderqueer scholar, Cigarettes & Wine feels like a fictional ethnography because I know these people, I’ve adventured with them, and had to say tearful goodbyes to a few of them along the way. An emotional rollercoaster, Cigarettes & Wine is a journey I recommend to any reader interested in Queer coming of age stories.” – Lain A.B. Mathers, M.A., Doctoral Candidate and Instructor, Univerity of Illinois Chicago

“Narrative is pedagogically timeless. A tool that allows strangers to relate by getting to know characters and context, stories help make abstract, academic concepts concrete. In Cigarettes & Wine, Sumerau enables anyone to step into the character’s shoes to better understand life, context, and coming of age in a society that labels non-mainstream beliefs, behaviors, and identities shameful or wrong. With humor and emotional candor, this story allows the reader to follow along with the challenges of growing up while trying to become the most authentic version of oneself, while also helping readers unfamiliar with scholarly approaches to gender and sexuality ascertain ideas on a human scale that they may have only read about in a detached way on the internet. Readers can’t help but empathize with the common struggles and desires for recognition and acceptance which are universal to us all. I believe this book is a useful addition for teachers or seekers alike who wish to expand their horizons beyond the constrained categorizations embedded in society to the larger multifaceted and nonconforming liminal hues of humanity.” – Sarrah Conn, Ph.D., Hillsborough Community College

Cigarettes & Wine is an unflinching account of coming into one’s gender and sexuality at the intersection of curiosity, pleasure and religion. It is an honest take on the ways we relate to others, sexually and emotionally, that would benefit students across disciplines like Women’s Studies, Sexuality Studies and Sociology. By reading Cigarettes & Wine, marginalized students would get an important opportunity to see themselves in text and others a chance to learn about bisexual and non-binary people that mainstream LGBTQ efforts refuse to prioritize in media and scholarship.” – Simone Kolysh, M.A., M.P.H., Doctoral Candidate and Instructor, City University of New York


J. E. Sumerau is an assistant professor and director of applied sociology at the University of Tampa. Zir writing and research focuses on the intersections of sexualities, gender, religion, and health in the interpersonal and historical experiences of sexual, gender, and religious minorities.

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Cigarettes & Wine