Julio Capó Jr’s new book “Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami Before 1940” takes on the very difficult task of chronicling Miami’s queer history prior to 1940. Until now, little has been written about Miami’s gay history except perhaps a few sporadic pieces in LGBT publications from the past that have been published here.
In fact much of that history is pretty contemporary. It’s easy to write about very contemporary LGBT history since topics like AIDS, gay marriage, and gays in the military for example remain topical. It’s much harder to write about LGBT history early in Miami’s history since homosexuality is not a topic that was commonly discussed in recorded history.
While academic in presentation, the newly published book reads very easily to anyone interested in local gay history, a goal Capó tells me he set out to accomplish when he first conceived the idea for the book.
Today we know Miami as the magic city, but the term “fairyland” as described by Capó was a colloquial term used to describe the Miami area in its earliest days. Likely derived from the known queer urban archetype used to describe individuals as being “gender introverts,” Capó says early on he knew the term likely meant different things to different people and wrote each chapter to reflect a “different dimension of the term, describing how each group of people navigated fairyland in radically different ways.”
Capó’s extensive research begins describing Miami's "queer frontier." Less than 10,000 people lived in Miami in its first few decades and the city mostly consisted of working class men who spent the better part of their free time in some of Miami's rough saloons that dominated the northern part of the city; drinking and gambling. Despite a majority amount of people settling in Miami from the north, Capo shows us that Miami was indeed the colonial intersection between the Caribbean and the U.S. even then, and it was those immigrants (legal or not) that helped define the queer landscape in the area. Some of these early settlers all roomed together with other men and sexual encounters among them were not all that uncommon.
In great detail, Capó showcases some rare water-color works of early Miami settler John Singer Sargent. An alleged lover of Vizcaya estate owner James Deering and now remembered for his electric water color paintings, Sargent painted several explicit images around Vizcaya during its contraction of nude men resting on sand bars along Biscayne Bay.
Capó goes on to note the surprising detail Sargent gave to the physic of the men, their muscle tones, and other features. In further discussion of Vizcaya there is great detail into the homosexuality of James Deering and his various relationships.
Additional research Capó shares in the book details written accounts of young gay men who arrived in Miami in the 1930s offering great insight to the world of prohibition and how it impacted the gay community. One example even describes one young man’s various sexual encounters with men as he shared them with a psychiatrist.
Perhaps one of the most astonishing mentions in the book is the in depth discussion of the sexuality of early Miami settler, feminist, and environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas. She was a strong opponent of having a dominating male partner, unlike most women at the time, and her writings indicate she was sympathetic of many alleged gay men of the time.
The book finishes off with Capó describing the gay scene after prohibition when it began to take shape to the way we know it today including the beginning of drag shows in Miami and the strong activism South Florida has come to be known for in regards to homosexuality.
For any history buff, Capó’s book is truly a gem that sheds a lot of light on an era in our state that gets little notoriety outside of the gay media circuit. Capó is a native Floridian and an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts. Amherst will be a visiting professor in early 2018 at Florida Atlantic University, where he will teach about LGBT history. He will also give several lectures about the topic open to the public at both Florida Atlantic and Florida International Universities.