Books: “An American Queer: The Amazon Trail” by Lee Lynch

Ahhh, the Good Old Days.

You hear that a lot from people with short memories. Life was slower in the Good Old Days, less complicated, less structured. But was it truly good?

The answer isn’t easy: in your life, you’ve seen plenty of changes, positive and negative, and so has Lee Lynch. In her new collection of essays, “An American Queer: The Amazon Trail,” she remembers them…

Back in 1960, when then-teenage lesbian Lee Lynch was outed to her parents, few people “were even capable of believing… that a fifteen-year-old could be sexually active.” It was obviously a more innocent time but still, Lynch says, “Hypervigilance settled deeply into my very muscles.”

Dancing with someone of the same sex was illegal in some places then, and entering a lesbian bar was a nervous, gutsy move. At one point, Lynch and a girlfriend were denied a camping spot because they were lesbians. Even vacationing where she didn’t have to hide and was “surrounded for once by my own” was a gleeful, rare delight; Lynch knew other lesbians, but she knew that knowledge couldn’t be public.

But the times, they were a-changing.

As years went by, Lynch became an activist for gay rights and women’s issues. She noted how politics – especially those impacting the lives of certain sectors of society – became harshly divisive. She saw the beginning of the AIDS crisis, the bigotry that it brought, and the friends it killed. She later noticed with gratitude how, in preventing the loss of human rights, “People from all over are offering to help.” Lynch made friends with some straights, and marched in her first Gay Pride parade.

“Today,” she says, “because our history has become visible, it has also started to look more like our present.”

And marriage? “What a lovely question.”

I struggled for awhile with “An American Queer: The Amazon Trail,” not because of what’s said but because of how it’s arranged.

Author Lee Lynch offers readers so much: written with a gentle, almost stream-of-consciousness voice, this book is partly memoir and partly LGBT history with a personal touch. Lynch’s essays are approachable, comfortable, and enjoyable to read, and how she writes about the past is more relatable for casual readers, I think, than are similar books by academics. This is the kind of thing – the kind of writing – you want on an easy curl-up-and-read day.

I questioned, however, the inclusion of the books’ first few chapters. Those early essays from the beginning of Lynch’s writing career are terribly dated and, because of their conversational tone, they felt out-of-place to me, maybe a little too homey. I don’t think that’ll be an issue for older gay or lesbian readers, but it could be off-putting for younger ones - and they’re the readers who could most benefit from this book.

My advice is to give it a whirl, stick with it, and you won’t be sorry. In “An American Queer: The Amazon Trail,” Lynch’s experiences and her thoughts are LGBT history at street-level, and that’s pretty good.

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