Jesse’s Journal: Stonewall Before & After, Some Recent Histories

A peek at the “Love & Resistance - Stonewall 50” exhibit at the New York Public Library. Photo via NYPL, Facebook

The 50thAnniversary of the Stonewall Uprising inspired the book business, like other industries, to celebrate and exploit this momentous event. Bookstores like Barnes & Noble set up displays that featured recent LGBT titles in their inventory. 

Publishers reached back to their corporate past and issued new editions of their best queer titles, like “The Gay Metropolis”by Charles Kaiser or “Stonewall”by Martin Duberman. New titles, fiction or non-fiction, were also given the Stonewall 50 treatment. Most notable are a series of histories, from scholarly monographs to coffee table photo books, that showcase our LGBT past, both before and after Stonewall.

Jason Baumann is Assistant Director for Collection Development at the New York Public Library. Baumann organized the Library’s magnificent exhibit, “Love & Resistance - Stonewall 50,” which I enjoyed during my recent trip to New York. “The Stonewall Reader”(Penguin Books), edited by Baumann, draws from the Library’s archives to present a collection of first-person accounts, articles and essays by and about LGBT community members before, during and after Stonewall. The pieces in this book, many of which are long out of print, are of great historical value; and I predict that they will be used as text in future LGBT courses. At the same time, they are short enough to read on the train, which is what I did on my way to New York.

The 50thAnniversary of Stonewall is also the 25thAnniversary of “The Gay & Lesbian Review,” one of the best (and last) LGBT journals around today. To celebrate, G&LR founder and editor-in-chief Richard Schneider Jr. published “In Search of Stonewall: The Riots at 50 The Gay & Lesbian Review at 25 Best Essays, 1994-2018”(G&LR Books). Like “The Stonewall Reader,” “In Search of Stonewall”collects important essays, from the Review’sfirst quarter century, about the Riots, the years before and the years after. In addition, “In Search of Stonewall”concludes with a vital section about “Stonewall’s Legacy.” Besides giving us more stuff to read on the train, “In Search of Stonewall”is a good introduction to G&LR.

One thing that hasn’t changed in the half-century since Stonewall is the fact that our LGBT community is basically an urban product. Some of the best histories that I have had the pleasure to read recently deal with the queer history of cities where our people gathered and created communities, in spite of all opposition. 

The Boys of Fairy Town: Sodomites, Female Impersonators, Third-Sexers, Pansies, Queers, and Sex Morons in Chicago’s First Century”(Chicago Review Press) is Jim Elledge’s good gay history of Chicago as told through the lives of the men who left a record of their activities in the Second City. (It is also the first time that I encountered the term “sex moron;” in a book or in life.) 

When Brooklyn Was Queerby Hugh Ryan” (St. Martin’s Press), tells the tale of LGBT life in “Brooklyn the Great, second city of the Empire,” from the 1855 publication of “Leaves of Grass”- by Brooklyn’s own Walt Whitman - to the 1966 closing of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In “Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day”(Abrams Press) popular historian Peter Ackroyd, author of several books about London, gives his beloved city the queer treatment that it and we deserve.

David Bowie Made Me Gay?” Such is the title of Darryl W. Bullock’s history of “100 Years of LGBT Music,” also published by Abrams Press. Except for some gossipy books by Boze Hadleigh, there hasn’t been much written about queer contributions to pop music, and Bullock does his best to fill in the gap. Though Bullock’s study is not complete - there is nothing here about classical music - “David Bowie Made Me Gay”is well-worth reading, even by those who know a thing or two about LGBT music makers.


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