On Wednesday, British gay mag Attitude published an op-ed by QX Magazine editor Dylan Jones arguing that “Young Queer People Shouldn’t Be Obliged To Care About LGBT[Q] History” and that ignorance of this shared history is a sign of progress.
Can’t relate! At least with the latter part of his argument. I somewhat agree that young queer people “shouldn’t be obliged to care” about their history, but only in the sense that you can’t make someone care about something. Our current political climate, in which the rights of America’s most disenfranchised are reduced to political bargaining chips, serves as a daily reminder of that. You have to want to care about something to care about it. I want young queer people to care about their shared LGBTQ history, but that’s really all that I, or anyone else, can ask of them.
As for the latter half of Jones’ argument, that it’s a good thing that a lot of young queer people don’t know much about LGBTQ history because it means they’re too busy living their normal, assimilated, un-discriminated-against liveswhat? Did Schoolhouse Rock not make it across the pond or something? Knowledge is power, Dylan!!!! Ignorance is nothing to celebrate!!!! Straight, cis people might not know anything about LGBTQ history, but that doesn’t mean we have to stoop to their level.
There are a lot of reasons why anyone, young or old, might want to learn more about the history of queer and trans people. To speak personally, these histories have given me a sense of place in a world that works very hard to deny me of that. Learning about how people like me lived in the past has helped me figure out how to live in the present. We are one another’s greatest resource. Why squander that?
Anyway, in the hopes that something productive might emerge from this heated clash of takes, here’s a completely non-exhaustive list of books, articles, and podcasts about LGBTQ history that have greatly improved my life for having read and listened to them. Please feel free to share your own!
1. Transgender History, Susan Stryker
“Covering American transgender history from the mid-twentieth century to today, Transgender History takes a chronological approach to the subject of transgender history, with each chapter covering major movements, writings, and events. Chapters cover the transsexual and transvestite communities in the years following World War II; trans radicalism and social change, which spanned from 1966 with the publication of The Transsexual Phenomenon, and lasted through the early 1970s; the mid-’70s to 1990-the era of identity politics and the changes witnessed in trans circles through these years; and the gender issues witnessed through the ’90s and ’00s.”
2. The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, Sarah Schulman
“In this gripping memoir of the AIDS years (1981–1996), Sarah Schulman recalls how much of the rebellious queer culture, cheap rents, and a vibrant downtown arts movement vanished almost overnight to be replaced by gay conservative spokespeople and mainstream consumerism. Schulman takes us back to her Lower East Side and brings it to life, filling these pages with vivid memories of her avant-garde queer friends and dramatically recreating the early years of the AIDS crisis as experienced by a political insider. Interweaving personal reminiscence with cogent analysis, Schulman details her experience as a witness to the loss of a generation’s imagination and the consequences of that loss.”
3. The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, David K. Johnson
“Historian David K. Johnson here relates the frightening, untold story of how, during the Cold War, homosexuals were considered as dangerous a threat to national security as Communists The Lavender Scare shatters the myth that homosexuality has only recently become a national political issue, changing the way we think about both the McCarthy era and the origins of the gay rights movement. And perhaps just as importantly, this book is a cautionary tale, reminding us of how acts taken by the government in the name of “national security” during the Cold War resulted in the infringement of the civil liberties of thousands of Americans.”
4. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in 20th Century America, Lillian Faderman
“As Lillian Faderman writes, there are “no constants with regard to lesbianism,” except that lesbians prefer women. In this groundbreaking book, she reclaims the history of lesbian life in twentieth-century America, tracing the evolution of lesbian identity and subcultures from early networks to more recent diverse lifestyles. She draws from journals, unpublished manuscripts, songs, media accounts, novels, medical literature, pop culture artifacts, and oral histories by lesbians of all ages and backgrounds, uncovering a narrative of uncommon depth and originality.”
5. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, George Chauncey
“Gay New York brilliantly shatters the myth that before the 1960s gay life existed only in the closet, where gay men were isolated, invisible, and self-hating. Based on years of research and access to a rich trove of diaries, legal records, and other unpublished documents, this book is a fascinating portrait of a gay world that is not supposed to have existed.”
6. Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility, ed. Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton [full disclosure, I’m only about 25 pages inbut I highly recommend so far!]
“The increasing representation of trans identity throughout art and popular culture in recent years has been nothing if not paradoxical. Trans visibility is touted as a sign of a liberal society, but it has coincided with a political moment marked both by heightened violence against trans people (especially trans women of color) and by the suppression of trans rights under civil law. Trap Door grapples with these contradictions.”
7. Arresting Dress: Cross-Dressing, Law, and Fascination in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco, Clare Sears
“In 1863, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed a law that criminalized appearing in public in ‘a dress not belonging to his or her sex.’ Adopted as part of a broader anti-indecency campaign, the cross-dressing law became a flexible tool for policing multiple gender transgressions, facilitating over one hundred arrests before the century’s end. Over forty U.S. cities passed similar laws during this time, yet little is known about their emergence, operations, or effects. Grounded in a wealth of archival material, Arresting Dress traces the career of anti-cross-dressing laws from municipal courtrooms and codebooks to newspaper scandals, vaudevillian theater, freak-show performances, and commercial ‘slumming tours.’ It shows that the law did not simply police normative gender but actively produced it by creating new definitions of gender normality and abnormality. It also tells the story of the tenacity of those who defied the law, spoke out when sentenced, and articulated different gender possibilities.”
8. Morgan M. Page’s One from the Vaults podcast
“One From the Vaults, a trans history podcast by Morgan M Page. We bring you all the dirt, gossip, and glamour from trans history!” (description via iTunes)
9. The Invention of Heterosexuality, Jonathan Ned Katz
“‘Heterosexuality,’ assumed to denote a universal sexual and cultural norm, has been largely exempt from critical scrutiny. In this boldly original work, Jonathan Ned Katz challenges the common notion that the distinction between heterosexuality and homosexuality has been a timeless one. Building on the history of medical terminology, he reveals that as late as 1923, the term ‘heterosexuality’ referred to a ‘morbid sexual passion,’ and that its current usage emerged to legitimate men and women having sex for pleasure. Drawing on the works of Sigmund Freud, James Baldwin, Betty Friedan, and Michel Foucault, The Invention of Heterosexuality considers the effects of heterosexuality’s recently forged primacy on both scientific literature and popular culture.”
10. Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex, ed. by Eric A. Stanley and Nat Smith with foreword by CeCe McDonald
“Pathologized, terrorized, and confined, trans/gender non-conforming and queer folks have always struggled against the prison industrial complex. Eric A. Stanley and Nat Smith bring together current and former prisoners, activists, and academics for a new understanding of how race, gender, ability, and sexuality are lived under the crushing weight of captivity. Through a politic of gender self-determination, this collection argues that trans/ queer liberation and prison abolition must be grown together. From rioting against police violence and critiquing hate crimes legislation, to prisoners demanding access to HIV medications, and far beyond, Captive Genders is a challenge for us all to join the struggle. This expanded second edition includes a new foreword from CeCe McDonald and essays by Chelsea Manning, Kalaniopua Young, and Janetta Louise Johnson and Toshio Meronek.” (description via Amazon)
11. “Under the Rainbow,” Tyrone Palmer
“Even self-proclaimed radical queers, who have often voiced disdain with marriage equality’s position as the central cause of LGBT activismviewing marriage’s heteronormativity as contrary to the goals of queer liberationsoftened their critiques in light of the victory [of 2015 Supreme Court ruling Obergefell v. Hodges]. But for Black queers, reality soon settled in. Celebrating amid the gratuitous violence against Black bodies and the deafening silence of non-Black LGBT activists provoked a question that has dogged the push for marriage equality from the beginning, a question of a darker hue: What good is equality when many of us still are not free, fighting for the right to live?” (excerpted from The New Inquiry)
12. The Naked Civil Servant, Quentin Crisp
“In 1931, gay liberation was not a movementit was simply unthinkable. But in that year, Quentin Crisp made the courageous decision to ‘come out’ as a homosexual. This exhibitionist with the henna-dyed hair was harrassed, ridiculed and beaten. Nevertheless, he claimed his right to be himselfwhatever the consequences. The Naked Civil Servant is both a comic masterpiece and a unique testament to the resilience of the human spirit.”
13. The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer, David Leavitt
“To solve one of the great mathematical problems of his day, Alan Turing proposed an imaginary computer. Then, attempting to break a Nazi code during World War II, he successfully designed and built one, thus ensuring the Allied victory. Turing became a champion of artificial intelligence, but his work was cut short. As an openly gay man at a time when homosexuality was illegal in England, he was convicted and forced to undergo a humiliating ‘treatment’ that may have led to his suicide.”
14. Boston Marriages: Romantic but Asexual Relationships Among Contemporary Lesbians, ed. by Esther D. Rothblum and Kathleen A. Brehony
“For decades the term ‘Boston marriage’ was used to describe single women who lived together and shared their lives. The presumption then was that these partnerships were nonsexual. In recent years, however, the opposite assumption has prevailed, causing some women involved in such relationships to hide the asexual nature of their attachments in the lesbian community This book includes ten personal accounts by women involved in Boston marriages as well as theoretical essays by Lillian Faderman, Marnie Hall, JoAnn Loulan, Suzanna Rose, Debra Zand, Marie Cini, and Laura Brown.”
15. Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture, Arthur Evans
This book is truly bonkers and so super empowering to read, historical accuracy be damned!!!!!!!!