February is LGBT History Month in the UK, although it slowly is making its way over here (we were one of the first to do programmes for it). Here’s five gay history books to celebrate the month
Gay Life and Culture: A World History
Gay Life and Culture is the first ever comprehensive, global account of gay history. It is spectacularly illustrated throughout and includes an extensive selection of images, many of them only recently recovered. From Theocritus verses to Queer as Folk, from the berdaches of North America to the boywives of Aboriginal Australia, this extraordinarily wide-ranging book illustrates both the commonality of love and lust, and the various ways in which such desires have been constructed through the ages.
Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918-1957 by Matt Houlbrook
In August 1934, young Cyril L. wrote to his friend Billy about all the exciting men he had met, the swinging nightclubs he had visited, and the vibrant new life he had forged for himself in the big city. He wrote, “I have only been queer since I came to London about two years ago, before then I knew nothing about it.” London, for Cyril, meant boundless opportunities to explore his newfound sexuality. But his freedom was limite: he was soon arrested, simply for being in a club frequented by queer men.
Cyril’s story is Matt Houlbrook’s point of entry into the queer worlds of early twentieth-century London. Drawing on previously unknown sources, from police reports and newspaper exposés to personal letters, diaries, and the first queer guidebook ever written, Houlbrook here explores the relationship between queer sexualities and modern urban culture that we take for granted today. He revisits the diverse queer lives that took hold in London’s parks and streets; its restaurants, pubs, and dancehalls; and its Turkish bathhouses and hotels—as well as attempts by municipal authorities to control and crack down on those worlds. He also describes how London shaped the culture and politics of queer life—and how London was in turn shaped by the lives of queer men. Ultimately, Houlbrook unveils the complex ways in which men made sense of their desires and who they were. In so doing, he mounts a sustained challenge to conventional understandings of the city as a place of sexual liberation and a unified queer culture.
A history remarkable in its complexity yet intimate in its portraiture, Queer London is a landmark work that redefines queer urban life in England and beyond.
Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele
‘Queer: A Graphic History Could Totally Change the Way You Think About Sex and Gender’ Vice
Activist-academic Meg-John Barker and cartoonist Julia Scheele illuminate the histories of queer thought and LGBTQ+ action in this groundbreaking non-fiction graphic novel.
From identity politics and gender roles to privilege and exclusion, Queer explores how we came to view sex, gender and sexuality in the ways that we do; how these ideas get tangled up with our culture and our understanding of biology, psychology and sexology; and how these views have been disputed and challenged.
Along the way we look at key landmarks which shift our perspective of what’s ‘normal’ – Alfred Kinsey’s view of sexuality as a spectrum, Judith Butler’s view of gendered behaviour as a performance, the play Wicked, or moments in Casino Royale when we’re invited to view James Bond with the kind of desiring gaze usually directed at female bodies in mainstream media.
Presented in a brilliantly engaging and witty style, this is a unique portrait of the universe of queer thinking.
When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones
Born in 1954, Cleve Jones was part of the last generation of gay people who grew up not knowing if there was anyone else on the entire planet who felt the same way he did. It wasn’t until Jones was fourteen, flipping through the pages of Life magazine, when he saw the headline “Homosexuals in Revolt!” followed by several pages of text and photographs of the new gay rights movement, including photos of men marching with fists in the air through the streets of Greenwich Village, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, that he understood that he was part of a larger community. To say Cleve was thrilled to discover this movement is an understatement; it saved his life.
In the early 1970s Cleve moved to San Francisco, a city whose beautiful streets, progressive politics, and sexually charged nightlife were drawing in thousands of young gay men every year from towns across America. After some time in Europe, Jones took an internship in Harvey Milk’s City Hall office, and Milk would become Cleve’s mentor, an experience that would bring Cleve the forefront of the gay rights movement (and make him a witness to Milk’s 1978 assassination). With the onset of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s Jones emerged as one the gay community’s most outspoken activists – a role that continues to today. In 1983, Cleve co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and in 1987 founded The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, the world’s largest community arts project. In 2009 he led the National March for Equality in Washington, D.C.
From one of the most iconic living LGBTQ activists,WHEN WE RISE is a beautifully written memoir that brings to life the drama and heartbreak of the AIDS crisis – and the lost San Francisco and lost generation of men who came before it.
Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day (25 May 2017)
Peter Ackroyd is our preeminent chronicler of London. In Queer City, he looks at the metropolis in a whole new way – through the history and experiences of its gay population.
In Roman Londinium the penis was worshipped and homosexuality was considered admirable. The city was dotted with lupanaria (‘wolf dens’ or public pleasure houses), fornices (brothels) and thermiae (hot baths). Then came the Emperor Constantine, with his bishops and clergy, monks and missionaries. His rule was accompanied by the first laws against queer practices.
What followed was an endless loop of alternating permissiveness and censure, from the notorious Normans, whose military might depended on masculine loyalty, and the fashionable female transvestism of the 1620s; to the frenzy of executions for sodomy in the early 1800s and the ‘gay plague’ in the 1980s.
Ackroyd takes us right into this hidden city, celebrating its diversity, thrills and energy on the one hand; but reminding us of its very real terrors, dangers and risks on the other. In a city of superlatives, it is perhaps this endless sexual fluidity and resilience that epitomise the real triumph of London.
‘Peter Ackroyd is the greatest living chronicler of London’ Independent