I recently finished a review of Lillian Faderman’s forthcoming The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle (Simon & Schuster, 2015) for Library Journal. In that review, I observed that “if Revolution has a weakness it is a by-product of Faderman’s laudable ambition: big-picture narratives inevitably short-change individual stories.” The day after submitting my review, The Right Side of History: 100 Years if LGBTQI Activism, an anthology curated by Adrian Brooks (Cleis Press, 2015) arrived in the mail to address this shortcoming.
A “willfully cacophonous” collection of essays and interviews (as the forward by Jonathan Katz observes), The Right Side seeks the opposite of a coherent historical narrative. Instead, it offers us windows through which we can peer into queer lives past and consider under what circumstances our forebears lived. From Isadora Duncan and The Cradle Will Rock to an interview with Matthew Shephard’s mother and Sultan Shakir’s reflections on being “Black, Gay, and Muslim,” this anthology resists presenting us with a march toward a near future gay liberation. Instead, we are asked to consider the freedoms and constraints of individual lives; instead, we are confronted with LGBTQI individuals who may, or may not, be poster children of queer equality achieved. I appreciate the authors’s divergent voices, some first-person reflection and some more scholarly in tone — and I appreciate that queer activism is not always the primary focus of each piece. Instead, we see queer individuals involved in the struggle for racial justice or better labor conditions as well as their rights as specifically non-straight citizens.
The Right Side of History is not an original work of historical scholarship. The essays, when they aren’t first-person pieces or interviews, rely on secondary sources for most of their historical claims. However, as I was reading it I thought of myself as a twelve-year-old, and how I likely would have benefited enormously from having a copy of The Right Side pressed into my hands as a birthday or Christmas gift. I was the sort of child who voraciously read young peoples’ biographical sketches of inspiring women of history (some of whom I now know were decidedly queer). This collection would have helped me see possibilities for myself in a similar way as those women-of-history collections did — helped me find language and historical context for longings I was just beginning to form. I suggest you consider this book for the queer, questioning, and just plain historically interested teenagers in your life; it’s never too early to start peering through the windows of the past and considering how and where you might fit yourself.
Cleis Press has generously offered one free copy of The Right Side of History to readers of this review. If you would like to put your name in the hat, please comment (here on this review) or Tweet (to me @feministlib) sharing the name of an individual or an event that you feel is under-recognized in queer history. If you had been tasked with writing a chapter for Brooks’ anthology, whom or what would you have chosen to write about? Deadline for entries is 5pm Friday 6/12 and I will contact the winner* on Monday 6/15 to obtain a mailing address.**
*I will use an online randomizer to select one out of all valid entries.
**Cleis Press will only mail to a U.S. address.