Sunday, August 30, 2015

REVIEW: THE GAY REVOLUTION



Growing up for me was eventful but challenging. My immigrant parents were tight on cash and journeyed from city to city across the continent looking for work. When we finally landed in small-town Ontario, I was bullied by my mostly Caucasian classmates for my race and sexuality. However, among all of my struggles, the weight of being gay pressed heaviest upon me. After many years of guilt, fear, and uncertainty, I finally came out to my parents at age twenty. I was pleasantly surprised to eventually discover the support and acceptance of my parents and friends. However, it has not always been easy for the LGBT+ community to find acceptance and belonging. Most of us identifying as LGBT+ were born into straight households disconnected from our isolated struggles and unable to pass down generations of events, memories, and solace. Thus, works such as The Gay Revolution are critical in establishing a common sense of identity, history, and remembrance for the LGBT+ community. Lillian Faderman’s groundbreaking new tome is a monumental and important history of gay rights that draws our attention to the struggles of the queer community, past and present.

Clocking in at over 800 pages, The Gay Revolution is a commanding addition to anyone’s bookshelf. Yet Faderman’s love letter to LGBT+ rights is captivating, amusing, and shocking, making it a necessary addition to anyone’s bookshelf. Despite its length, it is inclusive yet focused, centring mainly on the struggle for lesbian and gay rights in the United States beginning in the 1950s. As a Canadian reading the book, I eagerly anticipate an equally well-written version from the Canadian perspective. Yet, with its setting in the United States, The Gay Revolution introduces us to a uniquely divided and complicated country with wildly opposing camps and an incredibly heterogenous population. Faderman embarks upon this ambitious voyage with both meticulously researched detail and cheeky irony.

The Gay Revolution begins with socially charged 1950s America. We witness demeaning and deceptive bar raids where police coerced gay suspects into arrest. Concerned families with misplaced intentions would send homophile youth to mental institutions where electroshocking and drug-induced vomiting routinely took place. We discover early civil rights groups such as Mattachine and Daughters of Bilitis, which created united fronts for gays and lesbians. We are tossed into the days of Stonewall, a surprising riot which caused mayhem as well as opening the eyes of the public to the plight and power of the gay community. In the decades leading to the end of the 20th century, we see gays fired from government positions due to supposed Cold War “Communist spying” as well as military witch hunts. We sift through decades upon decades of legal suits, which crumbled sodomy and marriage laws bit by hard-earned bit. We meet inspiring activists such as Frank Kameny as well impassioned zealots defending “family rights” and the “sanctity of marriage”. Anita Bryant certainly takes the cake (or should we say, pie) as the Queen of unexpectedly strong anti-gay activists, whose efforts at battling her gay enemies ended with a pie to her face and a performing career in ruins. We also encounter moving accounts, such as that of Charlene Strong, barred from sitting in the ambulance and entering the hospital room of her partner Kate Fleming, who drowned in a flash flood at home and was listed at death as “unmarried”.

The US has certainly come a long way since the times when police officers could arrest gays in bars under the pretense of seducing them and firing “homophiles” from the workplace was standard practice. In fact, since I began reading the preview copy of The Gay Revolution, it is already outdated. SCOTUS (The US Supreme Court) has since struck down DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act), thus paving the way to the legalization of same-sex marriage nationally in the United States. Exciting news indeed, but it is only the beginning of a continued struggle for equality and understanding. Many churches still condemn gays as abominations, trans and bisexual individuals struggle to make their voices heard in a sea of sexual identities, and scores of other countries in the world still arrest, imprison, and even murder those not belonging to the heterosexual norm.

Nevertheless, the incredible progress of queer rights are emblazoned upon the pages of The Gay Revolution. As the US joins Canada in marriage equality at last, it’s a sobering opportunity to appreciate how far we have had to come and how far we have yet to go in order to gain equality and freedom for all sexual identities worldwide. The Gay Revolution is an epic and inspiring crown of LGBT+ literature. I highly recommend it for any human of the homo sapiens persuasion - a reminder of both the cruelty of the human condition as well as its power to motivate and galvanize powerful change for the better.

Mike Fan is a Chinese-Canadian classical baritone. Mike plays five instruments and speaks three languages fluently (with a few in progress). After obtaining degrees in piano performance and biomedical science, it became clear that music would win out. On the literary side, Mike wrote 365 sonnets in his teens and writes for his poetry blog Some Turbid Night. Follow @MikeZFan for Mike's adventures, musical and otherwise.

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