Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview
of the City’s Gay Community
Edited by Tracy Baim
Agate Surrey. 224 pages, $30.
In 1961, Illinois became the first U.S. state to decriminalize consensual sodomy (in response to proposed changes in the Model Penal Code), owing largely to the efforts of a heterosexual lawyer whose law school roommate had committed suicide because he was gay. However, this unanticipated victory failed to help most GLB Chicagoans, who were unaware of this legal landmark. Even before that, in the 1930’s, historian Ernest W. Burgess carried out “the country’s first extensive research project into homosexuality.” Chicago’s other breakthroughs were relatively modest for the most part. In 1958, artists Chuck Renslow and Domingo Orejudos (a.k.a. “Etienne”) established the first leather bar in the U.S., the Gold Coast, which continues to sponsor the International Mr. Leather contest each Memorial Day weekend. Chicago struggled to keep pace with some coastal cities in the early “homophile” days of the 1950’s and 60’s, when organizations like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis were taking hold, until Mattachine Midwest finally took root in 1965. But if Chicago hasn’t spearheaded the national political movement, it has been a hotbed of GLBT cultural and intellectual achievement: the city has been the home town of writers Jeannette Howard Foster, Lorraine Hansberry, E. Lynn Harris, and Achy Obejas, all nationally recognized for their work. With Out and Proud in Chicago, editor Tracy Baim has assembled a beautifully lavish collection of stories, biographies, illustrations, and photographs about America’s Second City. The book is valuable both for its pictorial materials and for its historical documentation.
Paul D. Cain
Queer Cinema in Europe
Edited by Robin Griffiths
Intellect Ltd. 192 pages, $40.
It wouldn’t be surprising if a collection of scholarly essays about queer European cinema were much larger than this particular volume (at under 200 pages). But as editor Robin Griffiths points out in his introduction, Queer Cinema in Europe is not an exhaustive study of its subject. It is, however, expansive enough to represent a number of national cinemas of Europe. The book’s brevity is due to the fact that this topic of study is still somewhat new. Only recently, Griffiths notes, have queer studies become global enough to begin an examination of queer sexuality within the many cinemas of the emerging “new” European identity. The essays are categorized broadly under headings such as “Queer Identities,” “Queer Æsthetics,” “Queer Spaces,” and “Queer Performances.” And while the cinemas of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom receive most of the attention, Belgium, Sweden, and even Turkey are also represented. The identity-themed essays focus on the role that French filmmakers (such as Francois Ozon) have played in using queer themes to explore broader issues about redefining nationalism. Several essays explore how experiments in cinematic form can challenge prevailing notions (primarily Anglo-centric ones) about national and sexual boundaries. Aylish Wood’s “The Animated Queer,” for example, probes the curious and affecting stop-motion puppet work of British animator Barry J. C. Purves. The bulk of the essays are devoted to how filmmakers delineate queer space and how a particular performance can produce radically new conceptions of gender, sexuality, and national identity. Steve Wharton’s “Bars to Understanding” focuses on the portrayal of gay bars in French and British films. Glyn Davis discusses (in the only essay devoted to a single actor) the career of Dirk Bogarde and his contribution to the idea of international “queer stardom.” For those seeking a more accessible exploration of queer Continental cinema, these scholarly, heavily footnoted essays might not fit the bill. But they do provide a solid, thorough, and valuable examination of this emerging field of cultural study.
Two Parties, One Tux, and a Very Short
Film about The Grapes of Wrath
by Steven Goldman
Bloomsbury U.S.A. 307 pages, $16.99
Steven Goldman’s book with its lengthy title speaks to the importance of friendship regardless of one’s sexual orientation. Mitchell, the main character, remains faithful to his best friend David when the latter comes out to him. The breezy narrative follows the course of their friendship in a range of settings, including the high school prom, as they delve into areas of youthful sexuality, self-discovery, and romantic relationships. Through all the inevitable tribulations of high school—and despite the fact that Mitchell remains hopelessly heterosexual (and somehow ends up with two dates to the prom)—the two friends explore what it means to have someone there to support them in life’s journey, whether it entails an academic setback, a rough party, a broken heart, or coming out to family or friends. Goldman deftly employs humor and keeps the book light-hearted, using witty chapter titles and headings to keep the story moving along.
Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South
by E. Patrick Johnson
University of North Carolina Press, 570 pages, $35.
Thirteen years in the making, E. Patrick Johnson’s new book Sweet Tea contains a wealth of information about Southern black gay men and makes a valuable addition to gay cultural history. Sweet Tea is an oral history, or rather a series of oral histories. The book is divided into seven sections—growing up, coming out, the church, “homosex,” “trannies,” love and relationships, and the generation gap. Within each of these sections we encounter the men Johnson interviewed as they talk about the topic at hand. Their replies are not compiled or summarized by the author but allowed to stand on their own. Johnson interviewed more than sixty men in his research and reached a widely varied sample with respect to economic status, political opinions, sexual practices, feelings about the church, and attitudes about relationships. This lack of uniformity among the men is what makes Johnson’s book so fascinating. The book covers numerous issues of importance for black gay men and for the gay community as a whole: the so-called “down low,” one’s HIV status, growing up gay, and the difficulties of coming out. As for the title: in the South, “tea” often refers to gossip, so sharing gossip among friends is “pouring tea.” And it is the tea itself that’s easily the most entertaining aspect of Sweet Tea. Some of the experiences that the men share—of gay sex on historically black college campuses, of romantic encounters between church pews, of being in bed with one’s minister—are sensational narratives that might have even the most jaded among us clutching our pearls. More importantly, many of these men have led amazing, courageous lives and overcome seemingly impossible odds. Sweet Tea preserves these men’s stories in their own voices.
Aaron C. Thomas