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Published in: July-August 2018 issue.


Forbidden Lives:  LGBT Histories from Wales
by Norena Shopland
Seren Books. 248 pages, $17.


WALES HAS ALWAYS BEEN a nation fiercely protective of its national identity. Much of that energy has focused on preserving the country’s unique and exotic language (think of all those gargantuan, consonant-heavy Welsh place names). Welsh nationalists’ resistance to the British has been strident and even violent. In 1936, three nationalists set fire to a newly built Royal Air Force base in the Welsh heartland. The men became folk heroes, dubbed “The Three,” and photographed for a postcard that circulated widely for many years after.

            In Forbidden Lives, Norena Shopland cites this spirit of rebellion as an animating force in the lives of the many Welsh LGBT pioneers whose stories she has collected in her book. These 25 tales cover a broad swath of Welsh history. They include infamous eccentrics, well-known cultural figures, military personnel, political leaders, and even a few early examples of what we would today call intersex individuals. Although most chapters are biographical accounts of particular people, later chapters are mini-histories of political, legislative, and cultural events. Taken as a whole, Forbidden Lives is a combination of biography and cultural history.

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Jim Nawrocki is a frequent contributor to this magazine.