Browsing: Stonewall Hits the Big 4-0

July – August, 2009

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PERFORMER AND AUTHOR Staceyann Chin made her debut two months early, as she explains in this new memoir. Her mother, Hazel, who claimed that she didn’t know she was with child, gave birth on the floor of their small, rented house in Lottery, Jamaica, in her seventh month of pregnancy.

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Note from the author: The first half of this article originally appeared in the December-January 1970 issue of ComeOut! The second half was to have been published in a 1972 issue of ComeOut! Some time before production, the print shop that housed the galleys was raided (perpetrators unknown-at least to me) and the galleys were destroyed. The latter half of this article, tracing the rise and fall of Radicalesbians, never made it to press.

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IN LIGHT OF the myriad books about Bette Davis that are out there, one might question the need for another look at the grande dame of the big screen and her body of work. But author Peter McNally would rightly disagree, having written an exhaustive and even original book about the legendary actress’s most memorable turns.

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VIEWED THROUGH THE PRISM of the eight issues of the newspaper Come Out! that were published by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in New York from 1969 to 1972, the Stonewall Riots ignited a decisive and twofold political trajectory that has endured for forty years. Two political models, distinct and dissimilar but not mutually exclusive, developed simultaneously. The first approach sustained and refined the paradigm of identity politics rooted in the homophile movement. The second introduced a critical reformulation of gender and sexuality that evolved from feminism into the matrix of academia as lesbian and gay studies and subsequently queer theory.

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… Moz (as he’s known by his legion of queer-friendly fans) has found a reason to believe. And yet, in his newly released album, Years of Refusal, he sings that “only stone and steel accept my love.”

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THE 1960’S IN AMERICA, when I was an adolescent, was a dark time for gay men. A man’s life could be ruined if it were known that he harbored homoerotic desires, even if just in the head. In the political hysteria fostered by Senator Joseph McCarthy, gay men people were purged from government jobs and driven to suicide. Men who loved other men were incarcerated in mental asylums, castrated and given electric shock treatment.

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… In the aftermath of an unexpected death, the surviving spouse faces a jumble of legal responsibilities, emotional reactions, and practical considerations. At 42, I never expected to find myself planning a memorial service for the 39-year-old love of my life. …

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… Henry James was a gay man, albeit a rather closeted one, and in this respect he is not alone in showing an uncanny insight into the subjectivities of women … Many of his novels and short stories have been studied by GLBT scholars for their gay subtext, including strong lesbian undertones in his novel The Bostonians …

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The movement that followed Stonewall represented a sharp break with the past; the impact over time would transform the world in ways unimaginable to earlier activists. What’s more, scale of change over the ensuing forty years has been breathtaking. What, then, was so special about Stonewall?

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SHE HATED the work of Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and CarsonMcCullers (Clock Without Hands was “the worst book I’ve ever read”).The sort of book she gave close friends was Romano Guardini’s The Lord,or Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, or Teilhard de Chardin’sThe Phenomenon of Man.

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