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Ten Books for Your LGBT History Collection

Today's aficionado of LGBT history and culture benefits from a wealth of literature ranging from academic histories to memoirs to journalistic investigations. While no bibliography can be truly comprehensive, what follows is a list of ten books which bring unique perspectives on important subjects relevant to the study of the history of LGBT people.

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic. by Randy Shilts

The AIDS epidemic has had a devastating impact on many communities, but none more so than the gay male community, especially during the early years of the crisis in the 1980's. This definitive history of that era is one of two titles on this list authored by the legendary gay journalist Randy Shilts.

From the review:
"In the first major book on AIDS, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Randy Shilts examines the making of an epidemic. Shilts researched and reported the book exhaustively, chronicling almost day-by-day the first five years of AIDS. His work is critical of the medical and scientific communities' initial response and particularly harsh on the Reagan Administration, who he claims cut funding, ignored calls for action and deliberately misled Congress. Shilts doesn't stop there, wondering why more people in the gay community, the mass media and the country at large didn't stand up in anger more quickly. The AIDS pandemic is one of the most striking developments of the late 20th century and this is the definitive story of its beginnings."

The Best Little Boy in the World. by Andrew Tobias (aka John Reid)

While Andrew Tobias is now a prominent out gay rights activist and a major figure in national politics, he was not always able to be so open in his activism. When he penned this memoir, he first published it under a pseudonym to protect himself from the consequences of revealing his identity. His story helps reveal how far we have come and reminds us of how far we still have to go.

From the Review:
"When The Best Little Boy in the World was first published in 1973, Andrew Tobias could write about what it had felt like to begin to accept his homosexuality, but he couldn't bring himself to sign his own name to the book, for fear of embarrassing his parents. And so it was "John Reid" who became a hero to the thousands of gay males who found in this memoir a mirror for their own experiences."

The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies, by Vito Russo

The history of Hollywood and American pop culture can not be properly told without examining the role of LGBT people on the entertainment industry. This quintessential study of the history of gay Hollywood was ultimately made into an award-winning documentary by the same name.

From the Review:
"When Vito Russo published the first edition of The Celluloid Closet in 1981, there was little question that it was a groundbreaking book. Today it is still one of the most informative and provocative books written about gay people and popular culture. By examining the images of homosexuality and gender variance in Hollywood films from the 1920s to the present, Russo traced a history not only of how gay men and lesbians had been erased or demonized in movies but in all of American culture as well."

Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography, by Christine Jorgensen

While not the first person to undergo surgical gender reassignment, Christie Jorgensen was the first sex change subject to become widely known in popular culture. The revelation of her identity in 1952 ushered in a new era in the American perception of sexuality and gender. This is Jorgensen's story in her own words.

From the Review:
"When ex-G.I. George Jorgensen went to Copenhagen in the early 1950s to consult experts in sexual deviance, he was afraid they'd simply proclaim him a fairy. A full battery of hormonal and psychological tests revealed that, while he was drawn to men, he was no garden-variety homophile; he was a lady. Keeping the secret from his family, Jorgensen endured a groundbreaking series of operations, finally emerging in November 1952 as a delicately beautiful young woman. "I merely wanted to correct what I considered a misjudgment of Nature," wrote Jorgensen, who died in 1989. No one seeing the photographs included here (many of them new to this edition) can doubt the success of Jorgensen's transformation or wonder too long at the fascination she engendered back home, where a newspaper bought her story for $20,000 and she was proclaimed New York City's Woman of the Year. A stage and screen career soon followed."

Epistemology of the Closet, by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

This highly academic literary analysis examines the intersection of sexuality, literature, and the realities of every day life.

From the Review:
"Since the late 1980s, queer studies and theory have become vital to the intellectual life of the U.S. This has been, to no small degree, due to the popularity of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's critically acclaimed Epistemology of the Closet. Working from classic texts of European and American writers--including Herman Melville, Henry James, Marcel Proust, and Oscar Wilde--Sedgwick delineates a historical moment in which sexual identity became as important a demarcation of personhood as gender had been for centuries."

The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, by Randy Shilts

Harvey Milk was the first great openly gay elected official in American history, and thus will always hold an honored position as one of the Founding Fathers of the LGBT equality movement. This is an early biography, written by noted gay journalist Randy Shilts, which serves as a great companion to the 2008 biopic starring Sean Penn.

From the product description:
"Known as “The Mayor of Castro Street” even before he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Harvey Milk’s personal life, public career, and final assassination reflect the dramatic emergence of the gay community as a political power in America. It is a story full of personal tragedies and political intrigues, assassinations at City Hall, massive riots in the streets, the miscarriage of justice, and the consolidation of gay power and gay hope."

Pressure is a Privilege: Lessons I've Learned from Life and the Battle of the Sexes, by Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King is more than just a lesbian icon and feminist hero, she undeniably one of the greatest professional tennis players ever to walk onto a court. Her landmark victory over Bobby Riggs in the much-hyped "Battle of the Sexes" provides a great spectrum through which to look at her lifetime of breaking down barriers for lesbians, women, and underdogs of all persuasions.

From the product description:
"Billie Jean King's victory over Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes" was a pivotal moment in gender relations for generations of American women and men. But her journey to the "Battle of the Sexes" was no accident. Now, for the first time ever, Billie Jean shares the life lessons that led to her success in that match, in sports, and in the world at large. Published in conjunction with the 35th anniversary of this monumental event, Pressure is a Privilege uses the Billie Jean King / Bobby Riggs match to illustrate what she learned in her early life that brought her to that event and the lessons that she learned from it."

The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde, by Merlin Holland

The talented playwright and satirist Oscar Wilde is the iconic martyr of the modern gay rights movement. This account of his sodomy trials and the associated scandal is written by Wilde's grandson Merlin Holland.

From the Product Information:
"Oscar Wilde had one of literary history's most explosive love affairs with Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas. In 1895, Bosie's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, delivered a note to the Albemarle Club addressed to "Oscar Wilde posing as sodomite." With Bosie's encouragement, Wilde sued the Marquess for libel. He not only lost but he was tried twice for "gross indecency" and sent to prison with two years' hard labor. With this publication of the uncensored trial transcripts, readers can for the first time in more than a century hear Wilde at his most articulate and brilliant. The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde documents an alarmingly swift fall from grace; it is also a supremely moving testament to the right to live, work, and love as one's heart dictates."

Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman, by Leslie Feinberg

Far too often, the role of transgender people to progress of LGBT rights as well as their contributions to the broader arc of queer history. This academic tome begins to lay out some of the important ways in which transgender people, variant gender expression have helped to create the world we live in today.

From the Review:
"Leslie Feinberg has been a leader in the transgender rights movement as long as such a movement has existed. This book is both deeply personal and widely researched. Feinberg examines perceptions of the body, the status of clothing, and the structures of societies that welcome or are threatened by gender variance. The portrait gallery that closes the book contains photographs and capsule biographies of contemporary transgendered people."

The Whole World Was Watching: Living in the Light of Matthew Shepard, by Romaine Patterson

Before moving to New York City and becoming the host of a nationally broadcast satellite radio show, Romaine Patterson grew up as a young lesbian in rural Wyoming. As a young woman, she was shocked when her good friend Matthew Shepard was a victim of a heinous anti-gay hate crime. In the aftermath of Shepard's death and the national attention that it received, Patterson became a dedicated activist for LGBT rights.

From the product description:
"On the evening of Thursday, October 8, 1998, 20-year-old Romaine Patterson received a phone call that her best friend, Matthew Shepard, had been beaten and left hanging on a split-rail fence outside Laramie, Wyoming. Romaine was then thrust to the center of the worldwide media frenzy that descended on Laramie, and she came face-to-face with twisted homophobia when Baptist minister Fred Phelps and his followers picketed Matthew’s funeral with signs reading, “Matt burns in hell.” Upon learning of Phelps’ plan to bring his ministry of hate to support Matt’s killers at their trial, Romaine went into action. Who can forget the image of Romaine and her friends donning seven-foot angel wings so they could encircle Phelps and his gang, leaving the picketers silent and invisible? From that moment forward, Romaine has become a spokesperson for tolerance, acceptance, and nonviolence around the globe, whether as a founder of Angel Action, as a consultant for The Laramie Project (the award-winning play that has been produced hundreds of times and became an acclaimed HBO film starring Christina Ricci as Romaine). In one of their last conversations, Matt told Romaine that he wanted to spend his life helping people realize that they as individuals could make a difference in the world. This is Romaine Patterson’s journey to realizing the truth of that statement."


Ameriqueer said…
Awesome post! I gotta go check these out.

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