21 October 2014

Book Review: Gay L.A.

Lillian Faderman is an American scholar of lesbian history and Stuart Timmons is another American independent scholar of gay history. This is their first book together about the history of the American LGBT movement with the focus on the county of Los Angeles, California.

This book is the political tour de force that the Gay Metropolis was in tracing the history of the American LGBT movement with the focus on New York City. Whereas the Gay Metropolis was much more philosophical and abstract, social and cultural, Gay L.A. is much more political.

In fact, they don't come out and say it, but if you follow the events of the 1960s from a political and legal perspective, its clear that it was the political and legal challenges launched in Los Angeles that created the circumstances that made the Stonewall Inn riots, the "birth" of the LGBT movement in America -- if that can really be called true and not just myth making for the New York tourism board. All of the significant legal challenges that went to the Supreme Court that allowed for a free LGBT press arose from L.A. cases. The LGBT organizations present in New York City in the late 1960s all originated from 1950s gay L.A.

Philippine Gay History, authored by Neil Garcia, is a fascinating book for its investigation of ideas. But what would really be of use, in a more practical sense, would be more history of the gay Philippines or public sexuality. There are a number of Supreme Court cases where provincial judges had removal cases filed against for being "homosexual." As far as I understand it, the Philippine Supreme Court, as long as it has entertained such cases, has denied them -- saying it was not in itself relevant to holding judicial office. It has allowed individuals diagnosed (medically) with sexual ambiguity to chose a gender and have the birth certificate reflected in that change. Yet, on the other hand, it refused to allow Rommel "Mely" Jacinto Silverio to change her birth certificate to reflect the fact that she had undergone medical treatment and became a woman.

Cinema has provided us with stories of transgenders who suffered during World War II -- Markova: Comfort Gay and Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita. We have limited accounts of LGBT life in various diaspora contexts.

But what we are lacking is a coherent and broad narrative, much like Gay LA, that can give us a coherent and long-term view of the history of making intelligible same-sex desire starting in the nineteenth century. Even a deeper and more sustained approach to the available documents in the Spanish-language archive and comparative ethnographic materials that can trace all the various lines of how desire was rendered intelligible to help us understand the palette we currently paint from.

Nevertheless, because the American LGBT movement has dominated the drawing of the contours of the global LGBT movements, Gay LA is really necessary reading -- much like the Gay Metropolis -- in telling about the historical and material forces and struggles that shaped the American LGBT movement.

It is fascinating to consider the story of police persecution repeat itself for over 50 years and how the persecuted and persecutors respond to each other over time -- culminating in the 1960s! Even without such militant activism, the material experiences of the gay Filipino over the last century have created the current conditions. Let's know what this history is.

As Marx noted, "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honored disguise and this borrowed language."

Let us know what traditions our meaning making has conjured up as spirits of the past to our service. And for that, we need practical history.

The version I read was a 464 page cloth published by Basic (Perseus) on October 2, 2006. ISBN: 046502288X. Lowest price seems to be abebooks.com and amazon.com

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