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Gay L. A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbiansby Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons
Synopses & Reviews
The exhortation to "Go West!" has always had a strong hold on the American imagination. But for the gays, lesbians, and transgendered people who have moved to L.A. over the past two centuries, the City of Angels has offered a special home — which, in turn, gave rise to one of the most influential gay cultures in the world.
Drawing upon untouched archives of documents and photographs and over 200 new interviews, Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons chart L.A.'s unique gay history, from the first missionary encounters with Native American cross-gendered "two spirits" to cross-dressing frontier women in search of their fortunes; from the bohemian freedom of early Hollywood to the explosion of gay life during World War II to the underground radicalism sparked by the 1950s blacklist; from the 1960s gay liberation movement to the creation of gay marketing in the 1990s. Faderman and Timmons show how geography, economic opportunity, and a constant influx of new people created a city that was more compatible to gay life than any other in America.
Combining broad historical scope with deftly wrought stories of real people, from the Hollywood sound stage to the barrio, Gay L.A. is American social history at its best.
"This social, political and cultural history of lesbian and gay life in Los Angeles by two seasoned historians is easily the subject's definitive work. Presenting a wealth of fact and analysis, Faderman (Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers) and Timmons (The Trouble with Harry Hay) breeze through the highlights of L.A. gay history. They begin with the suppression of Native Americans' sexual and gender expression by 16th-century Spanish missionaries, before exploring how gender-bending Hollywood stars such as Garbo and Katharine Hepburn shaped popular culture in the 1930s; the emergence of gay public places during the '40s and '50s; and the influence of gay religious groups in the 1970s. While much gay history has centered on white gay men, the authors add important material about the vital role of lesbians and people of color, such as Helen Sandoz and Anne Carll Reid, who worked to bridge the gender gap in 1950s homosexual politics. Although this popular history doesn't strive for academic comprehensiveness, it's filled with illuminating facts — such as that gay men rioted and protested for several days after police raided the Black Cat bar in 1967, two years before the Stonewall Riots in New York. 16 pages of b&w photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This sprawling history of gay Los Angeles strives to place the City of Angels at the center of the gay universe. 'Gay L.A.' traces the city's lavender roots to the Native Americans who lived in the region when the Spanish first arrived; it reports that gay bar patrons revolted against the Los Angeles police 2 1/2 years before the 1969 Stonewall riot in New York that inaugurated the modern gay liberation... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) movement; it asserts that the city gave birth to more gay institutions than 'anywhere else on the planet'; and then, of course, it also has Hollywood. Written by Lillian Faderman, an academic and the author of 10 other books (mostly on lesbian subjects), and Stuart Timmons, a journalist who previously produced a biography of gay pioneer Harry Hay, 'Gay L.A.' covers three centuries, carefully giving equal weight to gay men and lesbians. The opening section about Native Americans is one of the most interesting chapters, partly because it's less familiar than much of what follows. It turns out that Spanish missionaries wrote copiously about their horror upon discovering that 'casual homosexuality among (Indian) men and women was common' and gay marriage was even sanctified. In a pattern repeated by good Christians over many centuries, the missionaries did everything they could to eradicate this disturbing behavior, including 'separating male same-sex couples by sending one member ... off to a distant mission and devising various cruel punishments for the recalcitrant.' An early chapter about Hollywood has enough gossip to fill a pulp novel, including just about every gay rumor you've ever heard about dead movie stars — and a few you haven't. (The living stars who could still sue are spared this treatment.) In a departure from the rigid academic standards that govern other sections of the book, the authors write that 'cases have been made for claiming as lesbian' Judith Anderson, Ethel Waters, Janet Gaynor, Louise Brooks, Tallulah Bankhead, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn. Hepburn lived for years with a woman named Laura Harding, while Spencer Tracy may have been bisexual, in which case he and Hepburn were merely '"beards' for one another.' Cary Grant and Randolph Scott left their wives on weekends to sleep together at their beach house, until RKO told Grant he had to choose between his male lover and his contract with the studio. Other purported members of this club included Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart, George Cukor, Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward, while Tyrone Power and Gary Cooper were both (perhaps) kept boys early in their careers. 'The jury is still out' as to whether Rudolph Valentino was really gay, but 'the popular press had little doubt that he was.' A gay and homophobic reporter named Mike Connolly often made pointed quips in his columns, referring to gay men on Fairfax Avenue (a Jewish neighborhood) as 'gefilte swish.' Subsequent chapters are much more sober, and the writing tends to bog down, punctuated by phrases like 'Despite the rising militancy in Los Angeles, gay people remained largely obscured to the public eye,' and 'they cut their teeth on the 1960s Vietnam and civil rights struggles and the counterculture, where they learned to theorize doubts about the infallibility of society's wisdom.' The authors make almost no effort to place Los Angeles activists inside the larger frame of the national gay movement that began to explode in the 1970s. And sometimes they even miss the significance of the trailblazers they are celebrating. Evelyn Hooker, a psychologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, is lauded for her groundbreaking work proving that being gay did not mean that you were mentally ill. But this book never explains her method. Hooker administered three standard personality tests to gay and straight men who were matched in IQ, age and education levels. In the early 1950s, nearly every psychiatrist believed that he could determine whether someone was gay by using these standardized tests, but Hooker's work proved that was impossible. Unfortunately, 'Gay L.A.' never mentions that this finding was at the heart of her work. Much more successful is the book's portrait of Troy Perry's Metropolitan Community Church, the first important gay church, started by 12 men in a Los Angeles living room in October 1968. One woman remembers that 'the music director, Willie Smith, "all dressed in white, would just fly out on the stage holding a microphone and shout, "All right you queens! On your feet for Jesus!"' Perry also performed one of the first public gay weddings, when he married two Latino men in 1969. Many of the stories told here will be familiar to students of gay subjects. But neophytes will be astonished by the breadth and depth of gay history in Los Angeles that is revealed in these pages." Reviewed by
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"Full of fascinating anecdotes (including much on Hollywood), wise and fair analysis, and significant and inspiring examples of courageous resistance recaptured from the unwritten histories of the past." Library Journal
"Vital intellectual fare brimming with fascinating history." Kirkus Reviews
"Faderman and Timmons deliver a meticulously researched history of the city to support their claim that Los Angeles is the city with the most influence on the gay movement over the last 200 years." Los Angeles Times
"Compelling....Poignant and moving, full of facts and wonderful details that readers may not have encountered, things that are a pleasure to learn and seem important to know." Francine Prose
Book News Annotation:
A decade before the Stonewall Riots and on the other side of the country, drag queens at Los Angeles's Cooper's Doughnuts coffee shop resisted police harassment in what became "perhaps the first homosexual uprising in the world." This story provides an appropriate opening for a book that upturns the conventional wisdom surrounding the history of gay life in America by placing Los Angeles at the epicenter of gay institutional, political, and cultural life in the United States, rather than New York or San Francisco. The authors document gay life in Los Angeles over the course of the 20th century, offering many historical anecdotes and arguing for the central role of Los Angeles in the political and other achievements of gay America. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Award-winning historian Lillian Faderman teams with journalist Stuart Timmons to write the first history of gay life in America's ultimate frontier town: Los Angeles
About the Author
Lillian Faderman is a professor of English at California State University, Fresno.
Stuart Timmons is a journalist who has written about Christopher Isherwood, Rudi Gernreich, and Elsa Lanchester as well as Harry Hay, the founder of the modern gay movement. He has published in LA Weekly, The Advocate, Frontiers, Vibe, Spin, and other publications. He lives in Los Angeles.
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