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A History of My Tattoo (2006) 6 kappaletta
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Maa (karttaa varten)
Middlesboro, Kentucky, USA
San Juan, Puerto Rico, USA



Exceptional,essential history of early gay rights fight.
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alans | 1 muu arvostelu | Jun 11, 2023 |
Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Henry Gerber was the father of American gay liberation.

Born in 1892 in Germany, Henry Gerber was expelled from school as a boy and lost several jobs as a young man because of his homosexual activities. He emigrated to the United States and enlisted in the army for employment. After his release, he explored Chicago’s gay subculture: cruising Bughouse Square, getting arrested for “disorderly conduct,” and falling in love. He was institutionalized for being gay, branded an “enemy alien” at the end of World War I, and given a choice: to rejoin the army or be imprisoned in a federal penitentiary.

Gerber re-enlisted and was sent to Germany in 1920. In Berlin, he discovered a vibrant gay rights movement, which made him vow to advocate for the rights of gay men at home. He founded the Society for Human Rights, the first legally recognized US gay-rights organization, on December 10, 1924.

When police caught wind of it, he and two members were arrested. He lost his job, went to court three times, and went bankrupt. Released, he moved to New York, disheartened.

Later in life, he joined the DC chapter of the Mattachine Society, a gay-rights advocacy group founded by Harry Hay who had heard of Gerber’s group, leading him to found Mattachine.

An Angel in Sodom is the first and long overdue biography of the founder of the first US gay rights organization.


My Review
: A lifelong member of one or another sexual minority, I'm here to tell you that I've never once heard of Henry Gerber. Magnus Hirschfeld, the German sexologist and early campaigner for gay equality, I'm familiar with, I've even seen movies about him; Henry Gerber is terra incognita. And he lived in my own country!

This is why visibility matters, laddies and gentlewomen. This is why we need Jim Elledge and Hugh Ryan and Peter Staley and thousands of others who were there when things changed, whose voices are lifting the stories "They" would prefer to forget exist and are taking every action to be sure do not reach any wider an audience than "They" can prevent.

The publisher's synopsis above does a good recap of the outlines of the story being told here. I can add to it a few ideas I came away from the read sure I'd felt because I read Gerber's story: Some of us are born cranky and contrarian, prickly and often unpleasant to interact with. That was Josef Dettlef, as he was when he came to Chicago in 1913. He never changed...very few of us do.

The Germany he grew up in, not a privileged childhood by any means but not starving either, had a nascent gay-rights movement (follow the Hirschfeld link above) and was flirting with an unthinkable thought: Transgender people should be treated as the gender they identify, not simply in accordance to the sex organs the genetic lottery assigned them. The ethos, then, in young Dettlef's life wasn't like the one he found when he emigrated to Chicago (with a younger sister in tow) to find his future in Amerika. To be sure, Dettlef wasn't about to stop having sex with other men. Like every city everywhere ever, Chicago had such people in it who were amenable (often, for a price, the most surprising people become amenable to sex outside the ordinary) to handsome young Josef's advances.

What happens next is no surprise to any twenty-first century US citizen: entrapment and arrest, a stay in a mental institution being "cured". But young Josef, in World War One America, had a skill the US Armed Forces needed...he spoke fluent German. He was offered a fresh start if he'd go forth and sin no more, while working for a forces newspaper. What a mistake, a glorious, beautiful error of judgment that exposed Henry (as he now was) to organized, science-based, and well-led gay rights groups. A model, then, for Henry's future plans in Chicago where he returned in 1923.

I will say that, knowing what is to come, I felt desperately sad as Henry's legally constituted Society for Human Rights met its inevitable end at the hands of our very own Federal Government. Such a woke organization, what? Henry's energies being vast, he continued to work for the betterment of QUILTBAG people everywhere through multiple channels, including encouraging Robert Scully to finish A SCARLET PANSY, and during times when the risks were mortal. (One of his organizations, "Contacts," was one my own gay uncle belonged to in the 1930s!) It was part of Henry Gerber's life-long quest to make himself normal...not by changing himself, but by changing society.

What made this book so delightful to read was an accident of history. Henry Gerber would've faded into dust by now, dying as he did in 1972 before the American Psychiatric Association struck homosexuality off its list of mental disorders, but for a lovely surprise. His friend Manuel boyFrank started, and maintained, a correspondence with Henry Gerber that ranged over the rest of each of their lives. Since he kept all Henry's letters, we have the words of the man himself to tell us of his efforts, his feelings about them, and his life-long loneliness. (Cranky, spiky people often end up alone.)

That accident has delivered the twenty-first century a trove of real-life, real-time even, materials that aren't mediated in the way of most historical figures' life stories. There is, and make no mistake it is in this book!, a paper trail of some breadth behind Henry Gerber. It alone would give us none of the richness and texture of Author Jim Elledge's book. While that is greatly to the credit of the story-teller's art, it also tends to lead him into speculative reconstructions of things not necessarily on the source material's pages. This isn't a crime, however, and while I myownself would prefer not to have that much of it, the picture of Henry Gerber's life is deep and beautifully colored. It acts as a strong base and as a wide frame around gay life a century ago, when we weren't supposed to be here among you at all.

***PLEASE NOTE there are hyperlinks galore at the review as posted on my blog. Too many to port over, I'm afraid!
… (lisätietoja)
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richardderus | 1 muu arvostelu | Dec 29, 2022 |
I have a bad habit of reviewing books I haven't yet finished ... but I'm becoming frustrated enough with this one that I feel a need to pause and say why.

Elledge certainly has a laudable goal: he wants to "save" outsider artist Darger from repeated accusations of being either a pedophile or a dangerous, violent man who wished awful harm to children -- tendencies which, many have said, lie behind his obsessive, often upsetting work. Elledge's thesis is that Darger was often abused in his youth, partly on the (specifically) queer and often predatory streets of Chicago and partly in the institutions in which his hapless father repeatedly left him ... and that he was a gay man who enjoyed a long-lasting, committed relationship, and that queer motifs echo throughout the unbelievably long, illustrated novels that he wrote.

Does he make a convincing case? Well.

I confess I have to say "well ... sometimes." Is it a believable narrative? sure, why not? There is nothing outlandish in it. but plausibility is not the issue. The problem is that so very much of it is based in conjecture. Elledge worked for years on this book, but he (at first, anyway) repeatedly admits that he's necessarily had to reconstruct things, to fill in the gaps.

There are just ... SO MANY gaps. And after a while, the author simply stops admitting that he is presenting a conjecture, that much of the evidence could (I guess -- I'm not a lawyer) be characterized as "circumstantial", and silently edges into an implicit stance that he is presenting fact.

I don't want to accuse Elledge of having "an agenda," because that has a problematic, stupid edge to it, but unfortunately (for me, anyway) the chosen narrative is pushed *so* hard, and over and over, that a sense of special pleading inevitably builds up, whether it is actually there or not. I also feel like much of the wonder of Darger's work gets passed by. Again, it's possible this impression will change in the last part of the book -- the part I haven't read ... but I keep wanting to scream "could you say a few words about why Darger might have written A NOVEL THAT IS OVER 15,000 PAGES LONG? or why his autobiography veers off into ALMOST 5,000 PAGES ABOUT A TORNADO NAMED 'SWEETIE PIE'?"

But that's me -- what I want. Which may not matter at all.

UPDATE: so yeah, Elledge does say a few things about the works in the latter part of the book. And overall, I'd say he does a fine job of humanizing Henry Darger. In the end the book is a sensitively drawn portrait of a deeply damaged man, whether you agree with the details or not.
… (lisätietoja)
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tungsten_peerts | 1 muu arvostelu | Mar 6, 2022 |
This book is a must-read for those who are interested in queer and/or Chicago history. I know I definitely have a tendency to associate LGBT culture with the late 20th century at best, and reading this book and learning about the way gay men navigated the societies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a humbling and enriching experience.
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hatingongodot | 1 muu arvostelu | May 3, 2020 |


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