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Richard Labonte | September 26, 2006

Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians, by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons. Basic Books, 464 pages, $29.95 hardcover.

In May 1959, a decade before Stonewall, Los Angeles had its own gay riot. Police entered Cooper's Doughnuts, an all-night hangout nestled between two gay bars, and demanded ID from the patrons, writer John Rechy among them. The queers – butch hustlers and Capri-pant-clad queens, many black or Latino – fought back, with flying doughnuts, half-filled paper cups, even wooden coffee stirrers. Squad cars were called, rioters were arrested, and the street was cordoned off for a day. "This was perhaps the first homosexual riot in the world," write the authors. "But the historic moment went unrecorded." Until now. Gay L.A., a seamless queer historical collaboration, makes a solid case – through extensive historical research and a catchy accumulation of first-person anecdotes – for Los Angeles as the true pioneer city of American gay liberation. Historians and activists will quibble about that assertion. In the meantime, this history of a city and its queers – from early Hollywood closets to the founding of the Mattachine Society, from the emergence of the Radical Faeries to the creation of West Hollywood – is a first-rank achievement of illuminating scholarship and entertaining writing.



Two Spirits: A Story of Life with the Navajo, by Walter L. Williams and Toby Johnson. Lethe Press, 332 pages, $18 paper.

Cliched passion between the Sensitive White Man and the Noble Savage has been a subset of gay romantic and erotic fiction since Richard Amory's Song of the Loon set the standard almost five decades ago. The bar has been raised much, much higher by this compassionate collaboration between academic Williams, whose scholarly The Spirit and the Flesh explored sexual diversity in American Indian culture, and novelist Johnson, whose several books blend gay fiction with spiritual wisdom. Their enchanting suspenseful romance, set in the New Mexico Territory shortly after the Civil War, eschews those unfortunate cliches: The young Virginian and the two-spirit native who come to love each other here are fully dimensional characters. The story hews closely to real history, too, as it recounts the callous eviction of the Navajo from their sacred homelands, a shameful era of cultural oppression and brutal discrimination in America. Two Spirits bristles with its angry depiction of regrettable history, but any hint of didactic overload is totally tempered by fine writing.



Carly's Sound, by Ali Vali. Bold Strokes Books, 264 pages, $15.95 paper.

This is a romance. Poppy and Julia want to love each other, but aren't sure how to go about it. This is also a ghost story. Poppy once loved Carly, and for two years after Carly's death from breast cancer, withdraws from life, leaving the operation of her wildly successful resort business to her friends and employees. Then Carly comes back as a ghost, solid enough for Poppy to touch, so ephemeral nobody else can see her, and insisting that Poppy get on with her business and her personal life. Carly's Sound is about a poor-born Cuban-American girl whose pluck and singing skills – she performed in bars to earn enough to buy her first small resort – make her a wealthy and worldly woman. This kind of happy-ending fiction – a fantasy about life as it ought to be – builds a few emotional bumps into its plot, but no real roadblocks. It's no surprise that passion is indeed possible a second time around, and that Poppy eventually embraces the love that Julia has to offer.



The Lavender Locker Room: 3000 Years of Great Athletes Whose Sexual Orientation Was Different, by Patricia Nell Warren. Wildcat Press, 344 pages, $24.95 paper.

The term "locker room" is pretty expansive when it comes to defining this remarkable history of queer athletes. For that matter, "athletes" is itself a noble overstatement. Warren, author of the perennial bestseller The Front Runner, profiles a 15th-century French jouster (that would be Joan of Arc), a 17th- century British horse breeder (Georges Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham), and a 19th-century Brazilian balloonist (Alberto Santos-Dumont). By the time this eclectic collection of historical excavation, biographical insight, and exuberant gay liberation moves into the 20th century, the subjects are more familiar: golfing "Amazon" Babe Didrickson Zaharias, tennis great Bill Tilden, marathon swimmer Diana Nyad, and football player David Kopay; other chapters explore fencing, ice skating, boxing, and baseball. Warren's essays are collected from a series written for Outsports.com, but appear here greatly expanded and generously footnoted. The Lavender Locker Room is a wonderfully comprehensive account of LGBT people in sports – it's Warren's first nonfiction book, after eight novels, but every bit as enthralling as her fiction has been for generations of gay readers.



Featured Excerpt:
ONE Magazine began publication in January 1953 with a bland first cover that could have adorned any literary quarterly, but it quickly became more and more daring. By the fourth issue the editors made the magazine's real purpose evident on the cover, with a mock Red-scare headline, "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Homosexual?" By November, the phrase "The Homosexual Magazine" appeared on the cover, signalling to gay people that at last here was a periodical that dared to speak directly to them. Against heavy odds in the midst of the reactionary McCarthy era, ONE made a considerable impact nationally, appearing on newsstands in several U.S. cities and selling about 5,000 copies a month, many of which passed through multiple hands. –from Gay L.A., by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons



Footnotes:
ARTIST AND PHOTOGRAPHER Tee Corinne, author of the popular Cunt Coloring Book, published in 1975 and still in print, and of Yantras of Womenlove, the first collection of erotic lesbian photography, published in 1982, died Aug. 27 at her Oregon home, of stomach cancer. She was 62. Her photo collection Intimacies was published by Last Gasp in 2002; she also wrote and edited several collections of erotic fiction, including Intricate Passions, Riding Desire, and The Poetry of Sex; she wrote frequently about art and other artists; and she was co-founder of the Lesbian & Bisexual Caucus of the Women's Caucus for Art. For memorial information: www.jeansirius.com/TeeACorinne...
ALISON BECHDEL'S MEMOIR about growing up with a closeted gay father, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, is one of the five nominees for a Quill Award as – oddly – a "graphic novel," one of 20 categories under consideration; the only other queer nominee, among 100 books, is Mary Oliver, in poetry, for New and Selected Poems: Volume Two. The 2-year-old Quills are selected by an online vote of readers – they "pair a populist sensibility with Hollywood-style glitz," according to the organizers, "and have become the first literary prizes to reflect the tastes of the group that matters most in publishing: readers." Winners will be announced in New York on Oct. 10, and the ceremony will be broadcast Oct. 28 on MSNBC.

Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-'70s.


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