We Are Living History
Up on the podium is a short, wide dyke in a cowboy hat. Next to her is a shirtless gay guy in leather pants, suspenders and cap. They take turns at the mike, exhorting the crowd. Down in the audience a slight balding man in a pink tutu periodically does demi-plies as he applauds the speakers. Back a few rows two white-haired women, one in a wheelchair, are so moved they are crying.
Millions of gay people have now witnessed scenes like this. They’ve been happening for at least 40 years now. It’s an ongoing story with the makings of history even as we live it, even as gay historians document it.
When my first few books were published, readers thanked me for depicting our history. I’d explain at readings that I wasn’t writing history, that I was writing reality as it is experienced by many gays who aren’t on the ramparts. The stomping diesel dykes who wear high heels to work and effeminate male hairdressers who are still married to women, for example, are not anachronisms. They are alive and well and always would be with us in some form or other.
History happens in daily life. The first time a teacher came out to her school principal, she made history. Teachers continue coming out today. History is an accumulation of these acts.
When I meet young readers I can see that nothing but the present is real to them. The way they see it, a book I wrote twenty-five years ago depicts history, while to me it’s my reality. My fictional characters dress with a style that could seem a bit stale to kids with piercings and tattoos, but is true to the dykes I see.
The irony is that I have always been bored silly by history. I would never purposely write an historical romance. At the library today I was perusing a two-volume edition of Herman Wouk’s War and Remembrance. In his introduction, he called those towering novels historical romances even though all the events happened in his lifetime. Maybe I have been writing history all along.
I really hated “world civ” in college. This weird teacher would climb on the long table at the front of the auditorium and pace, gesticulating wildly with his mike. It was hard to concentrate on Roman Emperors and Visigoths while waiting for him to fall off. In section classes he’d have us, college students, color in maps. He provided the crayons. I learned best from teachers who were passionate about their subjects. Guys like him bled passion out of history.
What if the schools had taught gay history, would I have liked the subject then? Well, they couldn’t. It wasn’t documented back then. We had no pictures of gay heroes, no Gayttysberg Address to memorize, no significant dates about which to write reports. Gay history was left to the novelists: Gale Wilhelm, Radclyffe Hall, Gore Vidal, Mary Renault.
Today, because our history has become visible, it has also started to look more like our present. The tattooed baby gays are keyboarding us: churning out stories of the here and now that reflect this new world. They’re doing love scenes between characters who can legally marry and mysteries featuring party boys unabashedly mobbing the streets.
The tableau of the gay guy and the gay woman at the podium is a sign of both early and later post Stonewall years; they couldn’t get more current, yet they’re making history. The lesbian pushing her lover’s wheelchair and the gay boy dancing for joy in a pink tutu are living history. Their acts become bedrock we stand on. Every book a gay person writes about a gay life, every time we come out to a boss—or every time we hide while the bigots win elections—we may think we’re just living our lives, but we’re actually determining our history.
Email Lee Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org.