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When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History by Hugh…
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When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History

by Hugh Ryan

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594312,175 (4.42)1
"The groundbreaking, never-before-told story of Brooklyn's vibrant and forgotten queer history, from the mid-1850s up to the present day. When Brooklyn Was Queer is a groundbreaking exploration of the LGBT history of Brooklyn, from the early days of Walt Whitman in the 1850s up through the women who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, and beyond. No other book, movie, or exhibition has ever told this sweeping story. Not only has Brooklyn always lived in the shadow of queer Manhattan neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and Harlem, but there has also been a systematic errasure of its queer hsitory--a great forgetting. Ryan is here to unearth that history for the first time, and show how the formation of Brooklyn is inextricably linked to the stories of the incredible people who created the Brooklyn we know today. Folks like Ella Wesner and Florence Hines, the most famous drag kings of the late-1800s; E. Trondle, a transgender man whose arrest in Brooklyn captured headlines for weeks in 1913; Hamilton Easter Field, whose art commune in Brooklyn Heights nurtured Hart Crane and John Dos Passos; Mabel Hampton, a black lesbian who worked as a dancer at Coney Island in the 1920s; Gustave Beekman, the Brooklyn brothel owner at the center of a WWII gay Nazi spy scandal; and Josiah Marvel, a curator at the Brooklyn Museum who helped create a first-of-its-kind treatment program for gay men arrested for public sex in the 1950s. Through their stories, WBWQ brings Brooklyn's queer past to life"--… (more)

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I enjoyed this book a lot. I read this book primarily because I was interested in queer life in the 1920s and 1930s, and on that front it certainly did not disappoint. I was entranced by the descriptions of the way queer people built a community for themselves. I also loved that the book served as who's who of the artists and writers who made Brooklyn home, many of whom were queer themselves or had close queer influences. However, the part of the book that stuck with me the most was the chapter on the erasure of Brooklyn's queer community following WWII. It was like watching a vibrant community crumble before my eyes and hurt profoundly. However, I could not help but also be inspired-- they did ALL of that to get rid of us and damn it, we're still here.

From a historical writing perspective, I especially appreciated two things. First, Ryan careful to identify people as broadly queer (thus demonstrating the depth of queer history) without projecting current identities onto historical figures who never would have identified that way. This is a fine line and I think Ryan walked it well. Second, Ryan was very conscious of the biases in the historical evidence he used, namely the relative exclusion of perspectives from lower class voices and people of color. He also did his best to discuss queer Brooklynites as they saw themselves, despite the fact that a significant portion of the evidence comes from decidedly homophobic sources. ( )
  sp12295 | Sep 5, 2019 |
This is, as one might hope, an excellent account of its stated subject. Additionally, the author casts his net pretty widely and adds many tangents, usually interesting, that extend into other areas, notably entertainment history, the seemingly never-ending infatuation with sexuality on the part of American government, and Robert Moses' reinvention of New York City (though I found that last less interesting). I particularly liked the author's empathy with the mindset of people in ages past; the book extends chronologically from the days of Walt Whitman to the eve of the Stonewall riots. Quibbles would include an embarrassingly elementary arithmetic error and the author's evident distaste for the word 'whom', which corrupts a good many of his usually well-crafted sentences. ( )
  Big_Bang_Gorilla | Jul 25, 2019 |
Hugh Ryan is an interesting fellow, so when I saw this book was coming out I was intrigued! Hugh is a curator of queer history, a writer and speaker and New York is his home. If someone was going to write the queer history of Brooklyn then this was the man.

I haven't read a queer history book before, books about specific events or people sure, but this one is fascinating. This begins around the time of Walt Whitman. Ryan writes about the way that the waterfront "created conditions that allowed queer lives to flourish in Brooklyn." It was a diverse community that was a place of privacy and numbers...and allowed queer folks to live in relative safety. But has that history been deliberately forgotten?

The book, of course, tells the stories of some of the more famous queer people living in the area...but also gives the reader a better understanding of what life in the 1850s and forward was like an LGBTQ person.

Consider giving this a read if you're interested in history! This might surprise you! ( )
  Charlotte_Kinzie | Jun 20, 2019 |
Hugh Ryan is an interesting fellow, so when I saw this book was coming out I was intrigued! Hugh is a curator of queer history, a writer and speaker and New York is his home. If someone was going to write the queer history of Brooklyn then this was the man.

I haven't read a queer history book before, books about specific events or people sure, but this one is fascinating. This begins around the time of Walt Whitman. Ryan writes about the way that the waterfront "created conditions that allowed queer lives to flourish in Brooklyn." It was a diverse community that was a place of privacy and numbers...and allowed queer folks to live in relative safety. But has that history been deliberately forgotten?

The book, of course, tells the stories of some of the more famous queer people living in the area...but also gives the reader a better understanding of what life in the 1850s and forward was like an LGBTQ person.

Consider giving this a read if you're interested in history! This might surprise you! ( )
  Charlotte_Kinzie | Jun 20, 2019 |
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