Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Reference Shelf - Gay by the Bay

Like a lot of authors, I have a huge reference section on my bookshelves. Sometimes, I buy books because they catch my eye at the store. Other times, I get one for a specific topic. The problem is, once I use it for whatever purpose I get it, it goes on the shelf and I often forget about it. I got reminded yesterday when I had to go look something up and saw a ton of books that I've loved that I haven't looked at in too long, so I've decided to start a weekly post about my reference library, picking a book a week to share.

This week, it's a book called Gay by the Bay.

This isn't really meant to be a reference book. It's more a coffee table style book, with a ton of great pictures and minimal text, about the history of the LGBT community in the Bay Area. As a transplant, I didn't have the good luck to learn about it through osmosis, so when I saw this, I knew it was a must have. It's one of the best buys I've ever made.

It starts out with a short section on LGBT history prior to WWII. This was my very first exposure to Jack Bee Garland, a trans man who found ways to exist as a man, and illustrates how I best use this book. I knew nothing about Garland, and because this means to just give a very brief overview on its topics, I had to go off in search of more information. That's the gold mine here. As the history unfolds through the pages, old posters and photographs spark my curiosity, and I find myself digging around online to seek out answers about some of the names I find.

Even better, it's pretty inclusive. It's not just about the white gay male experience. It mentions the Gay American Indians (the first gay American Indian liberation organization) and the Gay Latino Alliance, there's extensive coverage of the lesbian community, and like the Jack Bee snippets, trans identities are well represented. Because it came out in 1996, it doesn't encompass current identities or terminology, but that's not what this is about.

What I love best about this book, however, is that it's not just about the politics. Yes, there's a few pages on Harvey Milk, and a whole chapter entitled "The Plague Years" about living with AIDS, but the vast majority of the text is dedicated to the people and cultural signifiers. There are private photographs, public posters, book covers, art exhibits, and so much more to paint a rounder picture than the usual political agenda. Because life is more than a headline. It's about how they exist from day to day, what they took pleasure in, how they found meaning in their identity in a world that didn't want to acknowledge they existed.

I highly recommend it.