Just in time for Pride (though the review is a bit late), this collection of essays originally published in The Gay & Lesbian Review looks back at Stonewall through a variety of prisms at the fiftieth anniversary of the riots there. Attempting to place the events of that weekend in context, the pieces here seek to answer some basic questions such as who actually started it and why, of all places, a seedy, Mafia-run clip joint should have struck such a chord when we had fought back–even harder–in other cities. I’m not so sure either of those questions have a definitive answer, but maybe the point is in the discussion.
The first section of the book, “Flashpoint: New York City, June 1969” takes on the iconographic history of Stonewall, focusing on personal accounts of that evening from a number of gay authors such as Edmund White, Felice Picano, Rita Mae Brown, and others who were there at the time. The most interesting commonality most of these reminiscences has is the fact that no one was really aware of how important their brush with this part of history was.
The second part, “Flashback: Roots of the Riot” is very interesting in terms of history (and herstory), with essays by legends Harry Hay, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, and John Rechy, among others. I particularly enjoyed the essays on the earliest gay organizations, especially Martha E. Stone’s “Unearthing the ‘Knights of the Clock,'” which is a too-short piece about the interracial gay organization Merton Bird founded in 1951 and Eve Goldberg’s coverage of the Black Cat Riots in L.A. I was disappointed, however, to see nothing by or about Ruth Simpson (“Out of the Closets, Into the Courts”) on her involvement with Daughters of Bilitis.
“Flash Forward: Aftermath and Diffusion” deals with both activism and gay cultural life post-Stonewall, including looks at the Radicalesbians, Andrew Holleran’s summation of the Seventies, and an overlook of San Francisco by Jewelle Gomez. The last section, “Stonewall’s Legacy: Whither the Revolution” attempts to place the riots in some context and has some interesting essays by D. Gilson and Larry Kramer. Honestly, having Larry Kramer’s level of anger must be incredibly wearing. Reading him exhausts me.
My favorite piece, though, has little to do with Stonewall other than its title: “The Birds as a Pre-Stonewall Parable” by the late Bob Smith. This gay revisionist look at the Hitchcock classic has its tongue firmly in cheek–or does it? The brilliance of this piece is not knowing how serious Smith is and how much he’s sending up both gay historians and film scholars, because his interpretation of the film can be read as both. Every time I read him, I regret we lost him so quickly.
But as with any collection of this nature, you’ll find something that piques your curiosity and sends you down one or two rabbit holes. A valuable and worthwhile compendium, this deserves a place on your TBR pile.
© 2019 Jerry L. Wheeler