Review: “No Way, They Were Gay?”

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No Way, They Were Gay?: Queer History by Lee Wind, from Lerner Publishing Inc., is an educational, nonfiction book (intended audience of ages 8-11) about famous LGBTQ+ people from history. The introduction includes, “Hidden History”. This section chronicles the relationship between Cary Grant and Randolph Scott. This sparked a conversation between my friends and me about how old Hollywood was a lot gayer than usually acknowledged. Wind does, however, provide definitions of various LGBTQ+ labels in the introduction section called, “Good Stuff To Know Before You Dive In”. He also introduces an alternate acronym, QUILTBAG (Questioning or Queer, Unidentified, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans, Bisexual, Asexual, and Gay). I had only recently learned this acronym via tweets about the bisexual author, Becky Abertelli. Although it’s intended for children, his book was able to teach me a lot of new information. I also wish I had the chapter “Good Stuff To Know To Before You Dive In” when I was younger. I was lucky enough to learn the terms “gay”, “lesbian”, and “homosexual” in Sex Ed. But these words did not quite apply to me. I was still unable to put my feelings into words.

After the introduction, No Way, They Were Gay? has three main sections, “Men Who Loved Men”, “Women Who Loved Women”, and “People Who Lived Outside Gender Boundaries”. I appreciated the broadness of these descriptions. Sometimes people assume that historical figures were merely gay or straight. The need to remain closeted does explain why many gay and lesbian people had opposite-sex spouses. However, we should be careful of our assumptions. Wind’s hesitance to put a specific label on historical figures was a strength of his writing. We cannot know if Abraham Lincoln or Eleanor Roosevelt, for example, experienced sexual attraction for their spouses, or if it was a necessity of their time period for them to get married. I had also been lucky enough to learn about William Shakespeare’s potential queerness in a high school English class. But I think it would be beneficial to also have this book available to younger students.

Wind does sometimes gloss over aspects of history that were less pleasant, like Mahatma Gandhi’s abusive behavior towards his wife, which his being gay or bisexual should not in any way excuse. However, Wind did acknowledge that these figures were not perfect in that Catalina De Erauso, the Lieutenant Nun who crossed gender boundaries was racist and misogynistic. He states, “Just like everyone today, people in the past- LGBTQ people too- were three-dimensional and flawed. But even when it is terrible, their stories are still part of our history”(Wind 196).

No Way, They Were Gay? did make me feel emotional at times, by reminding me how it was so difficult to live our lives as queer people, and how difficult it still sometimes is. But it was also incredible it is to finally feel represented. I can’t help but wonder what our world would look like if the books at the Magnus Hirschfield Institute (an institution for LGBTQ+ research and advocation) had not been burned by Nazis. I wonder what the world would be like if these historical figures had been able to express their love outside of letters. Still, we have come a long way from the time that only psychiatrists and lawyers were allowed to read books on “homosexuality”. Today, we have children’s books about LGBTQ history. I would recommend No Way, They Were Gay? to those who want an introduction to LGBTQ+ history, as well as to teachers and librarians.

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