Review: “No Way, They Were Gay?”
No Way, They Were Gay?: Queer History by Lee Wind, from Lerner Publishing Inc., is a educational, nonfiction young adult book about famous LGBTQ+ people from history. The introduction includes, “Hidden History” which chronicles the relationship between Cary Grant and Randolph Scott sparked a conversation between me and my friends about how old Hollywood was a lot gayer than usually acknowledged. I even learned that from that conversation Marlon Brando is believed to some to have been queer, although this not mentioned in No Way, They Were Gay?. Wind does however, provide definitions of various LGBTQ+ labels in section of introduction called, “Good Stuff To Know Before You Dive In” and even introducing an alternate acronym QUILTBAG (Questioning or Queer, Unidentified, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans, Bisexual, Aesexual, and Gay) which I had only recently learned via tweets about bisexual author, Becky Abertelli. “Good Stuff To Know To Before You Dive In”, is a resource that I wish I had when I was younger, struggling to put into words the way that I felt. I was lucky enough to learn the terms “gay”, “lesbian”, and “homosexual” in Sex Ed, although they did not quite apply to me. It’s impressive that even though this was intended for a child audience, this book was able to teach me a lot new of things about the LGBTQ+ community and our history even as an adult.
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”. As a bisexual, I appreciated the broadness of this descriptions, as sometimes people assume that historical figures were merely gay or straight. The fuzziness our history, and the need to remain closeted, does explain why many gay and lesbian people had opposite sex spouses, however, sometimes we should be careful of our assumptions. That was a strength of Wind’s writing about these figures, his hesitance to put a specific label on historical figures, as we cannot know if Abraham Lincoln or Eleanor Roosevelt really loved and 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 learn about William Shakespeare’s pontential bisexuality or gayness in a high school English class, but think it would be beneficial to have this book in not just high school classrooms, but middle school ones, as the age range fits 11-18 year-olds.
Wind did sometimes gloss over aspects of history that were less pleasant, like Mahatma Ghandi’s abusive behavior towards his wife, that 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 Lieutenent Nun who crossed gender boundaries, was racist and misogynistic, stating, “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 about how it was so difficult to live our lives as queer people, how sometimes still is difficult, but also how 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, or if these figures had been able to express there love outside of letters. Wind reminds us, though, that 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 and I would recommend it to young adults or adults who want an introduction to LGBTQ+ history, as well as to teachers and librarians to put this book in classrooms.