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January 27, 1991|Charles Solomon

BETWEEN THE ACTS: Lives of Homosexual Men 1885-1967 edited by Kevin Porter & Jeffrey Weeks (Routledge: $14.95) and HIDDEN FROM HISTORY: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past edited by Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus & George Chauncey, Jr. (Meridian: $12.95, illustrated) represent two disparate approaches to writing minority history in general and gay history in particular. Jeffrey Weeks maintains that attempting to write about homosexuals before 1892 (when Charles Gilbert Chaddock coined the term) inevitably results in a distortion. He argues that societal classifications help to determine behavior, and that the history of men and women attracted to members of their own sex is really the history of socio-psychological categories. The interviews he and Kevin Porter conducted with aging British men stress the uniqueness of each individual experience (some of which can be traced to the subject's economic and/or educational status).

The more scholarly papers in "Hidden From History" emphasize shared behavior patterns and shifts in social attitudes. In the exceptional essay, "A Spectacle in Color," Eric Garber details the little-known gay and lesbian subculture that flourished within the Harlem Renaissance of the '20s; suggestions of its existence appear in "Sissy Man Blues," "Boy in the Boat," "B. D. (Bulldagger) Women Blues" and other songs of the period. Paul Gordon Schalow presents literary and linguistic evidence of widespread bisexuality among upper-class males in Japan under the Shogunate: A man who didn't enjoy relations with both women and young men was apparently regarded as an eccentric. An intriguing volume that demonstrates the artificial strictures of conventional history.

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