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Archive for the ‘LGBT’ Category

To those wearing white one week longer,

The great Brian Distelberg, a PhD candidate in history at Yale, returns today to these pages. In case you missed it, check out his musings on Connecticut. And check out his own website, where he writes about his research, contemporary politics and culture, and LGBT issues.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) turns 100 this year, and as Katherine Q. Seelye recently observed in the New York Times, the anniversary finds the Scouts facing “a host of issues”: plummeting membership (from a 1973 peak of 4.8 million to 2.8 million now), an $18.5 million jury verdict stemming from a sexual abuse case, and ongoing challenges to its exclusion of atheists, gay people, and girls under 13.

Given that I currently fall into two of these three categories, it’s not surprising that I often felt a bit ill-at-ease during the eight years I spent as a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout. But memories of that youthful discomfort now feed my curiosity about the remarkably under-examined place the Scouts have historically occupied in American society and popular mythology, and encourage me to look skeptically on the sort of fuzzy ahistoricism that prompted Seelye to declare that the Scouts were “long an icon of wholesomeness in a simpler America.”  As Michael Rosenthal wrote in his 1986 study of the Boy Scouts in Britain, “immunity from critical scrutiny has left Scouting almost entirely in the hands of its own historians and publicists, a situation that is not helpful in trying to understand the origins and meaning of any movement.”

Although now a quarter-century old, Rosenthal’s diagnosis remains surprisingly applicable to the case of Scouting in the United States. David Macleod’s social history Building Character in the American Boy: The Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and Their Forerunners, 1870-1920 (1983) examines the Scouts’ Progressive-era origins, and Jay Mechling analyzes a contemporary Scout troop’s summer camp rituals in On My Honor: Boy Scouts and the Making of American Youth (2001). A few unpublished dissertations also cover the organization’s early years. But large swaths of the Boy Scouts’ history, including the wartime and Cold War decades when it enjoyed its greatest popularity, remain largely unexplored—to the detriment of our understanding of American political conservatism, youth culture, suburbanization and recreation, and masculinity and male sexuality, among other topics.

Lack of easy access to BSA organizational records is, of course, a major obstacle.  (The National Scouting Museum, which moved to its current Irving, TX, location in 2002, offers few useful exhibits on its website, and researchers must apply, and pay a daily usage fee, to examine to its holdings.) But the digital archive can provide inquiring historians an alternative means of exploring the organization’s place in American society, particularly as revealed through the voluminous print culture produced by and about the Scouts in its century of existence.

The Boy Scout Handbook is probably the best known of these publications. The handbook, which sets out and explains the Scout Oath and Law, describes the requirements to advance from rank to rank, and offers information on subjects from camping to fitness to good citizenship, has passed through twelve editions since 1910. (It carried the title Handbook for Boys until 1959.) Jeff Snowden, scoutmaster of Troop 97 in Fort Collins, Colorado, maintains a detailed online compendium of images of Boy Scout, Scoutmaster, and other Scout handbooks. The images, which accompany Snowden’s study of the handbook’s evolution, reveal telling shifts in the Scouts’ self-presentation and traces of wider social changes.

Around 1950, for instance, the fifth edition’s cover was redrawn reflect the introduction of “overseas caps”popularized in the U.S. armed forces during World War II—to replace “campaign hats” in the Scout uniform. Scouts of color appear on the back cover in 1965, and on the front in 1972. And since 1990, the covers have shifted from depicting hiking, camping, and fishing to emphasizing more “extreme” outdoor activities, especially whitewater rafting and kayaking. (Troop 97’s website only includes handbook covers; the full text of reprint editions of the 1911 handbook and 1913-1914 scoutmaster handbook are on Google Books.)

Between 1910 and 1930, the early handbook was joined by a flurry of inexpensive juvenile fiction featuring the Scouts. (more…)

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Dear air conditioner enthusiasts,

You may have heard that June is LGBT Pride Month in these United States, marked by rainbow-banner parades in cities across the country. Boston’s passed a few Saturdays ago (favorite sign: “gender is a drag,” courtesy of a Traniwreck marcher), but I’ll confess, the parade that still means the most to me is the one in New York City, from Greenwich Village to Central Park, held every year on the last Sunday in June. Part of my fascination is historical—I wonder how many participants and spectators will know that this is the 40th NYC pride parade. The first was held in 1970 in commemoration of the riots outside the Stonewall bar on Christopher Street. (You can read a scan of the Mattachine Society’s account of the riot on sociologist Toby Marotta’s excellent Community Roots Archive. And see some photos from the first Gay Liberation Parade, like the one below, thanks to the New York Public Library’s digital archive, here and here.)

Diana Davies, NYPL Digitial ID: 1619943

But beyond the political history, NYC’s pride parade still means the most to me because it was one of the crucial ways I tracked my own coming out. In the four years I lived in the East Village and Brooklyn, I never missed the parade, but my reactions to it kept changing. The first summer, I literally stood a few feet back from the main line of spectators, probably afraid some drag queen would literally grab me, pull me over the metal divider, and force to me to march alongside her (or more likely that my face would somehow appear in a local news broadcast). The second summer, I went with a new set of friends, and cheered on a group I meekly referred to, literally, as “lesbians on motorcycles,” not quite ready to embrace their more common moniker. And the third and fourth summers, I went with my boyfriend—though those two honestly start to blur together, which in itself feels like progress.

I went back to grad school, in part, because I wanted to learn more about the cultural history I felt myself to be a part of—a pursuit in which my laziness has been, and remains, key. The latest case in point: OutHistory’s Since Stonewall Local Histories Contest. The online archive invited readers to post their own exhibits, and the results are pretty extraordinary. Where else could you find a history of LGBT visibility in Bloomington, Indiana—now billing itself as the “fifth gayest place in America”? Or a look at FTM trans mentorship in San Francisco? Or photos from the 1978 Reno Gay Rodeo?

For a lesson in more recent history, you can also spend hours digging through the complete run of Outweek. Though it only lasted from 1989 to 1991, Outweek was an important voice in AIDS activism and awareness, taking a more militant approach than the older Advocate (particularly as co-founder Michaelangelo Signorile began “outing” high-profile sorts). It’s worth downloading some PDFs, just for the ads and cartoons. (FYI: You can also view issues of The Advocate from 1994 to 2006 and Out, co-founded by Outweek columnist Michael Goff, from 1999-2006 on Google Books.)

To view an archive in the making, you should also check out I’m From Driftwood, featuring an impressive range of true LGBT tales. Think of it as a queer Storycorps, which of course has its own share of queer tales.

And one last thing for you theatrical types: a re-mastered video of the great Charles Ludlam’s  silent (and campy) horror film Museum of Wax, thanks to the Outfest Legacy Project.

Yours fabulously,

Stephen

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Dear hump day hurdlers,

Welcome to the second Lazy Scholar interview, this time with Margot Canaday, Assistant Professor of history at Princeton University. Professor Canaday’s first book, the insightful and inspiring The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth Century America, came out from Princeton University Press last summer. Drawing on a wealth of diverse sources, the book traces the regulation of what would become known as homosexual behavior and “the homosexual” throughout the twentieth century, particularly in the realms of immigration, welfare, and the military. That story still has immense relevance for Americans, gay and straight, today—just read the review of Canaday’s book in The Nation for evidence. (You can read the introduction here. Or if you read just one page, try 53, as Canaday recommends.) Professor Canaday’s new project, if I can use her university bio against her, is an interdisciplinary look at the queer workplace in America. If I could pre-order it on Amazon, I would.

What digital resource do you rely on, or would you recommend?

Law professor Nan Hunter’s blog, “Hunter of Justice: A Blog about Sexuality, Gender, Law, and Culture.”

What non-digital resource would you recommend?

G.T. Kurian, A Historical Guide to the U.S. Government.

What is the best research and/or writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

I’ve been talking a lot with colleagues of late about the difficult problem of the second book (perhaps a struggle that as a profession we should be a bit more vocal about since so many seem to suffer with this one more or less alone. We all knew we needed support groups for writing dissertations, but after that?). So someone recently gave me advice on this that I found really liberating. She said to ignore all the people who tell me to find something “small” and “manageable” for the second project. She said you have to write the kind of book that is *your* kind of book—for the second just like the first. If your kind of book is either “big” or intensely archival, you should do it anyway. This is such a refreshing perspective…one that momentarily released me from my fears that I am not sufficiently strategic.

What advice would you give someone working on their dissertation?

Selecting a dissertation topic might be the most important intellectual and professional decision you will ever make. So do it carefully. And not *before* you arrive at graduate school.

Name one book or article published before 1970 that has inspired or haunted you?

Edmund Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom. (Okay, it’s 1975).

Name the last book or article you read to inspire or haunt you.

Nancy MacLean, Freedom is Not Enough: The Opening of the American Workplace. It has inspired rather than haunted. A truly astonishing piece of scholarship.

What website most often draws your attention away from work?

I definitely passed through the standard Facebook phases: 1) fear; 2) fascination; 3) fatigue. I now go days, even weeks, without looking at it. So right now the website that more often draws my attention away from work is “The Slatest.” It makes me feel a lot better about myself on the days I can’t manage to read the paper.

What do you see as the most annoying tendency in contemporary scholarship?

I think there is currently too much pressure exerted on even first time authors to write books that are commercially successful beyond the academy.

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Dear spring break scholars gone wild,

I’ve just returned to Cambridge after a joyous ride through the Southwest, from Los Angeles to Santa Fe and back—so expect some Divided States posts in the coming weeks. For now though, I’m suffering from spring break hangover, making it somewhat hard to keep my eyes and mind focused. I suspect some of you are feeling similarly. So I offer you (and me) the intellectual equivalent of a hangover breakfast, filling and a little spicy: a look at lesbian pulp on the interwebs. 

One of the best lesbian pulp archives comes from the Beinecke, Yale’s rare book library, and features an excellent introductory essay by Yale history PhD student Anastasia Jones. As she explains,”Plots were, for the most part, standard: the everygirl, disillusioned with romance, suffers at the hands of the impersonal and coolly libidinous world, but finds, finally, love—in the arms of a man or a woman.” You can also view 25 covers (fronts and backs), including, on the left, Jess Stearn’s 60s exposé The Grapevine, and, on the right, Ann Bannon’s I Am A Woman.

 

It’s not always obvious from the covers who the intended, or actual, audience for such books would have been—randy straight men, armchair sociologists, or queer women—though we might make guesses on a case-by-case basis. Not all supposed pulps, after all, were relegated to tawdry newsstands. For one, The Price of Salt, a noir novel written pseudonymously by Mr. Ripley scribe Patricia Highsmith, received favorable reviews from both the New York Times and early lesbian mag The Ladder. You can see the original paperback cover below, thanks to University of Saskatchewan’s Passions Uncovered collection. Alongside it, check out the cover from the less-lauded Private School by J.C. Priest.

Beyond the academic world, be sure to browse Ryan Richardson’s Strange Sisters for even more amazing covers, including my favorite Abnormals Anonymous, below. (And don’t forget  it’s “brother” site, Gays on the Range.)

Last but least digitally, a few offline resources, Duke’s Sallie Bingham Center and Susan Stryker’s entertaining book Queer Pulp. For more on men, pick up Michael Bronski’s illuminating Pulp Friction.

Until next time, I remain yours covertly,

Stephen

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To those of you blaming tryptophan for your Monday morning lag,

Tomorrow, December 1, marks World AIDS Day, which seems like a good moment to point to some online resources about the history of the illness, its impact, and the art and activisim it inspired.

The Carpenter Center here at Harvard has organized an extraordinary exhibit on the art of ACT UP (that’s AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) that runs until December 23. For those outside the Cambridge area, you can see many of the powerfully confrontational posters, stickers, and postcards designed by ACT UP artist group Gran Fury online at the New York Public Library.

The Carpenter Center exhibit also includes hours and hours of testimonies from the ACT UP Oral History Project, but you can also visit their site to view excerpts and complete transcripts. Interviewees include ACT UP founder Larry Kramer, journalist Michelangelo Signorile, filmmaker Tom Kalin, and NYC artist Peter Cramer.

For a sense of how AIDS was covered by the mainstream press, check out this 1983 cover story from New York magazine, and this 1985 Time article, which hit the stands shortly after Rock Hudson’s death.

For a more visceral sense of how the queer community itself experienced the frightening and devastating spread of AIDS, I recommend watching Bill Sherwood’s astonishing and unsentimental 1986 film Parting Glances, starring a young Steve Buscemi, available for instant viewing on Netflix.

Even in the 1980s, of course, AIDS was on its way to becoming a worldwide epidemic. UCLA’s AIDS Posters collection includes health advisories from Japan (on the left) to Uganda (on the right).

For the record, at last count, the World Health Organization estimates that 33.4 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen

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To my fellow followers of Rip Van Winkle,

As some of you may know, Sunday, October 11 marks National Coming Out Day, a day for everyone to show their queer or queer-allied colors—and, in this year’s case, march on Washington for marriage equality. (You can read about the history of Coming Out Day—or COD, if you will—on the Human Rights Campaign website.)

I will confess, I haven’t always been a big fan of COD. I remember my first taste of COD my freshman year of college, where they literally set up a closet door on the grass so people could “come out” of it. Nothing could have felt more terrifying and simultaneously shaming then the demand to step through that flimsy door-frame, as though articulating and accepting one’s sense of difference could ever be accomplished so simply.

Since then, researching the past has definitely helped me to come to terms with the term “coming out.”  So in honor of COD, I point you to one of the periodicals from the early days of Gay Liberation, titled, yes, Come Out. The magazine began publication shortly after the Stonewall Riot in 1969, and has been partly digitized by the useful (though not always easy to navigate) website Outhistory.org (a project of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY).

come out magazine masthead, 1969

Just to give you a sense of its tone, the first lines of the first issue proclaimed, “COME OUT FOR FREEDOM! COME OUT NOW! POWER TO THE PEOPLE! GAY POWER TO GAY PEOPLE! COME OUT OF THE CLOSET BEFORE THE DOOR IS NAILED SHUT!” Before gay liberation (as scholars John D’Emilio and George Chauncey have shown), coming out meant entering into the gay community, but the new metaphor of the closet turned “coming out” into a political act—and demanded a total re-evaluation of the quietly queer lives many gay men and lesbians had lived before.

The New York Public Library also has a wonderful online exhibition commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot, with some beautiful images culled from their extensive archives, like this one of two members of the Gay Activists Alliance.

Rutgers University Gay Liberation Conference, April 30–May 2, 1971. Photograph by Kay Tobin Lahusen. NYPL, Manuscripts and Archives Division, Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Gay History Papers and Photographs. Copyright Kay Tobin Lahusen. Digital ID: 1606088

A quick subject search their digital image gallery reveals much, much more, including this photograph by Diana Davies of the 1971 Gay Pride march, almost as exciting for its vintage fashion as the banner “Women’s liberation is a lesbian plot.” Think about that next Women’s History Month.

Christopher Street Liberation Day, June 20, 1971 [22]. Diana Davies, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building / Manuscripts and Archives Division, NYPL, Copyright Diana Davies, Digital ID: 1066141

That’s all for this week dear readers.

Historically yours,

Stephen

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