The Right Side of History by Adrian Brooks: book review

I have an unalienable, constitutional and natural right to love
whom I may…and with that right neither you nor
any law you can frame have any right to interfere…I trust that I am fully understood, for I
mean just that. 
 Victoria Hull, 1871

The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQI Activism, edited by Adrian Brooks, should be in every bookstore and library and adopted as a textbook in every college-level, American history course.

Adrian Brooks has assembled a formidable body of work that chronicles the events and the people who have worked towards and spoken out for gay liberation and LGBT issues since before Stonewall. Yes, before Stonewall.

I was born in 1943. It hit me hard to realize these injustices were happening during my childhood:

  • In 1948, homosexuality and adultery were criminal, masturbation purportedly caused mental illness, and premarital sex was deemed shameful. But Kinsey showed such “perverted activities” to be prevalent, thereby torpedoing a cozy concept of manhood rigorously reinforced. The nation reeled.
  • In 1950, a Senate subcommittee issued a report, calling homosexuals a threat to national security…Even the appearance of homosexuality—butch women, effeminate men—became grounds for firing and arrest…it was still a crime to be a gay man or lesbian with myriad sodomy and lewdness laws on the books.
  • In 1953, one of President Eisenhower’s first actions in office was to issue an executive order barring all gays, lesbians, and bisexuals from federal employment. 
  • Cops would walk in slowly like they owned the place, eyeballing everyone, pushing people with nightsticks. If they put you in a paddy wagon, you’d be hauled off to the Tombs (jail). If they put you in a car, they’d take you to some alley or empty parking lot, make you suck their dick, take all your clothes, throw them in the trunk of their car, and tell you to go home naked.

Look at the diversity of topics and the big names in the table of contents:

Part I: Before Stonewall

  • The Divine Discontent of Isadora Duncan
    by Adrian Brooks 
  • Henry Gerber’s Bridge to the World
    by Hayden L. Mora 
  • The 1934 Longshoremen’s Strike
    by Adrian Brooks 
  • The Cradle Will Rock
    by Eric A. Gordon 
  • Bayard Rustin: Offensive Lineman for Freedom
    by Patricia Nell Warren
  • The Kinsey Reports
    by Anahi Russo Garrido
  • Criminals and Subversives: The Mattachine Society
    and Daughters of Bilitis
    by Victoria A. Brownworth 
  • The Beats: Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac
    by Neeli Cherkovski
  • Frank Kameny: Advocate for Freedom
    by John D’Emilio
  • Josephine Baker’s Dream without Fire or War:
    An Interview with Jean-Claude Baker
    by Adrian Brooks
  • April 4, 1968
    by Adrian Brooks
  • Ground Zero
    by Miss Major Griffin-Gracy

Part II: After Stonewall

  • The Revolutionary Joy of Gary Alinder
    by Paul Gabriel
  • Lesbian Nation: Jill Johnston and the
    Revolution of Women
    by Victoria A. Brownworth
  • The Angels of Light: Paris Sites Under the Bourgeois
    by Adrian Brooks
  • Anita Bryant’s Anti-Gay Crusade
    by Jeanne Córdova
  • “The Mayor of Castro Street”
    by Adrian Brooks
  • Interview with Charlotte Bunch:
    Human Rights and Gender Equality
    by Anahi Russo Garrido
  • The Enemy Is Me: Becoming a Man inside a Feminist
    by Max Wolf Valerio
  • My Battle with the University of California
    by Merle Woo
  • The Quilt
    by Julie Rhoad
  • The Red Camaro
    by Matt Ebert
  • Between the Sexes
    by Tiger Howard Devore
  • A Hero in Search of a Myth: The Navajo Journey of
    Jack C. Jackson, Jr.
    by Max Wolf Valerio
  • Interview with Judy Shepard: Remembering Matthew
    by Adrian Brooks
  • Interview: Barney Frank
    by Brenda Knight and Adrian Brooks
  • Black, Gay, and Muslim
    by Sultan Shakir
  • Bullying
    by James Gilliam
  • A Conversation with Evan Wolfson: Freedom to Marry
    by Angela Dallara
  • Diana Nyad
    by Rita Mae Brown
  • Our Lives, Our Words: Newspapers, Bookstores, and
    Gay Liberation
    by Victoria A. Brownworth

I recognized many of the writers and subjects — others were new to me, and I’m grateful to know them now. Most of the writers in of The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQI Activism are of our generation. We grew up not knowing this information. Let’s change that now. I hope you’ll read this book and purchase another for a friend. I did.

Adrian Brooks (born 1947, 68 at the time of the book release), who curated this book and wrote several of its essays, is a social and political activist, poet, performer and writer who has been working for change since the 1960s.

Transparent and Still Mine: highly recommended

I’m always hungry for films that portray aging and relationships insightfully, teaching me something new and unexpected.

Amazon Prime jolted me recently with two stellar offerings — one series and one film — that feature aging characters who don’t fit any of the stereotypes. Both affected me profoundly, and I recommend them to you:


At 68, Mort (played masterfully by Jeffrey Tambor) comes out as a trans woman who wants to be called Maura. In this sweet, smart, and strongly acted ensemble series, we see the strengths and vulnerabilities of Mort/Maura and a family of ex-wife and three adult children — who make a ton of relationship mistakes of their own.

This 10-episode series resolves many questions and leaves enough unanswered to allow for a second season, which is in the works — hurray!

Yes, there’s lots of sex in Transparent, but (boo) only Maura’s children are having it. Maura is more interested in establishing her identity and being accepted by her family than in having sex with anyone — at least in season 1. Will this change in the second season?

Still Mine

Craig (James Cromwell) is watching Irene (Geneviève Bujold), his wife of 61 years, lose her memory. He loves her fiercely and wants to protect her by building a house that will be easier for her to live in.

Although Craig has been building houses his whole life, he’s no match for the bureaucracy that insists on permits and strict adherence to building codes that are irrelevant to Craig  (the plans are in his head; the lumber came from a tree he felled; the knowledge came from his father and a lifetime of craftsmanship and self-sufficiency).

The love and chemistry between Craig and Irene are powerful. The tenderness in their loving looks and caresses will make you applaud or cry or both. And rather than portray this elderly couple as sexless, there’s a sexy undressing scene early in the film that includes, “This never gets old. We always did passion well.”

This film is based on real people and actual events. Don’t miss it.

What films have you watched that portrayed aging and relationships in a non-stereotypical way? I look forward to your recommendations.

Me, Dan Savage, and Two 70-year-old, Lust-Crazed Cousins

8/19/14 update: I originally wrote this post on June 25. I’m moving it to the top of my blog because I’m a guest on the Savage Lovecast episode 408 that airs today, and I expect many Dan Savage fans to visit this blog for the first time out of curiosity. In the 8/19 podcast, Dan refers to a scolding that I gave him. This blog post is the scolding/ spanking he’s talking about. Enjoy! 
Too far outside your wheelhouse?” began Dan Savage‘s message to me. He sent me an email from a reader who wanted advice. Because the reader was 70 years old, Dan thought I’d be the right person to help him respond.Here’s my interpretation of what I read:

A 70-year-old woman has been crazy with lust over her female cousin for the past 50 years! It turns out, the cousins discover now, that they both feel the same way! Bring it on! But since they’re both inexperienced in the ways of lesbian sex, they decide it would be cool to get a third woman in on this, to guide the experience so that the first time is stellar. Their fantasy is that Cousin #1 would watch Cousin #2 and their #3 at first, then join in.Their question: How to find this third?

What did I actually read? This:

I’m a bit out of your demographic, agewise (I’m 70), but I am still an avid reader. This is true, not a Penthouse letter. My cousin and I have flirted and joked about getting it on together for about 50 years or more. Now, she’s divorced and having the time of her life. She told me the other day, what she’d really like is to have a “lesbian experience” with me watching and then joining. I’m so crazed with lust that I’m having a hard time thinking straight. This is a kinky dream come true. I love oral sex and with two pussies to eat, etc., the whole thing sounds just great. What I don’t know is how to contact someone to do this. I don’t want someone who’s got a disease, or someone with a boyfriend just waiting to break in and rob everyone. Or someone truly horrific for any number of reasons. How do I contact, and then arrange such a thing? How would I ensure that my concerns are dealt with? Is using an escort services any guarantee of any degree of safety? Boy, I would just love some good advice. Got any for me? If you answer, you can call me… Old But Alive.

What’s wrong with this picture? Just the gender of the letter writer, that’s all. Turns out that my assumption that Cousin #1 (C#1) is female was wrong, wrong, wrong. C#1 is a man.

Dan knew that. I didn’t. It never occurred to me that I had the gender wrong. He didn’t realize that I didn’t know.

So I sent my advice, which included:

  1. “I hope you’re indulging that lust with plenty of hot talk, make-out sessions, and role-playing as you figure out how to make your fantasy a reality.” (Good advice.)
  2. “Start hanging out at lesbian bars and other social venues. Don’t go in aiming to pick someone up right off the bat—you don’t want to come across as predatory and creepy. Instead, go on a date with your cousin, dance, chat up women who are friendly. You could make great connections if you’re open and take your time.” (Good advice if C#1 is a woman. Horrible, clueless, shudder-worthy advice since he’s a man. No, no, no.)
  3. “Another way to go, as you suggested, is to hire someone. The advantage of a paid escort is that you can choose the woman and spell out exactly what fantasy you want her to provide. She’ll be experienced, creative, and totally focused on your pleasure.” (The best advice of all.)

Dan sent me back a quick email that he disagreed with some of what I said, but he didn’t tell me what. I was puzzled — what could he possibly disagree with?

The column posted today — you can read it here. To my shock, Dan broke into my lesbian bar advice with “About the only thing lesbians hate more than opposite-sex couples prowling for ‘thirds’ in their bars are sharp fingernails digging for clams in their pants.”
Huh? Where did he get the idea this was an “opposite-sex couple”?
Later in the post, talking about safer sex, Dan says, “Use condoms, Gramps.” Who’s he calling “Gramps,” and where would these lesbians put the condoms (unless they’re sharing sex toys)?
So it all comes out. C#1 is indeed a man*, and I’ve just gone from respected sex educator to clueless in the eyes of all the Dan Savage fans and Dan himself.
* (But Dan, don’t call him “Gramps” anyway — that’s ageist and condescending. Whether or not he has grandchildren has nothing to do with his sex life.)
Once Dan and I realized what had happened, he apologized profusely, both to me for not clarifying the gender of C#1 and to his readers via a “Dear Readers” update.
He told me later:

I thought it was obvious the letter writer was male — his cousin wanted a lesbian experience, which he couldn’t provide. That’s why they needed a third and he would watch while the cousin had her lesbian experience, then join in. And he mentioned having two pussies to play with… not three.

So, that’s the story, and now I can breathe more easily and sleep tonight. Now that I see it all in perspective, it’s pretty funny that I jumped to the conclusion that the letter writer was female. I can laugh about it now.

While I’m on the subject, finding a paid escort is less problematic than you’d think via the Internet or referrals – these women have found ways to advertise their availability, or they wouldn’t be in business. Kendra Holliday, who describes herself as a sex worker from St Louis, tells me, “You can track down sex workers in your area online and run your scenario by them. If the sex worker is not into that kind of thing, she can float it by her network. Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool in the sex worker realm.”

Thank you, Dan Savage, for all you do to create a sex-positive world! (See my review of Dan’s book, American Savage, along with a gratuitous photo of his husband Terry in a swimsuit, here.) While you’re at it, do subscribe to the paid version of his Savage Lovecast — it’s well worth the small subscription fee to get almost 1.5 hours of Dan every week.

Gen Silent: Watch for free by 1/1/14

Please make time to watch Gen Silent. The producers of this LGBT Aging documentary have made it available free for home streaming through New Years Day 2014.

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender older people who fought the first battles for equality now face so much fear of discrimination, bullying and abuse that many are hiding their lives to survive. Thousands are dying earlier than their straight counterparts because they are isolated and afraid to ask for help. But a growing number of people are fighting to keep
LGBT aging from meaning aging in silence. 

“LGBT elders are going back in the closet.”
“In the first nursing home, we weren’t welcomed there as a gay couple.”
“They [caregivers] didn’t want to touch my body.”
“You just know when they don’t want you there. When you feel they don’t want you, you’re in a state of stress.”
“All I can do is sit in shadows, holding his tissue-paper hand, watching him breathe.”

These are comments from LGBT elders speaking out about the prejudice, hostility, and fear they face. No, not just when they were young, but now — in long-term care facilities, from caregivers, and from medical providers.

KrysAnne, a transgender woman, is living alone at the end of her life. “Most people who transition expect losses, but I didn’t expect to lose everyone,” she says. “For two years, I desperately tried to connect with my family. In some cases the letters weren’t even opened.”

One letter that was returned contained the message, “So glad someone finally took off your balls. What do you call yourself now. FREAK or IT??”

Thank you, filmmaker Stu Maddux, for making this stunning documentary and for providing it for free streaming right now. I’m not permitted to embed the video here, so please click here to watch it.

I am permitted to embed the trailer:

After you watch the film, I hope you’ll contribute your comments. (By posting here, you’re giving me permission to use excerpts from your comments in my new book, The Ultimate Guide to Sex after Fifty, without identifying you in any way.)