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it’s interesting learning which homophobic ideas are confusing and unfamiliar to the next generation. for example, every once in a while i’ll see a post going around expressing tittering surprise at someone’s claim that gay men have hundreds of sexual partners in their lifetimes. while these posts often have a snappy comeback attached, they send a shiver down my spine because i remember when those claims were common, when you’d see them on the news or read them in your study bible. and they were deployed with a specific purpose — to convince you not just that gay men were disgusting and pathological, but that they deserved to die from AIDS. i saw another post laughing at the outlandish idea that gay men eroticize and worship death, but that too was a standard line, part and parcel of this propaganda with the goal of dehumanizing gay men as they died by the thousands with little intervention from mainstream society.

which is not to say that not knowing this is your fault, or that i don’t understand. i’ll never forget sitting in a classroom with my high school gsa, all five of us, watching a documentary on depictions of gay and bi people in media (off the straight and narrow [pdf transcript] — a worthwhile watch if your school library has it) when the narrator mentioned “the stereotype of the gay psycho killer.” we burst into giggles — how ridiculous! — then turned to our gay faculty advisors and saw their pale, pained faces as they told us “no, really. that was real” and we realized that what we’d been laughing at was the stuff of their lives.

it’s moving and inspiring to see a new generation of kids growing up without encountering these ideas. it’s a good thing. but at the same time, we have to pass on the knowledge of this pain, so we’re not caught unawares when those who hate us come back with the oldest tricks in the book.

Even in the 90’s I met people who believed, with the utmost sincerity and a sense of sheer terror, that gay people were agents of Satan who chose to become gay so they could deliberately spread STD’s, deliberately die of AIDs as part of their “fetish” and deliberately offend god into accelerating the end of the world. This does sound like absurd cartoonish nonsense to most people just a little younger than me but I heard it and worse growing up. Millions of people completely, totally believed that kind of thing with the most dire certainty. Today’s lizardman hollow earth anti-vaccine theories actually kind of pale in comparison.

That is what LGBT people were up against not long ago and the remnants of that fantastical-sounding hysteria and fanaticism are not only still here but regaining power again in the U.S. pretty rapidly.

…and I don’t think people should forget that for all I just described and all OP just described, the hatred for trans people was several times worse. Their very existence was treated as UNSPEAKABLE by even the Satanic HIV Apocalypse theorists. This is why it’s so bizarre and ridiculous to see people today whining about “PC culture” like that’s the problem, like people who were condemned as loathsome hellspawn within most of their own lifetimes somehow have it “too good” practically overnight.

do you have any idea what the AIDS funerals were like back then

I will harp on this until the day I die. It’s not information that people have nowadays both because it’s not really needed – thank GOD – and it’s been erased – not so cool.

pastors would take payment to perform the ceremony and then not show up. crematoriums would sometimes refuse to handle the bodies; funeral homes were no better, and my dad once walked in on a mortician dumping rubbing alcohol all over himself after he’d BEEN IN THE SAME ROOM as the body of one of my father’s dead friends. the funerals were held in people’s basements, the very very few churches at funeral homes willing, meeting halls, and in the homes of lesbians, who were some of the most steadfast allies during that time period. The few straight allies pitched in where they could – like that one woman who buried a lot of them herself, in her own cemetery, because their families wouldn’t come claim the bodies – but it was awful.

my dad was a reformed catholic but he knew the words and twice he had to perform the funerals to lay these people to rest because he was the most qualified. I stood next to him as he tried not to cry over his dead friends and to let them rest in peace. I watched my mother, at the back of wherever she was, quietly sobbing, and her lesbian friends who had ACTUALLY watched the person in question die, still comforting her. 

I got told by other adults that my entire family was going to hell because we deigned to care for queer people (and my dad especially, as a nurse, deigned to “waste” his knowledge and time and energy on easing suffering).

I was six years old. Freddie Mercury hadn’t even died yet.

recently a friend and I formed a queer social group/activism group and some older gay men came. And they cried, because, and I quote

“This is how it started, back then. we just got together, ten or twelve of us, and decided we were going to do something about it. And we made it out, despite everything, despite AIDS, despite the stigma. And you will too.”

And I had to respond, because I was little, but I was THERE for that, and I grabbed his hands and told him that his history is our history and we need to learn it.

we need to remember. the dead, the living, and their stories.

if you know an older queer person, inquire if they’d be interested in writing down their memoirs. If they’re not writers but want to tell the story, hit me up – I am, and I am absolutely willing to do a living memory.

they’re the only history books we have.

THEY ARE THE ONLY HISTORY BOOKS WE HAVE! It’s so important to record them at last.

Because lgbt+ history hasn’t been recorded, nor told forward by others. What we learn we learn from morgues, criminal records etc. Only ‘unlucky’ persons have been recorded in any ways and most of happy couples, lives and tales have been lost to history as they were not spoken about. 

okay listen, i get what you guys are saying about the importance of listening to older lgbt people, obviously, that’s very right!

but you guys gotta know… they are NOT “the only history books we have.” because… we have actual history books. just because they are rarely taught in schools does not mean they don’t exist!

i’ve been keeping a list of all the lgbt books i want to read or reread, which are mostly history, and it is, at this moment, 239 books long. and that’s excluding quite a few that i was less interested in.

obviously, it can’t cover everything; obviously, it is skewed toward white american experiences; obviously, we should always be supplementing it by talking to older people in our community as much as we can. but it does us no favors whatsoever to pretend that all the knowledge in these books is lost to history, existing only in individuals’ minds, when actually so many people have taken great pains to write it down and make it available for us to explore!

so yes, meet older people and talk to them and take them seriously! but also please, i beg of you, read a book.

p.s. a note because i regret not making this clear enough in my original post: there is absolutely nothing wrong with gay men having many consenting sexual partners! homophobes’ statistics are obviously falsified for bigoted purposes, but that doesn’t mean those gay men who do have large numbers of partners are any less deserving of dignity and life, and they too deserve our defense.

I agree with all the above, but also if you are someone who wants to record history or hear more oral histories there are a few oral history archives dedicated to doing this already! It’s possible to engage in that history right now:

  • Here are all the transcripts for the NYC Trans Oral History Project
  • Here’s the ACT UP oral History Project which has videos and transcripts
  • Here’s a list of a bunch of known oral history projects
  • And this is the podcast Making Gay History, which is taped interviews done for the book of the same name (with a bit of context added beforehand)


Also: for those in the UK, the British Library is a remarkable resource, holding archived copies of gay & lesbian journalism – the ‘first draft’ of LGBT history on the UK. 

Below is a screengrab of the holdings of ‘Gay Times’; they also have Diva (1994-present), Square Peg (1983-1992), Pink Paper (1987-2009) and lots more. It is all free to access, free to read, and you can even photograph pages to your heart’s content.