“A Passion to Preserve”–preserving the past

Fellows, Will. “A Passion to Preserve: Gay Men as Keepers of Culture”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.

Preserving the Past

Amos Lassen

If you love the past, you will love Will Fellows’s book “A Passion to Preserve”. He has written about a topic that is not only worthy of attention but that is long overdue. Fellows began early on caring about the past. As a youth he was attracted to antiques and the past became a passion of his. Today’s world seems to care more for the present as we all settle down to a way of life that is so different to what once was. Knowing that there were other men like him, Fellows undertook a project of exploring the relationship between gay men and preservation. We see that this becomes quite complex as he goes back in history to look at preservationists all over the United States. He then documents their contributions to the larger American cultural scene.

It appears that throughout history gay men have had a talent to collect, organize, renovate and restore. This seems obvious to many people but the motivation for this has not been examined before.

Fellows looks at rural and urban America and  shows that it is gay men who have the pioneers in preserving American culture. He shows how gays rescue and restore buildings and revitalize neighborhoods that have fallen into disrepair. But the irony here is that after the preservation has been completed, the knowledge of who did the work disappears. Fellows has retraced the history and returned gay men to their proper place with reference to preservation. In Little Rock, Arkansas where I live—in the historic section of downtown—this has been especially true. The old mansions that were built during the period of Little Rock’s incorporation have, in fact, almost all have been restored by the gay men of the city.

The book is peppered with testimonies of 29 individuals which are sorted by region of the country and there are shorter pieces by several other preservationists. The book, however, is not just about the preservation of culture but it is also about what it means to be gay. Fellows adroitly examines the gay stereotype and labels it as a “gender-role atypical or nonconformist”. He prefers the term “sociotype” which is more realistically based. Gay men flourish in concerns that deal with creating.

Fellows also accurately defines all the key terms. He explains homosexual as referring to sexual orientation which may include behavior, self-identification and fantasy as well as arousal. The word “gay”, however,  includes all of the aforementioned as well as gender identity. By using there terms, Fellows finds a balance to clarify the identity of gender roles. By going into this theory of homosexuality, Fellows manages to make his book to serve two different audiences, preservationists and gay men. What we have is ma book that concerns itself with the social psychology of gender-role identity and Fellows not only presents but he clarifies it beautifully.

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