“Gay Life and Culture”–a visual feast

Aldrich, Robert, editor. “Gay Life and Culture”. Universe Publishing, 2006.

A Visual Feast, An Incredible Read

Amos Lassen

I received a book today that is one of the most beautifully laid out books I have ever seen, “Gay Life and Culture” edited by Robert Aldrich. If you are looking for the perfect holiday gift for someone special, look no further. This is it. It is a big coffee table book with a big price, $49.95, but worth every penny.

“Gay Life and Culture” is a world history of people like us. That is to say that is our story. It is lavishly illustrated with photographs and art work that reflect our history and is stunning just to browse through. Here is a one volume, contemporary history of not just gay life but Gay culture as well. It is heavily researched, having drawn on new scholarship to give us a contemporary look at all things gay going as far back as ancient Sumeria and coming as far present as the day it was published. Aldrich leaves virtually no stone unturned in his rendition of our history. He combines all of the new research, critical inquiry and reinterpretation there is on the subject and turns it all into readable prose.

Aldrich used nine different historians from nine different countries in his exploration of same sex history and the book studies relationships through the centuries while charting shifting attitudes toward homosexuality and the gradual emergence of a self identity for a homosexual community. It deals with AIDS, with same sex marriage, gay rights and civil partnerships beginning with Greece and Rome and following them to the present. The book also includes non Western cultures and gives an insight into same-sex relationships throughout history and around the globe.

We get a good look at the homoerotic poetry of Persia and learn of cross dressing women in Italy in the eighteenth century and learn of the hedonism of Berlin between-the-wars as well as the third gender concept in Asia and among native North Americans. The research comes from heretofore unlooked at letters and diaries, archives and works of art and literature.

The book also covers topics from the Old Testament—the story of David and Jonathan, the age of Confucius, the legends of Amerinds and Polynesian mahus as well as Stonewall and the golden age of American promiscuity which followed the riots, In American history there is detailed discussions of the advent of AIDS, the power of “Act Up” and the influence of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America”.

This is a major contribution to understanding what makes gay life and culture so universal throughout culture and across timelines. Divided into fourteen chapters, each section deals with a particular time and place. The women are included throughout the book and the introduction by the editor lets the reader know how the book came to be and by which processes it was researched and written. Fifty bucks is a small price to pay for what you get here. Even if you just read the final chapter about “The Gay World: 1980 to the Present” you will be amazed at how much there is to learn. This book is a must have in every thinking gay man’s library and a wonderful addition to our lives. Remember it when you are making up your holiday gift list. The person you give it to will be your friend forever after he receives this book.

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