“Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians”–go west

Faderman, Lillian and Timmons, Stuart, “Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians”. Basic Books, 2006.

Go West

Amos Lassen

We so badly need a sense of history and Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons give a bit of one in their sprawling study of “Gay L.A.” Los Angeles is responsible for much of what we know of as gay life today, so it is fitting that the history of gay L.A. parallels the history of gay America. Beginning in the 188os gay culture took root in Los Angeles and it really has not moved from there. So much of what is part of gay American history happened in Tinseltown that L.A. rightfully deserves to wear the crown designating her “The Queen City”.

This is not the first book about L.A. and there have been other books that have claimed that gay life really began inside of their borders but after reading this book it is hard to imagine anywhere else holding title to the term of the city that began the modern gay world. Style, image and politics of the modern gay liberation movement began there and flourish there to this day.

The history of gay L.A, was formulated by the authors who interviewed over 300 people—some famous and some just regular people. It is from what they heard in these interviews that the authors claim that L.A, and her suburbs ultimately launched the modern age of gay life. By using this as a basis for their book, they provide a new way of looking at our history and our culture which gives L.A. the designation she so rightfully has earned and deserves.

Looking at his book as part of our historical heritage, I am forced as well as pleased to call it definitive. The writers are well grounded in their fields and write with authority. The information presented is endless and the book makes you want to go on and do more research yourself. Beginning in the early history of our country that take us back to pre-America where we learn of gender roles among the Indians and Spanish missionaries. As they move into the modern age they bring us up to date with all of our history on the West coast. Perhaps the work is not academic or scholarly but it presents so many facts that are just amazing to read. It is a wonderful study of a wonderful place where we, quite early in our history, were allowed to be who we are. Here is both a necessary and essential contribution to our history. Most important of all the book shows how we, the gay community, developed a political conscience. There is so much information here that other books will pale in comparison. The fact that Los Angeles was an important place in the struggle for us to gain equal rights is emphasized and often drawn upon.

Faderman and Stout include information that other writers have omitted or for some reason decided not to write about. This is the story of what was good in L.A. as well as what was not. It is an important book because in order to understand the mindsets of today’s gays and lesbians we must know the past. Keep in mind that the past becomes the present and the present becomes the future and that all these periods of time are relative. Yet the periods of time in the history of Los Angeles coincide with the same periods of time elsewhere and I wonder if we still would have had the same events if Los Angeles had not had them first.

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