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sabot Wooden Shoe Books: anarchist and radical literature
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Book Reviews ...

Reviewed: Stonewall by Martin Duberman
Review by: James Generic (Posted: 4.10.2007)

If there's any one thing that has the potential to evoke instant violence from individuals, it's the idea of homosexuality. Today, nothing seems to polarize so many people. Anyone growing up has heard "fag" as a basic insult in the grammer of teenagers and beyond, and I really suspect there's a lot of people who are in the closet in some way that know that if they came out at all of even being remotely attracted to members of the same sex (however you want to define that), then they would become an instant target for former friends and family. It's even worse in the countryside than in the cities, too. So I picked up Stonewall to brush up on some Queer history, especially since the Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York are often cited as being a turning point in the acceptance of anything but straight as an arrow by mainstream society at all.

Stonewall details the lives of seven different individuals from their childhoods, to the day they came out of the closet, to their lives afterward and up until the stonewall riots, and the aftermath. The six people are Yvonne (Maua) Flowers, Jim Fouratt, Foster Gunnison Jr, Karla Jay, Silvia Rae Rivera, and Craig Rodwell. Some like Jim Fouratt were previously involved in radical left-wing groups like the Yippies before Stonewall brought gay issues as an issue to be seriously considered. Yvonne Flowers felt out of place wherever she went, being a black lesbian and therefore subject to homophobia and sexism in much of the black community and racism in much of the white lesbian community.  Foster Gunnison Jr was the son of an industrialist, and became extremely involved in the moderate Mattachine Society, which sought to seek an understanding with straight society. Karla Jay was a student who became involved with left-wing activism but quickly was uncomfortable about male domination of the movement. Silva Rae Rivera defiantly strikes the reader as one of the most interesting, as she lives on the streets as a queen, and transvestite.   Finally, Craig Rodwell was a young member of the Mattachine Society and tried to turn it more radical and relevant by recruiting young members into it to infuse it with energy, and later opened the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore.

Without going to far, the Stonewall Riots started when the police raided the notoriously seedy, and Mafia-run, Stonewall Bar. Raids were common place and often were proceeded with warnings, bribes, and such, but this time after the police roughed up a few people, the crowd fought back. It escalated into a full scale attack on the police and lots of pent up rage was unleashed. The next day, as news of gays fighting back spread quickly, people took to the street and made a statement that they would no longer be silent second-class citizens. After this, the Gay Liberation Front was founded to push for confrontation and demand, not request, full equality with straight society. The effects on the characters reminded me of the effect that the Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization had on me when I was a teenager. It all the sudden became alright to be out in the open.

The book itself can be a little confusing at points as Dr. Duberman switches between the individuals stories quickly and suddenly, but each story is indeed pretty interesting. Even today as there seems to be an enormous backlack by the Christian Right to attack the rights of people to be attracted to anyone, or to BE anyone, that they feel like, and to have access to all of the same health, jobs, and life that any straight person would, it really was the beginning of hope back in an age of closets and not being able to even talk. This was a beginning of change, before even the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic. Stonewall should be read by anyone who believes in the right of anyone to struggle for a better life for themselves and those they care about.

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