Title: No Way, They Were Gay? Queer History Project
Author: Lee Wind
Publisher: Zest Books, 2021
Themes: Queer history, queer figures in history, lgbtqia+, historical bias
History sounds really official. Like it’s all fact. But that’s not necessarily true. History was crafted by the people who recorded it. Imagine you got into a fight at school. Afterward, there will be different versions of what happened.. You’ll have your story, the other kid will have their story, and a third person, who maybe saw the fight happen, will have a third story. Whose story will the principal believe? Which version will become the official story, the history of the moment?
History has often left out the stories of LGBTQIA+ people: men who loved men, women who loved women, people who loved without regard to gender, and people who lived outside gender boundaries. Historians have even censored the lives and loves of some of the world’s most famous people, from William Shakespeare and Pharaoh Hatshepsut to Cary Grant and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Lee Wind’s book provides a fascinating journey through primary sources?poetry, memoir, news clippings, and images of ancient artwork?to explore the hidden (and often surprising) Queer lives and loves of two dozen historical figures.
Why I like this book:
I have already read and reviewed Lee Wind’s great middle grade novel, Queer as a Five Dollar Bill (2018), which is based on solid evidence indicating that Abraham Lincoln was gay. Given the history of the treatment of the LGBTQIA+ community, it’s not a surprise that a lot of the history of this community has been suppressed, especially when it comes to the biographies of individuals. This new collective biography examines the lives of men who loved men, women who loved women, and people who lived outside gender boundaries, and puts these individuals, their times, and their evolving histories into context.
There’s a lot of queer history that was not recorded, or was systematically ignored. Wind starts with a really helpful introduction about different ways this history was hidden, as well as “Good Stuff to Know”. The side bars are super helpful and break up the denser text, making this very readable. I especially liked facts about the language that should be used. There are a lot of differences of opinion, as well as terminology preferences, and the explanations are really well done. I love that there is information about staying safe as well. This intro chapter alone is worth buying the book; it gives shows readers the difficulties that have been faced in the past and are still being faced, and is a great place for starting conversations.
From Abe, to Eleanor Roosevelt, to Catalina de Erauso (the lieutenant nun), each entry gives a brief description of the person’s life and works, evidence as to why they were gay, how this identity affected their lives and treatment. Historical context is a strength throughout the book, and the many illustrations of photographs support the narrative.
No Way, They Were Gay? is a well-researched, intriguing book of history. There is a concerted effort to include all facets of the LGBTQIA+ community, and there’s some cultural diversity as well. I hope we will see in all middle and high school libraries.
Wind’s note about whom to include was also helpful. There were some people who were already on my radar, but some that were many new to me as well. The research is phenomenal, and there are extensive source notes at the back. It was particularly inspired to present the research and then ask readers “What do YOU think?” There is a lot of primary source evidence cited, making this book a fantastic resource for teaching use of primary sources in history projects.
The “Putting it in Order” chart at the back is also very helpful; sometimes it’s hard to understand the historical order of events across world history.
I think this would be an awesome text to do as a group read in GSA’s around the country.