Mason Funk is the founder of a project called OUTWORDS, which is an effort to document LGBTQI history. So far, OUTWORDS has conducted 131 interviews with members of the community who were on the front lines of the dawning of the LGBTQI rights movement. Of these interviews, Funk has curated a selection of 75 interviews for inclusion in this, The Book of Pride. Per the introduction, “Rather than giving a superficial rendering of more subjects, we preferred to go deeper with a smaller number.” What remains are the edited stories of gay, lesbian, bixsexual, transgender, and a single self-identified intersex individual. Funk states in the Foreward that the interviews have been edited to maximize impact and they have been organized into a myriad of categories including: liberation, breaking ground, disrupters, truth to power, bridges, et cetera. OUTWORDS maintains an archive where all interviews may be read in full: TheOUTWORDSArchive.org.
This is an astounding collection of narratives. Hats off to the OUTWORDS team for their tremendous effort to document LGBTQI history in the United States. True to the acronym, The Book of Pride reflects the diversity in the community. The book is full of the personal accounts of not just gay and lesbian activists, but multiple bisexual and transgender people as well. There is a nod to the intersex community with Gigi Raven Wilbur’s account of his/her history (the book’s editor intentionally uses both male and female pronouns to reflect Gigi’s self-identification as both male and female). Doc Duhon’s story touches on not just bisexuality, but also polyamory, dominant and submissive relationships, and the leather community. The stories are told by people who tried to “cure” themselves by marrying and trying to live the cishet version of Americana before coming out; they are told by people who turned into activists by dint of being in the right place at the right time (such as Stonewall); they are told by people who have served in America’s military. The variety of histories included is truly marvelous and to read the words of the people who lived through the times, who led the charge, is nothing short of amazing.
As a collection of personal narratives given by the people who led and participated in historic events and movements within LGBTQI rights, I believe The Book of Pride and especially the OUTWORDS archive is an invaluable resource. That said, there are some elements about the book that, to me at least, felt incongruous to the mission of preserving history.
I disliked the choice not to organize these interviews around specific events or chronology. This means that interviews that mention the formation of specific organizations or specific events are rarely (if ever) grouped together. I found it a disjointed way to view history, especially when several interviewees are involved with the creation of organizations like the Gay Liberation Front or are involved with activism like “zaps” (public displays of civil disobedience, e.g. disrupting a live televison broadcast).
Personally, the arrangement of the content itself felt underwhelming to me. Each interview begins with the name of the interviewee, followed by one or more titles (pioneer of this, activist for that, etc.) and a location. Funk includes a summary/bio of the life and times of each person before presenting edited versions of the interview material. This makes for a tidy package and the bio primes the reader for the ensuing interview. However, it felt like a good half of the interviews left me dangling. For example, the bio for Kylar Broadus states: Kylar undertook a long, committed journey to develop federal, state, and local protections for people regardless of their gender identity or gender expression. In the interview itself, Kylar details his upbringing and focuses on what drove him to become a lawyer who focuses on gender equality. Yet the the caption for a photo of Kylar, taken during the interview, states he “fundamentally altered the legal standing for transgender people in America.” I am disappointed that this isn’t more clearly communicated in the on-page interview material, though perhaps that is simply because I am unfamiliar with the work of Kylar’s organization, the Trans People of Color Coalition.
One sorely disappointing aspect of The Book of Pride is the complete exclusion of any aromantic and asexual representation. Betsy Parson gives this account of her experience as a closeted lesbian high school teacher who meets a former student years later (emphasis mine):
About the same time, a former student came back to visit me. She was a college grad now. She was a young lesbian. She told me that during her freshman year of high school, when she was my student, she had been on the brink of suicide the entire year. I had thought her life looked perfect. She was brainy and beautiful and athletic and musical. When I heard eight years later what that had really been like, it was just shocking for me. I asked what I could have done to make that year less painful and less frightening. She said, “You could have been out.”
This passage reinforces the concept that representation matters and this theme crops up in other interviews as well. Yet the aro/ace community is entirely absent from the book and nothing in the front- or back matter bothers to explain possible reasons why.
Regardless of the shortcomings, I would highly recommend anyone interested in queer history or just history in general to read this book. For people who are interested but find nonfiction a challenge to read/digest, the organization-by-theme may help a reader “cherry pick” stories of interest. Plus, interviews typically run three to five pages, including a couple of photos—perfect for the curious who don’t have a lot of time. The online archive is a treasure trove of materials, so those wanting more details about specific individuals have a ready-made resource to reference.