Despite the name, The Gay Agenda feels more a trivia book than a history. Written by “power couple” Ashley Molesso and Chess Needham, it touches lightly upon a variety of topics ranging from Sappho to the AIDS crisis, introducing readers to a handful of pioneers, both well known and not — such as Oscar Wilde, Harvey Milk, and Ellen, as well as We’wha, the Zuni Two-Spirit, author James Baldwin, and Kathy Kozachenko. Unfortunately, this book has good intentions and great ambition, but ends up being mildly interesting without being overly educational.
I found this book to be more a dictionary than a discovery. The book does loosely cover the timeline of gay rights, but it’s more a list of events without any examination to explain how the various groups — from the The Mattachine Society and Daughter of Bilitis, to the Homosexual League of New York and the New York league for Sexual Freedom — actually managed to change the world. People are mentioned with a paragraph or two to explain who they are and how they fit into the LGBTQ+ community, but there’s never much more than the shallowest introduction.
This is especially galling as the writing has a charm and personality when the authors have room to express themselves. I would have like opinions rather than a cheerful recitation of facts. This confusing mix of personality and lip service is particularly noticeable in the section set aside for safe sex, where safe sex, consent, and other issues are defined, but the actual content — delivered in one giant paragraph — is generic and banal, not speaking to a gay experience, even as they decry the lack of sexual education for LGBTQ+ children.
As well intentioned as the authors are, and I strongly believe in and support the idea of this book, even they fall prey to harmful gender coded stereotypes, such as in the section on the handkerchief code where they mention the basic idea behind the code without explaining it, and state that the code could allow a man to indicate if they would “dance the woman’s part or the man’s part.” This is especially jarring as, in a later section of the book, they indicate that such phrasings are offensive.
In the end, I’m unclear what the message of this book is supposed to be. It’s useful as a dictionary, including Two-Spirits, Asexuals, Polyamory, and Transgender flags, and a section on coming out — both for the person opening themselves to friends as family, as well as to those close enough to be trusted with someone’s revelation of their sexual identity — but it doesn’t actually have anything to say about them.
The one section that I felt the authors truly shined, the one place that I felt I almost understood was the section dealing with homophobia. First, the page-long paragraph explaining homophobes — those who are taught to hate but whose minds and hearts may yet be changed, and those who are unwilling to change — and then a brief, bright section talking bout how to handle such people. They urge compassion, education, and humor. They do not push for unkindess or even antipathy. I wish the whole book had been delivered with this same spirit and personality.
The cover of this book is colorful, featuring both the triangle — harkening back to the pink triangle (which is mentioned and briefly defined in the book) — as well as the rainbow. It’s fun, it’s pretty, it’s eye-catching … but the inside of the book is physically difficult to read. Colored text on colored backgrounds, with a font that seemed chosen more for its personality than its legibility, gave me a headache as a I read it. I had to magnify the pages to 125% in order to read many of the sections, and with occasional important words highlighted in glaring yellow, saturated blue, or vivid pink, it was very hard to read. If you wish to buy this book, I do strongly recommend you purchase an actual, physical copy.