Lonely Hunters: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life, 1948-1968by James T Sears
Largely ignored by both mainstream and gay histories, this is the first oral history of homosexual Southerners struggling against homophobia, racial hatred, and sexism against the panorama of post-World War II Southern culture. James Sears has compiled real stories of gay men and lesbians who were raised in the social hierarchy of the South. 35 photos. 240 pp.
Using diaries, letters, newspapers, subpoenaed testimony, court and legislative documents, and, most powerfully, personal interviews, historian Sears (Growing Up Gay in the South, not reviewed) tells a story long overlooked by gay and southern historians alike. It is well-documented and compellingly presented with great emotional range, describing not only the brutal bar raids and cloistered lives of southern homosexuals but also the fabulously coat-tailed club-goers and deeply bonded communities. The chapter on Miami, for instance, decribes that city's famous gay beaches, as well as its government-organized witch hunts, in which careers were ruined and gays were pressured to name names. Some of the personal stories are even stranger than southern fiction: Gordon Langley Halla British émigré (whose father was Vida Sackville-West's chauffeur), prominent Charleston, S.C., socialite, and biographer of Lady Bird Johnsonwas, after a 1968 sex-change operation, welcomed into the Ladies of the Confederacy as Dawn Pepita Halluntil she married a black man. Sears's book is consistently engaging yet never historically simplisticthe complex themes of race, class, regional identity, generation, and sexuality are all properly treated as vital parts of the story. Sears interweaves individuals' stories with narratives of political events that lend them broader context, and he's just as careful to humanize social developments by describing real people's lives. Though churches are given short shrift, a foreword assures us that the author intends to address it more substantively in future work.
A fine contribution to both southern history and gay history that shouldn't be overlooked by enthusiasts of either field.
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