GLR September-October 2022

T ERRI S CHLICHENMEYER DIARY OF A MISFIT A Memoir and a Mystery by Casey Parks Knopf. 368 pages, $29. W HEN HER MOTHER said that the mere sight of her made her want to vomit, college freshman Casey Parks reached for solace from her grandmother, a plain-spoken, chain-smoking woman who’d grown up picking cotton. The older woman explained that being a little “different” never bothered her, that, in fact, someone who was different had been her best friend once, when she’d moved from the farm to the city. She spun a tale that captivated Parks for more than a decade, and that made Parks vow to solve a decades-long mystery. Years before, everybody in Delhi, Louisiana, knew Roy, and they knew that Roy was really a girl who wore men’s clothing. Some called Roy “she,” others called him “he,” and some people used unkind slurs. Parks, sensing that Roy would have preferred the masculine pronoun, uses he/him/his throughout this book. As far as Parks’ grandmother knew, she said, Roy had been “stolen” as a small child by a woman who said he had been abused by his birth parents. That woman raised Roy as a boy to hide his iden tity, though everybody knew the truth and few cared. Roy had friends, he always had odd jobs to do, and most people loved his music. In fact, it was said that he’d written a few country-and western hits and sold them to big-name artists. While Parks freely admits that her family consisted of tall tale spinners and that the veracity of this one is questionable, as a lesbian who grew up in unusual circumstances, she was captivated by Roy’s story. Throughout the book, she intuits that With each chapter standing on its own—presumably an ar tifact of the book’s origin as a podcast—an overarching argu ment can seem elusive. But that could also be seen as a virtue, as it allows for a more casual style of reading. The writing style is conversational, so it can seem like chatting with an enthusi astic academic who’s equally comfortable analyzing Virginia Woolf or passing celebrity gossip. I was horrified at some rev elations and laughed out loud at others. It’s impossible to be comprehensive in a book such as this, but some of the omissions were surprising. I wondered why there was no chapter on Leopold and Loeb, the child-murdering duo who killed a fourteen-year-old boy and almost got the death penalty (but were spared when their attorney, Clarence Darrow, introduced Freudian experts who shifted the blame to their up bringing). But this is a minor complaint. Bad Gays is a memo rable book, one that I’m still pondering months after finishing it. Lemmey and Miller have reminded us of how incomplete and arbitrary our history can be. ____________________________________________________ Matthew Hays teaches film studies at Concordia University, Montréal. The Legend of Roy

Lives of the Treacherous


BAD GAYS A Homosexual History by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller Verso. 368 pages, $29.95

I N THEIR INTRODUCTION to Bad Gays: A Homosexual History , authors Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller illustrate one of their central arguments with a trenchant contrast. Oscar Wilde has emerged as one of the key figures of the contempo rary LGBT rights movement, they point out, as he “was one of the first men in British society to give a creative form to a sex uality that barely yet understood itself,” and they agree that he earned this place. But what about his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, better known by his nickname “Bosie”? Just as Wilde had contributed to what was emerging as a new identity and had created something akin to a rallying cry for a century of queer activism that would follow, Bosie could be thought of as sheer “evil twink energy” (the first of many such biting epithets used by the authors). While largely forgotten in the history books, Bosie emerged as viciously anti leftist, anti-Irish, and anti-Semitic. He would even accuse Win ston Churchill of being caught up in Jewish conspiracies during World War II. Churchill would successfully sue Bosie, who died broke, and only two people attended his funeral. Lemmey and Miller’s argument is that we can learn as much from the gays who failed us as from the ones we honor as our he roes. But there is a further method to their badness: homosexu ality itself, they contend, is a failure both “as an identity and as a political project.” While they concede this may sound extreme, they point out that, once the dust has settled, mainstream LGBT liberationist projects have often left the marginalized—people of color, gender nonconformists, the nonbinary—behind. A his tory of homosexuality must include our collective failure to “un derstand how we relate to society, and the failures of racism and exclusion.” It’s a provocative argument, one they put forth in a way that’s both thorough and entertaining. Why, they ask, have so many historical gays close to power gone so wrong? As they put it, “When a gay man becomes a fascist, how does his ho mosexuality affect his attraction to the politics of venerating the state as though it were a go-go boy dancing on a box?” Ques tions about power, corruption, and repression make up the bulk of this book, which is a who’s who of queer nasties through his tory. Some of the subjects are obvious—J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn, for example—but I was less familiar with the antics of Victorian sex worker Jack Saul. Their conclusions about how Margaret Mead’s sexuality informed her research are worth reading. The final chapter, on Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, who embraced Islamophobic anti-immigrant rhetoric before being murdered in 2002, is the most captivating entry in the book, given its relevance to our current political malaise.

The G & LR


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