Who gets to write gay rights into the history books?
Hugh Ryan: Because our teachers couldn’t help us, we helped each other. Now that schools will teach our children the LGBT struggle, we must keep making history
Writing the history of any marginalized group for the consumption of the masses is difficult, and queer history presents its own particular challenges. Until very recently, our community lacked any organizations that would have passed on history in any canonical way: we didn’t have schools or departments looking into us, museums or churches to celebrate and document us, or even welcoming and inclusive birth families to keep picture albums and personal papers. Without institutions to preserve our past and communicate it to our future, we never developed the kind of historical narratives other communities have.
We’ve rarely told our history as a straight line, and we’ve never had others tell it for us. Instead, queer people have acted as our own historians and shared our own histories as individuals and parts of small, fluid communities. Each of us held a few pieces of a mosaic that was constantly being reconfigured, like we were putting together some giant puzzle on the floor, each time we came together.
There are major drawbacks to that kind of history making – primarily, that what you know ends up defined by the community in which you move, making it easy to end up with a limited understanding of the past that privileges the experiences of people like you. But it can also be an empowering approach to a discipline – history – that most Americans are taught to see as an exercise in rote memorization.
This piece is terrific.