Last week’s post for Pride Month featured an excerpt from David Getsy’s Queer. Continuing our celebration, we went deep into our backlist to bring you Simon LeVay and Elisabeth Nonas’ City of Friends: A Portrait of the Gay and Lesbian Community in America. City of Friends, written in 1995, explores the diversity of the various gay communities that existed at the time. Aside from surveying the various communities, LeVay and Nonas examine topics surrounding this vibrant group, including history, health, culture, and rights. Published at a time of increasing acceptance from the general public, yet many years before the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, City of Friends provided a unique perspective from one of the most diverse communities in the United States. The following is an excerpt from the Preface of City of Friends.
As ever-growing numbers of lesbians and gay men raise their voices in the many spaces of American life, they are laying claim to the same citizenship as all other men and women, while at the same time attempting to reclaim their own ancient heritage and culture. This balancing act, difficult enough for members of any minority, is made doubly hard for gays and lesbians by the accident of their birth: for whatever the actual circumstances that predispose to homosexuality, the appearance is that of a random seeding, as if some mischievous spirit had left queer changelings in the cribs of honest burghers.
Indeed, the gay person’s life unfolds with all the mysterious illogic of a fairy tale. Stumbling between perplexed elders and too-knowing playmates, the child asks questions that are answered only with riddles or silence, while inner whisperings hint at distant adventure. One day, after many a winter, a gnome offers the growing youth the key to the Door of Self-knowledge, which swings creakily open, revealing shelf after shelf of becobwebbed tomes…
We are that gnome, and this book the library—condensed, to be sure, to suit today’s shorter attention span. The content, though, is the same. It is a survey of what it means to be gay or lesbian: where gays and lesbians come from in history and in individual development; what are their common interests, needs, and aspirations; and a portrait of the gay community as a seething coalition of groups and subgroups that resolve ultimately into the splendid uniqueness of the gay individual.
In an ideal world this book would not be necessary, because all this material—introductory as it must necessarily be—would be instilled by parents, schools, and the media long before a young person even became aware of her or his own sexual orientation. It would be common knowledge. But in the real world this knowledge is withheld, even from those whose own heritage it should be.
Because we ourselves went through this process of self-discovery years ago, when it was considerably more daunting than it is today, we wish to help smooth the path for another generation of lesbians and bisexuals and gay men. But it is not only gays and lesbians for whom this book is intended. All men and women have a close involvement with the gay community. If not gay or lesbian themselves, then they are the parents, children, brothers, sisters, spouses, exes, friends, enemies, employers, employees, doctors, patients, teachers, students, entertainers, audience, pastors, or parishioners of lesbians and gay men. This book is offered as a guide to them too.
Understanding something about gay people means understanding something about diversity: that diversity does not mean simply a collection of separate identities, but also the interpretation and mutual enrichment of different cultures. Being gay or lesbian is excellent, but it also may mean lacking the direct experience of heterosexuality. We have nevertheless learned something of heterosexuality through culture, and we would like to return the favor.