Category Archives: GLBT memoir and/or biography

“Sontag: Her Life and Work” by Benjamin Moser— The Definitive Masterpiece

Moser, Benjamin. “Son­tag: Her Life and Work”, Ecco, 2019.

The Definitive Masterpiece

Amos Lassen

Susan Sontag is as much a symbol of America as apple pie and Mom and as such she deserves the wonderful and definitive biography that Benjamin Moser has written about her. Sontag is one of the American Century’s most towering intellectuals: her writing and her radical thought, her public activism and her hidden private face. It is difficult to think of the twentieth century without her presence. She has been mythologized and misunderstood, hailed and hated yet she became a proud symbol of cosmopolitanism.

Sontag’s legacy of writing on art and politics, feminism and homosexuality, celebrity and style, medicine and drugs, radicalism and Fascism and Freudianism and Communism and Americanism, that forms an indispensable key to modern culture is part of American culture. Sontag represents American culture just by having been where things happened. She was there when the Cuban Revolution began, when the Berlin Wall came down; in Vietnam under American bombardment, in Israel at war and in Sarajevo under siege. She was in New York when artists tried to resist commercialism and the temptation of money and when others  gave in. Sontag was everywhere she wanted to be and everywhere we needed her to be. Here are her stories and examination of the work that gained her the good name she had. We read of her insecurity behind her public face: her broken relationships, her struggles with her sexuality (that worked their way into her writing and animated and undermined it). We read of  her attempts to respond to the cruelties and absurdities of America who seemed to have  lost her way, and her conviction that fidelity to high culture was an activism of its own. 

Try to imagine the last half of the twentieth century without Susan Sontag and I am sure that you will agree that intellectually it would have been very different. She was our cul­tur­al crit­ic and celebri­ty who for­ev­er changed the dis­course by rethink­ing con­ven­tion­al assump­tions on a grand scale. In ​“Against Inter­pre­ta­tion” she argued for direct, unmedi­at­ed encoun­ters with art. ​“Notes on Camp” turned the received hier­ar­chy of aes­thet­ics upside down and in ways that were prophet­ic. “On Pho­tog­ra­phy” examined an art form that she loved and ques­tioned ­its voyeurism and com­mer­cial­ism.

Like many oth­er mid-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can intel­lec­tu­als, Son­tag was Jew­ish not by reli­gion but through a shared mar­gin­al­i­ty. She iden­ti­fied as les­bian, even though she hid it for much of her life. It was her lover, María Irene Fornés, who intro­duced her to the bohemi­an art world of New York and exposed her to ways of see­ing art spon­ta­neous­ly with­out intel­lec­tu­al expla­na­tion. Because of an affair with the chore­o­g­ra­ph­er, Lucin­da Childs, Sontag was better able under­stand the emo­tion­al imme­di­a­cy of music and dance. The great pho­tog­ra­ph­er, Annie Lei­bovitz, the famous and great photographer shred her thoughts on photography and was Sontag’s part­ner for the last six­teen years of her life.

Because he had access to her journals, Ben­jamin Moser is able to give us what other biographers cannot and that is as much of  inside look as we are going to get. He uses the journals with tact, empa­thy, and tru­ly extra­or­di­nary insight, as a means of bringing her life togeth­er with her work. Moser shows us what her calls Sontag’s ​“inabil­i­ty to see oth­er peo­ple as real,” and lat­er doc­u­ments this with exam­ples from the ways she inter­ac­ted with others. He shares sev­er­al themes which would pre­oc­cu­py Son­tag.

Moser writes that Sontag’s lack of self-esteem and bouts with depression were because she felt that, “Being queer increas­es my wish to hide” as she wrote in her journal. She denied any sex­u­al involve­ment with Annie Lei­bovitz and that was “out of shame” and recently as 2003, she was very upset when she learned that in a profile in “The New York­er”, she was reported to be  bisexual.

Sontag was a woman of ideas whose engage­ment with ideas came in many forms — she wrote fic­tion, direct­ed films, and wrote a play that was direct­ed at Har­vard Reper­to­ry The­ater in 1996. She was polit­i­cally bold and took posi­tions speak­ing out and tak­ing action against the Viet­nam war and even res­cu­ing peo­ple in Sara­je­vo dur­ing the Bosn­ian war. Moser shares tidbits of gossip and he makes critical judgements about Son­tag, especially when writ­ing about the ways the AIDS cri­sis was ignored by politi­cians in the 1980s, and about media com­plic­i­ty in pro­mot­ing the war in Iraq.

We have hundreds of interviews conducted everywhere and there are nearly one hundred images and when we consider that this is the first book based on the writer’s restricted archives, and on access to many people who have never before spoken about Sontag, including Annie Leibovitz, we understand that this is a definitive portrait and a biography that reads like a novel.

 

 

“And How Are You, Dr. Sacks: A Biographical Memoir of Oliver Sacks” by Lawrence Weschler—- The Untold Story of Dr. Oliver Sacks

Weschler, Lawrence.  “And How Are You, Dr. Sacks: A Biographical Memoir of Oliver Sacks”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019.

The Untold Story of Dr. Oliver Sacks

Amos Lassen

Lawrence Weschler began spending time with Oliver Sacks in the early 1980s, when he was writing a profile the neurologist for “The New Yorker”. This was some ten years after Dr. Sacks had published “Awakenings”, his book about his long-dormant patients’ return to life in a Bronx hospital ward. The book had not been successful at first, and Saks was still largely unknown. Over the following four years, the two men worked closely together until, because of personal reasons, Sacks asked Weschler to abandon the profile. The two remained close friends, however during the next thirty years and then, just as Sacks was dying, he urged Weschler to take up the project once again. This is the result of that request.

Weschler brings to Saks the same personal investment and engagement that Sacks brought to his individual patients. Oliver Sacks lives on in this memoir. Wechsler is as much collaborator as interviewer, Sacks covered his life in his many books, but there was still unexplored and fresh insights to be read about. 

We read of and thereby see Sacks rowing and ranting and caring deeply; remembering his drug-fueled younger days; helping his patients and tiring his friends; and waging intellectual war against a medical and scientific establishment that would not address his greatest concern: “the spontaneous specificity of the individual human soul.” This is the definitive portrait of Sacks as a romantic scientist and as a self-described “clinical otologist” whose entire practice was concerned with the single fundamental question of one’s health. This is also a  deeply personal account of Sacks.

Weschler shares conversations, diary entries, interviews, letters and reportage. In doing so he gives us a look at Oliver Saks when he was  fully engaged in life. There is something amazing on every page and we feel the sympathy that sometimes develops between subject and writer.  Here are two offbeat and complicated men stepping into a rowboat; one is Lawrence Weschler who tells the story of Oliver Sacks, a remarkably literary character.

 Most of the book is focused on when Weschler met Dr. Sacks and originally planned to write about him. I found it fascinating to read the perspective of someone who knew him especially after reading the books that Sacks wrote about himself.  Aspects of Sacks’s work have been considered problematic but reading this makes those problems almost disappear. Weschler  shows us why Sacks had the patience to delve deeper into the lives of people that other doctors were uninterested in doing. The exploration of Sacks is compassionate and shares those aspects of his character that were thought to be difficult.

“Sage Sapien: From Karma to Dharma” by Johnson Chong— A Gay Asian-American

Chong, Jonathan. “Sage Sapien: From Karma to Dharma”, Kohler Books, 2019.

A Gay Asian-American

Amos Lassen

It is a lot easier to be gay today than it was even five years ago. Each ethnicity has its own set of ideas about homosexuality and gay people and we see that with so much emphasis on family life among Asians Asian -Americans, it can be very difficult for one to be his/her/self.

Writer Johnson Chong looks at and writes about the obstacles and triumphs of being a second-generation Asian American gay man. It is not easy to be split between a conservative upbringing and living his truth. We are with him as he journeys through the pangs of youth to developing self-awareness and life-changing lessons in India and abroad. This is not a new story— we shifting old attachments of self-rejection and shame into a new paradigm of peace and unconditional love. We can never expect anyone to accept us if we cannot accept ourselves. To do so, we must love our emotional problems, mistakes and errors and self-deprecating tendencies and use them as ways to become stronger. These problems give us opportunities for strength and growth. Chong brings spirituality, memoir and self-help together, to give us a universal story of the “underdog who steps into their authentic expression” and shows us how to do likewise.

There is another reward in reading this. Johnson Chong is an international yogi, meditation teacher and Self-Mastery Guide. He also the created  Exodus Retreats, where he leads transformational retreats to sacred places around the world. Here he integrates his love of storytelling to empower life changing shifts in consciousness and he is available for speaking engagements and group coaching. Johnson runs a holistic self-mastery podcast, “Sage Sapien” and offers guided meditation audios and online and live coaching programs. This is his first book.

. “My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me, and Ended Up Saving My Life” by Ryan O’Callaghan— The Struggle

O’ Callaghan, Ryan and Cyd Ziegler. “My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me, and Ended Up Saving My Life”, Edge of Sports,  2019.

The Struggle

Amos Lassen

In this country, LGBTQ athletes face varying degrees of acceptance. Ryan O’Callaghan, a former offensive tackle for the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs, shares his struggle as a closeted gay man in the very masculine world of professional football and his story is about love and acceptance, honesty and truth, integrity and hope. O’Callaghan could have kept his sexuality to himself but instead he offers us all of himself in these pages. By his doing this, he will change lives, save lives, and continue to forge path ahead so that it will be much smoother for those who bravely follow in his footsteps.”

 O’Callaghan details the fear and pain of a lifetime spent hiding who he really is. His story is “a suspenseful and cathartic look at a man on the edge, whose salvation could only come from admitting his truth and finding acceptance.” By doing so his story will change the lives of young men and women who are struggling to come out and with their sexuality and help those around them who may not know how they’re contributing to a loved one’s pain and silence. This is an intense book as it looks at the reality of life in the NFL and it is told with gripping honesty and courage.

We learn that O’Callaghan’s plan was always to play football and then, when his career was over, kill himself. He grew up in a politically conservative corner of California and the messages he heard as a young man from his family and from TV and film claimed that being gay was a disease. He could not tell people his darkest secret. Under the surface of Ryan’s entire NFL career was a collision course between his secret sexuality and his hidden drug use. When the league caught him smoking pot, he turned to NFL-sanctioned prescription painkillers that quickly sent his life into a tailspin. As he suffered more injuries, his daily iuse of opioids reached a near-lethal level and he wrote a suicide note to his parents and planned his death.

A member of the Chiefs organization stepped in, seeing the signs of drug addiction. O’Callaghan reluctantly sought psychological help, and it was there that he revealed his lifelong secret for the very first time. He was already nearing the twilight of his career when he faced the ultimate decision: “end it all, or find out if his family and football friends could ever accept a gay man in their lives.”

O’Callaghan  spent a lot of time cultivating a self-accepting identity that he spent so much time trying to escape. He didn’t fit the gay stereotypes, but O’Callaghan had spent a lot of time cultivating a self-accepting identity that he spent so much time trying to escape. 

O’Callaghan knew that his life would change forever when he made the trip to Los Angeles was about to sit on a bench with one camera in front of him, and one behind, and publicly tell the story that for years he struggled with privately.

Sitting in front of those cameras, telling an account that would be broadcast to millions unnerved him. He said in an interview, “My reasons for wanting to do this have always been the same… to help people in my position. Hopefully someone could relate to my story.”

 “I waited so long, because I don’t think you go, in my case, 29 years, not planning on living, not accepting living as a gay man. You don’t go from everything I did to normal and ready to speak and be an example overnight. I had to work on me. It took a while.”

The significance of O’Callaghan’s story can be seen in its unique nature among professional male athletes. On its own, it is an inspiring story of a man who used football to mask his identity. A story of a man who planned to kill himself following his career, but  who accepted help when higher-ups in the Chiefs organization offered it. 

There’s a slow yet continuous trend of more acceptance of homosexuality in the athletic world yet O’Callaghan’s story was courageous. It showed that the Chiefs’ handling of the situation should be the norm, not an anomaly and it also served as a reminder that players coming out is still extremely rare.

 “I spent my whole life trying to avoid the spotlight,” O’Callaghan says. “Football was a great place to hide. Now I don’t have 50 other guys to hide behind. I realized this was going to get some attention. That’s the point. Get the word out there, spread awareness, make people feel accepted. They’ve got to know. I’m fine with that. I’m ready.”

 “I had to learn how to love myself,’’ he said. “I’m not looking to be a sloppy straight guy anymore.’’

 “Life’s great now,’’ he said.

“The Impresario of Castro Street” by Marc Huestis— The Inside Story

Huestis, Marc. “Impresario of Castro Street: An Intimate Showbiz Memoir’, Outsider Productions, 2019.

The Inside Story

Amos Lassen

Marc Huestis gives us the inside story of San Francisco’s gay history along with Hollywood’s trials and tribulations. This showbiz memoir is an entertaining and personal retelling of his coming out in the streets of San Francisco in the early ’70s, his relationship with Harvey Milk, his award-winning early AIDS documentary work, and 20 years of memorable experience in show business. He is gossipy which makes this so much fun and I was not about to book the book down until I finished it. We get plenty dish about Hollywood stars as well as a lot of charmingly candid  personal info about Heustis’ struggles with depression, drugs, and disease as well as many pieces of history about pre-gentrified, queer San Francisco.

Marc’s name seemed to be on the marquee of the Castro Theatre a great deal and he brought old stars in for interviews. He also arranged the first gay film festival in the city and it eventually became Frameline. Heustis directed and produced the legendary documentary “Chuck Soloman: Coming of Age” and directed, produced and starred in “Sex is…”. He set the stage for how any sort of AIDS-related documentary should be made. His storytelling had me crying and laughing in equal measures and not only can he tell a story but he can also write one.
Legendary movie stars are grateful to him for giving them one small more amount of time in the limelight with their fans when most of them thought of themselves as forgotten. He writes with brutal honesty and hides nothing including his addiction issues.

“Good Hot Stuff: The Life and Times of Gay Film Pioneer Jack Deveau” by Marco Siedelmann— A Filmmaker With a Vision 

 

Siedelmann, Marco, “Good Hot Stuff: The Life and Times of Gay Film Pioneer Jack Deveau’, Editions Moustache, 2019.

A Filmmaker With a Vision

Amos Lassen

During the Golden Age of Porn (1969-1984), Jack Deveau and his production company Hand In Hand were lauded by audience and critics as the perfect coming together of legit feature films, underground avant-garde and explicit all-male adult movies. Hand In Hand was an essential and acclaimed part of the New York art circles and its Independent film scene. Deveau’s death in 1982 and the AIDS epidemic along with the revolution brought on with video changed the porn film industry forever. All this happened almost together but the legacy of Deveau and Hand In Hand heritage is an important chapter of the upcoming queer film movement although today it has been  almost forgotten. “Good Hot Stuff” brings personal interviews with most of the remaining people who worked as cast and crew members on Hand In Hand films and with those who were close to Jack Deveau to give us the story of a studio that changed the way we look at porn. The story is told in fragments and from many different  perspectives and memories. Deveau’s story is a story about a filmmaker who had a vision way ahead of his time. He had the freedom to develop an individual auteur style within the limitations of the early gay adult film industry. Aside from the actual conversations, we read and learn about the production process and the history of the films. The book is filled with hundreds of images, most of which were never publicly published including original artworks, company ephemera, behind the scenes footage, private snapshots, and numerous magazine articles.

Deveau’s first film was “Lefthanded” (1972) and was followed quickly by several others, all of which explored the everyday life of gay men in post-Stonewall New York. Stonewall legitimated the promise of sex in all of its forms and without repression and harassment. While Deveau made porn films, they were also films depicting free and wonderful sex and explored the impact of sex availability as it had never been before as well as the difficulties and problems of a new sexual subculture in which the possibility of romance and relationships were indeed possible.

It is important to note the sex in these movies always occurred in context and the focus while on the sex we see is also on the way it is presented or framed. Granted many gay porn films are filled with gratuitous sex and here is where Deveau’s films differ. This is not to say that they sex scenes are not hot… they are but the focus is different and we see that the physical context, the lighting and the characters are what make the sex as hot as it is. What we see is real everyday sex making it all the more exciting.

Today we have  difficult time looking at such sex as seen in early porn without realizing that it very well led to the AIDS epidemic that was to change our lives so drastically. Deveau’s treatment of casual sex and promiscuity was as a problem that complicated the daily lives of gay men. He saw the conflict between casual sex and emotions as partly a comic problem but this was at a time before anyone knew about the epidemic that was to come.

I cannot even begin to share how much information there is here in this book. There are over 500 pages of essays, memories and photographs and it is very easy to lose yourself in all that is here. I took a week off to spend with this book and I feel I have only touched the surface but then that is the beauty of having this book— it is always there when you are ready for it. Marco Siedelmann has produced a treasure and one that he can be very proud of. It also makes me proud to have had the opportunity to review it.

“The Lie: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing & Coming Out” by William Dameron— Denial, Stolen Identities, Betrayal, Faking It and Coming Out

Dameron, William. “The Lie: A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing & Coming Out”, Little A, 2019

Denial, Stolen Identities, Betrayal, Faking It and Coming Out

Amos Lassen

Do you know me?, the email began, sparking tremors of fear that turned into a full quake of panic when William Dameron discovered that his selfie had been stolen by strangers, his fear turned into panic. On social networks and dating sites, his image and identity, that of a forty-year-old straight white male was being used to hook countless women into believing lies. Yet almost ten years earlier, William himself had been living a lie that had lasted for more than twenty years. His secret was that he was a gay man and he hid this from his wife and two daughters. He also hid it from himself.

This is a brutally honest memoir of coming out of the closet late in life, owning up to the past, and facing the future. Dameron not only faces his sexuality, he confronts steroid addiction, the shame and homophobia of his childhood, the secrets that slowly tore his marriage apart, and his love for a gay father of three that challenged trust. This is “a universal story about turning self-doubt into self-acceptance and about pain, anger, and the long journey of both seeking and giving forgiveness.” It is candid and compassionate look at truth and the redemptive power of forgiveness and love. We go through  layers of secrets and decades of deception but this s a book that is about so much more— the struggles that we face to admit who we truly are and we see  that it’s never too late to become our true selves. Here is also a look at a little-understood experience in queer life: that of the closeted parent. Dameron does more than just describe the burdens of carrying a lie and shows us how to live honestly and humanly.  All of us who have ever lived in a closet know the pain that it causes and Dameron once again shares that with us as if to say that we are never going back to that dark place. He also shares insights into the nature of marriage, family, and desire and “how to live responsibly, love truly, and find a place in your heart for forgiveness.” 

 The writing is clear, evocative and makes us think about dealing with a falsified life. The memoir is many things—-heartbreaking, heartwarming, funny, inspiring, , riveting but above all else it is human, a story of love and heartbreak, betrayal and forgiveness, deception and truth, self-hatred and self-acceptance and it has something for each and every person.

Dameron’s telling of the pain he and his family suffered before he came out is so very real and we see as Oscar Wilde once said, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”  While this book is about homosexuality, it is about realizing what parts of who we are non-negotiable.

“We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir”by Samra Habib— Finding Yourself in a World That Won’t Let You Be

Habib, Samra. “We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir”, Viking, 2019.

Finding Yourself in a World That Won’t Let You Be

Amos Lassen

Samra Habib is an Ahmadi Muslim who while growing up in Pakistan had spent more of her young life trying to figure out who she is. In Pakistan she and her family faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed that Ahmadi is a blasphemous sect of Islam. From her parents, she internalized the lesson that revealing her identity could put her in grave danger.

Eventually her family came to Canada as refugees and Samra encountered many new challenges including bullies, racism, the threat of poverty, and an arranged marriage. She felt as if she had no free choice and was backed into a corner. She needed a safe space and this became crucial so that she would be able to  grow and nurture her creative, feminist spirit. The men in her family and her life wanted to police her, the women adhered to pious obedience.

Habib explores faith, art, love, and queer sexuality as she seeks to discover herself and she shares that with us in “We Have Always Been Here”, a memoir of forgiveness and family, both chosen and not. For anyone who has ever felt out of place here is a look at the power of fearlessly inhabiting one’s truest self. It is personal but it is also  a look at “who and what we are as a people living in a time of great migrations, of cultures bumping into cultures, of politics of exclusions.” Beautifully written, it is a fresh way to see how we can learn to value ourselves and one another. Samra will both tear at your insides and redeem you with her honest and spiritual observations of crossing borders, both external and interior. Habib has written a detailed memoir of coming of age and coming out that brings together family history, sexuality, faith, and culture.

“Saint Unshamed: A Gay Mormon’s Life: Healing From the Shame of Religion, Rape, Conversion Therapy & Cancer” by Kerry Ashton— Becoming “Unshamed”

Ashton, Kerry. “Saint Unshamed: A Gay Mormon’s Life: Healing From the Shame of Religion, Rape, Conversion Therapy & Cancer”, Lynn Wolf Enterprises, 2019.

Becoming “Unshamed”

Amos Lassen

In the first paragraph of Kerry Ashton’s memoir, we learn a great deal and therefore am quoting it directly.

“I told this story once as fiction in the 1980s, but this time I tell the truth. I even tell the truth, in #MeToo fashion, about being violently raped by another man when I was 18, with a knife held to my throat–a secret I kept from everyone, including myself, for over 40 years. The rape, like other experiences I endured while a student at Brigham Young University, where I came out in the early 1970s, had a profound impact on my later life. But this story is not so much about my rape or my coming of age at BYU, as it is about the lifelong effects of shame itself, not only about how I internalized and inherited a wounding shame from my Mormon upbringing, but also how I eventually unshamed myself. It is about a lifetime journey of spiritual growth, self-discovery and healing, including many miraculous events along the way that pushed me forward through the darkness toward the light.”

Lately we have seen a great deal written about gay shame and I have often wondered why it took so long for it to surface. Then I read this and totally understood. We have all, to some degree, felt it but few of us have ever verbalized it or even wanted to do so. Kerry Ashton shares his experiences during his four years at Brigham Young University including the rape, falling in love for the first time, police surveillance, harassment and arrest, and going through three years of conversion therapy that included two years of electroshock treatments. He also writes of growing up Mormon in Pocatello, Idaho, and stories from his adulthood. His stories are poignant, some are quite graphic, some are dramatic and some are very, very funny. I was mesmerized by them all and found myself falling in love with Kerry as I read his stories.

Ashton has had a professional career as an actor and writer, both in Los Angeles and New York City and he describes his personal encounters with stars like Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis and Julie Harris, while sharing his experiences with writers Tennessee Williams, James Leo Herlihy, and John Rechy and his affair with Steven Sondheim. It was a long and arduous road he traveled— years in therapy, a battle with cancer, kinky sex,  S&M, the leather scene and finally the loving monogamous relationship that he is part of today. He also shares the shame that he has had to deal with all along the way and how he was able to deal with it and  “find a way out of a culture that would silence him.”

Ashton sees shame as “an insidious disease that threads through the body and the psyche, slowly destroying and devaluing everything it touches.” It came to him early–from his parents, from his Mormon faith, from his burgeoning understanding of his own sexuality and we soon understand that we are not only reading  Ashton’s story, but also the stories of many gay men who struggled with their sexual identity and health during the end of the twentieth century. It took Ashton a while to  understand a lot of what he had been through and now can speak about what he  spent many years trying to achieve. This included being shamed by his family for being effeminate and the hell he went through at Brigham Young University and the electroshock therapy that forever damaged his nervous system and a disturbing and violent rape.

Ashton also writes about friends who lost their lives, including gay men to suicide, to HIV/AIDS or who lost themselves in heterosexual marriages. He shares his opinions on cruising for sex, rest stops and their necessities and dangers they represented. Ashton also writes of his religious and family life. Strict Mormon laws regarding sex, from masturbation to intercourse to anything in between were responsible for much of Ashton’s suffering, but if he were to deny his religion, he would have lost his family, his faith, and, in many ways, his identity as a young man. The book introduces us to a generation of Mormon men who were hurt and sometimes destroyed by the church’s positions on their sexuality and to a man who grew up gay and Mormon in a small Idaho town. 

Religion and sexuality crash into each other and the painful result comes to us through Ashton’s beautiful and painful prose. I cannot say enough about this book aside from it must be both read and experienced.

“Rainbow Warrior: My Life in Color” by Gilbert Baker— Our Symbol

Baker, Gilbert. “Rainbow Warrior: My Life in Color”,  Chicago Press Review, 2019.

Our Symbol

Amos Lassen

In 1978, Harvey Milk asked Gilbert Baker to create a unifying symbol for the then growing gay rights movement, and on June 25 of that year, Baker’s Rainbow Flag debuted at San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade. Of course, Baker had no idea his creation, his rainbow flag would become an international emblem of liberation and would make permanent his  role in helping to define the modern LGBTQ movement. “Rainbow Warrior” is Baker’s own passionate personal chronicle, from his repressive childhood in 1950s Kansas to a terrible time in the US Army, and finally his arrival in San Francisco, where he blossomed as both a visual artist and social justice activist. His fascinating story brings together the early years of the struggle for LGBTQ rights, when he worked closely with Milk, Cleve Jones, and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and all seemed like a dream.

He continued his flag-making, street theater and activism through the Reagan years and the AIDS crisis. In 1994, Baker spearheaded the effort to fabricate a mile-long Rainbow Flag—at the time, the world’s longest—to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York City. Gilbert and parade organizers battled with Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the right to carry it up Fifth Avenue, past St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Today, the Rainbow Flag, Gilbert Baker’s flag, has become a worldwide symbol of LGBTQ diversity and inclusiveness, and its colors have illuminated landmarks from the White House to the Eiffel Tower to the Sydney Opera House and the Tel Aviv Government Office Building.

Gilbert Baker often called himself the “Gay Betsy Ross,” and readers of his colorful, irreverent, and In these pages are  Gilbert himself and his joys, visions, untamed spirit, flashes of  bitchiness, and all of the unvarnished truths of who he and his collaborators were and are. They share his moments of confidence and his times  of  doubt, his search for those to help realize his impossible dreams, and the small moments of success that made all the suffering worthwhile. This is the story of an artist and “an activist’s unyielding, lifelong dedication to a singular creative notion, and his courage to let that creation go, to let it be shared, to let it bend and find new forms in order for it to remain timeless, boundless, and ever inclusive of our growing LGBTQ family.” 

Gilbert Baker brings the history of the Rainbow Flag and of the LGBTQ movement together by making it part of his own story.  “If a sense of urgency and necessity, serendipity, intuition, and talent are the ingredients of great design, this is the autobiography of an accidental design superstar.” 

Baker paved the way for LGBTQ activists around the world and his grand visions as an artist and activist entertained all who knew him. He truly advanced the global LGBTQ movement. In creating the Rainbow Flag, he gave the world an iconic symbol and this was his final gift.