Rainbow History Class
Early this week I finished listening to the audiobook of Rainbow History Class: Your Guide Through Queer and Trans History (Hardcover, Kindle, Audible) by Hannah McElhinney. The author began Rainbow History Class by posting one-minute videos on TikTok. Eventually, it grew into the book Rainbow History Class. The book is meant to be a crash course in LGBTQ+ history from the ancient world through to lesser-known moments in recent history. While there wasn’t much in this book that I did not know, McElhinney is Australian, so the parts about Australia’s LGBTQ+ history was definitely interesting and new information.
The book is well-written, and it is just as it is described, a crash course in LGBTQ+ history. However, at just 216 pages, it can’t come close to covering all of LGBTQ+ history (and it’s not meant to). McElhinney does a good job in delving into more detail about the vignettes in LGBTQ+ history that she chose to discuss.
Overall, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it.
The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air, water, and food.
I’m leaving on my retreat today. I thought this quote was somewhat apropos for the type of retreat I am going to. The retreat is designed to disconnect from social norms and reconnect with nature. We will be engaging in workshops like art, body movement, and photography, as well as rituals, trance dance, and fire ceremony. I really need this getaway, and I am going to make the most of it.
1) Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
This is the first book about gay men I ever bought or read. Though I’ve always found it a sad book, it instilled in me a love of gay literature. I could probably name similar books. The first (sort of) gay book I tried to read, I checked out of the public library. It was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and once I figured out it was about a gay man, I quickly returned it hoping no one would see if checked out a book with gay people in it. Of course, that was stupid for two reasons. First, this was back when you signed the little card pasted in the book cover when you checked out the book, and second, half the patrons of the library had already checked out and read the book. So, my signature was just one of many. I doubt anyone would have thought anything of it, but when you’re a closeted teenager who is scared to death of someone thinking he’s gay, you often don’t think rationally. So, when I was in college, I went to the Barnes and Noble’s and bought Giovanni’s Room and was careful no one knew what I was reading.
2) Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman
Since I first took a class on World War I in undergrad, I have been fascinated by the war. It made me a firm believer in pacifism. I remember reading the first chapter of Guns of August which describes the funeral of King Edward VII of Great Britain. Reading that, more than anything else I’ve ever read (with the possible exception of Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence), made me feel like I was standing on the side of the street watching the funeral procession. The description of the long line of dignitaries is so wonderfully descriptive. Tuchman’s writing convinced me that history can tell a wonderful story. History didn’t have to be boring and dry.
3) Acqua Alta by Donna Leon
This one might seem like an odd one, but it introduced me to Leon’s main protagonist of Commissario Guido Brunetti. The Commissario style of interrogation taught me a very valuable lesson when conducting oral histories. Brunetti would ask a question and then sit there until he got an answer. His belief was that people want to fill the silence, and you just have to wait them out. Oral history is a lot like that. It’s not like radio or television where you don’t want dead air; that’s fine in an oral history. Silence can sometimes tell you more than the answer, but people will always try to fill the void, so you sit quietly until they do.
What would be your answer?
*Wordpress has prompts for blog posts, and I haven’t been inspired enough to use one until the question above.
We Two, How Long We Were Fool’d
We Two, How Long We Were Fool’d
By Walt Whitman
We two, how long we were fool’d,
Now transmuted, we swiftly escape as Nature escapes,
We are Nature, long have we been absent, but now we return,
We become plants, trunks, foliage, roots, bark,
We are bedded in the ground, we are rocks,
We are oaks, we grow in the openings side by side,
We browse, we are two among the wild herds spontaneous as any,
We are two fishes swimming in the sea together,
We are what locust blossoms are, we drop scent around lanes mornings and evenings,
We are also the coarse smut of beasts, vegetables, minerals,
We are two predatory hawks, we soar above and look down,
We are two resplendent suns, we it is who balance ourselves orbic and stellar, we are as two comets,
We prowl fang’d and four-footed in the woods, we spring on prey,
We are two clouds forenoons and afternoons driving overhead,
We are seas mingling, we are two of those cheerful waves rolling over each other and interwetting each other,
We are what the atmosphere is, transparent, receptive, pervious, impervious,
We are snow, rain, cold, darkness, we are each product and influence of the globe,
We have circled and circled till we have arrived home again, we two,
We have voided all but freedom and all but our own joy.
About the Poem
M. Jimmie Killingsworth sees in this poem a significant shift in Whitman’s attitude on sexual acceptance. Whereas in 1855 Whitman wanted men and women to accept their own bodies so that they might be vehicles for contact with others, in a “Children of Adam” poem like “We Two, How Long We were Fool’d,” Whitman turns inward and stresses the need for his unwilling female readers to accept his male body and his poem as given, even though it is separate from his readers’ desires. Although E.H. Miller understands the two to be a modern Adam and Eve in search of a new spirit, he finds the poem actually celebrates male-male attraction, and Allen notes that the theme of the poem stresses that the pair were gulled by abstinence. In a sequence of poems that stresses elemental imagery with water and earth predominating over air and fire, the poem “We Two” mixes images of nature.
About the Poet
Born on May 31, 1819, Walt Whitman is the author of Leaves of Grass and, along with Emily Dickinson, is considered one of the architects of a uniquely American poetic voice.
Though biographers continue to debate Whitman’s sexuality, he is usually described as either gay or bisexual in his feelings and attractions. Whitman’s sexual orientation is generally assumed on the basis of his poetry, though this assumption has been disputed. His poetry depicts love and sexuality in a more earthy, individualistic way common in American culture before the medicalization of sexuality in the late 19th century. Though Leaves of Grass was often labeled pornographic or obscene, only one critic remarked on its author’s presumed sexual activity: in a November 1855 review, Rufus Wilmot Griswold suggested Whitman was guilty of “that horrible sin not to be mentioned among Christians.”
Whitman had intense friendships with many men and boys throughout his life. Some biographers have suggested that he did not actually engage in sexual relationships with males, while others cite letters, journal entries, and other sources that they claim as proof of the sexual nature of some of his relationships. I tend to believe he was gay and did have sexual relations with other men.
Ugh! It’s Monday
I went to bed very early last night. I had a headache and just couldn’t stay awake. Of course, I got up at 4 am because I bet you can guess why. Now, it’s Monday. At least this will be a short work week, just three days. I’m leaving for my retreat on Thursday, and I can’t wait to get away.