Letters to One: Gay and Lesbian Voices from the 1950s and 1960s by Craig M. Loftin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is a fantastic window into gay life in the 1950's and 60's and I highly recommend it.
The letters presented are more positive overall than I thought they would be, as the author mentions in the introduction. Even though being gay was a crime and there was no real collection of homosexuals or support system, many simply resigned themselves to the fact that they were gay and moved on with their lives as best they could. I've always believed there could be nothing wrong or immoral about being gay as, as far as I'm concerned, I woke up that way. It was never anything I did or made a decision about, it simply happened. And how could anything I had no control over be something wrong? Apparently many in the past felt the same way.
The book is divided into sections on different themes which I think is a great idea. I can't imagine how many hundreds or thousands of hours of work went into this, it must truly been a labour of love. First the author had to read all the letters to pick out the ones he wanted to use, then digitize them or in several cases type them out. The author even chose to leave in the original spelling and grammar errors, which would have taken even longer to type. Then go through each letter inserting footnotes for ease of understanding to a modern audience and reference where necessary pertinent issues of the magazine ONE, which probably meant reading every issue. The work is staggering and there's no way the editor could have been fairly compensated for his time. It truly deserves a wide audience.
One thing that struck me was the poor spelling and grammar of several of the letters. In the age before spell check, and possibly the age before standard higher education, the written word suffered. Two of the letters I was not able or willing to read through to the end due to the poor spelling and grammar. Also I will say I really wish this book had been published on Kindle. I can understand after all this work wanting something physical in your hands to show for it, but I have carpal tunnel and I had forgotten how difficult it is for me to hold a book for any length of time. I had to keep taking breaks and it would have been faster, easier, and more enjoyable for me to read this on the Kindle.
Several letters really moved me, my book is full of post-it notes. A few of them:
- The man who was 26 who had never been able to find a partner for sex saying "I tried to satisfy my sexual hunger with illustrations I drew but they were found by my folks and I was reprimanded". At 26!
- The letter referring to other gays as "fellow sufferers"
- The letters asking questions, about the most basic of things.
- The letter from the man in Hamilton, Ontario, near where I live, saying Canadian customs had confiscated the magazine as it was banned. A process that continues with some arbitrariness today.
- The letters from people in jail really moved me, people who were set up or framed or put through hell for being gay. The letters from "Timothy" were the best of the book and could have been a book all their own. I wanted more. Being arrested, fired, your picture on the front page of the paper, sitting in jail, being told you could get 60 years unless you pay thousands of dollars. The government needs to issue a formal apology to people so affected.
Once again, a fabulous, unedited slice of gay life well worth picking up.
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