by Peter Ackroyd
Ackroyd delivers an interesting read – yet again – about London, this time our London, queer, gay lesbian and all the wondrous different types of sexuality and fluid genders that this city, which was a city from the start, has thrown up, protected, hidden, suppressed, cultured, twisted and then celebrated. With endless facts to delight, thrill and amuse Ackroyd’s book is a stupendous celebration and investigation it queer life in the British Island from Celtic times to the present day.
Although not always centred on London itself, he manages to give context and understanding along with a lot of wonderfully saucy detail into the various sub cultures, peoples, types, fashions, habits and secret groups of queers and gay men thought-out the last two thousand years. The chapters are laid out chronologically, but also with a dizzying factual dance thought politics, sex, religion, sex, monarchy, sex, wars, and empire with enough subtext (and sex) to chew on and a seriously good habit of laying things out in the context of their times, making for a deep and thorough understanding of the why, where’s and how’s of Queer life in our glorious capital city.
There’s some familiar stuff included but where it is Ackroyd has deepened its understanding with background info on the political, social and moral ideas of the day, giving an understanding not just of how these people lived, but how they lived openly (or not) and how they were treated. He’s a bit vague on the first thousand odd years, with some very skimpy stuff before he seems to hit full steam on the 17th century and then can’t be stopped. It’s like standing in a drag queens way as they throw stuff out their walk-in closed, glitz, glamour, harness, hat and dildo go thumping down left right and centre and you need to duck and dodge to avoid getting hit. The tempo of this book is wildly unbalanced but its interesting enough to ( mostly) not bother.
One comes away with feeling that there’s nothing new under the sun ( or on the streets of London) and the types we see on the streets of Soho and Vauxhall have been there, in one way or another since the dawn of the metropolis, forming it, being part of it and being part of the vibrant culture of this huge mixing pot that is the capital city of the United Magic Kingdom. I take issue with Ackroyd’s summing up of the changes in acceptance and law being akin to a great tide in social acceptance that ebbs and flows of its own volition as its bold people that grab the ship’s wheel of society when it’s afloat on such a full sea, and demand and force change to happen, but overall it’s a fun read.
Ackroyd connects us modern-day queers up with our Celtic and Roman forbearers and all the benders, faggots, dykes, trannies, queers, inverts, perverts, queens, Ganymede’s, sappho’s, cross dressers, gender twisters, fops, dandies, genderqueers and utterly baroque non binary beauties (and run of the mill) gay boys in between. Who were all after the same things, same-sex love, identity on their own terms and sex and often going about it in surprisingly familiar ways.
A seriously good queer read. Validating, interesting and endlessly fascinating, just like us in our infinite variety.
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