Review: Queer, There, and Everywhere by Sarah Prager

May 8, 2017 Reviews 1 ★★★½

Review: Queer, There, and Everywhere by Sarah PragerQueer, There, and Everywhere: 22 People Who Changed the World by Sarah Prager
Published by HarperCollins on May 23, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Nonfiction
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
Goodreads
three-half-stars
This first-ever LGBTQ history book for young adults will appeal to fans of fun, empowering pop-culture books like  Rad American Women A-Z and Notorious RBG.

World history has been made by countless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals—and you’ve never heard of many of them. Queer author and activist Sarah Prager delves deep into the lives of 22 people who fought, created, and loved on their own terms. From high-profile figures like Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt to the trailblazing gender-ambiguous Queen of Sweden and a bisexual blues singer who didn’t make it into your history books, these astonishing true stories uncover a rich queer heritage that encompasses every culture, in every era.

By turns hilarious and inspiring, the beautifully illustrated Queer, There, and Everywhere is for anyone who wants the real story of the queer rights movement.

As a queer chick, I think I’m qualified to say that queer people rock. We write your literature (Oscar Wilde), we start modern civil rights movements (Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson), and we’ve been so overwhelmingly present in the military that in 1947, General Eisenhower found out lesbians were everywhere in the Women’s Army Corps and gave up on “ferreting them out” because he’d lose a lot of people. (No seriously.) Too bad he banned LGBT people from occupying federal government positions when he became president. Now queer teens have their own small history book detailing queer people in history! Well, kinda.

Queer, There, and Everywhere is a quick read you’ll breeze through in one sitting thanks to simple yet engaging writing and short profiles. If one figure sparks your fancy, Prager has her sources cited at the end of the book and it might just start someone down the path to becoming a historian. More queer people to record queer history? Yes please! If we don’t safeguard our stories and experiences, no one will.

(You might be able to tell I have a deep love for history and the many ways we record, preserve, or destroy it.)

More than a few entries genuinely surprised me and you’re unlikely to have heard about some like MLK Jr.’s right-hand man Bayard Rustin and Jose Sarria, a San Francisco drag queen who fought to help fellow drag queens and even ran for public office. (The seat he lost was won sixteen years later by the more well-known Harvey Milk, so we really ought to thank Jose more.)

Entries like Eleanor Roosevelt’s (her “intimate friendship” with another woman earned her inclusion in the book; Abraham Lincoln had one too with a man) delighted me. Prager notes that Eleanor had very little to no interest in sex. If you hear something that sounds like a bell, that’s my Ace Alarm gleefully going off. We may not be able to definitively put that label on her, but we can dream and speculate that she was a biromantic asexual woman, can’t we? Or another romantic orientation, maybe. That’s up for debate and history people love to debate stuff.

Sadly, if you’re looking for explicit statements of “this person was THIS specific identity,” you’re not going to get that for many entries beyond the modern ones supported by the people explicitly claiming their labels. For figures from further back in history like Kristina Vasa, we have little more than speculation based on written records. Prager herself admits we’ll never truly know about Vasa’s identity after suggesting different identities (cis woman, trans man, or genderqueer, among others) that might fit were Vasa living in the present.

Jeanne D’Arc is probably the most questionable inclusion in the book. Prager writes that Jeanne dressed in men’s clothing and took a vow of chastity, neither of which inherently make her a QUILTBAG person no matter how unprecedented women wearing men’s clothing was then. Just about everything written on her agrees that both choices were based in her religious fervor, not in anything to do with her gender or sexual identity. Chastity or celibacy =/= asexuality.

Given that Prager suggests in the glossary that the A in QUILTBAG and similar acronyms can mean both “ally” and “asexual,” that’s especially disheartening. Asexual people are regularly pushed out of the movement and the acronym because we aren’t “queer enough” to be there. See: the American Apparel incident from June 2016. When I emailed the author about this and another since-corrected issue, she said she tried to reflect how glossary terms are actually used in the world when she defined them. Understandable but still disappointing for ace readers.

Now that I think about it, I’m a bit surprised there was only one entry from Old Hollywood (writer Mercedes de Acosta) because QUILTBAG people were everywhere in that place. Prager could write a companion YA nonfiction book just on those figures! Queer teens will be delighted to see their presence in history and their effects on the world. I may have a bit of a problem with the book as an aro ace woman, but I’m used to it at this point. Not necessarily rec’d to other ace readers but definitely a must-read most QUILTBAG teens.

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