A Queer Search for Ancestral Legitimacy English-Language Gay Lists as Historical Memory Before 1969

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Jay Collay


The practice among queer people of compiling lists of famous historical figures that modern eyes may comfortably identify as queer and/or trans* persists, and has persisted, as a form of communal transmission of memory for over a century and a half. These collections of names, described in this article as ‘gay lists’ in the spirit of their frequently casual deployment, acted as a key element of queer history and memory well before the Stonewall Uprising rooted itself in the popular consciousness as the beginning of queer history. This article explores English-language primary texts published in the US, the UK, and Italy between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries including personal statements in homophile magazines and Edward Prime-Stevenson’s book The Intersexes. The purpose of examining these texts is to discuss how gay lists were deployed to create a sense of a queer collective, a claim to history, and an imagination of ancestry in the wider consciousness. This article distinguishes lists naming recognizable historical figures from evocations of Greco-Roman mythology or Biblical antiquity. It also summarizes a brief selection of published literature describing the phenomenon so far and makes a case for exploring gay lists as a study in revisionist and popular historical memory.

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