Stonewall by Martin Duberman
Published May 1994 by Plume Books
3.5 out of 5 stars
For June I wanted to find a nonfiction book that would complement Pride Month. After looking at various memoirs, essay collections, and other topics, I decided to take a closer look at the history behind the month, starting at what is considered the turning point in bringing change and acceptance.
The Stonewall Riots of 1969 are often considered the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement. What started out as a police raid at a gay bar (typical back in the day) turned into a violent clash between police, patrons, and onlookers and wound up lasting five days. According to the blurb, the author “now tells for the first time the full story of what happened at Stonewall.” Sounds pretty self-explanatory, right? Well…
Duberman does do an excellent job with his research, giving strong descriptions of the Stonewall bar and its patrons, as well as the ensuing clashes between the police and the public. But this is only about 20 pages of the 282. The bulk of the book looks at the lives of six individuals from various backgrounds and their personal struggles, accomplishments, and contributions to the LGBTQ community during the ’60’s and in the first year after the riots, up to the first Gay Rights March in 1970.
The personal stories of the six individuals take us from their childhoods through the early part of 1970 and are as varied as the people themselves. From Foster, a privileged young man unsure of himself but later becoming the archivist of the movement, to Ray (later known as Sylvia), a hustler and “street transvestite**” who would later start an organization to try to help those who had endured the same struggles trying to get off the streets. (**Please note: as this book was published in 1994, many of the references and descriptive terms used are much different from today; this was the terminology used by the author). I found myself caught up in the lives of all six people, but why only three stars? The writing. I thought it felt a bit too textbook and dry, pretty much devoid of any sort of emotion. And one of my biggest pet peeves, the info dump, started to become the norm around the 1/3 mark. I truly appreciate the author’s extensive research but the barrage of random names and organizations without adequate background or explanations quickly turned this into a bit of a confusing read.
Despite my personal peeves about Stonewall, I would still recommend giving it a try, especially if you are interested in the early politics of the Gay Rights Movement. I may not have like the writing but there are some truly interesting and inspirational stories that make it worth the read.
Stay safe and Happy Reading!