This wonderful collection of stories, essays, anecdotes, and poetry came to fruition thanks to the vision and hard work of S Renée Bess and Lee Lynch. They would be the first thank everyone else involved with the project who gave freely of their services: contributors, cover designer, editors, proofreaders and publisher.
The inspiration for gathering material from so many sources came to Renée in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. She realised, listening to news reports, that many of us have stories to tell of our experiences in bars and clubs…from having the courage to walk into a public place, to dressing how we wanted to appear, to finding the spaces where we felt safe.
Journeys of self-discovery were made possible by having venues to gather in, to find out we weren’t alone. A good number of these stories are told here. My contribution comes, not from my own personal experience but, from what I’ve been told it was like for a young woman arriving in London from another part of England in the 1960s. Finding the Gateways Club was everything she had dreamt about.
Excerpt from Gateway to Heaven:
Slowly she felt herself relaxing. She’d made it. The women were enjoying themselves, chatting, laughing, couples holding onto each other. It was beyond anything she had imagined. All were dressed as they wanted to present themselves; femmes in pretty dresses and skirts, with make-up and teased hair. Butches, like herself, wearing either shirts and ties or doing James Dean impersonations attired in tight muscle shirts and jeans.
Humming along to the song currently playing on the Jukebox, Bobby Vee singing “Take Good Care of My Baby”, she slowly became aware of someone who had stopped in front of her.
“Hi. Haven’t seen you here before. What’s your name?”
It was the Dusty impersonator she had seen on the street earlier.
“Um, Devon.” She gave a nonchalant shrug. “Friends call me Dev.”
“Pleased to meet you, Dev. I’m Sandy.”
She put her glass down on the nearby table. “Would you…um?” she gestured towards the middle of the room where others were moving to the music.
Just as they reached the edge of the dance area, the song changed to a slow tune, another one she recognised “Release Me”. The dance floor filled up rapidly and Dev wasn’t sure how to proceed. Sensing her hesitation, Sandy pulled her close and whispered in her ear, “Move with me.”
So much has changed since those days, yet some things have stayed the same. Finding your community and a safe place to be yourself can be just as daunting as it was fifty years ago.
Don’t hesitate – buy this book and tell your friends about it. Proceeds from sales go to supporting two LGBTQ youth organisations.
List of contributors (in order of appearance in the book):
Ann Aptaker, Dontá Morrison, Rae Theodore, James Schwartz, Jennifer Morales, Cheryl Head, Heather Jane, Beth Burnett, Cindy Rizzo, Stephen Reigns, Clay Kerrigan, Earlon Sterling, Sallyanne Monti, Karen DiPrima, S. Renee Bess, Richard Natale, Mercedes Lewis, Martha Miller, Liz McMullen, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Penny Mickelbury, Johnny Townsend, Merril Mushroom, Brian Heyburn, Lee Lynch, Joan Nestle, Ian Cassidy, Angela Garrigan, Nahshon Anderson Fuentes, Ardy Tibby, Katharine E. K. Duckett, Rachel E. Bailey, Darryl Denning, Lisa Carlson, Katherine V. Forrest, Jen Silver, Shelley Thrasher, Kitty Kat, Jamie Anderson, Shawn Marie Bryan, Ann Laughlin, JP Howard, L. K. Early, Patrick Coulton, Michael Ward, Karin Kallmaker and Bonnie J. Morris.
The Starling Hill Trilogy: