New book by Byron Kennard calls for actions to “make the world safe for diversity”
- Available through Amazon.com in less than a month from now, just in time to celebrate 50 Years of Gay Pride in the United States.
- Read the Synopsis and get a sneak peek below at two very personal chapters in my book: My Trip to Hell and Back and Meet the Hero of the Story: Queer Consciousness
“Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.” — Oscar Wilde
Point of Departure:
As I go about publishing this celebration of queer culture, a terrorizing backlash against queers and their fight for equality is surging through society, a veritable pandemic of homophobia. Savage battles are being fought everywhere over sex education, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Hard to believe, but — as of this writing, in the year 2022 — state lawmakers have proposed a record 238 bills that would limit the rights of queer Americans. This book will serve, I hope, as a powerful weapon for use in the defense of queers, queer rights, and queer culture. Queers & Civilization is a political manifesto. It calls for actions to make the world safe for diversity.
“Sexual diversity is part and parcel of nature’s unrelenting passion for diversity in all living things. Thus, queerness is not a crime against nature; it is rather a gift from nature. As such, it is something that’s normal, useful, and wholly desirable within society.” — From the Introduction
Queers & Civilization is a history of queer culture.
- The book documents the distinctive and prodigious contributions queer people have made to civilized progress down through time.
- It identifies over 150 historically consequential queers, including scores of women and people of color.
- It provides incontrovertible proof that queer culture is a principal bastion of civilization and always has been.
NOTE TO READERS
(In this book, the word queer is used as an umbrella term to efficiently describe gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, omnisexuals, transgender people, and others who don’t buy the idea that heterosexuality is the only appropriate and “normal” form of sexual expression.)
QUEERS IN HISTORY
The 150 historical examples range from Alexander the Great to Malcolm X — from the fearless, sword-toting Lesbian matriarchies of yore — the Amazons — to the fearless, rock-throwing Black transgendered women — Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson — who instigated the Stonewall Riot in 1969.
These examples run the gamut from queer Islamic poets, to queer Japanese samurai, and to queer Chinese Emperors — in fact, the entire Han dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.) which constituted China’s golden age.
In modern times, the book shows how tiny groups of queers — sexual radicals all — made epic strides in social progress. Three examples:
- The Bloomsbury Group (London, 1907-1930) was a coterie of queer English writers, philosophers, and artists who rang down the curtain on Victorian-era bigotries and narrow-mindedness, flung open the doors to modernism in art and literature, and whose widely advertised practice of sexual fluidity greatly influenced the modern gay rights movement.
- The Harlem Renaissance (New York City, 1920s-1930s) was a queer-led celebration of African American music, dance, art, fashion, literature, theater, and politics. This epic social movement delivered a heady message to the entire world about the spectacular quality of black achievement, which until then had been ignored and dismissed as counting for little. The Harlem Renaissance laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s.
- The Beats (San Francisco, the late 1950s) were a hardy little band of queer writers and artists who embodied a reaction against the monotonous standardized, mass society that emerged after World War II. They defined what it meant in those days to be avant-garde in America. Their model of social non-conformity — though short-lived — led to the massive counter-culture revolution of the 1960s that spread throughout the world and changed history forever.
To close, I show how these epic strides were made by queers who sagely relied on art, not politics; on social movements, not political parties; and on changes in cultural and social values, not on election outcomes. This model of social change — politics by other means — endures and flourishes still. The world can be made safe for diversity!
The book is filled with stories about some of civilization’s most interesting people:
(The Renaissance’s Michelangelo and his David, fore and aft; the iconic Joan of Arc, a hero to the transgendered community; Vita Sackville-West, who inspired Orlando, one of the first stories ever published about gender fluidity; Harlem Renaissance performer Gladys Bentley, whose cross-dressing and raunchy songs titillated her audiences; and Beats writer and social influencer of his day Jack Kerouac, who took us On the Road in the 1950s)
Here’s a slide show of some other queers discussed in the new book (you can click pause, and go back and forth at your own pace, or just let it change every five seconds):
EXCERPT FROM QUEERS & CIVILIZATION
My Trip to Hell & Back
Don’t ask me how I knew, but from the time I was eight or nine, I knew — in my secret heart of hearts — the very worst thing a boy could be was a queer, and I was one.
This was scary. I knew I’d have to hide my queer identity from the world or I’d be ostracized and ridiculed at the very least. I had to live with the terror of being discovered by the wrong person, be it a schoolmate, a teacher, or just about anyone.
I knew that if the truth about me got out, I’d probably be physically assaulted by gangs of straight boys. That happened to queer kids all the time back then and, in some places, it still does.
What’s more, I might be the object of legal persecution by public authorities. I might be arrested, put on trial, convicted, and imprisoned because my being was against the law.
Moreover, I had to endure this suffering entirely on my own. I knew I could tell no one about this terrible condition, least of all, my parents. They’d be horrified and ashamed. Over the next few years as I became an adolescent, my parents somehow realized on their own that I was queer. And they were horrified and ashamed.
I don’t know how they uncovered my secret. Perhaps I was effeminate in some way. My father seems to have thought so and was repelled by it.
One day — I think maybe I was fifteen — I was in the bathroom washing my face and hands. My father happened to enter the room. He took one look at me and was enraged by what he saw. “You wash your face just like a girl,” he exclaimed in utter disgust. I think he could have killed me with his bare hands. He turned around and stalked out.
We never discussed what happened then or at any other time. I didn’t know what it meant to wash my face “just like a girl,” and I still don’t.
Being rejected by one’s parents has got to be a particularly hellish experience. What could be worse? The people who brought you into this world don’t want you in it.
Parents who are mortified and scandalized when they discover their child is queer sometimes react by kicking the offending pervert out of the house. (Yep, this still happens today.) My parents didn’t kick me out of their house, but they did kick me out of their hearts. And I mourn the loss of their love to this day.
In short, the realization I was queer was a hellish experience, which I was forced to endure as a child.This is the definition of suffering.
Thank heaven, I eventually overcame this suffering, and my healing was something miraculous. That’s because a hero came along and rescued me.
Meet the Hero of the Story: Queer Consciousness
In the process of healing myself, I acquired a protective shield which enabled me to survive and even thrive in a homophobic culture. This shield — my hero — is my queer consciousness. Here’s how I define it:
- A healthy acceptance of my outcast status and the resolve to draw strength from it;
- An appreciation of the importance and value of my being different from other people;
- A determination to assert my talent and creativity in the world no matter what.
Queer consciousness enabled me to go out into the world make a difference. My chief claim to fame is that I was a principal organizer of the environmental movement in the 1960s and laid much groundwork for the first Earth Day in 1970.
That’s over 50 years ago but — to this day — many environmentalists honor me for my role in launching and sustaining the movement for so many years.
“Byron Kennard is that rare thing, a servant leader. He was the mastermind and master networker who pulled us all together and was a force of nature in launching and steering the environmental movement.” — Hazel Henderson, Founder, Ethical Markets Media, LLC (co-Founder in 1964 of Citizens for Clean Air in New York City)
I served as National Chair of Earth Day in 1980, the event’s 10th anniversary, and played a prominent role in all subsequent observations.
In 2020, on Earth Day’s 50th anniversary, I published YOU CAN’T FOOL MOTHER NATURE: The Once and Future Triumph of Environmentalism, a book that describes and documents the many constructive, profound effects of Earth Day on world history.
You Can’t Fool Mother Nature
Later that same year, I published HOW TO TRICK PEOPLE INTO DOING THE RIGHT THING, which is a playful, entertaining book full of historical anecdotes about how genuinely public-spirited leaders often resort to deviousness to pursue social progress.
How to Trick People into Doing the Right Thing
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