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We're here we're queer

10-.24.11 - WE'RE HERE, WE'RE QUEER.


OWEN KEEHNENOwen Keehnen's new book "We're Here, We're Queer" is a collection of interviews cleverly snagged by the writer, when he was working at The Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago. Over the years various gay authors and culture-mongers made their way to that store for a book signing or other in-store promotion.

Often, when few or no one would show, for reasons the author has thought out many times("the Bears, the weather, the Cubs, the traffic, the Bulls, the parking, the Blackhawks...whether that night's 'Melrose Place' was a rerun"), Owen would take the opportunity to engage the author, or other bon vivant in an interview, and we the reader have the benefit of those interviews in this new book.

Now, being a member of the media who has often appeared at press calls for these very same in-stores, I know the absolute nausea when someone puts themselves out there and no one shows up. I once shot a 3-camera shoot with Martha Wash at the old Hollywood Athletic Club and there were virtually no audience members there save the few publicity folks, Matha's husband and assistant and our crew of 3. Somebody got the publicity wrong, or maybe people were just tired of hearing "Raining Men." It could have been the Lakers, or the internet, or America Idol, or traffic. But she delivered the nearly 2-hour set to an empty house, cameras rolling, as if it were a rehearsal, and we even interviewed her afterwards. The result can be pretty electric.

So Owen during his stint at Unabridged got to chat with some pretty incredible people- CHARLES BUSCH, QUENTIN CRISP, RUDY GALINDO, E. LYNN HARRIS, HARRY HAY, JANIS IAN, CAMILLE PAGLIA, CHUCK RENSLOW, RU PAUL, DICK SARGENT, MICHELANGELO SIGNORILE, PUSSY TOURETTE and TOMMY TUNE to name a few. There are dykes, drag queens, transexuals, sexual outlaws, impressarios, activists, mourners, doctors, historians, and much of the rest. It is a fascinating snapshot of the GLBT community, up close and personal, in a time when bookstores were one of the only delivery systems. There were no gay television networks like Bravo and TV Land (we don't even count Logo); there were no gay reality shows or gay news anchors. There was no internet or grind whatever. People went to bookstores for all kinds of reasons, only one of which was books.

And all of that, the whole concentrated reality of gay life before now, can be found in the words of these thoughtful and important interviews.

Dorothy Allison, a National Book Award winner for "Bastard Out of Carolina", and poet on lesbians and sex:

"Above ground culture defines sex as hetero fucking and when you don’t engage in that male/female

in/out act they don’t see it as sex, they see it as a denial of sex. They still have these incredibly arcane notions of who lesbians are. I’m convinced Middle America thinks we are either Sandra Bernhard fucking Madonna or we are the schoolteacher who doesn’t have sex at all but lives very quietly with the librarian and their cats. There are these two images with no middle ground. I’m just interested in making plain that we’re as sexual and complicated as anyone else."

Quentin Crisp on living in America:

"It’s changed me in that I am no longer afraid of the world. I’m no longer hostile to the world; my image is no longer self-protecting because in America everybody is your friend. In England nobody is your friend. Nobody ever

speaks to you in public. I think the English treasure their indignation."

Rudy Galindo, on coming out as a professional figure skater:

"I hope it helps people to do the same. I’m often asked who’s in the closet andI really don’t know. No one discussed it with me. I hope my coming out makes some people see that it’s okay to be yourself; in the long run you’ll
enjoy life much better."

E. Lynn Harris on his writings of Black gay men:

"I think I will always have in my books at least one Black gay male character who is strong and positive. What I
want to do is expand my audience to people who have phobias and fears about Black gay men and maybe if they read about it, if it’s put to them in my book, it will be okay. Although my books deal with issues they deal more with life. I am talking about people’s lives more than just their sex lives."

Harry Hay, legendary activist, on religion and GLBT oppression:

"We have to look at organized religion as a way to control populations. And we are the one people willing to go to the gallows to do the different thing that we do. So consequently we are a threat at all times to the established
authority. We have been persecuted because, in effect, we gave them the middle finger. We are going to do what we want even if we have to burn for it, and we have. This is another definition of the outlaw."

Ru Paul on the secret tpo glamour:

"Really learning to love yourself. The life you lead shows on your face, in your rhythm and body movement. Always remind yourself of how beautiful you are. You’re as beautiful as you want to be."

Pussy Tourette on her/his name:

"Oh yeah, all the time. It’s caused problems, but it was chosen not knowing that I would ever get to this point. When I was a kid, I was constantly being called “pussy,” “queer” and “sissy boy,” so I thought I’d reclaim one of those words and make it my own. It doesn’t mean vagina, I can’t stress that enough. I’m not Vagina Tourette by any means. I don’t have anything against vaginas, you know, but that’s how some people interpret it. People get insulted and say I’m being misogynist. That’s not true. I’m being the great big fag that I am. But hey, the very people who find my name offensive are probably the people who need to lighten up a little, put on a pair of heels and a wig, shake their can and scream,“LOOK AT ME!!!!” It’s wonderful therapy. I should know – I make a living doing it."

Tommy Tune on the best direction he ever got:

"I think probably Gene Kelly gave me the best direction I’ve ever been given. On the set of Hello Dolly! he came up to me between takes and said,'Tommy, dance better.' That just says it all."

And this book says it all. "We're Here, We're Queer", and we have been for a very long time.
Read all about it.



 


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