May 23, 2017
HarperCollins provided a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Queer, There, and Everywhere: 22 People Who Changed the World delivers a bold and empowering assurance in its introduction and throughout the entirety of the book: “No one is alone in being queer.” The book’s collection of short chapters on queer folks throughout the ages was a refreshing primer on a side of history that isn’t taught in schools – at least not the ones I attended.
Author Sarah Prager’s tone is colloquial and a little snarky. Although her writing sometimes felt clumsy in its efforts to be hip – each chapter had a tl;dr which felt a little flippant, especially for chapters that ended in tragedy – she more than made up for that with the book’s accessibility. I had to remind myself that this is a young adult book whenever I felt that historical concepts, conflicts, or figures were oversimplified. Despite the young adult genre, Prager made no attempt to sanitize the content or shy away from the violence inherent in queer history. There are so few happy endings in queer history and Prager is respectful in her treatment of that suffering.This book is great introduction to queer history and queer concepts. There’s a glossary of terminology at the end of the book, as well as a listing of content sources. This is a fantastic primer for a young person or someone who isn’t well versed in queer history. It’s easily digestible since the chapters are short. I learned about well-known historical figures that were queer and added some new names to my list. The chapters seem well-researched – the bibliography is definitely helpful for further reading, and Prager even has links on her website to videos and more information about the book’s heroes and heroines. She also has an entire list of historical figures that she didn’t have enough information for write about. I appreciated that readers had the option of more reading and research when they were done with the book. The chapters weren’t very deep, but there were a lot of interesting tidbits of information making this book a good starting point that piqued my interest in queer history.
Prager takes care to present homophobia as a historical concept that was created by humans, rather than a natural fact of existence. She explains homophobia’s origins and reasons why it might have lingered in society. This sounds like an obvious idea – of course homophobia isn’t the natural course of things! – and it reminds me of when I learned that race is a social construct. This is an incredibly important “aha!” moment. Prager also discusses a concept I’ve always found fascinating: that words have power, and that the way we talk about things affects the way we think about them, and vice versa.
Prager has a gift for pulling out meaningful quotes and pieces of information that very quickly paint a whole and humanizing picture of a fascinating historical figure. For example, in the days before Harvey Milk was shot to death, he said, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” This one line spoke volumes about Harvey’s character.
Sarah Prager has done a wonderful thing in researching and compiling this compelling synopsis of fascinating queer historical figures. This is a side to history we should all know. Mainstream society has made it easy to remain ignorant of anything outside of the heteronormative paradigm and Prager does her part to remedy that ignorance. Not only that, but her book helps us queermos out there feel a little less alone. If a book like this existed when I was young, my life might have been easier, happier, better. The book is part history, part queer manifesto. Prager writes, “The mere fact of you, living, makes the world more radiant. Live bravely,” and it slays me. Honestly, if you’re queer, a queer ally, or a human being with a beating heart, you should read this book.