One of my favorite books of 2019 was Ziggy, Stardust, and Me by James Brandon.
Ziggy takes place in 1973 which was a very historic year in LGBTQ history although most people don’t know about this. I personally didn’t know anything about it until I read Ziggy!!
I previously did a historical perspectives post about Robin Talley’s Music From Another World, and I enjoyed it so much that I’m doing it again here!! Although Ziggy does have other historical events covered in it, I’m limiting this post to just the LGBTQ history components.
Jonathan’s uncle and the criminal history of homosexuality
Throughout United States history, homosexuality had been criminalized; in fact, it pre-dates the year that the country was officially established. It wasn’t until 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas that the Supreme Court decided that U.S. laws prohibiting private homosexual activity between consenting adults were unconstitutional. However, several states still had sodomy laws where the language still specifically prohibited homosexual contact between consenting adults. As of September 1, 2019, 15 states still have laws against sexual activity among consenting adults with Kentucky, Kansas, and Texas having laws that specifically target same-sex couples.
Prior to 1962, there were sodomy laws on the book in every single state. Illinois was the first state to remove these laws in 1962 which essentially meant that Illinois was the first state to decriminalize homosexuality.
Ziggy, Stardust, and Me takes place in Missouri, and Jonathan’s uncle is in jail for homosexual behavior. Missouri officially criminalized homosexual acts until 2006. Yes, 2006. Three years after the Supreme Court ruled that those laws were unconstitutional.
Homosexuality in the DSM
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is essentially the Bible of Psychiatry. It also constantly goes through revisions as doctors and scientists come to learn more about various mental illnesses. (For example, I have had two diagnoses that are no longer in the DSM due to their most recent revision!)
At first, homosexuality appeared in the DSM-I under “paraphilia” before revising it to appear under “sexual orientation disturbance” in the DSM-II. DSM-III called it “ego-dystonic homosexuality.”
Protests against the American Psychiatric Association (APA) began in 1970 when activists disrupted the conference ridiculuing the APA’s decision to still include homosexuality in the DSM. In 1971, Frank Kameny (who actively worked with the Mattachine Society and was fired from his government job for being gay) grabbed the microphone at one conference, decrying psychiatry and declaring a war on the APA.
A group of closeted gay psychiatrist began working from within the APA to eliminate homosexuality from the DSM, alling themselves the GAYPA. At the 1972 conference, Frank Kameny along with Barbara Gittings (of Daughters of Bilitis) were a part of a panel called “Psychiatry: Friend or Foe to the Homosexual?; A Dialogue”. Gittings specifically looked for a gay psychiarist who would be willing to speak out. She found John Fryer who appeared anonymously wearing a distorted Richard Nixon mask and spoke into a microphone that would distort his voice and called himself Dr. H. Anonymous. He spoke of his experience. (He did not publicly tell who he was until 1994.) A year later, homosexuality was officially removed from the DSM, majorly due to the activists who fought to have it removed. The vice president of the APA at the time acknowledged that psychiatry at the time was prejudiced and was focusing on the more predominant social mores of the culture.
The propaganda video
In Jonathan’s health class, he watches a video reel, warning about the dangers of homosexuality. When I first read Ziggy, I naively thought, “there’s no way that’s real.”
But it’s 100% real.
In particular, watching this, it very much plays on the public fear that LGBTQ+ individuals are pedophiles. In the past couple months, I have seen this resurgence of belief from some of my more conservative friends. As I wrote to one, this incorrect belief has been used to actively harm the LGBTQ+ community over the last 50 years as LGBTQ rights have increased. This particular point was used heavily in the Briggs Initiative in California in 1978. Harvey Milk said it far better than I ever will so I would encourage you to read this particular speech: :https://www.onearchives.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/1978_harvey_milk_gay_freedom_day_speech.pdf
Why Ziggy, Stardust, & Me is so important
While I focused on U.S. history here, the reality around the world is bleak for many LGBTQ persons. Homosexuality is still punishable by death in many countries. Homosexuality didn’t get removed from the WHO’s ICD-10 (like the DSM on a global level) until 1990. But in some countries, it’s still considered a mental disorder–in Indonesia, that got added in 2018. And I covered the danger of that propaganda video and how the devices used there are still being used today to try to steer the public opinion against LGBTQ+ people.
LGBTQ+ rights are always being threatened worldwide, including in the U.S. It’s important that we understand the history to realize that just because rights happen once doesn’t mean that they’re here to stay. (Look at Anita Bryant and the Briggs Initiative)
Ziggy, Stardust, & Me serves as a primer for LGBTQ+ history in a way that is devastatingly enjoyable. Although I’d hope that most readers would end up like me and take the journey into learning more, even if they don’t, James Brandon wrote a magnificent piece that effectively educates while “entertaining” the reader.
Note on my research
I used a variety of articles including https://www.thisamericanlife.org/204/81-words.
I also used The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts.