Ziggy, Stardust, & Me: A Historical Perspective

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. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmqNiFJyI28

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. 

Relevant Links

Add Ziggy, Stardust, & Me to Goodreads

Buy Ziggy, Stardust, & Me

That time I interviewed James Brandon

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.

 

DRC Review of I Am Here Now by Barbara Bottner

I received a DRC of I Am Here Now by Barbara Bottner from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

I Am Here Now is a novel-in-verse, taking place in 1960-1961. The main character Maisie lives with her parents, but her mom is terribly abusive. She finds friendship with the boy across the way whose father is terribly abusive. As Maisie enters high school, she becomes friend with a girl named Rachel whose mother is an artist. Maisie quickly finds refuge in spending time with Rachel and Rachel’s mother Kiki. However, that refuge always ends as soon as Maisie goes back home.

This book is brutal. The abuse that Maisie experiences is horrific, and her father and her grandmother often ignore how bad it gets at time. Throughout the book, Maisie attempts to find hope through art and through relationships, trying to find something that will love her back when no one else does.

After reading the author’s note, I found out that this is a semi-biographical work of fiction, and because of that, I find it especially hard to critique this as a novel, to separate the author’s own experiences from the work of fiction.

That said, I had two main issues with this book from the fiction standpoint:

-The book is set in 1960-1961. However, unlike some historical fiction works, there is not a great deal of historical world building. Had the book not explicitly told me the time period it was set in, I wouldn’t have known. After reading the author’s note, it makes sense why it was set in this time period: that was the time that the author was a teen. However, as a work of fiction, it was hard to remain in the 1960s throughout this.

-Lack of hope. Although Maisie finds refuge within art, for most of the book, hope is sorely lacking. As a memoir, lack of hope makes sense; after all, depending on how much of this is autobiographical, there likely realistically was not much hope. However, the book summary said the world Maisie catches a glimpse of is full of life, creativity, and love. However, Maisie frequently has issues with Rachel and Kiki as well as the two male relationships in this book. None of the love that she experiences in the book is actual love. From a memoir perspective, again, this makes sense. However, for being a YA fiction work, the lack of hope until the final 50 pages concerned me a great deal.

However, if you like novels-in-verse and can handle tough subject matter, I would still recommend checking this out. While brutal, it is a quicker read, and it will leave you thinking. If you come into it with the lens of “this is semi-autobiographical,” you will have a better experience as a reader.

I Am Here Now releases Tuesday, August 4.