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Travels in a Gay Nation

Portraits of LGBTQ Americans

Philip Gambone

Publication Year: 2010

For two years, Philip Gambone traveled the length and breadth of the United States, talking candidly with LGBTQ people about their lives. In addition to interviews from David Sedaris, George Takei, Barney Frank, and Tammy Baldwin, Travels in a Gay Nation brings us lesser-known voices—a retired Naval officer, a transgender scholar and “drag king,” a Princeton philosopher, two opera sopranos who happen to be lovers, an indie rock musician, the founder of a gay frat house, and a pair of Vermont garden designers.
    In this age when contemporary gay America is still coming under attack, Gambone captures the humanity of each individual. For some, their identity as a sexual minority is crucial to their life’s work; for others, it has been less so, perhaps even irrelevant. But, whether splashy or quiet, center-stage or behind the scenes, Gambone’s subjects have managed—despite facing ignorance, fear, hatred, intolerance, injustice, violence, ridicule, or just plain indifference—to construct passionate, inspiring lives.
Finalist, ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year in the Anthology category

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 3-11

In David Moreton’s wonderful film Edge of Seventeen, an unexpected summer romance with another boy throws high school senior Eric Hunter into a tailspin. When the object of Eric’s affection—a blond big-man-on-campus type, with all the sensitivity of a bowling ball— returns to Ohio State (and another boyfriend), Eric is left to figure out how to get through high school, and life ...

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Dorothy Allison

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pp. 12-19

In the spring of 1992, at the OutWrite conference for lesbian and gay writers, I heard Dorothy Allison give a stirring keynote address. “I believe in the truth,” she told us. “I believe in the truth in the way only a person who has been denied any use of it can believe in it.” Allison had just published her first novel, Bastard out of Carolina, and it was getting rave reviews. ...

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Kwame Anthony Appiah

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pp. 20-26

It was a privilege to grow up in a peripheral place. Because in peripheral places you have to know about other places.” ...

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Tammy Baldwin

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pp. 27-32

Tammy Baldwin is the first woman from Wisconsin to serve in the House of Representatives and the first nonincumbent, openly gay person ever to be elected to Congress. She is a major proponent of universal health care, energy independence, renewable fuels, and family farm programs as well as a leading supporter of LGBTQ civil rights. ...

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Christopher Barnhill

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pp. 33-37

Christopher Barnhill calls himself “the voice of HIV-positive youth.” Born in 1987 inWashington, D.C., Barnhill lost both his parents, who were heroin addicts, to AIDS before he was two years old. “I say, ‘They died before I was born.’ I don’t remember them at all.” ...

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Alison Bechdel

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pp. 38-44

Alison Bechdel’s comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, was one of the most successful LGBTQ cartoons ever published. The biweekly strip, which Bechdel once described as “half op-ed column and half endless, serialized Victorian novel,” followed the adventures and misadventures of a group of friends through dating, love affairs, cohabitation, work, pregnancy and birth, child rearing, and ever more love affairs. ...

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Mandy Carter

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pp. 45-51

Mandy Carter’s motto, one that has informed her career as a community organizer and coalition builder, is “Don’t mourn; organize. If there’s a need, fill it.” The afternoon we meet, in a conference room at the Peace Farm in Voluntown, Connecticut, Carter reframes her motto with decidedly more agrarian imagery ...

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Jennifer Chrisler

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pp. 52-58

On the 2000 census, one in three lesbian couples in the United States identified as raising a dependent child in their home; for gay male couples, the statistic was one in five. It’s the kind of statistic that Jennifer Chrisler, the executive director of Family Equality Council, knows cold. ...

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Beth Clayton and Patricia Racette

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pp. 59-66

Beth Clayton and Patricia Racette are roasting a chicken. The savory aroma is the first thing I notice as they welcome me into their Upper West Side apartment. Located a few blocks from Giuseppe Verdi Square, the place seems a fitting address for America’s first out gay or lesbian opera couple. ...

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Kate Clinton

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pp. 67-72

It’s a few days before Christmas, and the lobby in Kate Clinton’s Upper West Side building is decked out for the holidays. Nothing splashy—just an artificial balsam, festooned with lights and tinsel, tucked into one corner. Opposite, on the concierge desk, a flyer lists the names of the building’s staff, a reminder to the residents that an end-of-the-year gratuity is appreciated. ...

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Judy Dlugacz

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pp. 73-79

In Listening to the Sirens, her book about “homomusical communities,” musicologist Judith A. Peraino notes that during the early 1970s feminists were turning to women-identified music as “the product of choice to initiate the real goal of feminist business.” Among those pioneering feminists was Judy Dlugacz ...

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Arthur Dong

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pp. 80-86

Filmmaker Arthur Dong is perhaps best known for his documentary trilogy Stories from the War on Homosexuality, films that examine some of the institutions and cultural attitudes that have often been hostile—in some cases, brutally so—to gay men and lesbians. Dong had been making films for over a decade when ...

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Mark Doty

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pp. 87-94

In the opening poem of Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems, Mark Doty relates an incident that happened to him once in the English countryside. One evening, as he and his companions emerge from an inn, he catches sight of a bat, “an inky signature too fast to trace.” The bat is an “emissary of evening,” a “quick ambassador,” a “fleeting contraption / speeding into a bank of leaves.” ...

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Zoe Dunning

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pp. 95-101

According to a 2004 Urban Institute report, there are sixtyfive thousand gays and lesbians serving today in the armed forces. Most, if not all, compromise their integrity daily in order to serve their country. Those who have taken the brave step of acknowledging their homosexuality—servicemen and women like Joe Stefan, Keith Meinhold, and Margarethe Cammermeyer—have had to endure disciplinary action ...

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Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd

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pp. 102-109

I have been invited to spend the day at North Hill, the Vermont hillside on which Wayne Winterrowd and Joe Eck have, for over thirty years, tended a seven-acre garden, deemed one of the best in North America. A “vinous lunch” has been promised, then a tour, followed by our interview and dinner. ...

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Lillian Faderman

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pp. 110-115

When she was in the tenth grade, Lillian Faderman got a C, three Ds, and an F on her report card. Fifty-plus years later, this “overachiever,” as she calls herself, enjoys a reputation as one of the premier scholars of gay and lesbian history, having published eight books and numerous articles on the subject. The array of awards she has won ...

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Barney Frank

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pp. 116-123

One day, back in the late sixties, when Barney Frank, fresh from a stint at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, was working as an assistant to Boston mayor Kevin White, a man came into the office complaining about police brutality at a gay club called the Punch Bowl. Frank, whose job it was to act as the mayor’s liaison with the police, told the fellow to come back with a few of the others who had witnessed the alleged incident. ...

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Malik Gillani and Jamil Khoury

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pp. 124-130

Indian American Malik Gillani, the executive director of Chicago’s Silk Road Theater Project, says of himself and his life partner, artistic director Jamil Khoury, that they represent “the new couple of this century.” ...

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Hillary Goodridge

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pp. 131-137

The office where Hillary Goodridge works as director of the Unitarian Universalist Funding Program is a small, happily cluttered room. On the afternoon of my visit, sunlight pours in through the windows overlooking Centre Street, the main drag in Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood in Boston known for its liberal politics, diverse socioeconomic mix, and lesbian population. On a bookshelf near Goodridge’s desk, a boxing nun puppet rests against a framed poster ...

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Judith (Jack) Halberstam

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pp. 138-144

I was just at the dry cleaner,” Judith Halberstam is saying. “The clerk asked, ‘May I help you, sir?’ When I told him I was picking up my cleaning, he apologized. The voice is what gives it away. For me, if he didn’t go to that ‘I’m sorry,’ we’d have been good. ‘Sir’ is good. Way, way better than ‘ma’am.’ ...

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Kim Crawford Harvie

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pp. 145-152

There were candles, flowers, and crowds of well-wishers. There was music by the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus. There were promises to love and comfort, to share hopes and dreams. There was an exchange of rings. And then, on May 17, 2004, in the Arlington Street Church in Boston’s Back Bay, the Reverend Kim Crawford Harvie, senior minister, raised her hands above the wedding couple ...

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Scott Heim and Michael Lowenthal

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pp. 153-162

My conversation with novelists Scott Heim and Michael Lowenthal takes place the day after the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Sitting around the kitchen table in the house they share in Roslindale, a working-class neighborhood of one- and two-family homes in Boston, I ask them how they marked the occasion. ...

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Jennifer Higdon

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pp. 163-169

The afternoon I meet Jennifer Higdon in the spacious apartment she shares with her partner of almost thirty years, she remarks on how quiet it is outside. It’s a broiling summer day in Philadelphia’s Center City. “I think everyone went to the shore,” she says. That may be true, but it’s no beach day for Higdon. She has already given one interview today ...

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Frank Kameny

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pp. 170-178

Ahomosexual is a person whose heterosexual function is crippled, like the legs of a polio victim.” “The acts of these people are banned under the laws of God, the laws of nature, and are in violation of the laws of man.” “Homosexuality is . . . a masquerade of life.” ...

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Randall Kenan

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pp. 179-185

Randall Kenan and I originally met in 1993 in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where I interviewed the native North Carolinian for my Saturday morning WOMR radio show, Something Inside So Strong, an hour-long conversation every other week with a gay or lesbian writer. At the time, Kenan had published a novel and a highly acclaimed book of short stories. He was living in New York ...

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Sharon Kleinbaum

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pp. 186-193

In 1981, Sharon Kleinbaum served six months at Alderson Federal Reformatory for Women for attempting to wrap the Pentagon in yarn. Twenty years—and many arrests—later, she was honored with the Jewish Fund for Justice’s “Woman of Valor” Award. As senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, the largest gay and lesbian synagogue in the world, Kleinbaum is no stranger to trouble. ...

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Andrew Lam

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pp. 194-199

It was strange to have had a privileged life as a child while the world around you was sinking into horror,” Andrew Lam tells me. “Strange to escape the bulk of it when the rest of your people went through reeducation camps, died on the high seas, were raped by pirates. While I tried my best to remove myself from that, I couldn’t run far enough.” ...

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Joan Larkin

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pp. 200-206

Gay poet Edward Field once wrote, “With its dedication to ambiguity, Modern Poetry fit right in with the need of gay poets to be closeted.” On the day I meet Joan Larkin, she has brought that quotation with her and reads it to me, intent upon establishing her solidarity with Field, whose criticism of obscurity, ambiguity, and the modernist highbrow tone she avidly shares. ...

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Stephin Merritt

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pp. 207-213

Composer, arranger, lyricist, singer, instrumentalist, and the quirky brains behind the smart-rock band the Magnetic Fields, Stephin Merritt has been called a genius, “the Steven Sondheim of indie rock.” His prolific output (over two hundred songs) amounts to an eclectic traversal of genres and styles, from mainstream American songbook to jazz to traditional rock to Glassian minimalism to John Cage. ...

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Greg Millett

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pp. 214-220

Back in the late eighties and early nineties Greg Millett was an angry young ACT UP activist. He had never heard of the Centers for Disease Control until one of his fellow protestors told him that the Atlanta-based public health agency was just “part of the establishment that wasn’t doing enough to find a cure to stop the raging epidemic.” Years later, as a behavioral scientist ...

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P. J. Raval

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pp. 221-226

Recently, I started saying ‘queer,’ not ‘gay.’ I identify myself as a person in the queer community.” Filmmaker and cinematographer P. J. Raval is telling me how he changed after he made his award-winning documentary Trinidad, about the lives of three transgender women in the “sex-change capital of the United States,” Trinidad, Colorado. ...

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Gene Robinson

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pp. 227-233

On the sunny, snow-melting January day that I meet him, Gene Robinson cannot contain himself, he’s so excited by a piece of mail he has just received. It’s a copy of the foreword to his soon-to-bepublished book of essays, In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God. I have hardly sat down in his office at the Diocesan House in Concord, New Hampshire, when Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the American Episcopal Church, starts telling me the story ...

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Richard Rodriguez

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pp. 234-240

I don’t sit still on the page,” Richard Rodriguez tells me. We are sitting at a café in the Lower Pacific Heights section of San Francisco. The author of a trilogy of powerful memoirs that focus on class, ethnicity, and race, Rodriguez is explaining to me why he bristles at the notion of being considered a niche writer. He pauses just long enough to take a sip of coffee. ...

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David Sedaris

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pp. 241-248

David Sedaris takes one look at the menu and laughs. “Pasta Whim. I’ll have that!”We’re doing our interview at Icarus, an upscale restaurant in Boston’s South End, the quietest, least public place I can suggest that is near his hotel. The best-selling humorist is in town to do a reading tomorrow at Symphony Hall. But tonight he just wants to unwind after the torture of a delayed flight the day before. ...

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Carl Siciliano

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pp. 249-255

Recent estimates put the number of homeless gay youth in America at over 600,000. Ali Forney was one of them. From age thirteen until his murder when he was twenty-two, Forney lived as a homeless person in New York City. Carl Siciliano still remembers the day he met Ali. It was the day he took over as director of Safe Space, a drop-in center in Times Square whose clientele included many gay kids. ...

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Dean Spade

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pp. 256-262

The biggest stereotype is that trans people are defined by surgery,” Dean Spade tells me the afternoon we meet. “I would ask that you not have that be the center of what my identity is. I’m tired of journalists thinking that my breast reduction surgery is the defining moment of my life or that it changed my gender. It’s just one moment in my story. ...

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George Takei

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pp. 263-270

On the dot of four o’clock, I ring the doorbell of the house in a well-manicured neighborhood of Los Angeles where George Takei— Star Trek’s Mr. Sulu—lives with his husband, Brad Altman. I’ve been parked out front for half an hour, checking my watch every few minutes, anxious to comply with the instructions that Altman has sent me a few weeks before ...

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Rachel Tiven

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pp. 271-276

No raw fish for me,” a very pregnant Rachel Tiven says as we survey our menus. We are in a sushi restaurant near Exchange Place, the street address of Immigration Equality, where Tiven is executive director. She and her partner of ten years, Sally Gottesman, are expecting their second child in less than two months. After we both order soba noodles and vegetables, Tiven lays out the cold, hard reality ...

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Urvashi Vaid

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pp. 277-283

In 1996, having finished her book Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation, Urvashi Vaid was thinking about starting a progressive think tank, which, only somewhat facetiously, she wanted to call CPR. “Because the Left needs it,” she tells me the afternoon we talk. “Center for Progressive Renewal.” ...

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Modesto “Tico” Valle

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pp. 284-289

People can make a difference,” Modesto Valle tells me. It’s a sentiment that he’ll articulate more than once during the hour we spend together at the Center on Halsted, Chicago’s new twenty-milliondollar LGBTQ community center, which opened in 2007. As executive director, Valle oversees what he calls “the most comprehensive LGBTQ community center in the country,” one that boasts a staff of sixty full- and part-time members ...

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Russell van Kraayenburg

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pp. 290-294

Russell van Kraayenburg says that “initiative” is one of his favorite words. The University of Texas senior who at the time we meet is doing a fifth year—“a victory lap,” he calls it—is the cofounder of one of the first gay fraternities in the South. “A small piece of history at UT,” he says on his Web site. We sit down over lattes ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780299236830
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299236847

Page Count: 294
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Bisexuals -- United States -- Interviews.
  • Transgender people -- United States -- Interviews.
  • Lesbians -- United States -- Interviews.
  • Gays -- United States -- Interviews.
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