“A powerful and fascinating account that would be almost unbelievable if we didn’t know that it was true” – Coming Out: The Emergence of LGBT Identities in Britain from the 19th Century to the Present by Jeffrey Weeks

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In the 40th anniversary edition of his seminal book about the lives of homosexual men and women, Jeffrey Weeks does little more than add an intro, an extra chapter, and a postscript. But within those extra pages he does a superb job of showing how things have changed in Britain, both for the good and the bad. He also brings us up to date on how things such as the AIDS crisis affected homophobia and public policy in Britain, and how the crises and struggles that people went through helped them to form the stronger and more visible community of today. But at no point does he suggest that the struggles are over.

In the book as a whole, Weeks shows us how attitudes towards gay people have evolved from the 1800s until the present day. It is probably the earlier sections of the book that are actually the most fascinating, where we learn about how homosexuality went from being a sin to a crime. The inevitable references to Oscar Wilde soon pop up, and his infamous case actually becomes quite central to the narrative as a whole. The case shows both the hideous reactions that people and institutions had towards homosexuals, while also showing how those reactions played a part in an ever increasing consciousness.

This is undoubtedly an academic book, and does sometimes become repetitive and slow because of that. But it is worth powering through these lulls. If you do, you’ll be greeted with a powerful and fascinating account that would be almost unbelievable if we didn’t know that it was true. The treatment of LGBT people throughout the centuries has been shocking, but Weeks treats it in a way that actually engenders a great deal of hope for the future.

Any Cop?: The quotes on the back of the book show just how much of an effect this book had on some of its original readers, and it’s easy to see why. While some of the early advances it discusses might seem tame to a current day audience, Weeks demonstrates how they built to something that even the most revolutionary among us would have to be in awe of. In a time when LGBT rights and freedoms might once again be under the microscopic, this book could be equally as important today as it was on release.

 

Fran Slater

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