Last night I went to bed with George Takei. And Abraham Lincoln, too. The two men, along with 21 other influential queer figures from the Roman Empire to present day, joined me from the pages of Queer, There, and Everywhere, a new LGBTQ history book for teens by Quist app founder Sarah Prager. While I know George Takei is happily married to his husband Brad, I had no idea that young Lincoln probably wouldn’t have been interested in me romantically either. Clearly, the white, straight, cisgender men who authored the history books I read in school had only assumed the sexualities and gender identities of the historical figures they wrote about.
In her introduction to Queer, There, and Everywhere, Prager acknowledges how the term “queer” continues to change. At one time a hurtful slur that still conjures up painful memories for some, it’s been reclaimed as an umbrella term for a broad community. For the purpose of her book, Sarah uses “queer” to mean “anyone not totally straight or not totally cisgender—anyone outside society’s gender and sexuality norms.”
Regardless of how differently societies construct their lines of acceptable gender expression, there are always people who cross those lines.
So yes, Abraham Lincoln, who shared a bed with another man for four years, was queer, as was former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who had a relationship with another woman during her marriage to FDR. Then there’s Jeanne D’Arc, whose official decree for being burned at the stake was her refusal to wear women’s clothes. And there are countless other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer world-history makers you’ve never heard of.
The truth is, queer people stretch back across every generation of human existence. At her NYC book launch, Prager explained that even though terms like gay and transgender are relatively recent, queerness is not a new fad. Regardless of how differently societies construct their lines of acceptable gender expression, there are always people who cross those lines. I learned that in the 1990s from my own gender nonconforming child. But I had no idea that in the early 200s the mother of Rome’s teenage emperor Elagabalus might have shared some of my same parenting experiences.
In a fun, breezy, can’t-put-it-down style, Sarah Prager presents a side of 23 trailblazing activists in science, literature, politics, sports, religion and human rights that you wouldn’t get in another history book. Not only are these fascinating, meticulously researched short stories true, they’re written with such insight that one gets the sense of what each of these historic individuals was actually feeling.
I’m excited for the teens that are just now figuring out they’re different to see how some of the most remarkable and influential people in human history preceded them. Sarah’s prose also includes empowering messages for queer youth throughout her short stories, like, “Live your life full out as yourself, no matter what others think.” And I’m eager for the peers of LGBTQ teens to see the tremendous contributions queer people have made to world history.
I could have been so much more of an uplifter for my child.
This is the book I wish I could have given to my kid Harry when they were discovering their gender self and sexuality. And it would have helped me, too. I remember being both awe-struck and proud when I first learned in a movie theater that the man who invented the computer and cracked the Nazi Enigma code, Brit Alan Turing, was gay.
And if I’d had the powerful histories of these 23 queer people who changed the world, I could have been so much more of an uplifter for my child. I would have loved to quote for Harry the 1950s San Francisco drag queen, José Sarria, who took a bold stand against police harassment and would close her performances with the words, “Believe in yourself, and work to change the system.”
We must all help today’s LGBTQ kids know their value and their place in world history.
While Sarah Prager wrote Queer, There, and Everywhere for a teen audience, it’s a valuable resource for adults too. In fact I think it’s a must-read for every straight, cisgender parent. It’s our adult duty to help today’s LGBTQ kids know their value and their place in world history. And it’s important to give gender-conforming youth the educational tools they need to be upstanders and allies for queer kids. Let’s all work to leave behind a 21st century world history of equality, respect, and pride.