THE EVENING CROWD AT KIRMSER'S: A Gay Life in the 1940s
"Kirmser's was the underground queer bar in St. Paul, a hidden sanctuary for homosexual men and women in the 1940s. It was the haven I found in 1945 after being drummed out of the navy for being a homosexual." This extraordinary memoir of postwar, pre-Stonewall Midwestern gay life is as historically crucial as it is eloquent. Born in 1926, Brown died in 1999 before publishing it. Growing up in a poverty-stricken Catholic family outside of St. Paul, he realized he was gay early in high school. He fled to Greenwich Village at 18, but, upset by its openly gay culture, joined the navy and was dishonorably discharged after announcing his sexual orientation to his superiors. While Brown's life is the spine of his brief narrative, its flesh is in the stories of the women and men who frequented Kirmser's, the working-class bar run by an old German couple that was "a fort in the midst of a savage and hostile population." Brown expertly sketches his companions—Dale, who loses his office job when someone anonymously calls him a "cocksucker"; Flaming Youth, a butch, middle-aged man who never lost his earlier reputation; and Bette Boop, a notorious tea-room queen—and through them paints a succinct, moving and unique portrait of the era. Never glamorizing or waxing sentimental, he convincingly, honestly and intelligently portrays the pain and the deep sense of community he and his friends experienced in the face of persecution, in a major contribution to gay and lesbian as well as urban studies. (Aug.)
Forecast:This vital, well-wrought volume deserves a place on the shelf of essential books on 20th-century gay and lesbian life, next to such classic studies as Alan Berube's Coming Out Under Fire and Elizabeth Kennedy and Madeline Davis's Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold.