Stonewall Strong: Review

Stonewall Strong: Gay Men’s Heroic Fight for Resilience, Good Health, and a Strong Community
by John-Manuel Androite
Rowman & Littfield

Reviewed by Hank Trout

Stonewall Strong is in many ways quite remarkable. John-Manuel Andriote has combined his own personal story of being a PLWHIV with an amazingly detailed examination of how the LGBTQ community refused to lie down and die and instead formed a genuine community to care for one another, to fight our government’s indifference, to combat pharmaceutical companies’ greed, and to erase the stigma that, unfortunately, continues to attach to HIV/AIDS to this day.

This is a testament to “the personal is political” like no other I’ve read.

Without meaning at all to disparage or belittle Mr. Andriote’s personal story as an HIV-positive journalist—which is in turns fascinating and heart-wrenching—this reader found most value in the chapters that comprise the section entitled “The Heroic Legacy.” These six chapters form a primer on Gay American History from the very early twentieth century through the winning fight for marriage equality. Although these chapters do not focus exclusively on the AIDS crisis, they provide an absolutely invaluable guide to how we got on, how even during times when our very existence was illegal and threatened, we managed to survive (and at times thrive) in a world hostile to our very lives—and how our fierce diva-like will to survive informed our response to the crisis.

Citing such luminaries as Harry Hay and the Mattachine Society, his more radical counterpart Frank Kameny, Arnie Kantrowitz, the Rev. Troy Perry, Dr. Howard Brown, Larry Kramer, Peter Staley, Cleve Jones, and Evan Wolfson, Andriote celebrates the power of coming together to redefine society’s “norms” and to create our own space in that society. From the Mattachine Society’s extremely polite suit-and-tie blouse-and-skirt protests in front of the White House in 1965; to the impact of The Boys in the Band on our ability to frame the discussion of our own lives; to the fight to get the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a “mental disease”; to the effects of the Stonewall riots on our perception of ourselves and the birth of Gay Pride; to the fierce and fiery Larry Kramer and Peter Staley and the incomparable effect that ACT UP had on combatting the epidemic; and finally through the long fight for marriage equality, Stonewall Strong provides the kind of history lesson that every LGBTQ person should be made aware of. It is a finely detailed account (from Andriote’s interviews with just about everyone of any prominence in twentieth-century gay history) that is scrupulously researched and damn well written.

Another chapter that I, as a long-term HIV survivor, found most interesting is entitled “Defining ‘Old’ for Ourselves.” In one of the most accurate descriptions of the years of the epidemic that I’ve read, Andriote says, “For too many of us the epidemic heaped yet more trauma on our adult lives on top of what we grew up with as gay boys. AIDS was all our collective bullies rolled into one big sucker punch to our hearts and psyches.” For me, that captures quite well the pain of the Plague Years. Andriote quotes Dr. Brian de Vries, professor of gerontology at San Francisco State University: “We are all survivors at some level by virtue of making it this far, and HIV-positive survivors are at a whole other level.”
To which, I can add only a hearty “Hear! Hear!”

Hank Trout, Editor at Large, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a thirty-eight-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.