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Its Not Unusual: A History of Lesbian and Gay Britain in the Twentieth Century Paperback – October 1, 1997


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press (October 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253211506
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253211507
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.6 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,544,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

London-based journalist Jivani presents an anecdotal history of gay and lesbian life in Great Britain from the end of World War I to the present. Like Between the Acts: Lives of Homosexual Men 1885-1967 (LJ 2/15/91), this history is based on the reminiscences of contributors who were active at various times throughout the century. Unlike that book, Jivani's work includes the stories of lesbians as well as gay men. The author's goal is to present a history of regular people that looks beyond "the works of the great and the good." The result is light and interesting reading, though one must wonder whether the experiences of these 36 people are representative. Apparently, Jivani relied almost solely on the testimonies of his contributors; he provides no citations outside the bibliography. An interesting primary source for comprehensive gay and lesbian collections.?Debra Moore, Loyola Marymount Univ. Lib., Los Angeles
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Alkarim Jivani is an editor for the London arts and entertainment magazine Time Out. Born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and educated in Tanzania, Kenya, and the United Kingdom, he graduated from the University of Sussex with a degree in philosophy and literature. He lives in London with his partner.


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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
The previous commentator misunderstands the nature of the book he/she has read - surely its purpose is to record the testimonies of a group of people who participated in an oral history programme devised by the BBC. It does not claim to represent all gay men and lesbians but simply this group. It takes the testimonies of this group of people and makes them alive. And it does so with a lightness of touch and humour that is rare in oral histories which in my experience are rather dry. There are some wonderful anecdotes here such as the service man in WWII and his sexual exploits and the drag queen who when relaying orders always added endearments such as `Open fire, dears!' I hugely enjoyed the book and found some of the previous commentator's criticism perplexingly obtuse. (S)he says that there is no class analysis but the very first chapter covers the difference between being gay in the East End among the London working class and among the monied set at Oxford and Cambridge. And on the race count, there is a section detailing how gay men and lesbians frequented black blues clubs in London because they were more tolerant and also describes how a black lesbian was caught up in a raid. Each section of the book has a substantial lesbian contribution from the fashionable set in the twenties and thirties, nurses and journalists during the war, housewives during the fifties, proto-feminists in the early sixties, campaigners in the seventies, a nun in the eighties to a schoolgirl in the Nineties. Perhaps the previous commentator's problem is that (s)he didn't see her/himself in it. Neither did I - entirely - but I saw enough of my life reflected in these other people's for there to be a connection. In any case you don't read this sort of book to find out about yourself - you read it to find out what other people's lives are like. I would urge people not to be swayed by this negative opinion but to find out for themselves. It's moving and funny!
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Format: Paperback
I am always nervous when I pick up a book claiming to present an entire community's history in a fairly slim volume. This book matched and surpassed my nervousness. Coverage of the early part of the 20th century is fairly even handed between lesbians and gay men. While the same lives and experiences are described (Radcliffe Hall, Natalie Clifford Barney, Vesta Tilley for the lesbians), they are done so with humor and interest. My almost immediate suprise while reading Jivani's history was his almost total lack of class analysis - unusual in a British hitory. As I read further, my disappointment only grew. I expected the slight textual disparity between the coverage of gay men and lesbians to diminish as we got closer to present time. I am astounded to report that the opposite happened. Lesbians almost disappeared from the second half of the book, particularly during the 1980s. The feminist movement as an important - however complicated - force in shaping lesbian culture is given a brief few sentences, Greenham Common Women's Peace camp is not ever mentioned, and the lives of any kind of lesbian - left/right/political/professional - is diminished into outright tokenism. Additionally, the absence of a class analysis continues while any race analysis or discussion -- something central to queer organizing in Britain in the 80s and 90s - is absent. I finished this book and wanted to know how Jivani, an editor with Time Out, could have missed so much. I lived and struggled to come out in England in the 1980s, worked for an independent bookstore, and lived for awhile at Greenham Common Peace Camp. While I don't think my experience during those eight years was "typical", it also was not unusual.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
...to really enjoy it. Many of the author's detractors have commented on his lack of focus on Lesbianism, feminism, race and class differences. But then surely the book aims to present a potted history of British gayness in the 20th century, to that end all the famous names are here, Quentin Crisp, Radcliffe Hall etc. I don't think you can be critical of what this book fails to take into account, to me it seems to be a book aimed at normalising gay life for a straight and uninformed audience (the book evolved at a highly interesting time for the political climate in Britain, 1997, the end of 18 years of Conservative rule and the possibility that the new socialist Government might overturn the vile and comtemptable section 28, instigated by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980's and responsible for the marginalisation of gay life for over a decade; the legislation of 28 legally encouraged homophobia).

It seems Jivani is trying to speak to the uninitiated and try to repair some of the damage of section 28. I for one am glad he avoids the class issue, it is an issue that so easily obscures the point of British history texts and it would here for he is trying to speak of the commonality of gay experience in spite of class or race. On the subject of race, yes it is not highly explored here but Jivani is a gay asian man and as time goes on I have every confidence he may yet give us a book on that subject. This book is a really informative read and I wish some of it's gay readership were not so ready to judge it harshly, think of it's intended task first; please.
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