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When Brooklyn Was Queer
 
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Hugh Ryan
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When Brooklyn Was Queer

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4.38  ·  Rating details ·  373 ratings  ·  88 reviews
The never-before-told story of Brooklyn’s vibrant and forgotten queer history, from the mid-1850s up to the present day.

"A romantic, exquisite history of gay culture." —Kirkus Reviews, starred

“[A] boisterous, motley new history...entertaining and insightful.” —The New York Times Book Review

Hugh Ryan’s When Brooklyn Was Queer is a groundbreaking exploration of the LGBT
...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published March 5th 2019 by St. Martin's Press
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Ronald Lett Yes. There are a few poetic descriptions of sexual encounters/desire from poets and authors, and a few swear words in quoted primary sources, but…moreYes. There are a few poetic descriptions of sexual encounters/desire from poets and authors, and a few swear words in quoted primary sources, but nothing that would be considered excessive by today's standards (ie., you get relatively the same amount of swearing/sexual mentions in Catcher in the Rye or Tom Sawyer).(less)
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Average rating 4.38  · 
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Michael
Jul 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 2019
Well researched and compact, When Brooklyn Was Queer offers an engaging history of the borough's queer and trans populations across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Spanning from 1855 (the publication of Whitman's Leaves of Grass) to 1966 (the year the federal government shuttered the Navy Yard), Ryan charts the rise and fall of Brooklyn's pre-Stonewall LGBT community. The author attends to issues of race, class, and labor in ways that are still too uncommon across the genre; his ...more
Misty
Jan 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When Brooklyn Was Queer is a fascinating read in which the author delves deep into the history of same-sex relationships and gender identity. Whilst this is in itself is not a unique undertaking, author Hugh Ryan goes a step further, tying threads of the past to a central location—Brooklyn, New York. From its identity as a waterfront harbor, filled with sailors and businessmen, through its transformation into a city full of queer spaces, Ryan shares stories of the individuals who contributed to ...more
Lisa
Dec 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: net-galley
I didn't just enjoy this book, but I'll confess I was enraptured? No, that's too strong a word. Truth be told I never in my life paid attention to "Queer folk." If I knew someone who was gay before I hit the age of 30, then I didn't know. I never paid attention to that. It's not that I ignored it, I just never realized. Don't get me wrong, because I knew people were gay, I had just never consciously come across it.
But, I moved to Montana in my early to mid 30's, and I noticed "finally" that I
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Christopher
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, netgalley
Queer history is difficult to navigate. Often hidden and without personal identifying terms, LGBTQIA+ individuals from the 1960s and prior have maneuvered as afterthoughts in broader narratives. Yet, as author Hugh Ryan proves, meticulous research can bring these pre-Stonewall stories back into view.

When Brooklyn Was Queer manages to fill a gap in historical research while maintaining an engrossing narrative. Ryan identifies the Brooklyn waterfront as the true beginning of the gay identity with
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Vivek Tejuja
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had never read something like this before – yes cities and the queer culture did merge in books and I have read parts of it, but nothing like this book. I honestly also believe that every city’s culture needs to be talked about through the people who live on its margins, and maybe that’s why this book hit a nerve the way it did. When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History by Hugh Ryan is the kind of book we all need to read, irrespective of orientation and labels.

The story begins in 1855 with the
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Morgan M. Page
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"But nothing lasts forever, even silence." Hugh Ryan's spectacular book, When Brooklyn Was Queer, conjures the lipstick traces of queer history out of the cobblestone streets, wooden slats of Coney Island boardwalk, and the brothels, bars, and bohemias of the "second city of the Empire." Though today known for its large and vibrant queer community, Ryan skillfully restores Brooklyn's pre-Stonewall history - full as it is of poets, sex workers, carnies, and sailors. Unlike most 'queer' history ...more
Chesca
ARC provided by St. Martin's Press in exchange for a review
Release Date: March 5, 2019


Hugh Ryan's When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History is a delicate but grand truth presented with great care.

Although it's too early in the year to say, I'm certain that this book is a highlight of my 2019. It's a new favorite!

If you're a loyal fiction reader who's interested in trying nonfiction, I suggest that you start with this book. The way the author presented the facts he gathered wasn't overwhelming. The
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Charlott
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this meticulously researched and engagingly written non-fiction monography, Ryan traces queer lives, experiences, and communities in Brooklyn from 1855 (the year Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass) until 1969. Ryan uses this focus to delve into a wide array of topics and themes, while always managing to hold all the threads together. He analyzes how ideas around gender and sexuality changed, writes about the architectural, social, and economic changes in Brooklyn, and gives a history of ...more
Conor Ahern
Brooklyn! My erstwhile home. We all know it as queer today, but the pedigree traces back much further. This book is excellently researched, highly conscientious about its inability to report on the histories of queer women/people of color/trans people (and dutifully elaborate when it does have material to report), and revealed a bunch of strange little facts, all pluses. I would say that a lot of it was stuff I didn't find that interesting, even if others likely would.

Certainly not a fault of
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Samantha (AK)
This is how When Brooklyn Was Queer began: from a paradox. Brooklyn has a vibrant queer present--undoubtably, Brooklyn today is queer again--and it’s next door to one of the epicenters of queer history in the United States. Were queers like vampires, incapable of crossing the East River, or what? I was certain there was queer history in Brooklyn; it was just a matter of finding it. [Epilogue]


When people think of LGBT history in New York, they tend to think of Greenwich Village or Chelsea, but
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Sarah Coughlon
I’ll start with the good — Ryan’s book is a lovely, often elegiac, survey of queer life in Brooklyn. He weaves biography with sociology to tell stories that we don’t hear enough. He’s in turns hopeful, tragic, and bitchy.

But.

The book’s central question, from the beginning, is “Where were all the queers?” Ryan seeks to fit Brooklyn into our map of queer New York, and he finds it in the alleys of the Navy Yard, the artists’ enclaves of the Heights, and the bathhouses of Coney Island. That is, he
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Camryn
May 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I learned so much!!! So much. Queer people are so cool and there is so much history we don’t get taught.
june3
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a notable, indeed, highly praiseworthy book. Hugh Ryan shares his superb scholarship, remarkable insights, and focused and readable prose. He provides the reader with a panoramic view of real history - meaning, the history of real lives of real people (famous and otherwise) together with a behind-the-scenes view of Brooklyn, New York from the turn of the century. Certainly, for a non-historian such as myself, Mr. Ryan's work provided me with an expanded worldview - certainly, the mark of ...more
Isaiah
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating, engaging read. You can tell the amount of effort that went into researching this, and I greatly appreciate that the author didn't forget about the queer women and people of color even though they were historically less visible
Sonia
Aug 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I would say this is somewhere between a 3.5 and 4 for me. This had a great deal of interesting information, and the whole idea of Brooklyn having this early queer history that no one talks about is fascinating to me, but the organization of the book felt a little fragmented to me. It’s possible this is also related to me listening on audiobook, but I almost wanted it to be organized thematically rather than chronologically, tracing the evolution of different patterns within the queer community - ...more
Chloe
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm a little biased in this review because I work at the museum where Hugh curated an exhibit based on this book (which you should come see through the beginning of August!) and am acquaintances with him, but even if I wasn't, I would still have loved this book. Definitely required reading for not just queer people in Brooklyn, but anyone who's interested in Brooklyn/NYC history in general - this book correctly calls attention to the fact that history isn't complete without queer history; it's ...more
Matthew
Jul 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer
Fascinating. Fun. And, sometimes, infuriating.
Sarah
I had skimmed through this book quickly earlier this year when I was trying too hard to do ALL THE PRIDE MONTH READING, but I’m so glad I returned to it for a closer reading now. This book is so great, and here’s why:
1. Ryan does an excellent job of going through archives and piecing together stories. He knows what he’s doing, which also means he is extremely aware of how limiting archives can be, especially when you’re trying to find stories of people who were pushed to the margins.
2.
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Kit
Jun 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer-lit
I always love the opportunity to learn more queer history, to see myself in figures from the past. This book did a great job of representing all different types of queer person (it would be great if there were more qpoc, but it's also less likely for their historical records to be preserved). I really, really wished that this book had maps, considering that so much of it discussed how Brooklyn's changing geography influenced its queer scene. It also assumes that its audience will have a robust ...more
Ronald Lett
Sep 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book fills in a valuable period of history that is seldom mentioned in "standard" history books. While we know about Moses and the development of Brooklyn from other sources, the queer side of that development is often either not mentioned or only mentioned as a footnote. This is an entire book that focuses primarily on the queer side of the (modern) history of Brooklyn, which reveals many connections to "standard" history that should have really been in all of those other books. Hopefully, ...more
Kristina
Mar 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a history teacher, New Yorker (parents and paternal grandparents born and raised in Brooklyn) and a supporter of the LBGTQ community I knew that I had to read this book as soon as I saw it on Netgalley. Luckily, I was approved and started reading it right away.

From the first pages, you can tell the author had done a lot of research on Brooklyn’s history. I learned a lot about Queer lifestyle and Brooklyn itself. The stories about Queer people in Brooklyn was rich in information.

Overall, I
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Robert
Apr 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Raised in Brooklyn in what is now part of Park Slope, but then was called South Brooklyn or Gowanus, I was intrigued by the title because I certainly never thought of Brooklyn as a queer city. Now I know why and I also know the great queer heritage that was buried just when I was born and began growing up there. Ryan's book is a rich tapestry of sociology, history, and "lives of great men and women" of the hundred+ years he covers. He clearly knows the story and presents in an entertaining and ...more
Kira
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I received this book in exchange for a honest review from NetGalley.

I adored this book. It is a thoughtful, interesting and as thorough as can be; history in the best way possible. There are so many histories that do not face the kinds of challenges that this one faced (poor documentation and a lack of personal stories/ first hand accounts) that do not have the kind of depth, passion and readability that this history has. I am an avid reader of nonfiction and history/microhistory books and if
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Bill Hsu
I'm sure it was challenging to put together the early chapters, with limited documentation. But for my taste, there was a lot of Walt Whitman, and more than a little speculation ("It's not unlikely..." etc). While the early parts can probably be shorter, this does pick up. And the last chapter is quite interesting, connecting the larger urban changes in Brooklyn with changes in its queer communities.
Jenny Rossberg
May 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best non fiction books I’ve read in a while! I would recommend to all my queer brooklyn friends; it’s really a beautiful history of the area, and the author witty zingers in there, too. Although most of the accessible historical records used to create this book center around white gay males, the author is very mindful toward the problem of trying to reconstruct a non existent record of POC and queer women, but still, finds ways to make sure they are noted in the book. Also some very ...more
Bree
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book so very much. Not only is it delightful to read but it’s also very thoroughly researched and intelligent. And while it may seem narrow in focus, Ryan skillfully uses Brooklyn to touch on a more universal picture of queer history. I love coming away from the book having learned so much. I found myself sharing things I’ve learned with my teenage queer students who now think I’m a genius. Thanks Hugh!
Katie
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: glbt
I love queer history, particularly local queer history.
Having run a history museum in Brooklyn, this book was right in my particular area of interest. Hugh Ryan covers everything from Walt Whitman and Carson McCullors, to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, to the cruising spots along the waterfront, to the Coney Island Bath Houses.
It is fascinating and relevant.
Jennifer
Apr 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great new staple in NYC queer history.
Jennifer
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was really impressed with the scholarship of this book. It was very throughly researched. I learned a lot about mid 20th century cultural history (which was somewhat centered in New York) and it made me wanna read bios of Hart Crane, Lincoln Kirstein, Annemarie Minna Renée Schwarzenbach and Willard Maas and Marie Menken. Mostly just writing those out so I remember. ...more
Bryant
Nov 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I learned zero gay history before college, and not a whole lot there, either. I hope that's different for kiddos growing up today. I'm grateful for this book, and others like it.
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