If I asked you when you learned about queer history, what would you say? I graduated high school in the early 2000s, and I didn’t learn anything about Stonewall nor did I have extensive lessons about Harvey Milk or the HIV/AIDS crisis that ravaged the queer community in the early 1980’s. If you are like me, you had to do your own research in order to find about the history of pioneers in our community. It is easy to feel as if your own history has been purposely left behind or ignored by the masses. I am thankful that young people have something like Discovery+’s The Book of Queer to create a spark of education. This playful, historical docuseries (created by queer historian, Eric Cervini) doesn’t want to sit you down into a stuffy classroom to take notes. It’s lively and cheeky and uses humor to inspire everyone (not just queer people) to do their own research to find the voices and lives of those who made it better for us to be proud.
For only being five episodes, The Book of Queer impressively packs in a lot of information. Each episode is determined to tell the stories of queer people that we may be unfamiliar with while re-introducing us to icons like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. For every story we may have heard of before–like Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok–there are shocking stories of gay men and women living out louder than we may have realized at the time. Did you know the LA Dodgers had a star player that was released because of his sexuality? Just how lusty was The Sacred Band of Thebes? Why wasn’t Sally Ride allowed to be the first American woman in space and celebrate that victory with her girlfriend?
The series starts boldly by showing how people in power may have actually been gay. In addition to showing the romance between Roosevelt and Hick, The Book of Queer shows us that Abraham Lincoln may have been a sexy otter not unlike a modern Matthew McConaughey, and he may have had four serious male lovers. Bill Greene, Lincoln’s assistant during a period, described the future presidents legs as such: “His thighs were as perfect as a human being could be.” Some might be tempted to argue that people spoke different throughout time or words are taken out of context, but there are multiple examples on public record for almost every subject featured in the docuseries. The natural denial that some people express is truly mind-boggling.
The Book of Queer approaches telling these tales with the humor and energy of gabbing with your friends at the bar over cocktails. This is not your grandmother’s history class. There is such an ease with this troupe of performers who don wigs and corsets aplenty, and, after all, performing a truth is an effective way to teach. It’s almost as if your brainy friend has been telling you nuggets of truth for years, but he finally got the budget to build some great sets and hire some hunky actors. Making people laugh while doling out historical context is trickier than you might think, and Queer does it with equal amounts grace and silliness. I personally loved Nick Timmerman’s unapologetically fey Abraham Lincoln and Ryan Simantel’s theatrical Alexander the Great. Self-proclaimed Homo Historian Cervini pops up every episode to deliver The Footnotes to keep everything in context. You can have a great time while you are learning.
More than ever, we need shows like The Book of Queer to remind everyone that we exist, because if we aren’t in charge of our own history, we cannot be in charge of our own destiny. It seems like we constantly keep saying, ‘We are living through a scary time,’ but we quite literally need to know what has happened to other queer people in order to be equipped to take on the next fight. You can deny our existence all you want, but we will continue to be loud and we will continue to fight for our rightful space. If we aren’t willing and vigilant to write our own chapters of The Book of Queer, someone else will do it for us.
The Book of Queer is streaming now on Discovery+. The finale debuts on June 30.