The efforts of Michael Denneny shaped the way major publishing houses in the United States viewed books on gay topics. His efforts at Macmillan, and then more prominently at St. Martin’s Press in the 1970s onward, turned a once unthinkable endeavor into something that was in high demand and more than viable.
On Christopher Street: Life, Sex, and Death after Stonewall is a collection of Denneny’s work from 1970-2014. Although Denneny makes sure to note in much of his work that he is speaking only from the perspective of a gay man, a great deal of his theory and politics still resonate outside of the realm of cisgender gay men and can be applied to modern activism — for instance, even within the trans community.
One of the most noteworthy works on the subject of politics is his essay “Gay Politics and its Premises: Sixteen Propositions”. Here he goes over observations of the gay political landscape of the early eighties, right before the AIDS crisis would break over the gay community. There is much to be said merely from the first proposition: “Homosexuality and gay are not the same thing; gay is when you decide to make an issue of it.” Whether there is a modern equivalent in something such as the word “queer” is a great conversation starter.
As the book progresses, the topics become more focused on the AIDS epidemic. The reader is shown history through the eyes of a gay publisher in a world of the newly blossoming gay literature, left in awe of the sheer history that was being made.
A gay publication, The New York Native, was the first to talk of the illness striking down gay men before even the CDC made a statement. Not only this but there were books being published during the AIDS crisis on AIDS, something that did not have a historical equivalent. Instead of books being published on historical events after they occurred, for the first time, they were published while the history was unraveling.
But not only does Denneny cover the historical events and politics of these times, he describes the birth of a gay culture and identity — something that did not exist pre-Stonewall on the scale that it does today. From the fashion clones to the birth of vastly read LGBTQ literature, On Christopher Street gives both a look back into how things were and where we are going.
As the queer community has survived countless attempts at suppression and elimination, this book offers not only a historical account of the political environment of the 1970s-80s. It also showcases tried and true forms of activism and rhetoric, ones that have kept and continue to make our survival possible.
On Christopher Street: Life, Sex, and Death after Stonewall by Michael Denneny ISBN 9780226824611