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Bad Gays: A Homosexual History is one of the most original queer history books of recent years

Hadrian, J Edgar Hoover and Ronnie Kray all feature in this alternative view of queer history through its most lamentable figures

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Bad Gays: A Homosexual History is out now (Verso Books)

In celebrating queer history, we often take time to remember the pioneering figures who weren’t able to be out and proud during their lifetimes. Anne Lister, Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing, to name but a few. But how do we approach the sticky subject of the gays of history who, perhaps, aren’t so worthy of celebrating? This is the exact topic Ben Miller and Huw Lemmey focus on in Bad Gays: A Homosexual History

Giving an alternative view of queer history through its most lamentable figures, Miller and Lemmey go deep on Hadrian, James VI and I, Lawrence of Arabia, J Edgar Hoover and Ronnie Kray, and don’t let up on the debauched details of their lives.

Starting its life as a podcast, Bad Gays very much feels like a distillation of that project. Not to say that the text in this book is a mere transcript of certain episodes, far from it, but it does suffer from some dense writing and the inclusion of Kenneth Williams-esque cheeky asides that jar rather than amuse. 

Scrolling through the episode list of the podcast, I am left wondering why the authors chose who they did to include in the book. The podcast has some genuinely left-of-field choices, such as Morrissey, Cecil Rhodes, Benjamin Britten and Cressida Dick. The book very much sticks to less-controversial choices, a rare piece of conservatism from their radical political publishing house, Verso.

All this aside however, Bad Gays can surely boast being one of the most original queer history books of recent years, and something that is sure to garner much conversation and debate. Let’s hope that Miller and Lemmey are more far-reaching with the next volume.

Barry Pierce is a journalist and cultural commentator

You can buy Bad Gays: A Homosexual History from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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