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Out at CHM forum focuses on reclaiming history
by Matt Simonette
2019-04-09

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Chicago History Museum ( CHM ) launched its 2019 Out at CHM series March 27 with a forum entitled "How It's Written."

Writer/historian Owen Keehnen moderated the discussion, which focused on the process of compiling LGBT histories.

Keehnen briefly discussed his own work, which primarily addresses the social histories of the LGBT community from the '60s-'80s, which he said are often overshadowed by the political history of the same time.

Those histories "need to be preserved and … pieced together," Keehnen explained, so as to be "consolidated into something that can be passed along."

Boston-based artist Ria Brodell , who identifies as trans and non-binary, discussed their painting series "Butch Heroes," which depict persons in history who were assigned female gender-identities at birth but had significant relationships with women and masculine gender presentations. They detailed the extensive research necessary to contextualize the put the paintings into a proper context.

"I'm looking for names," Brodell said. "… I wanted to be clear that these are real people as opposed to myths and legends."

Middlesboro, Kentucky-based author Jim Elledge similarly discussed the research that went into the creation of his book "The Boys of Fairy Town: Sodomites, Female Impersonators, Third-Sexers, Pansies, Queers, and Sex Morons in Chicago's First Century."

Elledge explained that many academic historians have yet to take LGBT history seriously within their discipline, and he also spoke about the tenuous nature of compiling histories from news accounts, which could change "from day-to-day."

He also spoke about a 1912 marriage that seemed to be the first "gay marriage"; it was between a man and a particularly convincing female impersonator.

"I wonder how many others got through the same way," Elledge said.


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