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As a recent resident of Los Angeles, I was drawn to these two new anthologies, and couldn’t wait to compare them in a “West Hollywood: Fact or Fiction?” manner. Before moving to California in 2008, I knew little about West Hollywood or Gay LA, for that matter, and I was eager to learn something, whether true or imagined. Let’s begin with the facts, ma’am.
The third anthology in a series from Alyson (after San Francisco and New Orleans), Love, West Hollywood is a collection of essays and memoirs that reflect LGBT life not only in West Hollywood, but also greater gay Los Angeles, including Silverlake, Hollywood, Venice, among others.
This kaleidoscope of scenes – some brief, some extended – capture not only the history of this metropolis of so many dreams, but also the funky, dangerous, campy, difficult, fabulous elements of what it has been like to live and breathe as ordinary gay people in southern California. Turning points in community history, large and small, are documented: the founding of the Mattachine Society and the One Archive, police raids on the Black Cat, the achievement of the Women’s Building, the defeat of the Briggs initiative, the incorporation of West Hollywood as an independent city, to name just a few. But it is in the personal battles that are fought and won that the most affecting stories are told: how a motorcycle jacket-wearing volunteer nurtures and protects as best she can the runaway teens who live and work on the street; one man’s creation of “Color Bonita,” a combination oral history project and performance piece that illuminates the lives of Latino gay men; how one activist turned patient (Betty Berzon) took a stand at Cedars Sinai for the inclusion of Domestic Partner in its computer system. And of course, movies, movie stars, and the people who love them are scattered throughout the book, even when that’s not the subject.
Love, West Hollywood is an excellent primer on SoCal queer lives, and together with books such as GAY LA and Bohemian Los Angeles, the anthology completes the vibrant portrait of LGBT Los Angeles by bringing our stories up to the present.
West Hollywood is also where facts meet the imagination and re-emerge as fiction, as vividly captured in 90069: West Hollywood Stories. Writer Stephen Soucy put out a call (in these very pages, actually) for stories with this simple premise: “If you were to set a story within the footprint of West Hollywood, what story would you most want to tell?”
Almost half of the contributors don’t actually live in WeHo or Los Angeles, and I think that says something about the power of the place, the imagined holy land of safety, sexuality, and freedom. West Hollywood has quickly become a place, like Greenwich Village or Castro Street, where the young come with visions and age there, for better or worse, a place to discover themselves, play awhile, and at some point, begin living as adults.
Though presented as short stories, there’s a lot of fact in these fictions, I suspect. The hard-earned emotional truth of stories like “I Can Hear You Now” by John Morgan Wilson, “Requiem” by Max Pierce, and “The Learning Curve” by Jameson Currier stand out as gems, whose particulars may signify Weho but whose themes manage to transcend the setting. It’s a challenge, really, to present so many stories to convey a particular place as well as to offer something to those not of the place, not of the zip code, and editor Soucy has pulled it off to a large degree.
For me, the funniest story is “Will You Be Joining Us on the AIDS Walk This Year?” by Benjamin Scuglia – a story narrated by a gay man of a certain age as he navigates his way on Gay Pride Sunday, dispensing life observations and ruminations, through a barrage of AIDS Walk volunteers.
Taken together, Love, West Hollywood and Nine Hundred & Sixty Nine portray a complicated landscape where dreams, whether of love or political equality or community, can come true. And thrive.
Love, West Hollywood:
Reflections of Los Angeles
Edited by Chris Freeman and James J. Berg
Alyson / $16.95
Paperback, 352 pp.
Nine Hundred & Sixty-Nine:
West Hollywood Stories
Selected & Edited by Stephen Soucy
Introduction by Patricia Nell Warren
Modernist Press / $12.95
Paperback, 152 pp.