Hugh Ryan’s When Brooklyn Was Queer is an exploration of the LGBT history of Brooklyn, from the early days of Walt Whitman in the 1850s up through the queer women who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, and beyond.
... provocative and fascinating ... It is interesting to see a shift from the early gay and lesbian scholarship to a new generation of vibrant queer historical writing. Ryan’s perspective is expansive. He is attuned to issues of queer diversity, as well as to gender, sex, and feminist theory, and he keeps a steady contemporary eye on the flawed narrative assumptions and rush to conclusion that plagued prior historical writings ... a rich journey through the birth, decline, and rebirth of a distinct queer community ... Ryan vividly reconstructs an entire lost past...Ryan’s scholarship turns up an abundance of riches ... By demystifying the process of historical research and maintaining a robust self-awareness and open point of view, Ryan’s study stays extremely welcoming and inclusive. His metanarrative, like all good history writing, brings the past vividly alive and makes us excited to learn more about who we were, are, and possibly may be in the future in this dynamic, evolving city many of us call home.
... boisterous ... When Ryan then turns to Brooklyn’s queer bard Walt Whitman in Chapter 1, he has a little trouble getting his bearings ... Ryan hits his stride once he reaches the late 19th century, however, and by Chapter 2 the book has become an entertaining and insightful chronicle ... As distinctively colorful as these lives were, they were powerfully shaped by institutions, Ryan’s history shows.
Happily, his new book brings many of those pieces together in a fascinating portrait of gay life in Brooklyn ... A number of celebrated creative types figure prominently, and Ryan gives generous attention to the likes of poets Hart Crane, W. H. Auden, and Marianne Moore ... Bringing them alive again is one of the valuable services Ryan’s fine work contributes to queer history.