Monday, June 17, 2013

On My Nightstand

It has been a great week for reading. Just finished Phil Tiemeyer's Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013). The book looks at the history of male flight attendants and how they were understood by airlines and the general public. The study allows Tiemeyer to discuss issues of sexuality, identity, gender and AIDS in a way that is sensitive and informed. Too often studies of sexuality and gender reify the very concepts they want to critique, but Tiemeyer's use of language and research makes this an important and thoughtful book. I did not know that male flight attendants were the norm up until World War II and that female attendants only came later. Using case studies based on litigation in various courts Tiemeyer brings to life an important story that has been overlooked. Especially fascinating is how revisits the story of Patient Zero (Gaetan Dugas) pairing the mythology of his life with the story of another HIV+ flight attendant. For anyone interested in queer history, the history of masculinity or gender and sexuality, or the history of flight this would be an important book. 

I am currently reading Andrew Soloman's Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the search for Identity (New York: Scribner, 2012). Looking at diverse communities of people who come together because of shared interests Soloman tracks how identities develop both vertically (those identities we inherit) and horizontally (those identities we search for as we grow). It is a fascinating study of diversity and shows how we can reach across difference for empathy through shared experience. By focusing on parenting and childhood and how people search out communities he presents the lived experiences of individuals from diverse communities, including the Deaf, autism, prodigies and others who are marginalized. Throughout all of the discussions are issues of individual identification, group identification, medical intervention and all of the debates that surround such issues. As Solomon writes "Though I have gathered statistics, I have relied primarily on anecdotes because numbers imply trends, while stories acknowledge chaos. If you talk to a family, you have to process conflicting narratives, trying to reconcile the genuine beliefs-or canny manipulations-of various parties." (41) It is a fascinating book that would appeal to anyone interested in how to build bridges and links from community to community. 

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