Review: This Queer Angel by Elaine M Chambers from Unbound

Engrossing, deeply personal and at times funny testimony from a compelling point of view. An important addition to the growing cannon of modern LGBT+ history.

Available to buy in E-Book direct from unbound.

Paperback is available from your bookseller of choice.

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I better get this bit out of the way up front. I do have a bias here, I’m passionate that these stories of the fight for LGBT+ rights and the personal experiences of those impacted by centuries old bigotries should be told. I’m also a gay man. So, when I first heard about this book around two years ago, I supported it on Unbound. I’m proud that my name appears in the patrons list at the front, and I was excited for it to arrive when it saw publication just a few weeks ago.

This Queer Angel tells Elaine’s story, her background and upbringing, her family life and the road that led her to a career as an Army nurse. In highlighting the horrendous and nonsensical homosexual ban in the armed forces we get a sense of the injustices done to the LGBT+ community down the years and also of how far we have come in a relatively short time. Most of the events described around Elaine’s Army career, eventual forcing out and the campaign for change, through the formation of Rank Outsiders, and compensation that followed occurred during my lifetime, I’m thirty-five. The Army now places 55th on the Stonewall Top 100 of inclusive British employers, and Captain Hannah Graf has been named Stonewall Trans Role Model of the Year 2019. That’s incredible progress.

Despite such progress and for those of you who may be reading this from outside of the UK, you might not be aware that LGBT+ families are under attack again in this country. There is an ongoing protest in Birmingham against a primary school that is teaching children about families in an inclusive way. This protest is starting to spread, some schools in Manchester are starting to hear from parents who are ‘concerned’ (read: homophobic). I mention this for two reasons, one it horrifies me that we as a community could possibly be the subject of this sort of protest in 2019, it shows that whilst some positive progress has been made there is still a lot of hate and fear out there. And secondly, because This Queer Angel talks really compellingly about the importance of representation for LGBT+ youth. If we don’t educate and represent inclusively from a young age then there is no context in which to frame experiences growing up. Elaine talks about this in the early chapters, framed in her own experiences and in the lack of available books, TV shows etc. during her teenage years in the 1970s.

Elaine has written the book in an almost conversational style, you feel like you are sitting with her in the pub hearing this tale over a few pints. In composing a compelling oral history style narrative, I couldn’t pay a higher compliment. This is a clearly very personal story, that has had a long-lasting impact on Elaine’s life, we’re not talking about an isolated incident here from which a person moves on, this isn’t an episode in a life, rather it’s a defining event that would inform Elaine’s path for decades to come. There is anger here at what was lost, at what could have been, quite justifiably but its owned in an almost brutally honest way. No punches are pulled when describing her own life and at no point is there pretension to perfection. This decision to be open and honest makes for such a relatable story, even if the events aren’t familiar we can all see an element of ourselves or our family and friends here. Which makes the ban and the overall attitude to the LGBT+ community at the time even more bizarre. Yet, despite all this there is humor throughout. I found myself giggling on the bus when reading about POETS day (Piss Off Early, Tomorrows Saturday).

LGBT+ history and cultural studies is a small but steadily growing area of non-fiction writing. The section in my local Waterstones (Manchester Deansgate, the biggest outside of London) is still only a handful of titles really, and largely focused on men. Well written, readbale, relatable, funny, heart breaking, compelling, This Queer Angel will stand up over time as a hugely important addition to this growing cannon, and one which in time I’m confident will be recognised as trailblazing in highlighting lesbian experiences and the associated campaigns for change.

 

 

 

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