Sunday, November 08, 2009

Gay bibliography--as a calling and the fruits thereof

One of the hats I wear is that of bibliographer. The topic is inherently dreary, though in my case I alleviated the dreariness by choosing an exciting subject: sexuality. The following piece shows how I got started--and something of what the present situation amounts to.

At the beginning of the 1970s--the heady post-Stonewall days of gay-liberation ebullience--I accepted an invitation from my librarian friend Jack Stafford. Headed by Barbara Gittings, a subcommittee of the American Library Association had commissioned Jack to create a serious bibliography of homosexuality. Unlike previous such compilations, this one would emphasize positive aspects. In those days there were no courses in gay studies and the Gay Academic Union (in which I was to become active) had not yet been formed. So Jack and I undertook the work in order to learn things ourselves, as much as anything else. In retrospect I would have to say that we were largely flying blind.

When Jack died unexpectedly in 1973, I turned the manuscript over to Barbara Gittings, who utilized the material to create a 16-page leaflet of highlights, called a “Gay Bibliography.” This item was distributed pretty much for free to libraries and other interested parties.

In due course bibliographies appeared of foreign language material, by Claude Courouve (French), Giovanni Dall’Orto (Italian), and Manfred Herzer (German). Literary works in the English language were covered by Barbara Grier (lesbian) and Ian Young (gay male). However, the dream of a truly comprehensive bibliography of all aspects of same-sex behavior and culture remained unrealized.

Then I learned that a group working at ONE. Inc. in Los Angeles had done just that--or so it seemed. Edited by Vern L. Bullough and W. Dorr Legg, and others, An Annotated Bibliography of Homosexuality was published in two volumes by Garland in 1976. The work comprised almost 13,000 items, non-fiction and fiction, in several languages. However, there seemed to be no overall guiding principle of selection, and (almost scandalously) annotations, the title notwithstanding, were mostly lacking, and sometimes misleading when they did appear.

To his credit, W. Dorr Legg, the project director, realized that an entirely new publication was needed, one that would remedy the all-too-evident faults of the existing work. He invited me to serve as coeditor. After several years of intense work, we found that fundamental disagreements prevented us from concluding the task jointly. We had reached the letter N. The materials for this unfinished project are now preserved in the archives of ONE in Los Angeles.

Ultimately I realized that I could create my own bibliography, classified into sections (unlike the ONE efforts). I would omit works of fiction, which had been handled by others. The final product, comprising 4858 items, all annotated, was published by Garland in 1987 as Homosexuality: A Research Guide. It is generally agreed that this volume remains the most comprehensive and reliable printed bibliography of the subject. (An electronic version appears at; at that site, go to “Scholars,” and then click on “Dynes, Wayne.)

By 1987 we had reached the threshold of the Internet era. The advantages of publishing bibliographies in this format are obvious: economy (since no publisher of the traditional kind was needed and no one need pay for consult the compilation); ease of access; and flexibility (since the editors could keep constantly adding new items as they appeared).

Yet things did not quite work out as expected. The problems are illustrated by the destiny of a truly remarkable effort conducted by the Englishman Paul Halsall while he was a graduate student in medieval history at Fordham University in New York City. Working selflessly and with almost feverish energy, during the 1990s Halsall created “People with a History” (PWH) ( This is a major bibliography on-line covering gays, lesbians, and trans people for all historical eras and areas, including non-Western ones. Fully annotated and clearly sign-posted, the site contains links to other sites created by Halsall. While it can be used as a supplement and continuation of Dynes, Homosexuality: A Research Guide, the PWH site also notices earlier publications. Unfortunately, Halsall had to stop work in 1998 in order to complete his doctoral dissertation. He has since returned to England, where he has moved on to other things.

In this way, one of the main advantages of the Internet format was lost, because PWH’s creator, Halsall, who had demonstrated a truly amazing level of stamina, found himself unable to continue contributing to it. As far as I know, there is no real sequel for the decade or so after 1998. Fully understandable in human terms, such desertions are regrettable: they have continued to plague Internet bibliographies of LGBT themes. Apart from the extraordinary demands placed on one’s energy. there is the drawback that academic promotion committees do not usually award the same credit for electronic works as they do for printed books.

Working at the same time as Halsall, Gary Simes of Sydney, Australia, created the last printed bibliography of the subject that is comprehensive in scope. This is Simes, Bibliography of Homosexuality (Sydney: University of Sydney Library & The Australian Centre for Lesbian and Gay Research, 1998), based on the holdings of the University of Sydney Library. This careful listing of 6129 items is selectively annotated.

I turn now to ongoing Internet resources. Probably the best way for a newcomer to begin is to turn to the lists maintained by the London-based scholar Rictor Norton at his site: One may also consult online the collective work known as GLBTQ, which bills itself as “the world’s largest encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer culture” ( The articles are generally clear and reliable, though coverage is limited to literature, the arts, and the social sciences, including the relevant biographies. For the older entries, however, the bibliographies in the sidebars tend not to be up-to-date. Many relevant Wikipedia entries contain bibliographies, Finally, one may consult the listings in the CD-ROM of Paul Knobel of Sydney. His Encyclopedia of Male Homosexual Poetry and its Reception History (2002) covers poetry with 6,300 entries.

Online one can turn to three large and continuously updated repertoires stemming from the library world. The first, Harvard Libraries’ HOLLIS Classical, is relatively concise, with somewhat under 5000 items appearing in response to one's typing in the key word “homosexualty.” One may also consult the vast list of the holdings of the Library of Congress on line. Finally, one can proceed to a truly enormous compilation, that of Worldcat ( Among its 1.2 billion items lurk more than 50,000 entries relevant to our subject, including books, periodicals and periodical articles, dissertations, CD-ROMS and other electronic compilations. The enormous profusion of journal articles, of varying quality, poses a huge problem of bibliographical control. Worldcat presents these selectively (e.g. the Journal of Homosexuality), but seems to be constantly increasing coverage.

[Thanks to Paul Knobel for assisting with this compilation.]



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