Memory, wrote Aristotle, is the scribe of the soul. It is what makes for civilisation, and it separates mankind from the beasts. But when history does not remember, because there is no one to record the memory, civilisation is ill served. LGBT history is a history of omission because, until in recent years, it was largely hidden or unspoken. It needs its chroniclers. That is why a writer such as Paul Baker is so important, and that is why I have selected him for inclusion as a hero for LGBT History Month 2012.
Paul Baker is a lecturer in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University. His publications include Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang, and Hello Sailor!: Gay Life for Seamen. He lectures regularly on the subject of language, culture and sexuality. And he is also a regular – and prized – contributor to Polari Magazine. What is so outstanding about Paul’s writing is that it is measured, intelligent and accessible. His writing is personal, yet it is also reaches toward the universal – ultimately he’s interested in his subject, and not himself. That sets him apart from so many of the ‘leading’ LGBT journalists and writers.
His book Fantabulosa is an important one in the history of gay men in the mid 20th century. It rescued the gay slang Polari from being lost to history. And why is that important? In the introduction, he writes, “Polari has recently undergone a revival of interest. It’s now possible to view it as part of gay heritage – a weapon that was used to fight oppression, and something that gay men can be proud of again.” That is why it is important. “Polari, as a form of camp humour, protection and attack, is worth remembering – a gay ‘language’ which serves as a testament to those who lived through times very different from our own.”
For me, it is always a great pleasure to read his work because it is so well thought out, so very reasonable and so very human. He is one of the LGBT community’s greatest assets, and one of its greatest spokesmen.
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