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Robert Steele
Banned from California
This is the biography of Jim Foshee, born in 1939. As a 15-year-old gay runaway he finds himself in the 1950s Los Angeles underground world of homosexuals and early queer culture. Experience Jim Foshee's bold, free spirit as he hitchhikes 800 miles away from his home in a small Idaho town. Jim lives on the edge. Throughout his adventures and misadventures, he finds himself among kind-hearted strangers, kindred souls and drag queens as well as con artists, liars, and ruthless cops. At a young age, Jim is institutionalized: * placed in an orphanage by his mother; * sentenced to a reform school for running away so much; and * committed to a mental hospital for diagnosed "sexual deviation and sociopathic personality." Jim just wants to break away and live a simple gay life, but his destiny first includes run-ins with authorities, incarcerations, and toiling on a prison chain gang. Be ready for a unique and personal true journey you won't soon forget. Jim's vivid remembrances paint a first-hand intimate portrait of times now passed—times of McCarthyism, government hunts for homosexuals and routine firings; but also times of the beats, hippies and liberation protests. As an older man Jim Foshee eventually becomes a gay researcher and activist of distinction. Experience this exciting part of history seen through the eyes of this gay American.
In this lively and moving biography, a vital contribution to the history of LGBTQ life and activism in 20th century America, veteran reporter and broadcaster Steele memorializes the life of Jim Foshee, who first fled Idaho for California at age 15, in 1954 and went on to witness and experience the front lines of the nascent gay liberation movement. Eventually, Foshee (like Steele) would devote himself to researching and preserving gay history. Steele draws generously on interviews with Foshee and his contemporaries to tell the story, touching frankly on an abusive childhood, harassment by law enforcement, the occasional celebrity sighting, the secretive early days of the Mettachine Society, and Foshee’s choice, as a teenager, to be open about his homosexuality—easier in California than in Idaho, but still dangerous.

Foshee’s life fascinates, and his tales crackle on the page. Among the topics covered: hitchhiking; police raids of gay bars; 1967 in Haight-Ashbury; getting sentenced to five years at Huntsville for theft; finding love and happiness in Denver. For all the illuminating history that he and Steele have dug up, much of the book’s pleasure comes from Foshee’s voice: “I told myself, ‘I will not be embarrassed. I’m a grand queen, and I’m performing for all of my appreciative fans,’” Foshee says, recounting how he got through being forced to disrobe in front of other inmates. Despite moments of high drama, including Foshee’s stint on a chain gang, the book’s focus is on the everyday existence of gay Americans—and the development of community, independent media, and eventually a liberation movement.

The book is alive with personal and local stories. One especially welcome element: Steele and Foshee’s commemoration of gay magazines and newspapers, from Los Angeles and Denver and elsewhere, priceless chronicles of their era, from the late ‘50s to the era of AIDS and beyond. Banned From California, named for a nonsensical order a judge issued teenaged Foshee, documents a welcome sea change, over the course of one remarkable life.

Takeaway: This lively biography of a gay activist and historian captures an extraordinary life and a century of change.

Great for fans of: Michael Schiavi’s The Life and Times of Vito Russo, Mary Ann Cherry’s Morris Kight: Humanist, Liberationist, Fantabulist.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A