When we think about recent(ish) queer history, most of the stories that come to us are of lawbreakers. Some, like Oscar Wilde, are more famous than others (Peter Wildeblood). Like Alan Turing, we can turn them into martyrs, the founding fathers upon whose shoulders modern gay rights movements stand.

While the focus on lawbreakers risks us thinking of queers in times past always as tragic figures, doomed by ignorant and unfeeling society, it’s still important to understand the lives they lived, and how their experiences led to where we are today.

I adore Richard Ellmann’s biography of Oscar Wilde, and if you’re interested in learning about the life of one of my favourite literary figures, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Fans of the cult British film Velvet Goldmine will recognise many of the lines lifted straight from Ellmann.

If literary biography isn’t your thing, Peter Wildeblood’s firsthand account of being put on trial and imprisoned for “gross indecency” is also a compelling read. Against the Law is Wildeblood’s story in his own words, and it sheds light on a dark time in postwar England known by some historians as the “gay pogrom,” where gay men were targeted and entrapped by the police and establishment.

Wildeblood was very much collateral damage in a larger operation designed to bring down a member of the nobility, and as this became clear in his highly sensationalised trial, public sentiment in England began to shift away from criminalising same-sex activity. Wildeblood was one of the first people in England to openly admit his homosexuality on a national stage, and he was influential in forming the opinion of the Wolfenden committee, which recommended that homosexuality be decriminalised.

If you’ve seen the Benedict Cumberbatch movie The Imitation Game you’ll be familiar with the story of Alan Turing, mathematical genius and inventor of the first computer. Andrew Hodges biography, The Enigma, was the basis for a lot of the film, although (as always) Hollywood strayed pretty far from life in several places.

When I attended university in Manchester, I had lectures in the very room where Turing built one of his first machines. In Sackville Park near the gay village, there’s a statue of Turing, holding the poisoned apple that was speculated to have killed him. This proximity—although separated by a period of half a century—adds a personal touch to Turing’s story to me.

While Turing’s story is momentous in scope, it’s his later work on artificial intelligence that really captures my imagination. His thinking was so far ahead of its time that we still rely on today—every CAPTCHA you complete is a Turing test, designed to separate man from machine at a time when the possibility of A.I. was little more than science fiction.

Categories: Books

Kate Aaron

Born in Liverpool, Kate Aaron is a bestselling author of LGBT romances. Kate swapped the north-west for the midwest in October 2015 and married award winning author AJ Rose. Together they plan to take over the world.