Red Jordan Arobateau, The Bars Across Heaven

Red Jordan Arobateau, The Bars Across Heaven

70.00

[Oakland, CA?]: Red Jordan Arobateau, 1975.

First edition. [iv] 192 pp. Paperback. Small bump to lower corner and spine slightly creased, otherwise in good condition, title and author in yellow lettering on cover and spine.

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ABOUT THIS BOOK

The first novel by a compulsively readable but shamefully under-celebrated author. Red Jordan Arobateau’s (b. 1943) prose has been described by Naomi Extra as “transgressive, sex-positive street lit that centers [on] the lives of working class and poor queer folks of color—writing that helped pave the way for inclusive depictions of Black sexuality that we’re only just beginning to see in the mainstream today.” Beginning in the late 1960s, Arobateau self-published and distributed these writings outside of academic or institutional contexts: in Bay Area lesbian bars, the burgeoning network of feminist bookstores, and on the streets. While The Bars Across Heaven describes the world of working class lesbians that Arobateau inhabited at the time (he identified as a lesbian then), he’s still a working artist and writer in the Bay Area today, and continues to self-publish and distribute his staggering body of work. 

The Bars Across Heaven is written from the point of view of Flip, a bi-racial bulldagger who longs—above all else—for a girlfriend. But Flip’s fairly straightforward desires are complicated by struggle with poverty, the way in which poverty intensifies a sense of alienation in a big city, and a self-hatred compounded by that poverty, marginalised sexuality, and racism. The police haunt the entirety of The Bars Across Heaven: not only is fear of police raids a constant, almost ambient characteristic of the people who populate Flip’s world, but Flip’s own self-hating inner voice is described as “the pig.” Arobateau’s style of writing is almost cinematic, and the insight into Flip’s psyche and sex life gives a real sense the queer experience before Stonewall. We watch Flip move in turn through the streets San Francisco and Oakland, the beds of lovers real and imagined, the local Church soup kitchen, the long lines for welfare checks, the bars and clubs and softball teams of working-class dykes—who often separate themselves based on the color of their skin—and perhaps most consistently, the clinic offering support groups for women, and who provide Flip with sympathy and a shoulder to cry on. And Flip, in turn, remains unafraid of facing her emotions and willing to meet every obstacle with resilience. Beyond being a great novel, The Bars Across Heaven brings up a persistent problem in the history of queer literature: namely, that a canon has formed over time that exalts such works as Orlando or The Well of Loneliness at the expense of others. As Arobateau wrote in a 1996 article from The Lesbian Review of Books: “History books tell us a lot about the lives of upper-class women such as Gertie Stein and Alice B. but very little of the underprivileged lesbian factory workers, queer servants, and tranny seamstresses. There’s a whole group of dikes to whom these characters, these books may appeal.”

FURTHER READING

The Red Jordan Arobateau Blog, http://redjordanarobateau.blogspot.com 

Naomi Extra, “The Groundbreaking Author Who Celebrated the Sex Lives of Poor, Queer People,” Broadly, 22 February 2018, (https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/d3ww4y/the-black-trans-author-red-jordan-arobateau-queer-erotic-writing-urban-fiction-70s).

Leo Hill, “Trans*Profile: Red Jordan Arobateau, writer and painter,” Trans*Life Zine, (https://translifezine.com/red-jordan-arobateau-writer-and-painter/).