It’s hard for the queer community to learn about its history. A lot of the time, we hear about major events, like the Stonewall riot, the response to the AIDS crisis, or legalizing gay marriage– but what about the other stories in between? Since most LGBT people don’t have all-LGBT families, the real people from the early days of the gay rights movement might seem a little distant from queer people today. But in One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston, Jane Su, a “riot girl” straight from the gay liberation fight of the 1970s, gets dropped right into the lives of a found family of queer twenty-somethings in modern-day New York, and suddenly history doesn’t seem so far away. August and Jane’s love story is just one of the many things to love about One Last Stop, so this Pride Month, let’s take a look at why the queer history woven into this story is so important.
One Last Stop‘s Time-Traveling Love Story
August Landry doesn’t believe in getting attached, until she meets Jane on the Q line in the middle of a very bad morning. Her Subway Girl hero always seems to be taking the train at the same exact time, and eventually August realizes that it’s no coincidence– Jane hasn’t left the subway in a very long time. Not since 1976, in fact, although for Jane it’s only been a few months. As August works to get her back to her own time (or, hopefully, free to stay in 2020), she and Jane both develop feelings for each other. By the end of the novel, August and her friends break rules and go to extremes (like a heist to shut down the MTA) to help Jane, and the past and future connect and affect each other in more ways than anyone predicted.
Jane and the Early Gay Rights Movement
It’s clear pretty early on that Jane’s life in the 70s was different from anything August has ever known. Jane is a punk, butch, confident and mysterious, and soon August figures out that fighting to stay alive is a big part of who she is. She talks about being there for riots broken up by police, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in New York City, and the tragic arson attack on the UpStairs Lounge in 1973. It makes it difficult for her to understand the new world she’s been brought to at times: “She’s still getting used to the idea that she’s not going to get arrested for being gay in public, which was a whole three-day emotional roller coaster.”
The New York City Jane moved to in 1975 had already had its first pride parade, on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Despite the haven for LGBT people the city had become, it was still very difficult to be anything but straight. There were hundreds of demonstrations every year, and even other progressive movements didn’t always support gay rights. As Jane tells August, “Someone always hated me.” This is sometimes hard for August to understand, but hearing the history from someone who was there makes a difference: “It’s hard, to picture Jane’s life forty-five years ago… it’s always soaked in sepia for August, grainy and worn at the edges. But Jane tells it in full color, and August sees it in her eyes”.
Representation and Pride
Pride is a very important theme in One Last Stop, from August building a queer found family in her new life in New York to her journey toward being able to love Jane openly. Casey McQuiston, the author, says that they were lonely growing up as the only queer person around them in a conservative Catholic school. They write to give people like them stories and characters that represent them and will give them hope. The characters in One Last Stop, who represent just about every queer identity in one way or another, definitely would help queer young people feel proud of who they are.
August and Jane are both great examples of queer representation, but they also represent very different generations of the LGBT community. August’s story, full of self-doubt and anxiety about experimenting, is still one full of love and acceptance, from her friends at the apartment to her mom being open to and supportive of her identity. August’s struggles with being gay are mostly personal, but Jane’s identity was challenged every day. She had to leave home to be who she is, and fight societal expectations, people in her own movements, and even the police for her right to exist. Not surprisingly, they are very different: August anxious but deep down hopeful and romantic, and Jane strong and confident to hide an impulse to run away.
Queer Pride in One Last Stop
The way pride has changed with the progress the gay rights movement has made is very important in One Last Stop. Jane’s story, running away from her family to be who she is, was very common at her time, and August’s uncle’s story mirrors hers in a very moving way. The way August experiences these stories, by talking to someone who was really there, makes it all the more real for her, and makes the family she’s created with her friends even more important. All the stories from Jane’s past about riots and bigotry and tragedy make moments of queer community and pride so much more meaningful. One Last Stop brings the importance of knowing queer history into bright focus.
The passage that illustrates this the best is one toward the end of the book, when August is watching her community celebrate at a drag show together and thinks about the generations that came befoer her. “She lets Jane’s memories transpose over here, now, like double-exposed film, two different generations of messy, loud, brave and scared and brave again people stomping their feet and waving hands with bitten nails, all the things they share and all the things they don’t, the things she has that people like Jane smashed windows and spat blood for.” The story One Last Stop tells, of love across time, connects the future to the past in ways that are so important to understanding the history of gay liberation and pride.
Check back here on Bookstr for more about Pride all month long!