Review of Michael Bronski's
Bronski, Michael. “A Queer History of the United States”, Beacon Press, 2011.
Review by Amos Lassen
It is so good to know that our history is being written down and I am aware of at least three histories of LGBT America that will be out this year. Michael Bronski’s book is the first to cover all of the history of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people from 1492 to the present and is a fascinating read. There is a lot of new information here and our history is certainly colorful.
I had never heard of Merrymount before, for example. Thomas Merton broke from the colony at Plymouth and founded it as a place that “celebrated same-sex desire, atheism, and interracial marriage. Transgender evangelist Jemima Wilkinson, in the early 1800s, changed her name to “Publick Universal Friend,” refused to use pronouns, fought for gender equality, and led her own congregation in upstate New York. In the mid-nineteenth century, internationally famous Shakespearean actor Charlotte Cushman led an openly lesbian life, including a well-publicized “female marriage.” And in the late 1920s, Augustus Granville Dill was fired by W. E. B. Du Bois from the NAACP’s magazine the Crisis after being arrested for a homosexual encounter.”
These are a few of the highlights in this provocative history and it indeed challenges what we have always called American history. Bronski has done excellent research and went back to the original sources to show how who we are has shaped the history of this country. There is so much here that is new to me and even what I did know has been beautifully rendered by Bronski. We knew of the anti-sodomy laws in this country but how many of us knew that they were ineffective and I am sure many of us did not know about women dressed as man taking part in the Civil War. In the 1970’s the backlash against our community came about because rock music and popular culture influenced the way people thought. All through American history movements who were founded on the ideals of “social purity” have tried to regulate us and our sexuality but despite this, we continued to blossom.
While this is considered to be a history of LGBT America, it is more than that. It is an examination of the mores of America as seen through a queer lens and it analyzes how gay people have changed the course of our history.
Bronski is not new to gay literature—he has been writing about us for some time now but here he brings together all the different aspects of LGBT history to show the tension that has existed here regarding homosexuality and he pulls the movements of feminism, progressivism, transcendentalism, labor, civil rights, integration and anarchist together to give us this wonderful book.
His basic thesis is that gay men and women have made valuable contributions to the history of America but they have not been recognized for having done so. While reading, it is like taking a tour of queer culture. Another interesting aspect that Bronski tells us is that as America grew so did the idea that heterosexual marriages were the “ideal relationship(s)”. The book ends with the AIDS epidemic and he looks at ACT UP as well as the gay marriage issue. Bronski further states that our heritage is America’s heritage. Many may find what Bronski says as radical but then we have always been considered to be radical. We have always been a part of the history of this country and the time has come to be recognized for such.
The book informs and provokes thought and a Bronski show that we are people just like everyone else with the same goals and desires as most Americans. Our pluses and minuses are just like everyone else’s. To read this book is to broaden horizons and to allow us to be even better Americans than we already are. The book will allow us to have discussions about our past and where we are going and it is a book that is badly needed. I only hope that it is widely read. We all know that we fear the people we don’t know and that once we get to know someone, the walls come down. Here is a great place for pulling down those walls.