Review of Michael Bronski's A Queer History of the United States (Revisioning American History) by William A. Percy
When I phoned Larry Kramer to tell him that Michael Bronski had scooped him with a wide-angle survey ("A Queer History of the United States," Beacon Press, 2011), he said that he already knew and wasn't worried -- Farrar Straus & Giroux has assigned a special editor to help him polish and focus his 2000-page manuscript. Greater clarity on the topic will be welcome. Bronski's book is a hodgepodge with fewer errors as it approaches the present and the Boston area, but still ideologically distorted by political correctness and revolutionary zeal.
That Emerson and Thoreau should feature as such inspiring beacons toward gay liberation was news to me as it will be to most others. Apparently because Bronski spent so much time near Harvard, some Brahmin prejudice have infiltrated his brain. Bronski invokes those Concord sages as part of a narrative weaving New World 'queers' as an essential, rainbow-hued strand in some mythic tapestry of American democracy and equality.
Bronski's treatment of the early US is so confused that he admits that half of the European immigrants began as indentured servants and yet, in spite also of slavery, claims that equality generally prevailed -- and democracy too, even before Andrew Jackson got the vote extended to the majority of white males. Then he blames slavery for laying "the groundwork for the classification of others, designating a group of people as different, placing them outside of the legal, social, and moral framework, granting full citizenship." Bronski ignores European history with its centuries of demonization of everyone from the barbarians, as the Greeks denigrated all those not sharing their culture, to heretics, schismatics, Muslims, sodomites, and Jews. Only an American who fetishizes the construct of race (perhaps from hope its reflected light will impart substance on that empty confabulation 'LGBT') could lay this tendency on slavery.
Another problem is centering far too much on Boston. Bronski gives New York City, near his native New Jersey, excessive stature as well, elevating Stonewall above the California pioneers who laid the groundwork for homosexual toleration. He fails to mention either Don Slater or Jim Kepner, the two most important writers of that milieu, or give due credit to their magazine, "One." Also absent is Frank Kameny, head of Mattachine, Washington, D.C., who in 1967 broke with a tradition of seeking tolerance and proclaimed with in-your-face confrontationm, "Gay is Good."
Apparently monolingual, with little European travel, Bronski gives even less attention to Europe, even though currents flowing from the the Old World to the USA were vital for homosexuals, from the Calamites (American Uranians, flourishing from 1870 to 1930) to the homophiles (from 1952 to 1969). Granted this is a history of the US, but it's hard to grasp what happened here without noting Canon Derrick Sherwin Bailey's "Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition" (1955), which prepared the Anglican church to support the commission headed by Lord Wolfenden, which recommended decriminalization of consenting homosexuality not involving pay and conducted in private between males over 21. The approval of the Wolfenden report inspired the American Law Institute's model penal code (1962), which recommended decriminalization, following Illinois's lead the year before. Not that gay liberation was merely due to Anglophones. Andre Gide and Magnus Hirschfeld as well as Michelangelo and Leonardo inspired American homophiles. After Hitler crushed the movement in Germany, important post-war institutions included "Der Kreis" in Switzerland, the Dutch COC, and other groups and publications from the Scandinavian countries.
A higher-church Lesbyterian than I would have suspected, Bronski does of course mention every possible lesbian, particularly ones of color. But his Rainbow Coalition has not supported gays as much as gays have supported them.
Nevertheless, Bronski is quite accurate in his account of some of the events in which he participated, especially those near Boston. He is accurate only in what he chooses to discuss: missing in action are the "bad gays" that today's LGBT academic careerists would prefer had never existed. He leaves out any discussion of the vibrant prostitution scenes in the Tenderloin, Combat Zone, or Times Square- where horny young males of all stripes connected with those interested in them, thereby breaking down the fiction of LGBT good-gay identity, whose triumphalist illusions this book supports. With the same opportunistic selectiveness and chutzpah, Bronski leaves out the massive controversies over pederasty (now damned as 'pedophilia') centered precisely in his beloved Boston, where both NAMBLA and priestly scandals emerged. With hundreds of thousands of American queers now wearing the pink triangle of sex offender registries or languishing in jail for crimes of love and expression, this victor's history of LGBT America won't be the last word.
Maybe the most insightful review of this book is from British journalist Johann Hari writing in Slate, where he concludes, "It's bizarre that Bronski -- after a rousing historical rebuttal to the right-wing attempt to write gays out of American history -- ends up agreeing with Rick Santorum, Glenn Beck, and Michele Bachmann that gay people are inherently subversive and revolutionary, longing for the basic institutions of the heterosexual world to be torn down."
Not even an American president, vice president or a candidate for either office, cabinet member, governor, lieutenant governor, judge, senator, congressman, general, admiral, cardinal, bishop, banker, CEO, college president, publisher, editor of a major newspaper or a press, not even a lawyer or physician, in short no one from the elite is mentioned as having any homosexual experiences or even tendencies, but virtually every female entertainer of color and other minor figures are if they left any trace at all as if the upper classes didn't even have gay tendencies. This book is too tendentious to take seriously. And this is all too typical of the new left. For example, Zinn failed to mention even a single McCarthyiat persecution of gays and the media and even John D'Emilio go very lightly on upper class white males. (For more discussion, see http://williamapercy.com/wiki/index.php?title=Thoughts_on_Michael_Bronski%27s_new_booki%2C_A_Queer_History_of_the_United_States_by_Billy_Glover_and_others )