A Queer History of the United States

A Queer History of the United States

Book - 2011
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Winner of a 2012 Stonewall Book Award in nonfiction

The first book to cover the entirety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, from pre-1492 to the present.

In the 1620s, Thomas Morton broke from Plymouth Colony and founded Merrymount, which 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 just a few moments of queer history that Michael Bronski highlights in this groundbreaking book.
Intellectually dynamic and endlessly provocative, A Queer History of the United States is more than a "who's who" of queer history: it is a book that radically challenges how we understand American history. Drawing upon primary documents, literature, and cultural histories, noted scholar and activist Michael Bronski charts the breadth of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, from 1492 to the 1990s, and has written a testament to how the LGBT experience has profoundly shaped our country, culture, and history.
A Queer History of the United States abounds with startling examples of unknown or often ignored aspects of American history--the ineffectiveness of sodomy laws in the colonies, the prevalence of cross-dressing women soldiers in the Civil War, the impact of new technologies on LGBT life in the nineteenth century, and how rock music and popular culture were, in large part, responsible for the devastating backlash against gay rights in the late 1970s. Most striking, Bronski documents how, over centuries, various incarnations of social purity movements have consistently attempted to regulate all sexuality, including fantasies, masturbation, and queer sex. Resisting these efforts, same-sex desire flourished and helped make America what it is today.
At heart, A Queer History of the United States is simply about American history. It is a book that will matter both to LGBT people and heterosexuals. This engrossing and revelatory history will make readers appreciate just how queer America really is.
Publisher: Boston : Beacon Press, c2011
ISBN: 9780807044391
Branch Call Number: 306.766 B789q 2011
Characteristics: xx, 287 p. ; 24 cm


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Mar 03, 2018

I read all but one of two of the first chapters of this book, for research for a gay historical fiction novel and ... some of it was really good, some of it was mediocre, but I found it had a lot of contradictions.

This is a very general history of gay culture in the United States, and with its broad brushstrokes, sometimes it wins, sometimes it loses.

I took lots of notes and found many enjoyable details (the chapter on the production and marketing of gender was an unexpected joy) I found lots of bisexual / asexual and trans erasure present not only in the historical text but in the text itself.

I liked that it often challenged and called out racist ideals of the time, as well as well-known historical figures who were racist, but I was just disappointed at times in the overall tone of this book, upon reflection.

This feels very white-centered and very along the gay/lesbian binary, as well as the male/female binary.

I'm pleased with the notes I made, but I just found this to be well-intentioned and equally harmful. At one point, Bronski conflates the queer struggle with the struggle for equality amongst African Americans in the United States. He makes one or two interesting points I suppose, but to conflate and compare struggles is harmful and has already been done a thousand times over. He then goes on to elaborate that we shouldn't compare struggles, but like lots of white male cis writers, lacks the subtlety to break down the intersectionality of blackness and queerness in any meaningful way.

He then makes a smart move and quotes Audre Lorde, and then leaves the quotation unattended. The more I think about this, the more it sours in my mouth, which is sad because it was an enjoyable read, but I often wanted Bronski to check his privilege and drop his pejorative views.

Oh well. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


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