Monday, December 24, 2018

Liberation or control?

I'm sorry this is getting buried on Christmas Eve, really decreasing my viewership, but c'est la vie.

I finished Michael Bronski's A Queer History of the United States earlier today, and I'm honestly only posting the review now so I don't forget things I want to remember from it.

The stated goal here was to recount the history of queer folks from around the Conquista to roughly 1988. While his telling has some hits and misses, it does have information I hadn't particularly considered before, better terminology for things I've observed, and some fairly interesting anecdotes. Unfortunately, he also seems to be trying to be a queer Zinn, his bias shows up a few times, particularly at the end, and most of the 15-18th century is the literary equivalent of Lady Cassandra.

AKA dry and dusty.
So, unlike modern pictures that discuss berdache, two-spirits and the like, Bronski at least has the competency to point out that thinking of the Native Americans as a united people is a mistake, as the different nations had different ideas on gender conformity, and relying entirely on racist European observations isn't exactly accurate. That they did exist is one thing, but their treatment in their nations was really reliant on that particular nation. 
Then we get in to the fact that what is now considered queer identity didn't really exist in such terms as where we are now, so really we're chronicling the emergence of an identity as it evolves into forms we now recognize. Yes, we can document same sex relationships in historical figures, but would they have recognized themselves as queer under the current definitions? It's not that homosexuals, transgender folks, aces, aros, and nonbinary folks didn't exist, the language and the recognition of such an identity really didn't exist until fairly recently. As such, particularly during the colonial period, it's not like people were recording their felonious sodomy for future generations to get titillated over. On the other hand, the Puritans of Boston make for a good starting point of showing one of the major threads in history, that of societal control and social purity. 
As we move into the 19th century, we get more into discussions on the changes in gender identity and  how what was masculine and what was feminine changed over time. How the rise of cities and urbanization lead to less living with the family and created a thriving culture for single people. We delve into the World Wars, and how the military helped gays and lesbians to find themselves less alone. We discuss the anarchism of the labor movement (tear down the oppressive society and replace it with a more fair and just one) and the Civil Disobedience of Transcendentalism (make ways to fit into society) and how they influenced the modern movement. (Indeed, he draws in other civil rights movements , and how they also influenced the Gay rights movement, and how long it was until they actually started sort of working together.)
The last chapter mainly deals with the Lavender Menace, the Briggs Initiative, the Dade County Anita Bryant drama, and AIDS. (I'm skipping over some discussions on Hollywood presentations for the sake of brevity.) we end with Queer Nations (and a few other organizations) protest at st. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, leading to an epilogue pointing out that Gay Marriage is truer to the idea of Transcendentalist (and alignment at redefining Social Purity) than Queer Liberation. It's actually a discussion that deserves more space than what it got, and it really needed to mention Gen X, rather than discussing Millennial and Boomer Queers.  
Ultimately, his conclusion is that the movement is a mixture of both the Control and the Libertine impulses of society, and we can find people at either pole within it. Which has been true for a lot longer than I think any of us really know. 
 I enjoyed reading this, even with the occasionally dry stretches. The footnotes would be invaluable to someone chasing down more information of our queer ancestors. While flawed in a few places, it's not fatally so. Well worth perusal for those looking for our roots.