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A Queer History of the United States
Cover of A Queer History of the United States
A Queer History of the United States
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Winner of a 2012 Stonewall Book Award in nonfictionThe first book to cover the entirety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, from pre-1492 to the present.In the 1620s, Thomas Morton...
Winner of a 2012 Stonewall Book Award in nonfictionThe first book to cover the entirety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, from pre-1492 to the present.In the 1620s, Thomas Morton...
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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.

Excerpts-

  • From the cover From Chapter 3: Imagining a Queer America

    Writing a New National Culture: The East


    Paradoxically, as westward expansion made the country geographically larger, new technologies—the invention of the telegraph in the late 1830s, the growth of a national railway system, and the telephone in the 1870s—facilitated travel and communications, making the country smaller and more cohesive. In these conditions we see the eventual flourishing of a distinctly American intellectual and literary culture. Washington Irving's 1820 short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" promotes the ideal of robust, decidedly heterosexual masculinity, as embodied by "Brom Bones" Van Brunt, over that of the lanky, effeminized schoolteacher Ichabod Crane. Both men are courting young Katrina Van Tassel until Brom Bones frightens Crane out of town. Irving's gender and sexual message is clear. Crane's first name means "inglorious" in Hebrew, which Bible-literate contemporary readers would know. And as literary critic Caleb Crain points out, much of the action of the story takes place by "Major Andre's tree." This is a reference to Major John Andre, the British officer—generally thought to be a lover of men—who collaborated with Benedict Arnold and was hanged by George Washington as a spy in 1780.7 For Irving, nearly four decades after the Revolution, the new, clearly heterosexual American man was an imperative.

    In contrast to Irving, also in 1820, nineteen-year-old Harvard student Ralph Waldo Emerson was writing entries in his journal about Martin Gay, a fellow student three years younger to whom he was attracted. Two years earlier, when he had first seen Gay, Emerson wrote:

    I begin to believe in the Indian doctrine of eye-fascination. The cold blue eye of [Emerson deleted the name here] has so intimately connected him to my thoughts & visions that a dozen times a day & as often . . . by night I have found myself wholly wrapped up in conjectures of his character and inclinations. . . . We have had already two or three profound stares at one another. Be it wise or weak or superstitious I must know him.

    Crain notes that Emerson's attraction to Gay was a form of the nineteenth-century ideal of "sympathy." In this context, sympathy— a form of empathy that, as Crain writes, "allows us to feel emotions that are not ours"—is an expansive form of romantic friendship. The deeply felt connective emotion of sympathy allows one to not only value a friend for his or her emotional sincerity, but to take imaginative leaps toward understanding and sharing the emotions of another. This new understanding of the possibilities of shared emotion was likely inflected by the new America of wide-open western spaces, natural landscape, and the outlaw.

    In 1837 Emerson published "Nature," an essay fundamental in defining transcendentalism: the distinctly American philosophy promoting individual spiritual transcendence through experiencing the material world, especially nature, rather than through organized religion. The next year, in his "American Scholar" speech, he urged his audience to rethink the idea of the American man (by which he meant humans) and to create an independent, original, and free national literature. Animated by the ideal of an expansive sympathy influenced by the "naturalness" of America, Emerson argued for an egalitarian society that values all of its members' individual contributions to a whole: the doctrine "that there is One Man,—present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find ...

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from January 17, 2011
    This enthralling history spans 500 years of evolving perspectives on sexuality in America—from the European settlers' violent responses to the more fluid gender roles of Native Americans to how the birth control pill, which separated sex from reproduction, contributed to the cause of LGBT liberation. Bronski (Pulp Friction), senior lecturer in women's and gender studies at Dartmouth, argues that a queer history of the U.S. is inextricably tied to the more well-known accounts of migrations, wars (his book describes hundreds of Civil War soldiers who were women disguised as men), economics, and philosophical evolutions. Attitudes to sexuality in the U.S. embody a characteristically American "tension between securing personal freedom for individuals" and "desire to protect people." In chapters that deftly balance narrative and history, personal stories and trivia gems (Dr. John Harvey Kellogg promoted Corn Flakes as a diet capable of curbing "the pernicious habit of onanism"), he chronicles not only the public and private lives of gays in America but the changing attitudes toward sex and marriage in the mainstream population. A savvy political, legal, literary (and even fashion) history, Bronski's narrative is as intellectually rigorous as it is entertaining.

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