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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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Description-

  • 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...
 

Awards-

Excerpts-

  • From the book 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 the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a...

About the Author-

  • Michael Bronski is professor of practice in media and activism in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Program at Harvard University. He has written extensively on LGBT issues for four decades, in both mainstream and queer publications, and is the author of three other books and editor of several anthologies.

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.

  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2011

    Illuminating history lesson integrating the homosexual movement into America's historical landscape. This is the first book in the publisher's ReVisioning American History series.

    LGBT expert Bronski (Women's and Gender Studies, Jewish Studies/Dartmouth Coll; Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps, 2003, etc.) contends that gay men and women's contributions to the nation's historical fabric have not always been recognized for their impact. To prove his point, the author ambitiously chronologically traces five centuries of significant, transformational events, people and places in gay history. Bronski reaches back to 1492 to highlight the sexually progressive European influence explorers like Christopher Columbus had on colonial culture and how those ideals locked horns with Puritanical mores. The author equates the injustice of slavery to homosexual oppression and explores the Revolutionary era's strict ideas of gender conformity and the proliferation of same-sex "romantic friendships" in the 18th  century. Drawing on countless references from literary texts, gay classics, poetry, journals, newspaper articles and letters, Bronski gives readers a grand tour of queer cultural vantage points. These include the "outlaw culture" of San Francisco, the erotic prose of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, the homoerotic novels that indelibly shaped American literature and the pivotal revolution at the Stonewall Inn riots. The author suggests that as the United States grew in size, so did the tyrannical promotion of the heterosexual union as the "ideal relationship." Evidence of abundant gay soldiers in World War II surprises almost as much as the lengths they took to interact with one another. Considering more recent events, Bronski ends with the AIDS activism of late-'80s radical group ACT UP and the still-simmering gay-marriage argument.

    A lucid, cerebral treatise on gay culture from the point of view of a clever historian who maintains that "the heritage of LGBT people is the heritage of Americans." Required reading for both established and newly emerging members of the gay community—and far beyond.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    April 15, 2011

    This panoramic survey is less a history of homosexuality in the United States than a reexamination of American mores through a queer lens, a thematic analysis of the ways in which same-sex desire has reflected and shaped American morality over the past 500 years. Calling to mind Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, this is the first title in Beacon's new "ReVisioning American History" series. Bronski (women's and gender studies and Jewish studies, Dartmouth Coll.), who has been writing on LGBT topics for several decades, emphasizes the recurring historical tension between integrationist and anarchist paradigms of homosexuality, and he explores how various political and social movements--including transcendentalism, feminism, progressivism, and the labor and Civil Rights movements--have intersected with and diverged from the struggle for sexual freedom. The epilog covers the past two decades, which Bronski deems too recent to be treated as history. VERDICT Bronski does an impressive job weaving together existing LGBT scholarship with his own theoretical analysis. Recommended for anyone interested in gender, sexuality, or American history and culture.--David Gibbs, Georgetown Univ. Lib., Washington, DC

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 1, 2019
    In this adaptation of his 2011 book for adults, Bronski suggests that the Stonewall riots were precipitated by a great many LGBTQ Americans making their own strides toward liberty. Bronski opens with a discussion of the gender fluidity embraced by some indigenous North American tribes before providing brief biographies of queer individuals from history, along with discussion of changing views on sexuality throughout time. Some figures—Emily Dickinson, Jane Addams, Harvey Milk—will be familiar to readers. More obscure subjects include Jazz Age blues singer Gladys Bentley; 19th-century actor Charlotte Cushman; activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya; and Jose Sarria, the first openly gay candidate to run for public office in the U.S., in 1961. Chavet’s adaptation includes chapters devoted to modern coming-out stories, profiles of contemporary activists, and a look into “the future of queer history.” Readers seeking role models from the past will find an edifying resource and invitation for further exploration into untold stories. Ages 12–up.

  • John D'Emilio, author of Lost Prophet "Bronski does a stunning job of sweeping across five hundred years and weaving 'queer' through the history of this nation. Always insightful, and provocative."
  • Windy City Times "The first book to cover all of LGBT history from 1492 through the present is Michael Bronski's A Queer History of the United States (Beacon Press). It is wonderfully readable and looks at the way we understand the history of the United States. The LGBT population moves from the margins to the mainstream and we see that the history of this country also is our history."
  • CHOICE Magazine "Bronski's book provides an excellent overview for readers new to the field of gay history. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries..."
  • Boston Globe "...A succinct distillation of the history of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders in America... Bronski's impeccable research bolsters his arguments... a useful handbook for LGBT activist groups and other interested members of the gay community."
  • Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home "Bronski demonstrates with wit, insight, and impeccable scholarship that queer lives are, and always have been, woven into the very fabric of this country. Readable, radical, and smart--a must read."
  • Samuel R. Delany, author of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue "Elegant, insightfully selective, and unremittingly intelligent, Bronski's survey--of the whys and the ways queer people's work and struggle have been integral in forming what we call 'the United States of America'--is an impressive and useful overview."
  • Publishers Weekly, starred review "A savvy political, legal, literary (and even fashion) history, Bronski's narrative is as intellectually rigorous as it is entertaining."
  • John D'Emilio, author of Lost Prophet "Bronski does a stunning job of sweeping across five hundred years and weaving 'queer' through the history of this nation. Always insightful, and provocative."
  • The Bay Area Reporter "[A] monumental achievement."

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