About the Book
The first book to cover the entirety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
history, from pre-1492 to the present, Michael Bronski's A Queer History
of the United States is truly among the first of its kind. Engaging and
thought-provoking, it's more than a sweeping surveythe book radically
challenges how we understand queer American history. Both comprehensive and
accessible, A Queer History of the United States restores the visibility
of people relegated to the margins of history to make the provocative claim
that LGBT history is American history.
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"A savvy political, legal, literary (and even fashion) history, Bronski's
narrative is as intellectually rigorous as it is entertaining." Publishers
Weekly, starred review
"Michael Bronski's book is a revelation. Its lively and engaging narrative
peels back layers of cultural interconnection-from the creation of corn flakes
to curb masturbation to Bette Midler's rise to stardom that started at a gay
bathouseand much more. Bronski has a Zinn-like grasp of the ties that
bind us all together and how to illuminate them on the page." Jewelle
Gomez, activist and author of The Gilda Stories
"Michael Bronski demonstrates with wit, insight, and impeccable scholarship
that queer lives are, and always have been, woven into the very fabric of this
country. A Queer History of the United States is readable, radical, and
smart-a must read." Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home
"In the age of twitter and reductive history, we need a complex, fully
realized, radical reassessment of historyand A Queer History of the
United States is exactly that. Along the way there are enough revelations
and reassessments to fuel dozens of arguments about how we got to where we are
today. I don't know when I have enjoyed a history so much." Dorothy
Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina and Cavedweller
"Elegant, insightfully selective, and unremittingly intelligent, Bronski's
surveyof 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. From the Puritans through the end of the 1990's this wonderfully
readable book is informative, enlightening, and will please all who seek an
understanding of the forces, the contradictions, and the cultural conflicts
around sex that have made us what we are." Samuel R. Delany, author
of Times Square Red, Times Square Blue and About Writing
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About the Author
Michael Bronski has been involved in Gay Liberation as a political organizer,
writer, editor, publisher, and theorist since 1969. He wrote extensively for
the LGBT press in the 1970s and 1980s. He is the author of Culture Clash:
The Making of Gay Sensibility and The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash
and the Struggle for Gay Freedom. He has edited several books including
Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps. His essays
have appeared in nearly forty anthologies. As a journalist, cultural critic,
and political commentator he has been published in a wide array of venues including
The Village Voice, The Boston Globe, GLQ, The Los Angeles Times, and
The Boston Phoenix. He is a Senior Lecturer in the Women's and Gender
Studies and Jewish Studies program sat Dartmouth College.
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Questions for Discussion
Chapter One: The Persecuting Society
Bronski begins this chapter by talking about the limited knowledge of most
Americans about LGBT history. What was your knowledge of the "beginning"
of LGBT history before you began reading this book? How has that changed?
According to Bronski, early Europeans held that people who did not conform
to Christian values, gender and other societal norms "were less than
human; they were like animals," which "qualified them to be deprived
of individuality, liberty, and life itself" (p. 5). Many times in history,
mistreatment of people-from slavery to genocide-has been justified by claiming
the victims are inferior in some way. Is this done with LGBT peoples as
well as other minorities?
Bronski makes it clear that the native people of the Americas, as well
as the Europeans who settled here later, who engaged in same-sex emotional
and sexual relationships did not see themselves as being "homosexual"
or "LGBT" as we use those terms today. Is it possible to use those
terms to describe them when writing a history? If we do use them what do
we gain, and what do we lose in understanding their lives and experiences.
Chapter Two: Sexually Ambiguous Revolutions
Many connections in this chapter are made between slavery and the situation
of homosexuals in American history. At one point, the author states that
"the widespread acceptance of legalized slavery reinforced and normalized
mainstream society's ideas about moral and sexual inferiority" (p.
23). What are some similarities you see personally between the two? Do you
think this is an apt comparison?
Ideas about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman change
all of the time. What does Bronski argue here about how the American Revolution
changed gender roles as the colonies became the Republic?
Chapter Three: Imagining a Queer America
Bronski uses literature, song, and poetry to make some of his points in
this chapter, a technique he employs in later chapters as well. Do you think
those are reliable sources, or are they open to broad, perhaps even conflicting,
interpretation? How do the arts reveal truths about society?
"The open sea, like the open range, by offering escape from social
condemnation, allowed for the articulation of same-sex desire and made same-sex
sexual behavior natural and even utopian" (p. 61). Is there an equivalent
of this todaysomewhere "open" for sexual expression? Or
do we need to change our society to make it the open space? Discuss what
are some limitations and obstacles to fostering that kind of openness.
Chapter Four: A Democracy of Death and Art
This chapter discusses the correlations between lesbianism and increases
in women's independence, such as the ability to make a difference in the
world through work, social change, or live in "Boston marriages."
What do you think of this correlation, which is one continued throughout
the book? As women become more independent, why might lesbianism also become
Bronski makes the argument throughout the book that war has always brought
major changes to the lives of LGBT people. How did this happen during and
after the American Civil War? How did ideas about manhood change? And how
was gender, at this time, connected to the new ideas about nationhood?
Chapter Five: A Dangerous Purity
Bronski focuses on the nineteenth century social purity groups in this
chapter and how, though they were championing good causes, were often detrimental
to freedom and acceptance of racial and minority groups including people
who desired their own sex or were seeking more sexual freedom. He writes
about the "tension between securing personal freedom for individuals
and the social purity movement's desire to protect people" (p. 85).
Are there still groups today similar to the social purity groups of the
past? What do you think their influence is on contemporary American society?
This chapter introduces the stereotypes of the "mannish lesbian"
and the "effeminate homosexual man," results of the theory of
inverted sexuality in homosexuals (p. 96). Do you think that these stereotypes
still exist today? Do we see them in popular entertainment and on television?
Are they representative of the LGBT community, and, if not, why then do
Chapter Six: Life on Stage, Life in the City
Bronski writes that "theater promoted instability and immorality by
allowing deviations from sexual and gender norms to materialize on the stage"
(p. 105). Do you think theater and other forms of media, including film,
television, and the internet push social norms today? If so, how? Are they
still making LGBT and gender-bending roles more accepted? And if that is
the case for individuals why is there still so much discussion and resistance
to legal rights for the LGBT community?
This chapter discusses how social changes occurred as people migrated to
cities. "The rise of communities of single men and women" led
to "new structures of public socializing" which allowed more LGBT
freedom (p. 106). How do you think social communities have changed in contemporary
times? How do these communities resemble or differ from the ones Bronski
is talking about in this chapter? Has the advent of the new structures of
socializing like the internet and social networking sites changed things
for the LGBT community?
Chapter Seven: Production and Marketing of Gender
- In this chapter, Bronski writes about how access to cars by the 1920s afforded
"new innovation in romantic and sexual privacy" which also was "a
boon to those engaged in same-sex relationships" (p. 131). Why do you
think there is such a strong correlationboth here and at other points
in the book-between increased sexual freedom for all and better conditions
for homosexuals in general? Has this always been true throughout U.S. history?
Do we see it today as well? How?
Chapter Eight: Sex in the Trenches
This chapter discusses the effects of World War II on lesbians and gay
men. Bronski quotes one member of the Women's Army Corps as saying, "'We
would socialize together, both straight and lesbian'" (p. 161). He
also cites numerous examples of how the armed forces tacitly accepted both
lesbians and gay men. How do you think LGBT relations in the military have
changed since then? Amidst the conflicts over Don't Ask Don't Tell and the
current military situation, do you think things have improved or gotten
worse for lesbians and gay men in the military?
World War II also changed how women were treated in the United States,
often granted economic and personal freedoms they had never had before.
Through iconic images such as Rosie the Riveter, women were told that they
had cultural importance and power. How did this change in gender roles affect
lesbians and gay men? What changes did it bring about that were far reaching?
What aspects of these changes were short lived?
Chapter Nine: Visible Communities/Invisible Lives
This chapter describes the formation, after World War II, of national organizations
for homosexual rights, which were "the beginning of today's lesbian,
gay, bisexual, and transgender movement" (p. 176). As these changes
evolved, how do you think the effectiveness of the LGBT movement changed
when it became "official," as opposed to the more private struggle
it had been previously?
Bronski writes about how "the cultural obsession with homosexuality
increasingly blurred the line between heterosexual and homosexual"
(p. 194). What are some concrete examples of this that he gives? Do you
think obsession ultimately leads to acceptance? What differentiates the
Chapter Ten: Revolt/Backlash/Resistance
Stonewall has often been seen as a major turning point or even the beginning
of the modern LGBT movement. However, Bronski says that Stonewall "was
less a turning point than a final stimulus" (p. 210). What other events
were happening at this time that helped create Stonewall? After reading
this chapter, do you still consider Stonewall as major as you did before?
If you had to choose a definite turning point for the LGBT movement, what
would you pick? Why?
This chapter, which describes how legislation has curtailed LGBT rights,
covers what is called "the beginning of a conservative political and
religious backlash that is still happening today" (p. 221). Why do
you think this backlash began? Why did things begin to move backward instead
of forward? Was this reflected in popular culture as well? How? Have these
social and political trend continued until today?
This epilogue discusses the many ongoing legal battles for LGBT people,
from adoption for same-sex couples to same-sex marriage. What do you think
are the implications of these legal changes? Which has to come first-changed
laws, then changed minds, or changed minds first, and then laws? Bronski
argues that some aspects of the current LGBT political agenda stem from
the long history of the fight for legal equality in U.S. history. Some,
he argues, have different roots such as the social purity movements? How
do these two, very different, sets of precedents work together?
Many LGBT representations are mentioned, from TV shows to movies. What
are some LGBT media representations you are familiar with? Are these portrayals
positive or negative? Do they follow stereotypes or break them? And why
are these representations important?
To Discuss After Finishing the Book
This book is the first in the ReVisioning American History series by Beacon
Press, a series intended to reinterpret history through new perspectives.
How do you think this book offers a fresh viewpoint? How is it different
from what you've traditionally learned? Have your knowledge and your views
of LGBT history changed in reading this book?
Bronski states in this book that "same-sex desire had become American"
(p. 54). Do you think this is true? Discuss whether you believe LGBT identity
is intertwined with American identity. Do you think most Americans would
agree with that? If not, then why?
Not all of the history in here is about specifically LGBT people. It's
also about gender roles, homosocial friendships, race, immigration, internal
migration of populations, the rise of technology, the history of entertainment
and other things. What do you think the significance of that is? Do you
think most people take into account all those things when they think about
LGBT history? What have historians taken into consideration when they have
written history in the past?
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