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As he has made more stridently clear in his previous books, he believes that gay people are essentially different from straight people. Why is his book called a "Queer History" and not a "Gay History"? It seems to be because the word "queer" is more marginal, more edgy, more challenging to ordinary Americans.
He believes that while the persecution in this year history was bad, the marginality was not. Gay people are marginal not because of persecution but because they have a historical cause — to challenge "how gender and sexuality are viewed in normative culture". Their role is to show that monogamy, and gender boundaries and ideas like marriage throttle the free libidinal impulses of humanity.
So instead of arguing for the right to get married, gay people should have been arguing for the abolition of marriage, monogamy and much more besides. He swipes at the movement for gay marriage and Sullivan in particular, as an elaborate revival of the old social-purity movements — with the kicker that gays are doing it to themselves.
It's easy to forget that when Sullivan first made the case for gay marriage, his events were picketed by gay people spitting this argument into his face. When Bronski argues this case, his prose — which is normally clear — becomes oddly murky and awkward, and he may not agree with every word of my summary. This is the best I can figure out his position: He does finally explicitly say that the gay movement should have fought instead to "eliminate" all concept of marriage under the law, a cause that would have kept gay people marginalised for centuries, if not forever.
Of course some gay people hold revolutionary views against the social structures of marriage and the family — and so do some straight people. But they are small minorities in both groups. If you want to set yourself against these trends in the culture, that's fine — we can have an interesting intellectual debate about it.
Just don't equate it with your homosexuality. When Bronski suggests that gay marriage "works against another unrealized American ideal: individual freedom and autonomy", he is bizarrely missing the point. Nobody is saying gay people have to get married — only that it should be a legal option if they want it. If you disagree with marriage, don't get married. Whose freedom does that restrict?
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It's bizarre that Bronski — after a rousing historical rebuttal to the right-wing attempt to write gays out of American history — ends up agreeing with Santorum, Beck and Bachmann that gay people are inherently subversive and revolutionary, longing for the basic institutions of the heterosexual world to be torn down. There's a whole Gay Pride parade of people marching through Bronski's book who show it isn't so. I can see them marching now, down the centre of the Mall: the Native American chief with her four wives, Nicholas Sension with the whip marks on his back, the residents of Merrymount holding aloft their their 80ft phallus, Deborah Sampson Gannett dressed in her military uniform as Robert Shurtliff and the men from Physique Pictoral in their posing pouches, amazed to discover they are not alone.
Yes, they were all Americans. And no, they didn't choose marginality and exclusion. They were forced to the margins. It would be a betrayal of them — not a fulfilment — to choose to stay there, angrily raging, when American society is on the brink of letting them into its core institutions, on the basis of equality, at long last. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here. Want to discuss real-world problems, be involved in the most engaging discussions and hear from the journalists?
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