Linda Hirshman has written a pungent history of how gay and lesbian Americans transformed themselves, in less than half a century, from a despised minority that dared not speak its name—or did so on pain of bashing in Greenwich Village, assassination in San Francisco, crucifixion in Laramie, Wyoming, snickers and agonized death everywhere—into the vigorous core of a new moral majority that occupied American culture (not without opposition), changed pharmaceutical testing, became an electoral bloc and spawned new specialties in wedding planning. Let’s not quibble about her title, Victory. All victories are incomplete. This is an amazing story.
The saga Hirshman tells consists largely of individual stories—comings out, breakouts, standouts, freakouts. Drama and melodrama: This is a reasonable choice she has made, and no small achievement, since she seeks to inspire readers as well as to get readers’ minds around a huge cultural upheaval. She does it with minimal attention to the usual blunt instruments of so-called social science and maximal attention to morality tales, to choice-points and collision-points where values were, as Nietzsche would say, transvalued. She gives a wide range of players their due.
The range is important, and so are the divergences. Like all social movements, the gay rights movement (GRM for short) has been, and continues to be, not only courageous but contentious. It’s American after all—polychromatic, unruly, and moralistic. Moralism grates. Audacity often comes with abrasiveness. Original individuals are, by definition, not like other people. And yet (surprise!) they’re people. They come from somewhere other than where they end up. They become. They have their jaggedness, their learning curves and precipices and tragedies.
How could a straight woman have written a book of such empathy and scope? She is—get ready!—an intellectual who can write. Hirshman has been a labor lawyer and a professor of philosophy and women’s studies, but the main thing is that she’s omni-curious, thoughtful, and tough-minded. One of her helpmeets, the historian Eric Marcus, says that only an outsider could have written this book, because she had no dogs in the many and various fights.
As an outsider too, I’m in no position to quarrel with her particular judgments, her inclusions and omissions. But I’m full of admiration not only for the movement but for its chronicler. I’m proud to call her my friend.
[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]