Saturday, October 2, 2010

Book Review: "The Stonewall Experiment"

Ian Young is upfront about who he sees as the intended reader of The Stonewall Experiment: A Gay Psychohistory (Cassell)--"a young gay man (or whatever term he chooses for himself) of a future generation." I just hope this future reader will be able to get through the text without yawning or having his eyes glaze over from encountering pages of social science jargon like "heteromimetic" (imitating heterosexual marriage), "ithyphallic" (an erect penis), and this tongue-twister, "brachiopractio eroticism" (fisting).

The British-born Canadian writer traces the psychohistory of gay men from the mid-19th century to the present age of AIDS. Young explains how "fear, shame and guilt have always undermined our cause" and how the Stonewall Experiment, "an experiment in reclaiming full humanity" for gay people, was co-opted by "government, physicians, pharmaceutical companies, organized crime, the churches, the public--and we."

Most of The Stonewall Experiment is devoted to the AIDS crisis which would be fine in a history of the AIDS epidemic, but this is supposed to be a book about how and why gay men have internalized their oppression over the decades by "having fervently embraced the role assigned to [them]--that of outcast and pariah..."

What The Stonewall Experiment lacks is a narrative style that makes the early homophile activists--Walt Whitman, Edward Carpenter, Gerald Heard, among others--come alive on the page and that makes complex but otherwise interesting ideas and theories compelling and layman-friendly.

The bibliography, however, is a useful guide to books and articles of particular interest to gay readers.

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