Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution
Despite the author’s admission in the epilogue that "celebrating the Victory of the gay revolution does not mean an imaginary gay commander-in-chief should land on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit with a "Mission Accomplished" sign behind him," it is impossible to read the book’s title, "Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution ," without the uncomfortable sense of its prematurity. Hirshman’s insistence on this triumphant narrative however, is not entirely without purpose. We have, as Hirshman reminds us, come a long way from the turn of the century when homosexuality was a "disease" and when the police could harass us without repercussion. If Hirshman’s call to celebrate our nascent and bitterly contested rights reminds us that only twenty years ago our government during the Reagan administration more or less precipitated the death of thousands of AIDS victims, then the celebratory frame of her book might be the sugar-coating we need to bolster our movement.
But, even if the book offers up such newfound motivation, it lacks a clear prescription of how the reader might best direct her or his energies; besides marriage, what causes remain for the burgeoning LGBT activist? There is no mention, for example, that despite the demedicalization of homosexuality in 1973, Gender Identity Disorder persists as a valid and often necessary diagnosis for transgendered individuals to legally transition. Trans people, as is so typical of LGBT culture, regretfully get short-shrifted in Hirshman’s history; while the book offers an excellent analysis of the ONE Magazine Supreme Court ruling in 1958 (the first-ever homosexual victory in the nation’s highest court), the book omits any mention of Reed Erickson, the wealthy transgender philanthropist who funded ONE for roughly twenty years after the ruling. Similarly, queer people of color are often underrepresented here: Harlem Renaissance figures like Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen are unmentioned, as is Audre Lorde even though the book offers an outstanding chronicle of lesbian activism.
Ultimately, Hirshman provides an excellent and very readable history that is buttressed by an impressive amount of research and personal interviews. At its best moments, the book’s outlines of social protests read like a how-to manual for activists, and are thusly invaluable to the right reader. For those who are unfamiliar with gay history, this is an extremely accessible introduction if you resist the urge to unfurl any "mission accomplished" banners. When you probe a little deeper into the history of queer people of color, trans-identified individuals, and other underrepresented segments of the queer community, declaring "victory" seems unwarranted, but from Hirshman you will receive a better sense that, with the right tools, change is possible.
"Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution"
Harper Collins Publishers
by Linda Hirshman