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The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash, and the Struggle for Gay Freedom Paperback – February 23, 2000

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"We are your worst fear," went one 1970s rallying cry among gay activists. "We are your best fantasy." Michael Bronski runs with that paradoxical notion, arguing that "straights" are correct to believe that homosexuals represent a threat to the values of Western civilization--and that's a good thing. What they fear (and resent) most in homosexuality, Bronski argues, is the ability of homosexuals to simply enjoy themselves, to take the pleasures of sexuality without the cultural baggage of reproductive responsibility and social conformity. Consequently, the "unique position" of homosexuals "as sexual outsiders endows them with an unparalleled vision for cultural and social change."

Bronski deftly deals with a dizzying array of post-WWII American history and culture, from the battles between homophile assimilationists and gay liberationists to the media controversy surrounding Pee-Wee Herman's arrest and the rise of lesbian chic. He makes a strong case both for the vitality of gay culture (including sexuality) and the necessity of explicitly recognizing the contributions that it has made and continues to make to mainstream culture. "Only when those in the dominant culture realize that they are better off acting like gay people," Bronski writes, "will the world change and be a better, safer, and more pleasurable place for everyone." --Ron Hogan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"For decades," writes Boston gay cultural critic Bronski (Culture Clash), "conservative psychoanalysts, religious leaders, and politicians have charged that homosexuality is about nothing more than having sex; that homosexuals are 'obsessed' with sex; that homosexuality is a 'flight' from the responsibilities of 'mature' sexuality. And they are right." Though occupying an uneasy middle ground between the academic and the mainstream (reflected in its clear but occasionally fussy prose), Bronski's book is important as a long-overdue addition to the discussion of gayness and sexuality in general in the U.S. In devoting the greatest part of his argument to the relationship of gay sex to pure pleasure, and to the lessons in pleasure learned by the rest of society from the gay example, Bronski is able to deal with issues that nearly all sides of the debate have tended to shy away from. Bronski draws compelling and broadly considered parallels between homophobia and anti-Semitism and provides a useful history of the development of ghettos as a way that various societies have handled unassimilable minorities. Though he forthrightly takes on the issue of children and homosexuality, he is at his weakest there for relying heavily on correspondences and opinions that seem inconclusive. Yet his book reminds us that before matters of sexuality?homo-, hetero- or otherwise?can be resolved, sexuality itself and the concept of pleasure must be confronted head on.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Stonewall Inn Editions; 1st edition (February 23, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312252870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312252878
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,380,148 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Bronski, co-author of "You Can Tell Just By Looking" (Beacon, Oct. 2013.)He is Professor of the Practice in Activism and Media in the Studies of Women, Gender and Sexuality at Harvard University. He has written extensively on LGBT issues for four decades, in both mainstream and queer publications. His A Queer History of the United States won a Lammy Literary Award in 2012, as well as the American Library Association Stonewall Book Awards Israel Fishman award that same year. His Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps won a Lambda Literary Award in 2003.

Photo: Marilyn Humphries

Customer Reviews

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 30, 1998
Format: Hardcover
The current search by physicicists for a "Theory Of Everything", a short formula that will explain the universe.... comes to mind when reading Michael Bronski's newest and best book.Bronski shows that several aspects of lesbians & gay mens' lives, usually treated as separate subjects (sexuality, psychology, social norms & biasas, discrimination & civil rights) actually make a lot more sense--- when considered together, as a unified whole.He shows that you can't understand why lesbians & gay men are where we are, today, in terms of human rights..... unless you look at more than a little history.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Michael S. Waren on October 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
Author Michael Bronski has written a great and understandable book on the homophobia that heterosexual society feels toward homosexuals. In short, all because gays experience sexual freedom and often live their sexuality freely without fear of repercussions which straight society feels would be the downfall of civilization as know it, especially if everyone adopted this paradigm of thought. This is a myth that gets explicated fully here by Bronski drawing on several examples from history and research. Bronski makes his most insightful points on the "gaze" of the male body, the continued struggles for gays due to the AIDS crisis and the difference between public and private space relating to the "gay ghetto" in straight society. Also Bronski makes a startling revelation that gay society is not assimilating to the straight ideal but that straight society is actually accepting, adopting and drawing from gay culture more. The thought that "the world is turning upside down" due to the experience of sexual pleasure is ridiculous and unfounded. As a scholar interested in media and gay studies I can't stress how important and meaningful I found this text to be. It justifiably has a place in every personal and academic library because within it this book speaks volumes of information.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 23, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Many books divide the subject of lesbian & gay male or 'queer' liberation, into isolated parts. The legal part. The sexuality part. The cultural change part.Michael Bronski's new book shows that-- that's arbitrary, and doesn't respect the historical facts.You CAN'T understand why we are so late in gaining civil rights against housing & employment discrimination in most States, and federally.... if you isolate that question from the sexual and the cultural history areas.Bronski shows, step by step, that those "soft" (he doesn't use that term) areas of gay studies-- are the things you need to understand, to explain the "hard" areas (he doesn't use that term, either) of L/B/G human rights and legal struggles .... And, to some extent, vice versa.The newly popular wave of "conservative" or quasi-closety authors, who isolate the human rights issues and avoid the realities of who we are, by saying things like "We're exactly the same as heterosexuals" ... can never explain why our situation is what it is, or how homophobia and discrimination can be dealt with ... without the wholistic approach, that Michael Bronski has now carried further, than any other gay liberationist author.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mad Max TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 21, 2010
Format: Paperback
I read this book when it first came out, and was absolutely thrilled by it. I was familiar with some of Bronski's writings, but this book represents a huge practical & philosophical work in gender.

I ran across this book the other day, and began reading it again (in light of the resurgence of Fox News/Glen Beck-style homophobia of recent years). I'm finding it probably more relevant today than a decade ago.

I don't recall the entire argument, and of course as I'm re-reading it, I'm finding new insights. I remember particularly liking the chapter on "Suffer the Little Children" (about the effective use of children, by the media & right-wing politicians, as an excuse for various oppressions).

But I will disagree/depart a bit from the other reviewers - this is not a book about homophobia or gay rights. (As a straight person, I have a blanket policy of supporting equality, but would not really be interested in reading books on the subject).

Instead, Bronski asks fundamental questions about the parameters of personal freedom vs. limits of collective freedom, and the power structures which define/decide these questions. It should be clear this is relevant to us all. And Bronski demonstrates a fact that social historians have repeated for years, that all oppressions are related. So the institutional homophobia described here definitely do affect straight people as well - how we understand & define our bodies, how we relate to each other, etc.

Bronski explores not just the laws (which has changed since the writing of this book, especially Lawrence vs. Texas) ... but he also explores literature, theater, history, psychology, etc. It's a great example of a multi-disciplinary approach.

5 stars.
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