The Trouble with Normal
argues passionately against same-sex marriage, but here's the twist: not because it denigrates the institution of marriage, but because it perpetuates the cultural shame attached to sex between consenting but unmarried adults. When gay men and lesbians try to claim that they're just like "normal folk," Michael Warner writes, they do a profound disservice to other queer folk who choose not to live in monogamous or matrimonial bliss and who believe that the solution to being stigmatized for your sexuality is not to pretend it doesn't exist. Same-sex marriage advocates, he continues, often seem to be willfully blind to the cultural ramifications of their position, viewing marriage as "an intensified and deindividuated form of coming out." They don't seem to realize that if society validates their
relationships, other types of relationships will by necessity be invalidated. (He also makes a strong case for the fight against sexual shame's being more than a queer issue, citing 1998's presidential impeachment crisis: "[Bill] Clinton, certainly, was not the first to discover how hard it is in this culture to assert any dignity when you stand exposed as a sexual being.") Extending his analysis, Warner shows how the championing of married gays and lesbians as "normal" is part of the same cultural climate that leads to "quality of life" crackdowns against queercentric businesses--as is already underway in New York City--and a deliberate sabotage of safer-sex education that puts millions of Americans at continued risk of exposure to HIV. Warner's precise, straightforward argument is enlivened by numerous sharp zingers, as when he accuses Andrew Sullivan of "breath[ing] new and bitchy life into Jesuitical pieties" about sexual morality. The Trouble with Normal
is a bold, provocative book that forces readers to reconsider what sexual liberation really means. --Ron Hogan
From Publishers Weekly
Articulate and impassioned, Warner, a professor of English at Rutgers University, confronts what he views as the current trend toward sexual conservatism in gay and lesbian politics. Responding directly to books such as Andrew Sullivan's Virtually Normal and Gabriel Rotello's Sexual Ecology, as well as to advocates of legalizing gay and lesbian marriage and of closing down bathhouses and other sex venues, Warner claims that the gay movement has embraced an ethic of "sexual shame" and de-emphasized gay sexuality in an attempt to win mainstream approval. Instead of targeting gay sex, Warner argues, the gay movement should be "combating isolation, shame, and stigma." He places his theory in a broader social contextAmost emphatically in relation to the media coverage of Clinton's affair with Monica LewinskyAand details what he sees as the rise of "sexual McCarthyism" in U.S. culture. He also claims that this repression hurts safe-sex education efforts, weakens the gay and lesbian community and, although it is fueled by homophobia, ultimately infringes upon the rights of heterosexuals. While many of these same issues have been addressed in recent books, particularly Samuel R. Delany's Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, Warner is most effective when specifically countering what he considers to be the antisexual position of such gay spokespeople as Larry Kramer, Michelangelo Signorile and William Eskridge. However, his detailed response also positions his arguments as an intra-community fight and may limit his readership. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.