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Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality Hardcover – August 29, 1995

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Editorial Reviews Review

In a dizzyingly short period of time, homosexuality has gone from being the love that dare not speak its name to the one that shouts it. Refreshingly, in this wide-ranging discussion of the moral and political status of homosexuals, Sullivan, the gay former whizbang New Republic editor, prefers the middle register. On the one hand, he shuns the liberal tendency to give gays victim status but, on the other, advocates the legalization of gay marriage because he views it as the public recognition of a gay's basic human right to fully love another member of his/her group -- a right that, Sullivan notes, even bigots generally grant those they hate.

From Publishers Weekly

In this lucid polemic, New Republic editor Sullivan, who is gay, defines four major sets of attitudes toward homosexuality. Prohibitionists regard same-sex physical love as a sickness or a crime against nature, requiring cure or punishment. Liberationists, exemplified by historian Michel Foucault and ACT UP, regard homosexuality as a social construct defined variously by individual cultures. Conservatives combine private tolerance of homosexuality with public disapproval or discretion, believing that public acceptance could undermine the family. Liberals enmesh homosexuals in a web of rights and protections, yet their own arguments for free expression, association and contract have been turned against them. Advocating a synthesis of the best arguments of liberals and conservatives, Sullivan calls for an end to all public discrimination against homosexuals, for equal opportunity and inclusion in the military, for unbiased teaching about homosexuality in public schools and for legalized gay and lesbian marriage. 50,000 first printing.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 209 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (August 29, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679423826
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679423829
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,316,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

75 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Steve Sanders on January 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
Andrew Sullivan believes that acceptance into the American mainstream is critical if gays and lesbians are to overcome the lingering legal and personal discrimination they face. The bulk of Sullivan's relatively brief book is an analysis of current gay politics from four ideological perspectives: "prohibitionists," the Protestant fundamentalists and conservative Catholics whose teachings and Biblical literalism Sullivan subjects to rigorous logical and scholarly critique; "liberationists," radicals whose dense theory and belligerent tactics have made them, Sullivan believes, increasingly marginal; "conservatives," who do not want to oppress gays but who find gay politics and sexuality troublesome; and "liberals," who want to protect gays through traditional civil rights laws that bar discrimination by businesses, landlords, and schools. Staking out his own position as a classical liberal, Sullivan then argues that traditional anti-discrimination laws, which seek to remedy one infringement of liberty by imposing another, engender resentment and aggravate social division. His own prescription is to attack the governmental discrimination that persists in refusing gays the rights and responsibilities of marriage and military service. Such public equality, he believes, would do more than laws and court decisions to secure the ultimate goal of private equality.
I've previously used this book as one text in an undergraduate political science course for the masterful, economical, and honest way it delineates and critiques four major ways of thinking about gay and lesbian freedom.
This book displays the high-octane intelligence, elegant logic and wordcraft, and simple, noble, guileless passion for which Sullivan was better known before he became a website-hawking, on-the-fly-opining media gadfly.
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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful By C. N. White on August 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
Homosexuality has been been getting a lot of publicity in the last few years - and even more so in recent weeks, with the election of a gay bishop to the Episcopal church, and the subsequent discussion of gay marriage. With so much talk nowadays, it is important to be informed.
This book, better than any other, clearly and thoroughly outlines the four main arguments for and against homosexuality, and critiques their strengths and weaknesses in a prose style that is both highly personal and incredibly reasoned and intelligent. The Prohibitionists are the one school that is the most decidedly anti-homosexual - seeking to either punish or "cure" gays and lesibans. The Liberationists seek freedom from social labels and conventions, but, like the Prohibitionists, do not accept the concept of homosexuality as a valid state of being - there are no real homosexuals, only homosexual acts. Sullivan sees them as well meaning, but misguided. The Conservatives believe that homosexuals are entitled to a certain amount of privacy and respect, but homosexuality is still a sin. Homosexuals do exist... but they can't help it. They still disapprove of homosexuality, just not necessarily homosexuals. The Liberals also mean well, and struggle for the rights of homosexuals, but unfortunately blanket them in their larger agenda of "helping the little people", so to speak - well meaning, but sometimes a bit patronizing.
Sullivan does more than criticize, however. He also finds merit in these viewpoints. However, his major argument is that these views either need to be overcome or modified if homosexuals are ever going to have an equally accepted place in society. He also offers ways to overcome these different biases.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on August 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
Andrew Sullivan has written a gem with "Virtually Normal." In these beautifully written pages, we find an author exploring- his goal being to understand first, question next- four explanations for and proposed methods of dealing with homosexuality. In the end, he finds all four lacking.
The doctrines given treatment are: prohibitionism- being gay is a choice of deviance and as such should be treated as a sin, constructionism- gay is merely a social construction and there would be no 'homosexual problem' if we deconstruct sexuality, Conservatism- we should let people be gay but homosexuality should NEVER be encouraged socially. Finally we get to Liberalism. Perhaps Sullivan finds the most trouble here. The liberal doctrine states that as a persecuted group, gays should be tolerated to the point that if social coercion becomes necessary (through 'hate crime' legislation and the like), all the better. Through 'education' (resembling indoctrination) equality can be forced. Save for prohibitionism, I would agree that liberalism is the most dangerous of all.
Although it will be obvious that Sullivan has a special distaste for liberalism, he finds serious flaws in each of the four doctrines for good reason. His conclusion breaks sharply with all of them,resembling more of a classical liberal (J.S. Mill) approach. Tolerance should be encouraged, never forced. Government discrimination is the evil, private discrimination will die in the free market because it is always inefficient. Sullivan then devotes time to gay marriange and military service, asserting- very correctly- that untill homosexuals can serve their country openly and marry legally, they will always be on unequal footing. If the potential reader has never heard Sullivan speak on these issues, she should not delay.
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