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The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life

4.6 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0684865294
ISBN-10: 0684865297
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (November 8, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684865297
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684865294
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,066,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book speaks beyond academia without ever talking down to its audience, about things most of us still debate despite having fewer and fewer forums to do so -- about queer ethics, sex and intimacy, marriage rights, public sex. Though I already admired Warner's activist and intellectual work (and, full disclosure here, am an academic), I was moved by the passion and precision with which he argues. There's nothing "snipey," libertarian, or more-radical-than-thou about this book, other reviews notwithstanding; it's a book with a mind and a soul. Warner clearly respects the confusion many of us feel (especially the many who are outside of both academia and the "national" movements and who cannot find activist public spheres that make sense to them anymore), but will not let our confusion dissolve into easy acceptance of the "national" movement's sanctimonies about "our" lives. I imagine that some people will dismiss this book without reading it, as an argument for "radical promiscuity" coming from the privileged position of a white gay male academic. Please don't make that mistake. Warner quite rightly sees the marriage movement and the privatization of public space as the biggest threats to LGBTQ movements and everyday lives. But he also clearly cares about, and lushly imagines a future for, the most complicated forms of pleasure, belonging and caretaking that queer people have invented. Oddly enough -- I'd only say this on Amazon, and it's not what I think is crucial about the book -- it's a book I can imagine giving to my biological family members, not because it tells them I am normal after all, but because it actually might make my life intelligible to them. In the way it bridges a clarion call to activism and an intelligent dissection of the status quo, The Trouble with Normal does work that no trade book coming from the queer left has managed to do so far.
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Format: Hardcover
As a straight woman and a strong advocate for gay marriage, this book did not at first appeal to me. What could I learn from a book by a gay man arguing against gay marriage? It turns out that I had a lot to learn. Although I still believe that anyone who wants to marry should have that right, after reading this book I no longer want to get married. This breaks down the descriminatory nature of marriage and the politics of sexual shame in such an interesting way. This should be required reading for everyone--gay, straight, single, married, whatever. It's not an argument that you hear very often, but it's a very important one! Read this book--it might upset you, but it will force you to examine ideas like homosexuality, marriage, and sex in new ways.
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Format: Hardcover
With the sophistication of a leading political theorist and public philosopher, with clarity and wit, Michael Warner explains why those who care about public policy and morality should take as their point of departure the dignity of those at the bottom of the scale of respectability: "queers, sluts, prostitutes, trannies, club crawlers, and other lowlifes". It begins with a brilliant analysis of the ethical tradition queer culture has built up over the last fifty years, one that has been dismissed by mainstream moralists. He shows that civilization's role isn't just to preserve "natural" sexuality, but to create new types of sexuality through innovations like the pill, condoms, dildos, video, Viagra, hormones, vibrators, and others we can't predict. Little can be shown to be transhistorical about sex, he says, except men raping women. The goal of policy makers should be sexual autonomy for everyone, not just protection under the law for married couples, "good gays", and children. On the gay marriage debate, Warner separates the legal benefits of marriage from its mythology and shows how those benefits can be distributed among unmarried couples and single people, both gay and straight, without the discriminatory effects of marriage under the law. He goes on to show why public sexual culture, from pornography to bathhouses, is something to value, something whose accessibility is worth fighting for. Finally he shows how sexual shame grips U.S. heath policy, reducing it to little more than an abstinence program, where safer sex education lags far behind other developed countries. This is a life-changing book, I can't recommend it strongly enough if you care at all about progressive sexual politics.
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Format: Hardcover
I heard Michael Warner on local radio here in Boston and came to this website to read an excerpt from his book. His writing blew me away! Gay and Lesbian politics, much less Queer, hasn't had a really smart, innovative essayist in years. Warner points out the errors of what passes as common sense these days in the gay and lesbian movement, which has become increasingly stale and warped by phony Washington politics. He produces one original idea after another, and if they go over many people's heads, it's not for lack of good writing--his writing is conversational and clear--it's because people have stopped imagining progressive sexual politics. He turns sexual ethics, the marriage debate, the pornography debate, and HIV education on their heads and shakes them down to form brilliant insights. Not everything he says is practical, but that's the nature of vision--it ROCKS! I think this will still be taught in college 50 years from now--as a CLASSIC. It was well worth forking over sixteen dollars for, and I only hope he writes more.
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