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Virtually Normal: An Argument about Homosexuality Paperback – September 17, 1996
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Former New Republic editor Sullivan calls for an end to all forms of discrimination against homosexuals.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Sullivan argues from observation and lived experience, true to his epigraph from Ludwig Wittgenstein: "One can only describe here and say: this is what human life is like." On the basis of his own life and the testimony of many others, he contends that "for a small minority of people, from a young age, homosexuality is an essentially involuntary condition that can neither be denied nor permanently repressed." For such individuals, homosexuality is, quite simply, natural, and to deny it is to go against their nature. Sullivan assigns -- somewhat artificially, as he admits -- the most prominent arguments currently being made about homosexuality to four groups: prohibitionists (for whom homosexuality is an abomination and an illness, and who feel that homosexual acts call for punishment and deterrence by the society); liberationists (for whom homosexuality is not a defining condition or inherent natural state but an arbitrary social construction); conservatives (a variety of liberals, actually, for whom homosexuality is a condition to be tolerated in private because individuals' privacy must be respected, but disapproved in public lest it fray the social fabric); and liberals (for whom homosexuality is an individual's right, to be protected by law in the society, along with the myriad other "rights" liberals have discovered in the process of educating a skeptical and reluctant public about what's good for it). Alert to the need for nuance and qualification, Sullivan gives each of these positions its due before arguing its insufficiency. He would replace all of them with his own politics of homosexuality, "one that does not deny homosexuals their existence, integrity, dignity, or distinctness." What he proposes is less a parting shot than an opening volley: an end to all public (as distinct from private) discrimination against "those who grow up and find themselves emotionally different." "And that is all," writes Sullivan, as if the proposal were as simple as it is reasonable: accord homosexual citizens every right and responsibility that heterosexuals enjoy as public citizens. The consequences? Well, for one, equal opportunity and inclusion in the military. For another, and even more provocatively, legalized homosexual marriage and divorce. For many in the society this would be the last straw; for Sullivan it is the best hope. He may be prescient, and he may be right. "Virtually Normal" honors and advances the debate.
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. You should ignore the rabid Sullivan bashers who complain that he doesn't "get it" as a self-respecting gay man, and who wail about his sexual hypocrisy, his cozying up to Republicans, and the general fact that he gets lots more attention than they do. In their ad hominem distaste, they usually decline to grapple (or are incapable of doing so) with Sullivan's serious thinking, or to acknowledge that, in this book at least, he provides rigorous arguments, not just controversial pronouncements. Take this book on its own terms and forget about Sullivan's more recent baggage. For those in search of lively writing and whose minds are open to sharp, unconventional thinking (whether you expect to come away agreeing or not), it's one of the essential works on the gay/lesbian politics bookshelf.