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A Queer History of the United States

(ReVisioning American History)

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  813 ratings  ·  91 reviews
Winner of a 2012 Stonewall Book Award in nonfiction

The first book to cover the entirety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, from pre-1492 to the present.

In the 1620s, Thomas Morton broke from Plymouth Colony and founded Merrymount, which celebrated same-sex desire, atheism, and interracial marriage. Transgender evangelist Jemima Wilkinson, in the early 1800
Hardcover, 312 pages
Published May 10th 2011 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2011)
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3.76  · 
Rating details
 ·  813 ratings  ·  91 reviews

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Nov 12, 2013 rated it did not like it
I picked this book up because I am always interested in the erased parts of my nation's culture- the side of things that we don't learn about in school, or anywhere else.
So you can imagine my disappointment when I found that same erasure happening here. In a book claiming to show the "queer" voices in American history, the voices of the trans, bi, intersex, asexual, and really any identity NOT lesbian, gay, or occasionally “transvestite” (to quote the book), were oddly silent. Not once was the w
V. Briceland
Jun 16, 2011 rated it liked it
A Queer History of the United States takes the Schoolhouse Rock approach to surveying queer culture in America. It's fast-moving, it hits all the expected high and low points, it's affirming, and it never explores its subject beyond cartoon depth. All it really lacks is a catchy tune.

Though the book alleges to cover a period of time spanning from before 1492 to the present, its pre-colonial and colonial history is at best sketchy—in fact, just about anything before the turn of the twentieth cen
Cody VC
Jun 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Would be five stars if not for some significant flaws. I would recommend this for any introductory course on US history, as long as it was supplemented with other texts such as The Transgender Studies Reader.

Bronski does a fair job including gender variance in the beginning, but peters out somewhere around the 1940s and never adequately recovers (not even a mention of Christine Jorgensen? Really?). Yet even the early mentions could have been handled better; for instance, Bronski says in the text
Feb 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
I read all but one of two of the first chapters of this book, for research for a gay historical fiction novel and ... some of it was really good, some of it was mediocre, but I found it had a lot of contradictions.

This is a very general history of gay culture in the United States, and with its broad brushstrokes, sometimes it wins, sometimes it loses.

I took lots of notes and found many enjoyable details (the chapter on the production and marketing of gender was an unexpected joy) I found lots
Jen Helfand
Mar 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
Messy and not my jam. A number of pitfalls that are real...
- centering whiteness
- centering cis experiences, esp amab cis experiences
- conflation of desire and labels gltbqqia
- uncreative notions of what resistance can look like that glorify violent actions and invisibilze other ways ppl have resisted and survived

where's the intersectional, anti-colonial framework to at least hold space for the possibility of radical kinds of queernesses throughout time?
it's hard to write these histories in w
Feb 21, 2019 rated it liked it
This book was informative, but it missed the mark for me. It spent a lot of time talking about attitudes towards sexuality and gender in early America, yet a lot of the arguments were hard to follow. It would touch on subjects that I thought needed more explanation and do deep dives into topics that I found too shallow to warrant the attention. I liked the emphasis it placed on the authors and texts that shaped the movement, but sometimes the examples provided didn't mesh well with the paragraph ...more
Feb 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: lgbt
I found this on overdrive & read it because I wanted to learn about American History anyway this year (which I was never taught about in school pretty much at all) & it obviously wasn't supposed to be an all-encompassing work of every facette of American history, so it was fine to get an overview through a gay (white, male, middle-aged to old-ish) lens with.

I did find it lacking in several departments, though (When I use quotes they aren't direct quotes from the text, but paraphrased fr
Adam Ross
Jul 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Another great book in the Re-Visioning America series. What is great about the series is that they put their topics of interest in the forefront and re-read American history with the eye on the chosen theme, exploring how it effected American history as a whole. Most books like this would just pick a series of people who exemplify the theme as a "who's who" of the pet topic. These are more integrated.

This book in particular was fascinating for a number of reasons. I appreciate the fact that they
Jan 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is the textbook for my gay/lesbian literature class. I found this book a very wonderful "history book" style story of the queer community. At times its more about the events and the order of history, but putting about 500 years in context really put in perspective for me the struggles of these people. It's certainly not perfect, like I said it's very history book-ish, therefore it doesn't cover everything. In fact it ends with the AIDS epidemic of the 80's. Certainly things have changed sin ...more
Jun 17, 2016 rated it liked it
The book's thesis is that queer US history is US history-- that the two are inseparable-- and I suppose it succeeds in conveying this. However, the sheer task of compressing 500 years of history from the Puritans to the AIDS epidemic into 300 pages results in a book that feels like a litany of important names and events. I think it would have benefited a lot from just focusing on a handful of events with more depth and nuance. Should also be noted that the focus is primarily on people who identi ...more
A Queer History of the United States is useful only for gaining a brief outline of how the homosexual culture has affected the country as a whole. The research is shoddy and often uses accepted 'facts' that are actually false or at the least unprovable - James Dean was a homosexual, Eleanor Roosevelt had lesbian affairs. The writing itself is dry and finishing the book was a chore. I recommend the book only to those who are interested in using it to further research the homosexual culture - if y ...more
Ali Sousa
Jun 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Genuinely one of the most fascinating books I've ever read - an incredible, all-encompassing explanation of why America is the way it is interwoven with the undeniable evidence that queer people have been present and crucial since the very beginning.
Nov 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fascinating, well researched, very accessible.
Mar 20, 2018 rated it liked it
If you go into this book expecting great detail about the history of queer survival and liberation, you're not going to get it. Instead, Bronski spends the majority of the book talking about 'queer' in a very academic sense - defying gender roles, 'deviant' sexuality, etc. When I picked this up, I was expecting the book to talk about actual LGBT people and instead I got a lot of mush about the shifting opinions of sex and gender in the United States with some LGBT people thrown in.

In comparison
David Avery
Nov 14, 2017 rated it liked it
This would have been a solid, 4 star read for me if didn't over-promise and under deliver. The blurb breathlessly proclaims it will cover “the entirety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, from pre-1492 to the present.” In reality, it mostly covers a period from the 1920s or so to 1990, when it inexplicably ends even though it was published in 2011. Seriously, how can the publisher claim this covers the entirety up to the present? Not only because it stopped in 1990, but especiall ...more
This book covers a history of the U.S. from a queer perspective beginning with early colonialism and ending at 1990. He covers social attitudes toward homosexuality and other queer identities, important queer people in history (but not necessarily queer activists), and queer literature. I have glanced through the print book before, but I listened to the whole thing on audio.

It was an interesting history, though sometimes very dry. There was a lot of information packed into this one, so it's one
Katie/Doing Dewey
Aug 04, 2018 rated it liked it
This book about the history of LGBT culture and social issues contained a ton of fascinating information. I was surprised by the visibility of the LGBT community over the centuries this book covers. Similar to my feeling when reading about women in science, I knew intellectually that this was a population that had been written out of history, but seeing some of what’s there if we only look still somehow makes this erasure more shocking. I also found this examination of how American attitudes tow ...more
Apr 05, 2019 rated it liked it
This was a solid, well-researched book, and basically readable even though it skewed academic in its language. I didn't get a lot out of it, but it's a good introductory text.

One thing to note is that the book is very much a history not of the United States in totality, but of the contemporary LGBTQ community. It's a "how did we get here" kind of read. This is all well and good, but I thought there could have been better coverage of racial minorities (especially non-Black people of color), indig
Jun 04, 2017 rated it liked it
I learned a lot, but it was incredibly dry in most places. There are a few notable figures missing, as other reviewers have pointed out. Bronski only mentioned Harvey Milk once, and not even in connection to his being the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California.

He also takes some more radical viewpoints in the epilogue (he disagrees with the "just like you" justification). This shows through somewhat when he discusses the gay liberation movement as well (he agrees wi
David Lucander
I adopted this in my Civil Rights Movement class and have gotten a couple of nicely done research papers from students who read it. This is an excellent single-volume history of LGBT people in the US. I wish this book went a little closer to the present, it ends at the HIV/AIDS crisis. There's very insightful sections on gay men in the military in the 1900s and out west in the 1800s - these were basically safe places for queer-oriented men to gravitate. Bronski does a nice job weaving popular cu ...more
Steven Hunt
Mar 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Insightful. Definitely not a complete history, it is from the perspective of colonization, but it is applicable to Western culture so I find it appropriate. I found the book Sex and the Constitution a good supplement to this book and also Making Gay History. Read in combination, you have a very good idea of the formulation of gay rights and how they have shaped American society.
What I find surprising is how all of these books overlook the fact that many pertinent people in history had "gay" tend
Feb 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thank You, Michael Bronski

I guess my theme for books this month is, “oh my god, why the fuck haven’t I read this sooner?” I did not expect to have such a deep emotional reaction to a history book, but I am moved to read such a comprehensive portrait of Queer America. This is the book I’ve been searching for—a connection to the lives of past queers. This is a fantastic reprieve in a time when our humanity—and that of many other groups—is under attack. Thank you, Michael Bronski, for affirming the
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a fascinating read that covers how our views and laws on sexuality have progressed since the first white Europeans came to the Americas (there are a few brief mentions of sexuality in native cultures). This is not just a gay and lesbian history. It's an account of how we see ourselves and our sexuality. It's very informative, but it is also very academic so it can be a bit difficult to follow along with Bronski's style of writing. I borrowed this book from the library, but if this copy w ...more
Jun 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Obviously there are problems (overly focused on gay men, lesbians and cis people, lack of articulation of bisexual history because the word didn’t exist for so long but also the book doesn’t take time to articulate the difficulties of assigning labels to historical figures who wouldn’t have used them, etc. etc.) but it is beautiful to read this and know that we have always been here. We are nothing new. We are here to stay. I am definitely reading more queer history texts in the future.
Jan 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Just a few items to mention:

1. He uses emblematic at least 10xs throughout this book. It was quite irritating to hear the repetition.
2. He often went on tangents that were not necessarily beneficial for the book.
3. This skimmed the history. Maybe he should swap out the word history for overview.

I am really disappointed and slightly upset because I feel that there is more that could have been done with this book. It lacks a lot. I would not recommend this book to anyone.
Aug 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book was fascinating, enthralling, and extremely informative. Highly recommend for anyone who is interested in the social history of America (starting hundreds of years before it was a country, and up through the AIDS crisis). Even higher recommend for people who are squeamish or don't understand the social fabric of the gay liberation movement
Dec 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Full review here:

I enjoyed reading this, even with the occasionally dry stretches. The footnotes would be invaluable to someone chasing down more information of our queer ancestors. While flawed in a few places, it's not fatally so. Well worth perusal for those looking for our roots.
Dec 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is Nutrition: a necessary Queer epilogue to the heterohistory taught in school. I especially enjoyed the author’s intersectional view of queerness, encompassing race, gender, feminism, and protest. ❤🧡💛💚💙💜🖤💖 Read up y’all ...more
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
More about the history of how people in the USA have regarded LGBT+ folk from the beginning than about individuals, but nevertheless interesting, and another reminder of how different those people on the other side of the Atlantic are, in spite of speaking similar languages.
Tycho Toothaker
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good summary of the history. Quite dense, but that makes sense. I wish there been more coverage of events that are really well known, like Stonewall and the assassination of Harvey Milk.
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Goodreads Librari...: Incorrect Page Number 2 221 Jan 21, 2019 01:17PM  
  • Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970
  • Homosexuality & Civilization
  • The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America since World War II
  • Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.
  • Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century
  • Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America
  • Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform
  • Homophobia: A History
  • Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community
  • Speaking Sex to Power: The Politics of Queer Sex
  • Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two
  • Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940
  • Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past
  • Gay L. A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians
  • The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America
  • The Greeks & Greek Love: A Bold New Exploration of the Ancient World
  • Wrestling with God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition
  • Making Gay History: The Half-Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights
Michael Bronski has written extensively on LGBT issues for four decades. He has published widely in the LGBT and mainstream press and his work appears in numerous anthologies. He is a Senior Lecturer in Women’s and Gender Studies and Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College.

Other books in the series

ReVisioning American History (5 books)
  • A Disability History of the United States
  • An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
  • A Black Woman's History of the United States
  • An African American and Latinx History of the United States
“A coalition of disgruntled Mattachine members, along with lesbians and gay men who identified with the pro–Black Power, antiwar New Left, called for a meeting on July 24, 1969. The flyer announcing the meeting was headlined, “Do you think homosexuals are revolting? You bet your sweet ass we are.” This” 1 likes
“Full citizenship was, and to a large degree still is, predicated on keeping 'unacceptable' behavior private. This complicated relationship between the public and private is at the heart of LGBT history and life today.” 1 likes
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