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Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two
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Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  827 ratings  ·  69 reviews
Despite the many histories of the fighting men and women in World War II, none has been written about the estimated one million homosexuals. Here is a dramatic story of these people, revealing the history of the anti-gay policy pursued by the U.S. military authorities in World War II. Two 8-page photo inserts.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published April 1st 2000 by Free Press (first published 1990)
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Kaje Harper
Mar 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating, and sometimes heartbreaking and infuriating, look at the GLBT men and women who came out while serving in the armed forces during WWII. It includes information on being gay on the home front as well.

In the 1940's, sodomy was a criminal act in the United States. Although there were many people who were openly gay, and who were often ignored or tolerated by society as long as they kept their preferences discreet, it was a precarious existence. At any moment someone might ob
laurel [the suspected bibliophile]
An extensive and detailed history of the gay and lesbian experience in World War II.

At times it was fairly repetitive and tried to wrap the entire gay and lesbian experience into a single narrative, but it was incredibly detailed, thoroughly researched and understood the limits of its own research (as in, there is no way to tell how many gays and lesbians served).

While it doesn't talk about any transgender or bisexual service members (at least, it mentions servicemembers who did have partners of
Christopher Saunders
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-reads
Groundbreaking study of the American LGBT experience during World War II. Drawing on dozens of interviews with veterans, Berube shows how traditional gender roles were confused and complicated by mass military service. The military officially spurned homosexuality, subjecting suspected gay and lesbian enlistees to psychological exams, imprisonment and dishonorable discharge. Yet the homosocial climate and extreme value placed on wartime camaraderie (from the "buddy system" encouraged by officers ...more
Sep 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
The generation of gay men and women who served in World War II grew into adulthood fighting one war for their country and another to protect themselves from their government's escalating mobilization against them.

This is a deeply researched account of - primarily - the lives of lesbian women and gay men in the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII. Bérubé draws on archival research and interviews with former service members to paint a comprehensive picture of how anti-homosexual policies were drafted, i
rating: 5.5/5

This nonfiction history work presents a complex analysis of the intersection of homosexuality and society, culture, military rules and regulations, and soldiers (drafted and volunteered alike) during World War II. It doesn't paint gays and lesbians as victims but delves deep into history to find the battles fought outside of the battlefields; battles between culture and military need during wartime, imprisonment and need for practicality, vice squads and soldiers, military hierarch
Nov 15, 2020 added it
Shelves: non-fiction, lgbtq
The best book I've read all year. Wow. ...more
Jun 17, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5, really. A little dry at times, but an incredible treasure trove of stories about American gay men and some women (all cis, almost all white) who served and fought during WW2. Particularly enjoyed the image of all the straight guys submitting questions to medical and psychiatric lecturers during and after the war about what, exactly, those fellas were getting up to in their bunks.
Suanne Laqueur
Oct 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was FASCINATING. I kept highlighting sections and sending them to my dad. Highly, highly recommend.
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
In chronicling the range of experiences of gay men and lesbians who served in the US military in WWII, Bérubé argues that the military's treatment of homosexuality was a crucial catalyst in the subsequent development of the notion of gays as a political class with rights to fight for, and thence for the gay-rights movement.

Prior to the war, the military dealt with homosexual acts via criminal codes and court-martial. With the Selective Service and the induction of hundreds of thousands of men t
May 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Coming Out Under Fire is a thoroughly fascinating, detailed study of a crucial transitional period in American society. It's extremely well-documented throughout, and although the author's style might be considered dry, the pages come to life because of the words and lives of the people portrayed. Berubé really did a great job of finding and putting together diverse material, and the quotes from the people he interviewed are always illuminating.

Besides the story of how gay soldiers tried to make
Erik Ryberg
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is the key text for homosexual experience in WWII and it remains so. Berube did a great job of seeking out information from homosexuals and government documents. If one spends time seeking out those documents one can appreciate the time and effort necessary for creating this book. There is great breadth covered from the role of psychiatrists, military leaders, the experiences of gays and lesbians in the US military, repression as well as acceptance that does not seem to have too much unifor ...more
Ai Miller
Jan 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Hoo boy. I want to start this off by first acknowledging the important work Berube did in this book; this book was definitely groundbreaking when it was published, and importantly, legitimized the service of gay and lesbian veterans of World War II. Berube's work here also served a materially political purpose, which is something that many academics cannot say.

That being said, if you, like me, are suspicious at best of the citizen-soldier construct, this book can be difficult to get through. I
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was fantastic, and never a dull moment (including the Introduction). It begins with the military's policy on "screening" for homosexuals in the draft (and how psychologists thought gays and lesbians could be identified by brief Q&A or physical attributes).

The stories from those who served, interviewed by the author, were told brilliantly to keep the story moving but still bring us the personal anecdotes.
Isaac R. Fellman
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A model for other works of queer history. Berube is thorough, thoughtful, insightful, fearless, and a strong writer of prose. I could enumerate all the things I got from this, but I’d rather you just read it — I’d rather everyone just read it.
Gerry Burnie
Gerry B's Book Reviews -

If I were asked to design a definitive course on the history of Gays and Lesbians in North America, I would include three books as required reading: Gay American History, by Jonathon Katz; From the Closet to the Courtroom, by Carlos Ball; and Coming out Under Fire, by Allan Bérubé [Free Press, 1990]. Moreover, I think the students would thank me afterward for choosing books that are authoritative, informative and relatively easy to read.

Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Review by Elaine Taylor May points out that Berube's is a pioneering work in the social history of gays in World War II. He finds that the experience of WWII was both that of increased surveillance and of a greater solidarity as a gay subculture developed in the military during wartime. In a time when the military needed manpower, the services were ambivalent about what to do about gays in the military. As military's psychiatrists sought to discover the gay personality type, new ways of dealing ...more
Fenriz Angelo
Jan 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was a fantastic and very informative read about the lives of usian gay men and women who fought in WWII.

The narration starts with some introductory chapters that read a bit repetitive since first it's about how the military and psychologists team up to find a way to detect gay people and reject them from joining the army. Second it's a recollection of how several people discovered they're gay or that there's more people like them in the world when they joined the military and had to move f
Sean Mobley
Dec 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An amazing, eye-opening history of queer soldiers in World War II. The book relies on a wealth of original research to tell a variety of forgotten stories. Sections of the book focus on the individual experiences of soldiers in training and combat, the legal and policy changes that took place involved LGBT individuals over the course of the war as a reaction to the queer presence in the ranks, the fall and rise and fall again of drag in the 1940s, and the evolution of the psychological and socia ...more
Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was recommended this book during a presentation of some research of mine at a Phi Alpha Theta history conference in 2013, and I am so glad that I finally did. There are a lot of feelings and words that I don't think I can easily articulate at this moment but I want to say a thank you to Mr Berube for helping to shed light on gay, lesbian and other members of the community that, while fighting the visible war of World War II in a variety of specialized combat and non combat roles, proving their ...more
Apr 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a good history book of gay and lesbian soldiers who met other queers or had same sex experiences while serving in WWII. I suspected the military brass looked the other way with regard to gays/lesbians in their ranks when they needed bodies during wartime, turns out they did. The witch hunts, I had heard about. They happened during my service in the 1980s. However, I had no idea of the back and forth policies that were implemented during and after WWII. Being arrested without committing ...more
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, queer
This book has it all - and it's also very accessible, so you can learn a lot without already being a military buff. The first chapters are about all the measures in place to catch queer people joining the military to begin with, and then there's a significant amount of time devoted to the social climate of the military. Towards the end there are segments on queer life at the front/past basic, and then the end of the book takes a look at queer veterans and postwar life. An amazing amount of prima ...more
Anna Hepworth
This has taken me a very long time to get through, with multiple false starts, because it is not easy reading.

The last section particularly, is so depressing. Which is not to say that several of the earlier sections were not depressing, but the discussion of gay men and women put into 'psychiatric' facilities and/or forced to sign 'confessions', followed by how horrible the government was to them on their return to civilian life was appalling. Unsurprising, but so hard to read. Particularly the
May 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, history, wlw
Interesting and somewhat horrifying history of gay service people in world war ii. For many, it was their first chance at a gay community, and many found roles as mascots and entertainers for the troops. But at the same time, psychologists went after them for the first time, and the things they put them through were traumatic and awful--putting them in brigs that were really cages, displaying them for humiliation, turning them out of service for sexual psychopathy, which they then had to bring t ...more
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very well written and researched and fairly enlightening to how the military developed and enforced its anti-gay policies. I admire the amount of work this must have taken. Its also a lot less “academic” than the other gay history book Ive read was- Gay New York- and was easy to follow and understand.

You can tell this was originally written even before Dont Ask Dont Tell was implemented, but thats less a criticism and more an observation. Overall an important and worthwhile read if you are tryin
Wow! This was such an interesting read. By moments heartbreaking, most of the time rage-inducing, but always fascinating.

The author highlights the influence that the military had in the treatment of queer people by EEUU's society. Incredibly well-documented, filled with quotes that brought the protagonists' voices to the fore, this is such a meaningful document...

Listening to this book, to all those experiences, to all that real people who lived through them makes you really understand what wa
Michael Davison
Aug 15, 2019 rated it liked it
The information contained in this book is critical. I really enjoyed learning about homosexuals in the war. However, it could have been half as long and still been just as impactful. By the end I felt that I had read the same story a few times. The individuals were different, but the same points were made over and over again so it felt very repetitive. 8/10 for content matter and research, 5/10 for layout. But overall, this is an important book for a more complete view of homosexuals during the ...more
Feb 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: academia
Reading this for academic purposes but I recommend it to anyone. The author uses a smooth, easy-to-grasp writing style which makes following arguments very easy.
There is a trove of interesting information in this book, I can't begin to fathom the amount of research Berube undertook for this monumental work. I think every queer or queer-friendly person who is interested in the history of the community's struggles should read this book.
Aug 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wwii, lgbt-history
An unfortunate misconception among young lgbt people today is that the gay rights movement started with Stonewall. This book elaborates on the rich history of gay men and women during (and a little after) WWII. It’s a must read for those interested in gay history. It took me two years to finish as I forgot about it halfway through, but it was worth digging it back up and finishing.
Elia Winters
Aug 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book after watching the documentary by the same name. I'm doing research for an upcoming book series, and this book was immensely helpful in its depth and breadth of content. I appreciate all of Bérubé's work and his efforts to give voice to some whose voices have for too long been left out of history. ...more
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
Well documented but so repetitive and with little narrative. Another in the unfinished pile sadly. While the book is well detailed in the topic, it manages to make something that could be exciting so boring and without any dramatic movement.
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Alan Berube, founder of the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay History Project, is best known for his 1990 book about homosexual life in the military during World War II.

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16 likes · 6 comments
“Some gay soldiers and officers, particularly those with a college education, carried with them a mythology, developed from reading the classics and in conversations with other gay men, about "armies of lovers," such as the "Sacred Band of Thebes" in ancient Greece, and heroic military leaders, such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Frederick the Great, and Lawrence of Arabia, who like themselves had had male lovers. This folklore provided them with romantic historical images that could help allay self-doubts before their first combat missions. It confirmed that there had always been gay warriors who fought with courage and skill, sometimes spurred on by the desire to fight bravely by the side of their lovers.” 2 likes
“No census was taken of the number of gay men and lesbians who entered the military. But if Alfred Kinsey's wartime surveys were accurate and applied as much to the military as to the civilian population, at least 650,000 and as many as 1.6 million male soldiers were homosexual.” 1 likes
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