A queer history of the United States

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Christopher Street Fair | Unknown Date | Collection of New York Public Library | 14460

Johann Hari reviews a new book, A Queer History of the United States, by Michael Bronski. He discovers, as your Activist already knew, a rich gay history going back centuries (as it does here too).

“The limited-but-sturdy evidence provided by historians that Bronski draws on suggests homosexuality was treated matter-of-factly among most Native American tribes. In the records of the Lewis and Clark expeditions, Nicholas Biddle observes: “Among the Mamitarees, if a boy shows any symptoms of effeminacy or girlish inclinations he is put among the girls, dressed in their way, brought up with them, and sometimes married to men.”

Among the Crow tribe, a horrified white observer wrote,

“men who dressed as women and specialised in women’s work were accepted and sometimes honoured; a woman who led men in battle and had four wives was a respected chief”.

This shouldn’t be entirely romanticised. One tribe “accepted” homosexuality by raising young men to be “passives”, available as “sexual resources” to the tribe, which sounds uncomfortably close to rape. But in most places, different sexualities were granted room for expression, much of it consensual.

The Europeans looked on in revulsion, like Jerry Falwell in a powdered wig.”

“The rioting drag queens of the Stonewall Inn arrive only on page 210 of a 250-page book that argues gay people weren’t merely present at every stage – they had a historical mission in America. It was to expose Puritanism, scolding and sexual intolerance.”


SP

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