Comments on: Mary, please shut up! History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Fri, 19 Sep 2014 13:41:03 +0000 hourly 1 By: mark Sun, 25 Jul 2010 17:39:54 +0000 Canadian Goose wrote:

“I think Larry was driven somewhat mad by his experiences in the early days of the AIDs epidemic.”

I truly think the balance of his mind is sadly and permanently disturbed as a result. He no longer can discriminate between real enemies and potential allies. It’s tragic, really. He was once very intelligent and talented.”

The following interpretation of Larry’s behavior might shed some light and diminish some heat:

As a gay identified elder in his community Larry realizes that he doesn’t have much time left in this life.

He’s chosen to leave a historical legacy that deconstructs the “queer” theorists who divided and weakened gay men’s community at a time of crisis.

Queer theorists like the lesbians who adopted a “queer” identity and celebrated their contempt for gay men by writing about their lack of sympathy for “PDM’s”, Poor Dying Men.

Presently “queer studies” provides cover for those in gay and lesbian communities who cheered when AIDS came along, although they have been largely shamed into silence.

So personally, as a fellow gay identified elder who survived the whole AIDS mess I find the steam that comes out of Larry’s ears quite refreshing.

By: Gore Vidal: 75% cynical visionary + 25% conspiracy nut =100% entertaining! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Thu, 01 Oct 2009 19:31:15 +0000 [...] State.)  I found other remarks of his much more interesting.  (Hint:  here’s one for the Big Book of Transhistorical Gayness!) Vidal became a supportive correspondent of Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Alfred P. Murrah [...]

By: Flavia Fri, 01 May 2009 15:48:04 +0000 “. . . write it all down in The Big Book of Transhistorical Gayness.”

Love it! I’m going to refer to said book in reference to certain well-intentioned but undertheorized and unscholarly Kramers of my own acquaintance. . .

By: Historiann Fri, 01 May 2009 15:12:46 +0000 Good points, Bibliophile and Amy. I would just say that although I agree with you that Lyons could have been more explicit about the boundaries of her study, I have not seen any pre-1800 evidence of lesbian behavior in the colonial Americas. I’m not familiar with Philadelphia’s evidence post-1750, so there may be stuff there she could have written about, but I have come across only one bit of evidence (from early Connecticut) that documents women talking and joking in a bawdy fashion about sexuality amongst themselves. Even this is not evidence of homosexuality, but rather evidence of joking about heterosexuality in a homosocial context. The bias of the records reveal the bias of most early Anglo-Americans, which was that unless there was a penis involved, sex and sexuality couldn’t/didn’t happen.

Quite frankly, I think that looking in the colonial Anglo-American colonies (which were officially and overwhelmingly protestant and therefore compulsorily heterosexual) may be more futile than looking at nuns in Catholic New France and Mexico. Asuncion Lavrin has written about nuns and sexuality in Mexican convents.

But, to Amy’s point about “excluding” historical actors: I found it quite unfortunate that Lyons was Kramer’s target, rather than the vast majority of the American historical profession which ignores entirely questions of gender and sexuality. This is why we need more studies like Lyons’: so that her book doesn’t have to bear the full weight of people’s curiosity about heterosexuality and homosexuality in the late colonial and early national period. It is quite frankly impossible for every social historian to write about everyone’s experience in a given time and context–that’s not an expectation we have of intellectual, political, or military historians–so why do we hold social and cultural historians to a different (and quite unrealistic) standard? To expect one book to serve everyone and please everyone is totally unfair, and anyone who knows or cares about women’s history could see very clearly the context of her research and arguments.

By: Amy Fri, 01 May 2009 13:44:06 +0000 Minorities and oppressed groups want to be part of the grand historical narrative in an attempt to legitimate and valorize their existence. When I was little,my mother delighted in telling me about people who she said were Jewish although they did not self-identify. Her favorite person for this game was Paul Newman.
I haven’t read Lyon’s book but I understand Kramer’s general point. If you are going to write a book that excludes certain historical actors who are present on the landscape, you need to be upfront and explain why. You also have to recognize that the usefulness and general applicability of you findings and analysis may be limited and possible skewed.
If you don’t want that result you have to try and include all the groups – connect the dots. Many American social historians will write about whites and simply state that to have included African Americans would have been too difficult and changed the study. I reject that approach.
As for the rest of Kramer’s points, his view of history is ahistorical and he does seem to regard homosexuality as primarily a male endeavor.

By: Bibliophile Fri, 01 May 2009 13:17:05 +0000 I hate that I have to begin by acknowledging the obvious: Lyon’s work is wonderfully well researched, makes bold and compelling arguments, and fills a much needed gap in the historiography. Kramer is off the mark and beyond the scope of appropriate exchange. In Lyon’s defense she has a wonderful article about same sex sexuality in the WMQ.

Yet her exclusion of the full scope of female sex and sexuality is still troubling. I take the point it is not her topic–she was discussing heternorms and power to understand key transformations in her period and how they impacted women’s lives. Yet I suspect one of those key transformations is the discipline of same sex sexuality. If she is going to argue that after the 1790s those at the margins faced increasing regulation as a new normative system emerged, there is one obvious group that needs attention amid the African-American and working class women she studies. This is only more troubling because the images she reproduces show evidence of same sex sexuality–many of the images are suggestive of it (see p. 111 and 139), but the most obvious one is the two women kissing on the margins of the Hogarth on p. 128. What happened to those women? And why does Lyons continue to leave them on the margins when her own evidence clearly invites study?

By: Historiann Wed, 29 Apr 2009 23:49:08 +0000 Good points, John S. and Homostorian Americanist. For the record, when I use the expression “girls are icky,” I don’t necessarily think that sentiment implies misogyny. What I meant to invoke is (some) men’s tendency to completely ignore or overlook women. For some this is a sin of omission, for others a sin of comission (because they fear that associating with women or caring about “women’s issues” will mean they lose status, etc.)

Misogyny may be there too, but that’s not what I meant. In Kramer’s case, I just think that he is so focused on himself that he can’t appreciate or learn from other perspectives that might enrich his own. (Go see Tenured Radical on this point–she says it better than I.) I think he should be very interested in Lyons’ point that there was a sexual revolution that accompanied the American Revolution–but if a book is not specifically about people he identifies as gay men, he doesn’t think he has anything to learn from it.

By: Homostorian Americanist Wed, 29 Apr 2009 23:25:50 +0000 I’m in agreement with Historiann and other commentators here that Kramer’s version of homosexuality pretty much means male homosexuals as well as the fact that he was pretty harsh with Lyons, though I do think that her title leaves her open to criticisms of omission.

Two different things — in particular — fascinate me about his Yale rant, however. The first is his notion of transhistorical gayness (male or female) and his continued reliance upon George Chauncey as the standard bearer of academic historians who support him in this notion that we all know a homosexual when we see one. One of the signal contributions of Chauncey’s *Gay New York* is to call that very notion into question. Of the trade (masculine men who had sex with fairies [effeminate men]) in turn-of-the-century New York, Chauncey is very careful to point out that to call these men “homosexual” or “heterosexual” or even “bisexual” would be inaccurate because these were actually men who had sex with both men and women so long as they were the penetrative partners and the people they penetrated were feminine. Their rules were simply different than ours. He — quite responsibly — won’t claim them for the club and yet Kramer seems to think that Chauncey is on his side!

The second is this notion, which strikes me as profoundly sad, that one can only assert some claim for civil rights or indeed some sense of pride if one’s “people” have an identifiable history in the nation/world. Not only has this strategy not been all that successful in assertions of, I don’t know, freedpeople’s rights post-Civil War or women’s rights to vote in, say, the mid-nineteenth century, but it also ignores the more obvious point that a homosexual should not have to identify past homosexuals in order to assert the right not to be discriminated against today.

What’s most glaring about Kramer’s rant is his inability to understand what historians take as our stock in trade: the past was *different*, and that is, at least in part, what makes it interesting.

By: John S. Wed, 29 Apr 2009 23:08:28 +0000 Not to belabor this, but I think it is worth returning to Kramer’s initial rant. The evidence he offers for the existence of a transhistorical gay identity is “Men have always had c0cks and men have pretty much always known what to do with them.” That *does* seem to exclude women, IMO. While I would not necessarily go as far as to say that this embodies a “girls are icky” perspective, it does, to me, suggest that he sees homosexuality as a male-only category that is in some sense based on the exclusion of women.

It is also worth considering the fact that his review of Lyons accuses her of bad faith. He is not merely saying that she has neglected to mention some important material related to her study. He’s saying she’s “drunk” on her sources and excluding facts in the service of make-believe theory. That’s a significant step. (Also: I remember reading this review on Amazon in amazement at how worked up its author was. I had no idea that the “larry kramer” who wrote it was *the* Larry Kramer.)

By: factcheck Wed, 29 Apr 2009 22:46:49 +0000 Mamie, I would agree that his performance qualifies him as a royal jerk. A misogynist, I’m not so sure. (The two categories overlap but are not co-extensive.) What he says about women (in these excerpts, at least) doesn’t seem to warrant the “girls are icky” claim. I think that CanadaGoose may be closer to the truth: this is someone who was profoundly shaped-and scarred-by the battles of the 80′s, and whose perspective has been distorted as a result.