Larry Kramer is on the warpath–this time against queer theory and gender studies. (Yeah, they’re not your friends at all, Larry, whereas history departments everywere are falling all over themselves to hire queer historians. Not!) Give me a break:
“[T]he plague of AIDS was allowed to happen because much of the world hates us and most of the world knows nothing about us. … I needed no queer theories, no gender studies, to figure all this out,” Kramer said. “Why can’t we accept that homosexuality has been pretty much the same since the beginning of human history, whether it was called homosexuality, sodomy, buggery, hushmarkedry, or hundreds of other things, or had no name at all? What we do now they pretty much did then. Period. Men have always had cocks and men have pretty much always known what to do with them. It is just stupidity and elite presumption of the highest and most preposterous order to theorize, in these regards, that then was different from now.”
It’s all so simple! Why haven’t we seen this before? Gay history is just about men who knew what to do with their penises, and our task as historians is just to find out the who, what, where, and when (presumably, the “why” is self-evident in LarryLand), and write it all down in The Big Book of Transhistorical Gayness. What’s with the Archie Bunker act? To Scott Jaschik’s credit, the article at Inside Higher Ed was for the most part a spirited rebuttal by scholars in queer studies and gender studies, who noted that no serious historians are looking for Transhistorical Gayness, and who also wanted to check Kramer’s “breathtakingly male centered” vision of gay history. (If you want the more inteleckshul version of this critique, head on over to Tenured Radical.)
His recent outburst at Yale sheds light on a rather nasty and uninformed review he left on the Amazon page for Clare Lyons’s Sex Among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender and Power in the Age of Revolution, 1730-1830 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2006). I thought it was downright ungentlemanly, especially considering that the book in question was a university press book by a first-time author:
Books like this drive me nuts. how can a “scholar” who studied at yale etc write such a dumb, ignoble, and indeed discriminatory book? Lyons is writing about sex in the period 1730-1830, centering on philadelphia, then our largest city. america’s population was around one million people. there is not one homosexual in this book. there is not one lesbian in this book. there is no discussion of same-sex sex. . . Lyons’ people are all and only involved in opposite-sex folderol.she is drunk on public records for her sources, always the best way to eliminate homsexuality from history all together. we are not in public records if you dont know how to look for us. . . .she is another product of wretched gender studies and theory which excludes facts in favor of make-believe. history departments everywhere have much to answer for in denying the history of gay people our rightful place in the history of this country.
I’m going to break it off here to give you a minute to catch your breath–Kramer apparently doesn’t believe in paragraph breaks or capital letters any more than he believes in “opposite-sex folderol.” To return to the rant:
enough is enough. i happen to have done my own research about this same era, in preparing my own book, the american people. philadelphia was swarming, overrun with men having sex with other men, name them what you will. there were massive amounts of syphilis, overwhelming amounts. there were male brothels. there were communities of men living with each other. there were women living with other men and excluding men altogether. where in the world has lyons researched? if i, a non-scholar, can locate all this stuff, it can’t be that hard to locate. why are gay people continually eliminated from every history written? we have been here since day one just like everyone else. it just breaks my heart, to be treated day after day as a non-person, with no history in this country which is mine as much as this author’s. history departments must cease denying us. and publishers should cease publishing books as useless and one-sided as this one. larry kramer
I’ll give the guy credit–he signed his name, which is more than most “peer reviewers” do! In any case, what Kramer obviously missed was that Lyons’ book is an important work in early American women’s history. I understand that he was disappointed that Lyons didn’t write about homosexuality, but guess what? She’s an early American women’s historian who uses the history of heterosexuality to make some fresh and interesting arguments about free women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. (And it’s not like her field is exactly overrun with tremendous redundancies of scholarship. It’s a tiny field, and her book is an important and rich contribution to it.) Lyons’ book is exhaustively researched and ambitiously argued–really a remarkable achievement for a first-time author–but because Kramer doesn’t care about women’s history or the history of heterosexuality, that makes Lyons “another product of wretched gender studies and theory which excludes facts in favor of make-believe,” and her work “dumb, ignoble, and indeed discriminatory.”
Quite frankly, as an early American women’s historian myself, it chaps my a$$ to see someone imply that women’s history is somehow redundant or reactionary. (Does he go on line to review every book of American presidential history, diplomatic history, and military history to complain that they too have overlooked gay men’s history and that their books are “dumb, ignoble, and indeed discriminatory?” I didn’t think so.) Kramer’s criticism of gender and queer studies today seems to boil down to that of churlish four year-old boys everywhere: “girls are icky” and “my experience is the only one I want to see reflected in history.” That’s a grand way to pay back all of those important women’s studies scholars who were among the first queer studies and gay history pioneers. Classy, Larry–super classy.