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Place at the Table: The Gay Individual in American Society

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Homosexuality is being talked about more today than at any other time in human history; the issue of gay rights has reached a moment of truth. Yet many people remain remarkably ill-informed about what homosexuality really is. Why? Partly, says Bruce Bawer in this powerful and provocative book, because of the irrational hatred, fears, and lies of bigots who depict a monolithic "gay lifestyle" that threatens "family values." Partly because of a vocal and highly visible minority of gays who equate homosexuality with...
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Overview

Homosexuality is being talked about more today than at any other time in human history; the issue of gay rights has reached a moment of truth. Yet many people remain remarkably ill-informed about what homosexuality really is. Why? Partly, says Bruce Bawer in this powerful and provocative book, because of the irrational hatred, fears, and lies of bigots who depict a monolithic "gay lifestyle" that threatens "family values." Partly because of a vocal and highly visible minority of gays who equate homosexuality with promiscuity and political correctness; marching in drag or in leather jockstraps on Gay Pride Day, they, too, seriously misrepresent gay life. And partly because most gays, who lead mainstream, often closeted, lives, have kept a low profile, thus leaving the public debate largely to belligerent extremists. This moving, eloquent work - both meditation and manifesto - on the nature of homosexuality is Bawer's attempt to set things right. He strips away the misconceptions that underlie homophobia, critically scrutinizes the lockstep mentality of the extreme gay subculture, and defines the complex moral predicament of the gay individual. Most gays, he points out, are as mainstream as most heterosexuals. They have serious careers and committed relationships; many are religious. They run the gamut in politics, cultural taste, social conventions, and erotic preoccupation and experience. Sexual desire figures in their lives in much the same way and to the same degree as in the lives of heterosexuals. Incisively, Bawer examines such phenomena as the annual Gay Pride March, the coming-out process, and gay marriage, meticulously separating fiction from fact, myth from reality, propaganda from truth. He is keenly perceptive about the depiction of gay experience in contemporary writing. He is particularly concerned about young gays just coming to terms with their sexual orientation who must cope with conflicting prejudices, stereotypes, and imperatives. At the Linc
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Conservative cultural critic Bawer's canny appraisal of the gay rights movement calls for a more equitable place in American society for lesbians and gays. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Positing that negative stereotypes of homosexuals are the result of both right - wing propaganda and the high visibility of ``radical gay activists,'' Bawer, a self-proclaimed spokesperson for the ``silent majority of gays,'' attempts to absolve ``mainstream gays'' of responsibility by criticizing ``subculture-oriented gays,'' including but not limited to Donna Minkowitz, Paul Monette, Edmund White, members of ACTUP, and those involved in Gay Pride parades. This heartfelt if misguided meditation cum manifesto is provocative, but the author's self-righteous generalizations and misrepresentation of the ethnic, socio economic, and geographic diversity of American lesbians and gays, as well as the lack of either an index or citations for the many sources, undermine the divisive diatribe.-- James E. Van Buskirk, San Francisco P.L.
Ray Olson
In his third book this year (after "The Aspect of Eternity" , critical essays, and "Coast to Coast" , poems), one of the finest young American literary critics turns his lucid, fluent, and precise prose to what we've been told is the topic of the year, if not the decade--homosexuality. Homosexual himself, Bawer differs from the homosexual stereotype in that he is devoutly Christian, conservative, staunchly monogamous, and temperate. He believes that there are so many others like him that they constitute a virtual gay silent majority--silent both because temperamentally deferent and because the anti-homosexual religious right and the oppressive gay subculture, rife with sexual and political excess (not to mention, Bawer maintains, profound self-loathing), drown out all moderating voices. In the two meaty central chapters--more than half of the four-chapter book--Bawer first patiently, logically, and ethically critiques the attacks and refutes the charges of anti-gays and then analyzes the self-destructiveness of the gay subculture. Gays need civil rights, he concludes, particularly to have their domestic relationships recognized. This will remain a dream as long as the preponderance of gay spokespersons continue to taunt anti-gays and defend every excess of the most outre and rebellious elements of the homosexual community. Bawer will probably be roundly reviled and misrepresented in both conservative and gay media, but to read him is to confront a reasonable, moral, and personable man whose opinions and interpretations open-minded and moderate persons will find very compelling.
Kirkus Reviews
Bawer brings to the volatile public discussion of homosexuality the same moral reasoning and civilized demeanor evident in his cultural criticism (The Aspect of Eternity, p. 632). This passionate, persuasive book should be the starting point for all future debate. What separates Bawer's honest and accessible argument from other polemics on homosexuality—aside from its moral perspective—is its audience. Bawer treats the opposition with respect while never compromising his goal: the triumph of "reason over irrationality, acceptance over estrangement [and] love over loathing." He premises his work on the reasonable assumption that there's a vast disparity between the gay subculture and the reality of most gay life in America. The public debate has been shaped by highly vocal denizens of the urban gay ghettos, a group that has portrayed itself as sex-obsessed, irresponsible, and politically beyond the pale. Meanwhile, the conservative opposition too often frames its position in response to the subcultural stereotypes. That's no excuse, though, for right-wing homophobia and its buzzwords ("choice," "recruit," "advocate," "abnormal," "lifestyle," etc.), each of which Bawer eloquently addresses. Bawer's defense of the "silent majority" of gays is based in his own Christian faith and conservative values. He brilliantly exposes the social policy of denying domestic partnership rights as complicit with the sexually permissive underground of bathhouses and porno theaters. Moreover, not only does he address Bible-based anti-gay attitudes, but he defuses the anti-family posturing of both the gay radicals and their right-wing counterparts. At his best, Bawer depoliticizes a subjectovercharged with rhetoric, reminding us that there's really no reason for shock value. To call Bawer's subtle narrative "centrist" misses its truly post- ideological significance. Bawer artfully weaves autobiography into his eloquent defense of the common sense that exists somewhere between closeted denial and outrageous activism. This could be the crossover book many have been waiting for—plain and sane talk about a complex issue.
From Barnes & Noble
In this provocative book, a cultural critic strips away the misconceptions that underlie homophobia as he scrutinizes the extreme gay subculture that misrepresents gay life and undermines its goals. In his passionate plea for a recognition of common values, Bawer defines the moral predicament of the gay individual in today's world.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671795337
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 10/5/1993
  • Pages: 269

Table of Contents

Author's Note 13
1 "A sea of homosexuals" 17
2 "Don't you think homosexuality is wrong?" 71
3 "Everything I do is gay" 153
4 "The only valid foundation" 224
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2001

    This is so beautifully written I'd read it whatever the subject

    . . . but the subject is vital and compelling. Finally the clouds have parted to the extent that gay Americans aren't forced onto the defensive ALL the time. We can start to think of ourselves not as a victimized horde but instead as a gathering of individuals, each of us after his/her share of the American dream. It turns out that what we want is pretty much what most of mainstream America wants: security, productive careers, love, commitment, honor, family (though maybe not the nuclear kind). In Bawer's opinion, the gay community often goes about addressing these needs in just the wrong ways, using yesterday's inflammatory rhetoric to meet today's realities. Reading Bawer is a delight of rich, evocative prose; in fact, he's one of the best contemporary stylists around. Even though it came out in 1994, like 'don't ask don't tell' the tensions this book deals with are still very much with us. The irony of 'A Place at the Table' is that it will preach to the converted. Read it, and then please, please get your straight friends and family to read it too. This book is not intended to be, nor can it survive as, mere ghetto literature.

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