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.
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.
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 homosexualityaside from its moral perspectiveis 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 forplain and sane talk about a complex issue.