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Sexuality and Socialism a complex look at Gay history
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Sexuality and Socialism a complex look at Gay history

by James Whitely - SGN Contributing Writer

Sexuality and Socialism - History, Politics, and Theory of LGBT Liberation, by Sherry Wolf, is one of the newest titles put out by Haymarket Books, a revolutionary publishing house based out of Chicago, Illinois.

Sexuality and Socialism consists, essentially, of a number of essays strung together masterfully about various topics concerning the fight for not just full equality under law for LGBT people, but full liberation of human sexuality altogether.

Heavily influenced by the man who is arguably at the forefront of Gay historians, John D'Emilio, Wolf presents arguments that may challenge the reader to think more openly and in depth about the roots and nature of LGBT oppression, and how gender and sexuality develop and exist in our culture.

Sexuality and Socialism is, aside from a few minor and dismissible details, historically accurate, concise, and clearly written. As this book is a well-organized piece of nonfiction, I have decided to break the review down into a detail of the book's nine chapters.

Chapter one delves straight into the author's most hard-to-believe argument: that the oppression of LGBT people is rooted, essentially, in capitalism's need to maintain the nuclear family.

"Capitalist society depends on the nuclear family and the ideology that justifies it. Among the ideological tenets are reactionary sexual ideas - including gender norms - that not only reinforce the family but also are used to stoke divisions among workers and the oppressed, as well as to control our behavior. Capitalism's creation - and repression - of sexual identities has produced divisions. ... In a society where people were not oppressed, or even defined, by their sexual identity, people would be able to develop a fully liberated sexuality," Wolf writes.

Chapter two details the early development of homosexual identity in our capitalist society, arguing that capitalism created the conditions for a Gay identity to emerge and facilitated entry into the Gay world for many people. Wolf sums up her argument by quoting Gay historian George Chauncey: "The state built a closet in the 1930s and forced Gay people into it."

Chapter three challenges what Wolf calls "the myth of Marxist homophobia." Essentially, it is a chapter in defense of the more radical segments of the left today.

Chapter four is devoted almost exclusively to history. It details the Gay liberation movement of the late '60s and early '70s that grew out of the prior movement commonly referred to as the "homophile movement."

Chapter five challenges the Democratic party's "don't rock the boat" approach, writing, "the Democrats have been opportunistic at best and hostile at worst." Wolf awesomely details why we should separate ourselves from the Democratic party's stranglehold on the movement.

Also making the argument that we should consolidate the struggle between all oppressed people, as the Gay Liberation Front aptly put it in the late '60s and early 70s, "we identify ourselves with all the oppressed: the Vietnamese struggle, the third world, the blacks, the workers & all those oppressed by this rotten, dirty, vile, fucked-up capitalist conspiracy."

Chapter six presents a well-formed but not necessarily completely convincing argument against postmodernist ideas and details, as touched on in the previous chapter, about why we need to move away from the obvious fallacies of identity politics in our movement.

Chapter seven argues that "sexuality, like many other behaviors, is a fluid - not fixed - phenomenon. Homosexuality exists along a continuum." Wolf writes. With this, she challenges the commonly held view by the left of the existence of a "Gay gene." This is an argument that we may not specifically like to hear, but may very well hold validity. Wolf argues that we are shaped by all sorts of things, biologically and environmentally, and that, in some ways, this belief that "it's not our fault" can actually deter progress.

Chapter eight challenges myths of black homophobia and presents a valid and strong argument to fighting for reforms in lieu of our struggle for full liberation, such as the necessity of fighting to repeal the "Defense of Marriage Act" and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The final chapter, "Sexual Liberation for All!" functions as a rallying cry for all to stand up.

Aside from a few factual mistakes, the book is solid and certainly worth picking up. However, its most central argument - that the Rupert Murdochs and George Bushes of the world intentionally create homophobia and disunity - could be better presented, as Wolf leaves the reader feeling unconvinced.

Sherry Wolf is an associate of the International Socialist Review. She has written for publications including MRZine, CounterPunch, DissidentVoice, and New Politics, and speaks across the country on the struggle for LGBT liberation. For more information or to order online, visit www.haymarketbooks.org.

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