Before you get this book, know it’s a biography about Frank Kameny, not an overarching historical narrative over gay struggles in the United States. While it does a good job portraying the hardships faced by gay men after World War 2, it cuts off after the book reaches the...
Before you get this book, know it’s a biography about Frank Kameny, not an overarching historical narrative over gay struggles in the United States. While it does a good job portraying the hardships faced by gay men after World War 2, it cuts off after the book reaches the 80s, and instead supplements a Cliff Notes version of events of HIV/AIDS and marriage equality. This is expected in a way, since apparently Kameny did not do much after losing his handle on the gay organizations he helped start.
The Deviant’s War does sprinkle in mentions of other wonderful LGBT heroes, like Bayard Rustin and Marsha P Johnson. Although they are fairly short in context; Bayard is mentioned as being significant for the civil rights movement, but then once he’s discovered performing fellatio on two men he becomes no longer relevant to the story until the epilogue in a brief passage. Marsha P Johnson is mentioned during the chapter about Stonewall, but then not really discussed until she’s found dead in a later chapter. The assertion of other people does help paint a better narrative in context of what else was going on during the time of what Frank Kameny was doing, however it also made me feel like I wasn’t getting enough of those people, either. A part of me wondered if I shouldn’t be reading a book about them instead.
The Deviant’s War does paint Frank Kameny as a blursed character, both being a blessing and a curse. He was forward in his thinking that he came up with the term “GAY IS GOOD,” being the first to ever declare this. However he also was harmful in his beliefs that gay men and women had to follow through with social standards. At his protests, Kameny wanted women to wear dresses and he wanted men in suits. Frank Kameny has helped in many ways, but after reading this, I can’t help but to wonder: what has he really done other than enforce a dress code?
The Deviant’s War also briefly mentions Clark Polak, who is described as “gay Hugh Hefner,” on page 207. Frank Kameny quickly dismisses the importance of his magazines because they are considered smut, and he was fearful gay men would be seen as immorally lesser because of it. Ironically, these magazines were incredibly beneficial for gay men at the time, giving a voice to homosexuals across the world; in fact, many magazines have been taken to court and won, unlike Kameny’s struggle. For those interested in that topic, I suggest reading “Buying Gay,” by David K Johnson.
This book is a great narrative of Frank Kameny’s life. However, for a fuller, richer history of gay men’s struggles in the USA, I suggest reading Eric Marcus’ “Making Gay History,” instead. It should also be known America wasn’t the first place to home a gay rights movement; in fact, it started in Berlin, Germany in the late 1800s, which dominoed into Stonewall. If you’re curious about the first gay rights movement in the world, I recommend reading “Gay Berlin,” by Robert Beachy.
The book is absolutely wonderful as what it is: a biography about Frank Kameny, 1945ish-1970s. I do wish, in some regard, we were given more. How did he feel about Harvey Milk? How did he react to his assassination, where was he during the White Night Riots? How did he spend the last decade of his life? How does his family view him? Does he have any nieces or nephews, or even cousins that would be interested in sharing anything? Is his whole family gone? I loved the little facts, like how he narrated a porn in 1973, or how the cast of Hair helped him in his election. I just wish there was more, too.
Outside of the writing itself, I do feel bad about the cover on the book. When I took it out of the box, I was stunned with the book and all it’s beauty. However, as soon as I touched the sleeve, my fingers made an imprint. Something to know about this book is that it’s highly sensitive to even clean hands. You will leave tracks of yourself on top, even if you’re careful. I wish I knew before I handled mine.
Overall, it’s a nice book. I didn’t expect a biography on mainly Frank Kameny, but it was still good. Don’t be fooled, war on deviants doesn’t stop here, many things happen to gay men that the book doesn’t cover. It doesn’t mention how before Frank’s birth, the Navy had men hunt for homosexuals by getting them to perform fellatio on them (this event was later known as the Newport Sex Scandal). It also doesn’t mention how the government largely ignored the Upstair’s Lounge fire in 1973, which killed 32 people, primarily because they were gay. These were all horrible things as part of the war on deviants.
If it’s about the war homosexuals faced, why doesn’t the book mention how gay men were thrown into concentration camps and used for target practice because their large, pink triangles? If it’s about the war homosexuals faced, why not mention all of the times gay men were arrested, and later on given shock therapy, or even castrated? If it’s about the war homosexuals faced, why not mention all of these other things?
Overall, as a biography on Frank Kameny, it is good.