Drawing on original research from medical texts, psychiatric case histories, pioneering statistical surveys, first-person accounts, legal cases, sensationalist journalism, and legislative debates, Jennifer Terry has written a nuanced and textured history of how the century-old obsession with homosexuality is deeply tied to changing American anxieties about social and sexual order in the modern age.
Terry's overarching argument is compelling: that homosexuality served as a marker of the "abnormal" against which malleable, tenuous, and often contradictory concepts of the "normal" were defined. One of the few histories to take into consideration homosexuality in both women and men, Terry's work also stands out in its refusal to erase the agency of people classified as abnormal. She documents the myriad ways that gays, lesbians, and other sexual minorities have coauthored, resisted, and transformed the most powerful and authoritative modern truths about sex. Proposing this history as a "useable past," An American Obsession is an indispensable contribution to the study of American cultural history.
By examining an array of medical and scientific texts published over the last two centuries, Terry (comparative studies, Ohio State Univ.) offers a detailed history of how it came to be that "Homosexuality, while socially stigmatized, has acquired a symbolic centrality in American culture, figuring as a scandalous transgression against which notions of normalcy, in a vast array of domains, are defined." Beginning with European scientific classificatory practices of the mid-1800s--which rendered homosexuals medically inferior--this "historian of effects" demonstrates the ways in which scientists shaped modern American ideas about the acceptable and the transgressive. She concludes with "a consideration of the legacy of etiological theories" of homosexuality. Terry's provocative account consistently goes beyond issues of race, class, gender, education, and politics to analyze the agendas of various groups and the implications of their obsession for all Americans. Recommended for subject collections.--James E. Van Buskirk, San Francisco P.L. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.