The Cliff Notes version of America's queer history, offering in their distilled essence the themes, struggles, and stories of 400 years of same-sex desire in the New World. Rupp (History and Women's Studies/Ohio State Univ.) frames queer history in reasonable and judicious chapters, including considerations of the sexual culture clash between European settlers and indigenous peoples, the same-sex "romantic friendships" of the 19th century, the social and personal ramifications of the medicalization of homosexuality at the turn of the 20th century, and the emergence of gay communities and organizations up to the present day. The many examples provide strong support and foundation for her argument that same-sex sexuality is a fluid and labile construction, changing and metamorphosing with the cultures it inhabits; however, combining her rigorous historical analysis with personal anecdotes and stories, some more compelling, some more closely tied to the history at hand than others, provides a clumsy narrative link to the history (why does Rupp feel her audience would be interested in her favorite color nail polish?). A Desired Past's conception as a short history teases the reader, as the book's brief synopses of eras of queer history inevitably leave one wanting more examples and analysis. Nonetheless, if one were to read this only for the flashes of insight it gives into how queer people have negotiated the contours and borders of their cultures to express and to embrace the taboo, the panorama of same-sex life which emerges stands as a sufficiently compelling reward for the effort. In a better world, if teaching the history of sexuality were a politically neutral act rather than a flashpoint issue in the culture wars, this would be an excellent text for high-school and lower-level college history classes.
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