COMING OUT UNDER FIRE: Gay Men and Women in World War II by Allan BÉrubÉ

COMING OUT UNDER FIRE: Gay Men and Women in World War II

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A grass-roots study revealing the unexpected ways that WW II mobilization ""propelled gay men and lesbians into the mainstream of American life."" Although the wartime military set up new psychiatric procedures to screen homosexuals (as ""mentally ill""), it officially rejected only 4,000 to 5,000 out of 18 million, failing, BÉrubÉ claims, to keep out ""the vast majority of gay men."" With few secondary sources, BÉrubÉ builds a narrow but thorough study from interviews with over 50 veterans, and from letters (some found in a San Francisco dump), as well as psychiatric journals and military records. Once in, BÉrubÉ says, gays had the chance to start ""coming out."" Thrown together on military bases, gays could acknowledge themselves and recognize each other. The author describes ""the rich gay nightlife"" of ""the war-boom cities"" that many tasted for the first time. The seemingly innocuous soldier-shows that ""featured female impersonation routines"" allowed, he claims, some gays to ""display their camp sensibilities."" The book also documents the dark side. Soldiers discovered to be homosexuals could go through a nightmare of interrogation and hospitalization (or sometimes incarceration), and then were discharged as ""undesirables."" Some of these 10,000 veterans appealed the discharges, and, BÉrubÉ argues, became among the first to articulate gay rights. Finally, BÉrubÉ contends that the contemporary debate about the military's policy to exclude homosexuals should be considered in light of this controversial chapter of minority history. At once a long-winded anecdotal chronicle of gay experience, and a disturbing document of social injustice--with interesting points about the disruption of the old order prompted by the war.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1990
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan