A discerning account of the coming of age of the gay community (with lesser attention to lesbian women)--by the author of The Homosexual (1971), arguably the best of the early-'70s interpretive studies. Altman begins by accepting Freud's theory of a naturally polymorphous human sexuality from which exclusive heterosexuality is developed only through the repression of homosexual desires (and vice versa). He goes on to discuss the invention of the term ""homosexual"" and to distinguish between homosexual behavior and gay identity. The explosive growth of the gay movement in the 1970s, Altman believes, ""could only emerge in the conditions created by modern capitalism"": the breakdown of the nuclear family, of traditional values, and of sex roles; the overriding importance of sex and its easy gratification; the triumph of consumerism. Indeed, it was the link between sexual freedom and commercialism-as exemplified by gay discos and baths--that, more than ""the sort of political identity associated with the. . . early seventies,"" created the new homosexual. But the styling of the American gay community as a ""minority group"" was also essential to its development, and brought the gay movement into pressure-group politics. This type of political organizing has met with some success, but these very gains have fueled the fires of the anti-gay backlash and made homosexuals a convenient scapegoat for the New Right. And, according to Altman, there is no way out of this dilemma: ""Precisely because the affirmation of being gay is the affirmation of sexual desire, there is something radical about the gay movement that all the attempts of those who would claim respectability for us cannot dispel."" He also views gays, somewhat more tenuously, as pioneers in human relationships: they are ""exploring models for living everyday life that are relevant to everyone,"" like it or not. Still, Altman has done his homework: his bibliography is invaluable for the writings of the last decade. Altogether, he covers difficult ground with intelligence and care.