AN AMERICAN OBSESSION by Jennifer Terry

AN AMERICAN OBSESSION

Science, Medicine and the Place of Homosexuality in Modern Society
Age Range: 0 - 226
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KIRKUS REVIEW

paper 0-226-79367-2 An encyclopedic history of how the American medical and scientific communities’ perceptions of homosexuality constructed it as “abnormal” rather than as part and parcel of “the normal.” Terry (comparative studies/Ohio State) confesses in her Introduction to an obsessive personality which stimulated her throughout the writing of this mammoth tome, and it may well take a similarly addled reader to wade through this text, its 80 pages of endnotes, and its 40-page bibliography. Obsessions, however, are not always without their rewards, and the reader who can match the author in zealous devotion to the topic will be amply recompensed. Through historical analysis breathtaking in its sweep and scope, Terry fractures scientific claims of objectivity in analyses of homosexuality to uncover the ideological and cultural agendas implicit in such work. Moving from such late 19th-century sexologists as Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis to 20th-century figures like Alfred Kinsey, Terry deflates the cultural baggage which these scientists brought to their studies with her pinpricks of common sense and rational discourse. In her considerations of medical texts, psychiatric case histories, legal cases, personal narratives, and journalistic accounts, Terry exposes with patience (and, at times, with resigned humor) the ways cultural bias infects the supposedly objective arena of science. The anecdotes commonly underscore the demonization of the gay individual and community, making Terry’s work itself a testimony to the importance of contesting cultural narratives. Terry is no dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants but a giant herself, towering over the misperceptions of past medical dwarfs with their insidious visions of homosexuality.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-226-79366-4
Page count: 552pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1999