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Homophobia: A History Paperback – Nov 2001


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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Picador USA; Reprint edition (Nov. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312420307
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312420307
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 579,566 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Homophobia In this "tour de force" of historical and literary research, Fone, an acclaimed expert on gay and lesbian history and professor emeritus at the City University of New York, chronicles the evolution of homophobia through the centuries. Delving into literary sources as diverse as Greek philosophy, Elizabethan poetry, the Bible, and the Victorian novel, as well as historical texts and propaganda rang... Full description

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M.I. VINE VOICE on 14 Mar. 2012
Format: Paperback
There are some matters which carry an inexplicable stigma. These include an alternative sexuality, psychiatric conditions and, in my case, epilepsy. None of these can affect anyone else. Yet they're treated with distaste, even condemned. It's hard to account for this disapproval, which extends back millennia. It has to be said that religion, in most cases, at least plays a part, including today. Almost all have at various times brought even judicial death, including in 1940s concentration camps, or sterilisation, as with the cryptographer Alan Turing, whose work in WW2 was honoured with a memorial only decades after his work, and suicide. And this, amd much else, is examined in Fone's study, a rightly praised work.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
BRILLIANT - not to be missed !!!
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By CENTRAL LONDON MAN on 22 Sept. 2013
Format: Paperback
RELIGON IS THE ROOT OF HOMOPHOBIA.WHICH I FIND CURIOUS AS WHAT CAME FIRST HOMOSEXUALITY OR RELIGONS SUCH AS CATHOLIC AND CHRISTIAN.WHEN FOSSILS OF SEA CREATURES ARE FOUND ON TOP OF MOUNT EVEREST THESE RELIGIONS ARE NOTHING BUT A BLIP IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.THE ARAB AND MIDDLE EAST HAVE BEEN IN TURMOIL SINCE 1AD .HOMOPHOBIA IS AQUIRED BEHAVIOUR AND THESE PEOPLE SHOULD BE AVOIDED
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Thales Coimbra on 19 Mar. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I haven't read it yet, but considering it was a recommended by my professor, I think it must be good.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 13 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A wake-up call... 5 Sept. 2007
By Relnereth DuFaun - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
As a young gay man trying to understand his place in the world and how he fits into it all, this book was shocking and occasionally disturbing as it chronicled the tormented history of homosexuals in Europe and America.

Being the first non-fiction book I read concerning homosexuality, I winced as I read about the grisly executions performed in the name of God and/or the law, or how homosexuals where rooted and hunted out as in the witch hunts in early Europe. Atrocities towards fellow human beings are perpetrated with such righteous fervor that you wish they would look in the mirror and see what monsters they've become. It chills me to think that had I been born during that dismal period, I could be drowned, stoned, or burned at the stake for consummating my love with another man.

As a Christian, it shames me to learn from reading this that because of one account in the Bible, twisted or misunderstood by interpreters, Christian authorities have employed it as a reason to deliver their brutal judgement against the "sin of Sodom". Worse, as Christianity spread throughout the world, it carried with it the plague of homophobia. Read with horror upon the settlers' arrival in the New World, what they did to the Native Americans. It still confounds me to why people who believe in a god who is the epitomy of love and forgiveness, would embrace hatred and prejudice against their fellow men, as different as they may be.

Reading this has really made me thankful to be living in this day, where even if homosexuality might be frowned upon by some, it has become more understood and more tolerated, if not accepted. The book has made me grieve for those who never got the privilege to be who they are, salute the heroes who fought against the homophobic colossus of that age, and to be sobered out of complacency by knowing that it took a lot of sweat and spilt blood to be able to allow us to have the relative freedom we have.

Finally, taking it further, the book to me is also call to protect, defend, and also to fight. I am aware that there are still countries with homophobic governments who live under constant threat of death. I am aware that we still don't enjoy the full benefits of our existence in society. I am made aware after reading the book that things don't change because you sit there and take it.

I guess the only downside that I found is that it focuses mainly on Europe and America so the generic title would probably do with a little appending.

All-in-all, extremely rousing and informative! Thank you Byrne Fone!
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Interesting (Though Often Horrific) Survey 22 April 2001
By Ricky Hunter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Byrne Fone, in Homophobia A History, looks at exactly what the title states. It is the perfect book for those interested in a first look at the subject of homosexuality through the ages in European and American culture. It is neither particulary scholary or exhaustive and while each of the specific topics (such as literature) or eras (such as medieval) is covered more thouroughly elsewhere, this book provides a fascinating glimpse at the horrendous forces at play through homophobia, whether religious, civil or personal, as they have shaped society from ancient Greece to Stonewall. There are certain gaps, such as the absence of a discussion of Europe during the twentienth century. It is a horrifying glimpse into the history of a destructive mindset and the author handles the subject matter in an illuminating and interesting fashion.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A brilliant study with contemporary implications 22 Jan. 2009
By Wesley Lake - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book must have taken years to write and is worth eveery moment expended in its creation. Although another reviewer said it wasn't a page turner I found it to be one of the most fascinating academic studies I have ever encountered and after putting it down couldn't wait to get back to it. A historical guide that at the same time manages to be right up to date and sadly and frighteningly appropriate to our culture of the moment, one of its most painful implications is that human nature will seemingly never change. Will the attacks on our fellow man and woman over nothing ever stop? Read this book and form your own opinion. The book won't disappoint you; but it's message, brilliant but hardly uplifting, will certainly frighten you.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A Vital, Much-Needed Book.... 28 Jan. 2014
By David C. Young - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In many ways, this is a brilliant book with a brilliant starting point. Tragically, "Western" GLBT history, after the ancient Greeks & Romans, is bound-up with homophobia. Worse, homophobia was and often still is officially sanctioned. Sexual & loving personal details are much less public and reported than, say, battles and the reigns of kings. So until recently, most of what's written in Europe and North America about homosexuality is homophobia.

Fone is a great author for "grand history", that is, history well-written with just the right fascinating details and targeted generalizations about cultural aspects and time periods. These often center on great men (yes, usually male), great events, great thoughts, and great writing. As a literary historian with several books on GLBT history, Fone knows his sources. (His The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature - a collection of GLBT writings since the Greeks - though almost 20 years old is still, to my knowledge, the best collection available.) He also appears to have a good working knowledge of Greek, Latin, German and French. So he can delve into often untranslated sources and non-English histories. He is wonderful with "potted histories" -- one to two paragraph summaries, memorably encapsulating the main points. These introduce and conclude not only all chapters, but all his many sections. And fortunately, by the time he wrote this book (1998-1999), there were enough specialized GLBT histories - e.g., homosexuality in Renaissance Florence, male friendships in Victorian England, gay life in late 19th/early 20th c. New York - that he could draw on comparatively rich specialized research.

I heartily recommend this book for those who wish to understand how we've gotten to where we are as a society regarding GLBT. Anyone who is GLBT or who loves, lives and/or works with GLBT persons should buy and read this often-shocking book. A few shocking "did you know?"s: England only withdrew its death penalty for consenting homosexuality in 1861. The Puritans & Pilgrims not only executed witches, they executed homosexuals, some as young as teenagers. A dozen years ago, about 2/3's of Americans identifying themselves as Christians thought GLBT morally wrong. The first US GLBT rights organization to last more than a month wasn't until the 1950s.

A history of GLBT & homophobia events and literature is definitely needed for most of us. Even when we lived through experiences, often these were not widely known or even actively suppressed. Let me give some personal examples. As a freshman in a small college in 1968, I recall learning, in a college-wide presentation, that Illinois was the only state where homosexual relations between consenting adults weren't subject to a prison sentence. (This remained true for another five years. The last state laws against consenting adult homosexual behavior weren't stuck down until 2003, three years after this book was published.) Even though my college was in Illinois and I was raised in Illinois, throughout my growing up and college I didn't know a single openly GLBT person. In fact, I didn't hear the word "gay", referring to GLBT, until I was in graduate school in the 1970's. I was active in campus and national politics in the 60's & early 70's, yet I never heard of the Stonewall riots and the gay rights movement until the late 70's. I'm a psychotherapist; homosexuality wasn't removed as a mental illness in the diagnostic manual of my field (DSM) until 1976, long after my college psychology and sociology courses. I'm shocked that it wasn't until the 1990's that I realized most of Shakespeare's sonnets were about male-male love. It wasn't until the 1980's that I read a book with an openly GLBT character.

So without reservation, I give this book 5 stars as a much-needed history on a most important topic.

That doesn't mean, however, that I'm unaware of the book's limitations. I list them below, not to discourage reading this book - not at all! It's still, to my knowledge, the best in the field. But I do want to alert people, in advance, to those limitations and to encourage going forward from Fone's work.

First, this is about Western GLBT. It doesn't pretend to be world-wide. I suspect this is because the sources were much less available and specialized histories were not yet written.

Second, the detailed history more-or-less stops with Stonewall (1969). The 70's, 80's & 90's are briefly glossed over in a relatively short "Epilogue". I suspect this was, in part, the overwhelmingly increased sources - literary, personal, political and socio-cultural. I suspect, too, this came from Fone's limitations. He previously wrote a book on homophobia in the English-speaking world which ended with Stonewall (A Road to Stonewall: Male Homosexuality and Homophobia in English and American Literature, 1750-1969 (Twayne's Literature & Society Series)). Researching and digesting that outpouring of sources might have been overwhelming. And I'm glad Fone wrote the history he was well-able to write.

Third, Fone does a good job of avoiding, yet also being sensitive to the essentialist/social constructionist debates on the nature of homosexuality. Briefly, the essentialist position is that there's something trans-cultural and trans-historical about same-sex relationships. What we call homosexuality is real, and that reality is present in all times and all societies. The social constructionist position is that GLBT is solely "constructed" by society. Thus "homosexuality" is limited to modern western capitalist societies, and so there can't be any gay history. Gay doesn't exist except in this particular time, this particular society. (For more on these debates, see, e.g., Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy.)

Yet deep, fundamental understandings of homosexuality aren't limited to essentialists and social-constructionists. Fone tends to limit "homosexuality" to same-sex behavior and attraction. He often misses one deep, fundamental understanding of homosexuality and homophobia. In all cultures and times, "sexualities" are - at least to my knowledge - intimately bound-up with loving as a transcendent good and beautiful, foundational human experience. And often homophobia and its resistenance is bound-up with how it affects and expresses not just our societies, but also our relationship with "Something Infinite" - God, Allah, Buddha, whatever.

Western homophobia is linked to the spread and spiritual dominance of Christianity. Therefore many GLBT persons I know and I've seen, professionally, are what I call "religiously" or "spiritually" traumatized. Also through homophobia with its severe social sanctions and punishments, its severe hatred which drives a need for safety-by-hiding, finding and expressing GLBT loving became challenging and risky. A religious and spiritual reality and a loving reality are, indeed, central to homophobia and its effects. And they're central to realizing who we are as humans. Throughout its history, homophobia has tried to cut-off GLBT folks not just from cultural, political, social & economic realities, but also loving & spiritual/religious realities, transcendent and ultimate realities.

(Regarding the links of homosexuality, religion/spirituality & loving, The first-surviving great "homosexual" texts - Plato's "Symposium" and "Phaedrus" - were explicit about joining homosexual desire to these transcendent and ultimate realities. They were also the first-surviving great philosophic texts on love. Some of our greatest English love poems are Shakespeare's sonnets, most of which are inspired by male-male loving.)

Yet while Fone's quotes often point to spiritual/religious & loving realities, in his summaries, these experiences tend to be neglected. This is a serious limitation on the essence, the brutality & the horror of homophobia. I truly wish it were more deeply & explicitly included. In my experience, this is sorely needed.

Fourth, my main reason for reading this book now is as a psychotherapist. I've just moved my practice, and several at the military base where I may be seeing many clients, asked me if I work with GLBT clients. Yet as I was reading and thinking about needs, it's blazingly clear that it's not enough to "treat" GLBT soldiers. Actually, homophobic soldiers cause the need for "treating" GLBT soldiers and, more strongly, I believe homophobics are the ones most in need of "treating".

Yet that "treating" is challenging. For homophobia not a "disease" in the usual sense. It's more similar to other social ills we struggle with: racism & sexism/genderism. At least in severe forms, such as Nazi anti-semitism or Southern lynching, we clearly label these as "evils". Homophobia still furthers the terrorizing and, in some instances, the murder of GLBT citizens. Can we label homophobia as "evil"? I believe so. But having labeled it evil, now what to do we do? Name-calling won't lessen the evil nor help those trapped living it. Because in my experience, as with WWII Germans and earlier American Southerners, I believe many otherwise good & wise persons are subtly or overtly trapped in that evil.

Fone is not insightful here. In some ways, this is outside of his scope. Yet in other ways, I believe it's central. I wish in his later chapters, and especially in his Epilogue, had added studies about what helps people - GLBT's & others - move away from homophobia's evil. Fone can show us that "moving away from". But he's not good at show what fostered these steps. This, for me, is perhaps the greatest limitation of his important book.

To end positively, Fone's "Epilogue" makes two vital assertions. First, he calls homophobia the last "acceptable" prejudice. Quite, and good for labeling it so. Second, he makes a crucial distinction between tolerating and accepting. It's a point very well taken. While we're only tolerating, homophobia has not the upper hand, but often still a lower hand, which is, perhaps, stronger for being more invisible.

Read this book. It may help you, and others make homophobia to lose its acceptability. It may help our country and our world more & more reject homophobia for the evil it is.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating, eye-opening 1 Sept. 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I was enthralled by this lively, meticulous piece of scholarship, which draws from literature and history its often disturbing conclusions. An incredible work of research and application of findings. Full of interesting insights and details. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to read something both educational and engrossing.
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