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  • Long before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America
  • Bruce Burgett
Long before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America. Edited by Thomas Foster . New York: New York University Press, 2007. Pp. 448. $25.00 (paper).

In an important article published in the wake of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the rebellion at Greenwich Village's Stonewall Inn in June 1969, Martin Manalansan draws on his ethnographic research among Filipino gay men to trouble commonplaces that locate the Stonewall riots as ground zero of an international gay rights movement. The most striking evidence marshaled in the article comes from an interview with Mama Rene, one of the few remaining Filipinos who took part in the 1969 events. What is notable about Mama Rene's narration is the insignificance of the rebellion now shorthanded as "Stonewall": "They say it is a historic event, I thought it was just funny. Do I feel like I made history? People always ask me that. I say no. I am a quiet man, just like how my mom raised me in the Philippines. With dignity." Manalansan uses Mama Rene's narrative to make a critical intervention into international discourses of gay rights that center social and sexual formations typical of urban metropolitan cores at the expense of those of the peripheries, stigmatize individuals who are neither "out" nor "proud" as either repressed or not yet fully realized subjects of a liberationist history of (homo)sexuality, and prioritize a critique of homophobia over an intersectional analysis of the racial and class politics of the "gay world." This intervention is important on its own terms since it dwells on the diasporic trajectories and personal aspirations of Filipino gay men. It is also significant since it marks one notable origin of the turn within queer studies over the past decade and a half toward research and activism aimed at documenting the myriad ways in which "the local and national are inflected and implicated in . . . the international/transnational on the level of the everyday and political mobilization." 1

As the title of Thomas Foster's edited collection of essays indicates, Long before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexuality in Early America bears an ambivalent relation to this useful turn within queer studies. On the one hand, the phrase "long before" locates "early America" at a serious temporal distance from the present marked by "Stonewall," while the category "same-sex sexuality" maps a terrain that extends beyond familiar LGBT identity categories. The research contained in the volume, the title announces, should not be misunderstood as merely tracing genealogies of today's dominant sexual formations. On the other hand, "Stonewall" names the events of 1969 as the endpoint of that research. Foster makes this ambivalence clear in his [End Page 626] introduction when he discusses the limitations of what he calls the "acts-versus-identities paradigm" within recent historical research on sexuality: the distinction between a "premodern" (or "preindustrial") world in which behaviors such as sodomy and bestiality were conceptualized and punished as "acts" and a "modern" world in which those behaviors are understood and managed as indicators of underlying psychosexual personality traits (8-9). Foster agrees that medical and psychological models of sexual subjectivity became increasingly hegemonic in the mid- to late nineteenth century (and that they dominate current discussions of sexuality), but he insists that any attempt by social or cultural historians to draw a clear dividing line between premodern and modern treatments of same-sex sexuality is misguided. The research contained in the volume demonstrates that "long before Stonewall, the history of same-sex sexuality took root and began to establish cultural precedents that later medical models drew upon" (8).

Foster's framing argument is partially accurate to the research contained in the volume. Among the fourteen new and reprinted essays on topics ranging from Spanish and Pueblo perceptions of same-sex sexuality (Tracy Brown) to popular and medical constructions of hermaphrodites in the eighteenth century (Elizabeth Reis) to abolitionist discourses of benevolence and the erotics of black bodies (John Saillant), nearly half explicitly take up Foster's critique of the "acts-versus-identities paradigm," with many of those essays attributing that...


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