Gay History: American Frontier to the Present

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OUT OF THE PAST Gay and Lesbian History From 1869 to the Present By Neil Miller 657 pages, Vintage, $16 paperback

`OUT OF THE PAST" is journalist Neil Miller's third book to chronicle the history of lesbian and gay culture, and it is well worth the time it takes to plow through the more than 500 pages of text.

Unlike Miller's previous book, "Out in the World: Gay and Lesbian Life from Buenos Aires to Bangkok," which looks at same-sex relationships around the globe, this book focuses almost exclusively on Western civilization. (There is one chapter on Japan and modern samurai and novelist Yukio Mishima that doesn't seem to fit with the otherwise Western theme of the book.)

As Miller notes in his introduction, he makes "no pretense to original research." The volume is a compilation of findings by other pioneers in the field of gay history, including historians Jonathan Ned Katz, Lillian Faderman, Martin Duberman, John Boswell; journalist Randy Shilts; and biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook. "Out of the Past" begins in the year 1869 because it was in this year that the term "homosexuality" first appeared.

The first chapter, "The Age of Whitman," is a brief discussion of Walt Whitman's writing and relationships, which clearly indicate a fondness for men. This chapter might have fit in better after the second one. Chapter 2, "Pioneers of Sexology," is a fascinating (and not too clinical) look at various theories about same-sex attraction, orientation and behavior and how those theories developed. This chapter probably would have made a more appropriate initiation than the overview of Walt Whitman.

The rest of the book spans a number of historical periods, such as the American frontier, the turn of the 20th-century in America, Weimar Germany, World War I, the Jazz Age in Harlem, the Stalin era of Communist Russia, Nazi Germany, the McCarthy era, and the 1969 Stonewall rebellion in Greenwich Village. It also profiles many intriguing personalities, including Radclyffe Hall, J. …