“Queer in America: Sex, the Media and the Closets of Power”–a very important book

Signorile, Michelangelo, “Queer in America: Sex, the Media and the Closets of Power”, University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.

A Very Important Book

Amos Lassen

When Michelangelo Signorile’s “Queer in America” was first published in 1993, it sent clear shock waves through society, both gay and straight. Now the University of Wisconsin Press has issued an updated the classic study that exposed the hypocrisy and prejudices that has become a way of life in America and that is so pervasive in American institutions. This new edition has a new preface and an added chapter that looks at the way American looks at us as well as how we look at ourselves.

Written 17 years ago, it seems like only yesterday when I read it and was shocked to see the state of queer America of the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s. A lot of change has happened since then but t is still fascinating to read about the effect that the closets of power affected us—especially those closets in Hollywood and Washington, D.C. The closet was what molded our thoughts and brought about behavior that was completely destructive to our community. Signorile, a journalist was once known for outing closeted men and women and in this book he explains why that is justifiable as well as the history of outing. Whether or not we agree with him, he is convincing in his arguments and approach.

“Queer in America” gives you an understanding of how the media and the power structures of America work and Signorile gives this to you in an in your face approach. He has gone to those people—among them directors, writers, actors, politicians and others—who sit silent as we as a GLBT community take the abuse heaped upon us by the larger society. He holds nothing back and in unapologetic confrontation rubs our faces in facts that astound. He writes logically and with reason that it causes even those opposed to the way he does things to rethink their positions. Even though his arguments are convincing they are not always comfortable.

This is a book that should be read my every member of our community and by everyone else in society at large. Straight people may come to better understand why there is such a thing as the closet, how it works and how it destroys creativity and humanity. He gives us a “gay manifesto” by which he challenges all of us to work together to tear down the closet. Reading it today, it seems to be quite dated—so much has happened since 1993 but it is important to know that there was a time when we hid completely.

Signorile argues that no one has the right to be a closet and that it is the media that is guilty for causing people to pretend to be what they are not, Signorile who is best known as the pioneer of outing really gives nothing new but he writes down things we already knew. This in itself is important because once something is written it becomes available to be read. As Signorile matured from a repressed youth to a provocateur, he began to direct his anger against American power structures who, he claims are responsible for our “marginalization”. He blames the religious right, the media, the establishment machine in Washington and the movie industry. He claims that the power base in the nation’s capital is filled with “queers” using sex to gain power and that this power base has been gradually shifting to Silicon Valley where many gays have found refuge in technology. This is the new place where war between gays and straights will be waged and he issues “a call to arms” which only brings about new issues.

This book is both detailed and powerful and the conclusion drawn is that gay people, if hey want to live moral lives must leave the closet behind them. In this work, Signorile has by himself changed the political landscape of America.

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