While I personally share much of Bronski’s political perspective — especially the importance of defending sexual freedom and recognizing the limits of the assimilation strategy — there are weaknesses to his argument. Too often Bronski seems to talk about gay men and lesbians the way Marx spoke of the working class — as a "privileged revolutionary subject" whose special place in the social structure guarantees that they are the ones who will lead the revolution. Bronski romanticizes gay (male?) sex as "a distillation of the pleasure principle." In fact, it’s not clear that there’s anything inherently subversive in the pursuit of sexual pleasure outside the bounds of sexual reproduction.
Indeed, as Bronski himself notes, the idea that the only legitimate purpose of sex is reproduction is one that increasingly few heterosexuals endorse, as a result of broad social changes over the course of the past century, very much including the rise of the gay movement. If so, then there is no necessary incompatibility between gay culture and the dominant culture, and an analysis of the "dominant culture" might do well to break it down into its various parts, separating those who view recreational sex — perhaps even in the Oval Office — as morally unproblematic from those who uphold "traditional family values."
Bronski’s problem is that he wants to have it both ways. He wants to argue that gay culture has had a huge impact and that vast numbers of mainstream heterosexuals have been rethinking questions of sexuality and gender "in ways pioneered by gay men and lesbians." But he also wants to maintain that homosexuality "strikes at the heart" of Western culture and is radically at odds with our society — the old Marxian idea of the contradiction that can only be resolved through revolution. It’s hard to see how both these claims can be true, and it’s confusing to the reader when Bronski fails to note that his own arguments run at cross purposes.
Part of the difficulty may be that Bronski is too invested in the left-Freudian idea that modern society can function only by confining sex in a monogamous, reproductive, heterosexual box. Perhaps the political uses and functions of sexuality in our society are far more diverse, complicated and protean, as the writings of Michel Foucault (a thinker Bronski has little to say about) would suggest. A more broad-ranging conception of how sex is, so to speak, put to work in the service of a whole variety of social ends would actually fit Bronski’s case studies better, and might provide a firmer grounding for a politics designed to resist the social control of our bodies and pleasures.Steven Epstein is the author ofImpure Science: AIDS, Activism and the Politics of Knowledge