Eric Cervini's "The Deviant's War: The Homosexual vs. The United States of America"

Eric Cervini's The Deviant's War, a detailed biography of Frank Kameny (1925-2011).

2007 dadt flags

I should have been aware of this book sooner than when it was mentioned in an episode of Lisa Ling's 'This Is Life', that is, 'Gay Panic: The Lavender Sacre'.

That is Dr. Eric Cervini's The Deviant's War: The Homosexual vs. The United States of America, published in 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and in paperback on the Picador Imprint in 2021.

The context provided by Ling is that the US government's politicians found homosexuals a convenient scapegoat that a religious and intellectually gullible and naive public would accept for the scare of Communism erupting right after WWII, exacerbated by Soviet progress in nuclear weapons and space.

The 'Deviant' specifically is Dt. Franklin E. Kameny (1925-2011), the former astronomer who singlehandedly and somewhat dictatorily led the early movement to stop the witch-hunting of gays in government employment and, to some extent, the military.

The sequence that led to Kameny's firing in 1957 is more detailed and nuanced than generally reported. The government based it on an 'arrest' in a San Francisco bus station when a man (maybe undercover) groped him and he did not resist enough. He was supposedly given three years to have it expunged from his record. But the CSC would not let go of something for which there was no trial and no admission of guilt.

This turned into a circular affair, with the government sometimes more concerned with the idea of 'being homosexual' than with provable acts. Kameny indeed went at this with intellectual precision, demanding due process. The government was perhaps inadvertently forcing gays into the idea of 'suspect class' and future identity politics.

Homosexuality had always been presumed wrong as a postulate which, outside of religion, had no real basis. But a lot of it could be seen as an extension of the military or dorm model: men sometimes come together in congregate settings for the good of society (women and future children); it having to ponder covert gay 'scoping' they might lose their resolve to 'get it up' for marriage and family themselves. And in a time of women making less money, some women would never find husbands. The government curiously even took the position that gays were reckless in allowing gossip to circulate about them this happened to me - the ultimate circularity.

The author mentions the 1948 Alfred Kinsey book; people 'knew' that male homosexual attraction (and lesbian) existed and could be covert and widespread. However mention of it was considered indecent, as a distraction from the lifelong physicality of procreative marriage, more or less parallel to the way public indecency laws with regard to dress worked.

That was a major point in my own 'do ask do tell' books. That's what happened to me at William and Mary in the fall of 1961, and that parallelism led to my own entry into the debate on gays in the military. By comparison, though, I did not suffer as much, as my parents actually supported me through the worst, until things got better in the early 1970s. From my perspective this is a bit of an over-simplification.

On p. 140, Kameny reports being quizzed about future gay marriage, an odd thing to expect.

On p. 161 homosexual inclination is reported as a kind of short range hedonism, as it to get-it-up quickly and not be able to follow through with a long-term intimacy capable of having and raising children.

On p. 223 he reports Time's 'pernicious sickness' op-ed.

In p 226 the CSC claims that open or unveiled homosexuals would cause revulsion among straight employees.

On p. 267, the attempts by some gays to get out of the draft during the Vietnam war is presented. In fact, the draft physical 'asked' about homosexual tendencies in 1964, but had stopped by 1966. I know, as I took the draft physical three times, and went from 4-F to 1-Y to 1-A and served 1968-1970. My intervening Master's degree in Math got me out of going to Vietnam. I had actually worked as a math instructor at KU and gave people grades that could get them drafted.

The book, toward the end, fills in the details of the Stonewall rebellion and summarizes the AIDS crisis, the debate over don't ask don't and its repeal in 2011.

But over the years Kameny's efforts, however unevenly, tracked the civil rights movement over race.

The plethora of organizations (which were quite secret at first, necessarily) was not as interesting as the persistence of circular thinking that people just don't see.

ISBN: 978-1-250-79850-3

Publication:Picador, 494 pages, paper, endnotes, index, Introduction, Epilogue, 20 chapters