cover image Bad Gays: A Homosexual History

Bad Gays: A Homosexual History

Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller. Verso, $29.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-83976-327-4

Novelist Lemmey (Unknown Language) and historian Miller (The New Queer Photography) take an intriguing if disjointed look at “the gay people in history who do not flatter us, and whom we cannot make into heroes: the liars, the powerful, the criminal, and the successful.” Their profile subjects include Roman emperor Hadrian, who may have sacrificed his lover Antinous’s life in order to prolong his reign, and Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, who used his success as an openly gay politician to push an anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim agenda before his assassination by an environmental activist in 2002. Sixteenth-century Scottish monarch James VI and 18th-century Prussian ruler Frederick the Great also appear, as do Victorian male prostitute Jack Saul and 1960s British gangster Ronnie Kray. Though the authors make incisive points about “how white male homosexuality, as a political, identitarian, and emancipatory project, has failed,” the individual profiles don’t coalesce into a satisfying narrative, and the criticism of the cis, white, male perspective is belied by the fact the only two examples—American anthropologist Margaret Mead and Japanese writer Yukio Mishima—are neither male nor white. This thought-provoking survey doesn’t quite achieve its larger ambitions. (May)