“Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World” by Gregory Woods— The Gay Shaping of Western Culture

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Woods, Gregory. “Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World”, Yale University Press, 2016.

The Gay Shaping of Western Culture

Amos Lassen

Gregory Woods brings us an ambitious study of the ways in which homosexuality has helped shape Western culture. This study spans continents, languages, and almost a century from the trials of Oscar Wilde to the gay liberation era and looks at the time of in increased visibility that made acceptance of homosexuality one of the ways that modernity could be measured.

There were diverse, informal networks of gay people in the arts and other creative fields that were somewhat hidden from the larger society. These were referred to as “the Homintern” (an echo of Lenin’s “Comintern”) by those who were suspicious of an international homosexual conspiracy and these networks brought together such networks connected gay writers, actors, artists, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, politicians, and spies. They, to a degree, provided some defense against dominant heterosexual exclusion and fostered solidarity, celebrated talent, and, by doing so, invigorated and changed the majority culture. Having worked with gay men who were involved in the arts in the 60s, I was aware of these networks but never saw anything.

Woods introduces us to a large cast of gifted and extraordinary characters, most of whom operated openly. Woods here looks at “artistic influence, the coping strategies of minorities, the hypocrisies of conservatism, and the effects of positive and negative discrimination”. We get quite a look at twentieth-century gay culture and the men and women who both redefined themselves and changed history. We read stories of interlocking, international gay and lesbian networks that may surprise some and reinforce—- these were places where gay liberation was born and really began to take hold. There were many gay men who “affected, influenced and restructured world culture for over a hundred years and this is the place to look to learn about the rise of gay poetics. I certainly was not expecting this to be a fun read— Woods sprinkles stories, gossip and anecdotes throughout and we see that it was gays and lesbians that actually were responsible for the liberation of the modern world. One reviewer says that the book is both hilarious and horrifying in that we read of the terrible persecution that gay people suffered and the pervasiveness and viciousness of homophobia and also of those gays and lesbians who were totally outrageous.

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