Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America.
By John-Manuel Andriote.
Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1999. $30.00 (hardcover).
The author states that this book will examine "both the 'big picture' and its finer details in considering the many ways AIDS affected the nation's hardest hit community, gay men." He succeeds in presenting many telling details of that impact. We are introduced to personalities, informed about critical events, and acquainted with controversies that might have lain forgotten in old newspaper archive or fading memories if they werent collected in this book. My only criticism of this rich body of material is that it is poorly organized, especially with regard to chronology. The events covered in a single paragraph may skip forward and backward over a decade.
Where the author may disappoint the reader is in his attempt to present the "big picture." His historical claims read more like sound bites than serious analytic conclusions. When he asserts that AIDS activism brought about "the transformation of a disorganized collection of despised individuals into a self-affirming community and a full-fledged civil rights movement" and on a later page that "AIDS brought the gay community as a community out of the closet," he seems to totally overlook gay activism that was well under way before the recognition of AIDS. His thesis is rooted in a picture of the 1970s as an era characterized almost solely by gays closeted in a ghetto where unending promiscuous sexual activity continued until AIDS ended the "party." This sort of broad sweep painting of all gays of the 70s with the same brush is poor reporting. Though the author certainly has no such intent, it could even be taken as support of the sort of puritanical agenda that sees AIDS as the deserved outcome of an era of moral laxness, even as Gods judgement on homosexuals. It is true, of course, that those who were involved in the "party" were at greatest risk but, as we all know, many who were not promiscuous became infected. Nor has promiscuity disappeared from either the gay or heterosexual communities as a result of the AIDS epidemic.
While the author does a very good job of raising the important issues of power which relate to race, class, and gender, as well as sexual orientation, he seems to have little ability to rise above the immediate issue to give that promised "big picture." Instead of giving us a broader perspective on the controversies and crises that he presents so well, he tends to focus on condemning the shortsightedness, inflexibility, or selfishness of one or more of the adversary parties. The fact that he often has blame aplenty for all sides to a conflict shows evenhandedness but adds little perspective. This focus on conflict is also reflected in the profusion of war metaphors in this volume, with chapter titles of "Rallying the Troops," "The Making of Soldiers," and "War Bonds." The inutility of such "war on disease" metaphors was ably expressed by Sontag in her brilliant monograph Illness as a Metaphor.
Despite these criticisms of Victory Deferred as an integrative work, it is well worth the price for its profusion of anecdotal details and the important issues it raises and provides a degree of insight into. Even more than that, it preserves some element of the experience and wisdom of many persons interviewed for this book who are no longer with us.