A historian unravels the secret history of the fight for gay rights that began a generation before Stonewall when, in 1957, astronomer Frank Kameny was fired by the U.S. Defense Department because of his presumed homosexuality. Unlike many others before him, though, Kameny fought back.
... brilliant ... Cervini is a smooth writer and a brilliant researcher. Besides being the first full-length biography of the intellectual father of the gay liberation movement, Cervini’s work provides a wealth of fascinating new details about the movement before the Stonewall riots of 1969 ... The book also does a fine job of tracing the decades-old divide within the movement, between those like Kameny who thought gays needed to look as much as possible like heterosexuals to be accepted (White House picketers were all required to wear suits if they were men or unrevealing dresses if they were women) and those most eager to celebrate gay differences ... Besides its rich portrait of Kameny, this book is careful to give honorable mentions to many other pre-Stonewall activists.
... falls short of perfection. But not by much ... With spare prose and linear sequencing that recalls James Baldwin, Cervini chronicles this mission, unsuccessful appeal after unsuccessful appeal. He takes the reader on an epic journey ... an epiphanic work. That is due partly to Cervini’s admirable use of a wealth of material ... Testimony from participants in the 1969 Stonewall riots brings that definitive act of gay defiance to life ... Is it due to academic rigor that Cervini fails to mention Hoover’s long-rumored intimacy with his deputy, Clyde Tolson? Perhaps he felt most readers would already be aware of such speculations ... A more significant issue is the book’s end. Reminiscent of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, it is a summation in the form of an epilogue. Snappily, one learns the resolution of the myriad lives populating The Deviant’s War. But after earlier thoroughness, one yearns for 500 pages more instead ... I did not anticipate that in writing about Frank Kameny’s heroic stand, Cervini could also cover his own, mine and that of all LGBTQ America. Certainly it was hard to imagine, beforehand, a work that grippingly told of the emergence from turmoil of a more perfect union that is now threatened anew ... Cervini’s is a singular accomplishment. It proves one cannot judge a book by its cover, its outward identity. Seeking always to treat others justly, we ought never to do so. Happy Pride!
...a brisk, clear-eyed new biography ... Much of the granularity of Cervini’s account comes from F.B.I. files, rather than from what survives of Kameny’s papers or the society’s archives—a testament both to the garrulity of informers and to the Mattachines’ extreme caution about anything that might incriminate members.