While same-sex marriage and gender transition is celebrated in some parts of the world, laws are being strengthened to criminalize homosexuality and gender nonconformity in others. A globetrotting exploration of how the human rights frontier around sexual orientation and gender identity has come to divide—and describe—the world in an entirely new way over the first two decades of the 21st century.
The book provides an invaluable snapshot of a particular moment in the worldwide response to the queer rights movement. It also raises provocative and uncomfortable questions about Western assumptions of the universality of 'human rights,' specifically whether sexual orientation and gender identification are such inviolate aspects of personhood that the state should make no laws, nor uphold any cultural bias, that restricts them, as well as the conflict between international norms and national sovereignty and even if LGBT identity is a one-size-fits-all proposition. Having raised these questions, Gevisser never definitively answers them. Indeed, these larger issues tend to get lost in the more personal stories Gevisser tells in a book that alternates between personal reportage, standard journalism, and memoirish self-reflection. If the whole of the book is ultimately less than the sum of its parts, the parts themselves can be thought-provoking and may provide the starting point for future studies that are less ambitious but more coherent ... despite its sprawl and the unanswered questions it raises, The Pink Line is a consequential book. Gevisser’s opus will knock its Western readers out of any parochial sense of complacency about LGBT rights and challenge them to think both globally and strategically about how best to support their brothers and sisters on the other side of the pink line.
This is a valuable book not only for the quality of Gevisser’s analysis and the scope of his research, but because he spends a good deal of time with the people on whose lives he focuses. He does not just sail into such cities as Cairo, Nairobi, Kampala, Ramallah and Istanbul, interview a few gay locals, deplore their plight and depart. He sticks around; he finds people whose lives he can follow over a couple of years. He hangs out with them, enjoys their company; he renders them in all their complexity. Gevisser is also alert to the connection between gay freedom and other forms of liberty. His account of the reasons for the increasingly intense repression of gay people in some countries is astute and nuanced. His book is, at times, a history of the recent darkening of the human spirit itself, as much as it is a book about gay politics. It also shows how stirring up hatred against gay people is part of an agenda to win power ... When the author places them in the context not only of gay politics but of national politics, his human stories become fascinating ... The Pink Line can see light and hope...but Gevisser is clear-eyed and wise enough to have a sharp sense of how tough the struggle has been, and how hard it will be now for those who have not succeeded in finding shelter from prejudice.
... extraordinary ... a hugely ambitious and exceptional work of long-form journalism. Eight years in the making, with stories from Malawi, South Africa, Egypt, Russia, India, Mexico, Israel and the Palestinian territories, this is a landmark study of unprecedented frontiers in the battle for civil rights ... instead of a triumphant celebration of progress, this is a layered and surprising work about those living along these cultural fault lines ... Gevisser’s book feels especially revelatory in this globalist approach, making thoughtful comparisons that illuminate just how privileged Western societies have become in the application of LGBT legal rights ... What makes Gevisser an especially compelling narrator and guide to this subject is his awareness of his privilege as a White, upper-middle-class South African from a country with one of the most progressive post-apartheid constitutions in terms of human rights...His self-disclosure liberates him from the sometimes insular and patronizing Western gaze on LGBT communities in postcolonial societies, understanding how American or European cultural power may have galvanized LGBT movements but can also serve to destabilize and in many cases endanger local struggles for sexual and gender diversity. These gray zones make the book riveting and morally complex ... I was deeply moved by these nuances in The Pink Line to reflect on my own coming-of-age and coming-out story ... Gevisser gives language and form to those experiences ... While the author’s own sexuality certainly makes him a partial observer, this is by no means a memoir or a polemic. It is a work of clear-eyed analysis and exceptional reporting, and it deserves a wide and non-LGBT readership that wishes to understand these frontiers. What elevates the book is Gevisser’s poetic and queer gaze, his searching language about why he has dedicated almost a decade of his life to understanding a generational transformation.