Bronski, Michael 1945-
BRONSKI, Michael 1945-
Born May 12, 1945, in Queens, NY; companion of Walta Borawski (a poet), beginning c. mid-1970s (died, 1995). Education: Attended Rutgers University; Brandeis University, M.F.A. (playwriting), 1973.
Home—Cambridge, MA. Agent—Jed Mattes, 2095 Broadway, No. 302, New York, NY 10023.
Freelance writer, critic, publisher, activist, and cultural historian. Gay Community News, consulting editor, 1985—; Z Magazine, book review coeditor, 1986—; The Guide, columnist; In Newsweekly, political opinion columnist, 1992-95.
Broomfield Street School Educational Foundation (board member), GCN-off-the-Page Reading Series (cocurator, 1994—), Fag Rag Collective, Good Gay Poets Collective.
Culture Clash: The Making of Gay Sensibility, South End Press (Boston, MA), 1984.
(Editor) Flashpoint: Gay Male Sexual Writing, Masquerade Books (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor) Taking Liberties: Gay Men's Essays on Politics, Culture, and Sex, Masquerade Books (New York, NY), 1996.
(Consulting editor) Outstanding Lives: Profiles of Lesbians and Gay Men, Visible Ink Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash, and the Struggle for Gay Freedom, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
(Editor) Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps, St. Martin's Griffin (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor of articles and reviews to numerous publications, including Advocate and Radical America.
Michael Bronski became an active member of the gay liberation movement in the late 1960s. Many of his thoughts about the relationship between gay and mainstream societies have been expressed in his articles and books, such as in his groundbreaking 1984 book Culture Clash: The Making of A Gay Sensibility and, more recently, in his follow-up work The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash, and the Struggle for Gay Freedom. In both books, Bronski makes a case for the vast influence of gay culture on mainstream society.
Bronski was born in Queens, New York, and he moved with his family to Westfield, New Jersey, where he attended Catholic grade school and high school. He worked in his local library and began reading voraciously, including books with homosexual themes or plots such as James Baldwin's Another Country and John Rechy's City of Night. He began attending New York theater when he was thirteen years old. At Rutgers University, he became involved in leftist politics and the Students for a Democratic Society (a radical student group better known as the SDS).
Bronski soon joined the Gay Liberation Front and went to on get his master's degree at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, living for a time in a nearby commune. After graduation, he remained in Massachusetts and began writing for gay publications, starting with movie reviews and then moving up to feature writer. He helped support himself by working as a cook and a chef.
Bronski was also writing plays but gave it up when he entered a serious relationship with poet Walta Borawski, who died in 1995 from AIDS-related complications. "I didn't have to transfer all that emotional stuff onto other characters," he told Christopher Bram in an interview in Lambda Book Report. "I was getting it in my own life." Bronski went on to note that he was "an all-right" playwright but that he was drawn to writing about popular culture in a political context.
In the early 1980s, Bronski was approached by Ellen Herman of South End Press to write a book. One of the most-often-referred-to overviews of an evolving gay male subculture, the resulting Culture Clash takes a historical look at gay life and sensibilities. Bronski begins with a look at important people and events in gay history over the preceding 100 years, and then traces the gay culture's impact on the arts. He finishes with a look at how society has discriminated against gays based on a deep-seated fear of sexuality.
Writing in Library Journal, Jim Van Buskirk thought that the work exhibits a "lack of organization and poor writing." However, B. Miller wrote in Choice that "Bronski lucidly documents the existence of an active gay culture during the last hundred years." Miller went on to note that in the final chapter, called "The Theory of the Pleasure Class," Bronski presents his case that gays formed their own culture because they weren't accepted by the mainstream. Eventually, much of the gay culture was accepted and transformed mainstream culture. The cycle then repeats itself.
In 1998, Bronski presented further commentary on the relationship between gay and mainstream society in his book The Pleasure Principle. Bronski succinctly summed up the book's theme for Bram: "The impact of gay culture on straight culture. My theory is that gay culture influences straight culture, and straight people love this influence, whether it's drag or camp or Pee-Wee Herman." Jane Haldiman, writing for Lip, offered the interpretation that the book "does us the favor of putting gay culture, the gay movement, and the conservative backlash against it in the context not only of American history but of the historical tensions between pleasure and the control of it that supposedly makes civilization 'civilized.'"
" The Pleasure Principle offers a richer analysis" than Culture Clash, situating the "gay experience within broad historical and cultural currents," George De Stefano noted in an article in Nation. Bronski "convincingly argues that the struggle over gay people's place in American society is a contemporary version of debates over assimilation and the nature of American identity that reach back to the founding of the Republic. The Pleasure Principle, then, has something important to say to anyone interested in this topic, regardless of one's sexual orientation."
Bruce Bawer, writing for Lambda Book Report, faulted Bronski for wanting his readers to "fall into lockstep and become models of social transgression; but that's not any fairer than pressuring us all to stay in the closet." Bawer added, "Fortunately, there is much in this book that is genuinely valuable and that you don't have to agree with Bronski's thesis in order to appreciate."
Bronski has also served as editor for several anthologies of gay writings and literature, including Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps. In Pulp Friction, Bronski gathers together a wide array of stories with homosexual themes. A Publishers Weekly contributor said that the work "delightfully chronicles gay pulp novels from their emergence in the 1940s … in this expansive, exhaustively researched amalgam of fiction and gay history."
Bronski told Bram that, in a sense, it all boiled down to sex. Bronski added that he believes homosexuals are much more open and honest about their sexual desires than heterosexuals, who "repress" their urges but really "have as much sexual desire and imagination as gay people, but pretend they don't." Calling it a false standard to live up to, Bronski maintained that "homophobia has always been discussed as an irrational fear of gay people. It's actually a very rational fear. Western civilization understands that homosexuality is a threat to the way it's organized."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book Report, September-October, 1997, Dale Lewis, review of Gay and Lesbian Biography, p. 47.
Choice, May, 1985, B. Miller, review of Culture Clash: The Making of Gay Sensibility, p. 1413.
Lambda Book Report, December, 1996, Christopher Bram, "Pleasure and Danger: An Interview with Michael Bronski," pp. 1-3; October, 1998, Bruce Bawer, review of The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash, and the Struggle for Gay Freedom, pp. 19-20.
Library Journal, December, 1984, Jim Van Buskirk, review of Culture Clash: The Making of Gay Sensibility, pp. 2291-2292; August, 1998, Richard S. Drezen, review of The Pleasure Principle, p. 118.
Nation, November 2, 1998, George De Stefano, review of The Pleasure Principle, pp. 25-27.
Publishers Weekly, June 29, 1998, review of The Pleasure Principle, p. 43; November 4, 2002, review of Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps, p. 59.
In Newsweekly Online,http://www.innewsweekly.com/ (March 5, 2003), Kevin Riordan, review of Pulp Friction.
Lip Online,http://www.lipmagazine.org/ (March 28, 2003), Jane Haldiman, review of The Pleasure Principle.*