Encyclopedia of Homosexuality

The GLBTRT has been reviewing books and movies in its newsletter since the early 1990s. Trace the evolution of queer publishing through these historic reviews. This review was originally published in Vol. 3, No 3 & 4 Spring/Summer 1991. 

Cover of the Encyclopedia of HomosexualityEncyclopedia of Homosexuality. Edited by Wayne R. Dynes. Garland, 1990. (2 volumes) Publishers address: 136 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016. (ISBN 0-82-24065441)

This work includes over 770 articles on a wide variety of topics which directly or indirectly relate to male and/or female homosexuality. The varied articles address topics, persons, etc., in many different cultures throughout all periods of history, covering general topics, social and political movements, specific ideas and theories, a variety of literary and scientific topics, and more. There are many biographies of gay men, lesbians, and others included; the personalities were selected for many different reasons. Most are included for being notable in or for making significant contributions to gay and lesbian history, political or church leadership, philosophy, social theory or the arts and music. Due to space limitations, separate biographical entries are not given for living persons. Notable ones are mentioned in various articles and listed in the index; for example, Harry Hay is mentioned in the article on the Mattachine Society, and his name is in the index.

The articles are written by scholars and experts in many different fields; most are signed and many include bibliographies for further reading. Most of the articles that are not signed were written by the editor. Entries include sketches of different countries, in which the historical and current status of homosexuality is presented. The diversity of topics covered in the Encyclopedia is seen in the following list of articles: Gay Studies; Shamanism; Aging; Poetry; Lesbian Separatism; Discrimination; Jean Genet; Gertrude Stein; Faggot; Archives and Libraries; AIDS; Monasticism; Witchcraft; Canon Law; Eleanor Roosevelt; Harvey Milk; Holocaust, Gay; Folklore, Lesbian; Dance; Moms Mabley; Coming Out; Art, Visual; Berdache; Stonewall Rebellion; Seafaring; Friendship, Male; Consciousness Raising; Law, United States; Joe Orton; Slang Terms; Anal Sex; The Papacy; Oral Sex; Fantasies; Friendship, Female Romantic; Working Class, Eroticization of; Transvestism, Theatrical; Third Sex; Pirates.

The cross-referencing and the index are bothgenerally quite good, making it easy to find elusive or related topics; within articles, the topics, names, etc., that have their own entries elsewhere in the Encyclopedia are in bold print. The index refers the reader to many names and topics mentioned in other articles, though a few omissions were noted. It has no listing for the International Gay and Lesbian Archives, the Lesbian Herstory Archives, or the Canadian Gay Archives, though all three are mentioned in the article on “Archives and Libraries.” Similarly, the book Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence is mentioned in the article on Monasticism, but neither the title nor the editors’ names are listed in the index.

An interesting and useful feature in the front of the volume is “A Reader’s Guide.” It lists the Encyclopedia’s articles in broad subject groups to facilitate the systematic or at least more complete study of a particular subject area. In addition, the articles are listed here with one, two, or three asterisks, which indicate the degree of specificity of the topic within its broader category. This helps to identify the overview articles which may be good places to begin to read about a topic of interest. In other words, this “Reader’s Guide” really serves as a sort of thematic index, allowing the reader to see quickly what articles are included in a broader subject area. “Major Topics” listed here include the following: Art and Aesthetics; Gender; Homophobic Concepts; Literary Biography and Concepts; Literature; Gay and Lesbian Movement; Oriental Studies; Performing Arts; Relationships; Sex Research; Sexual Sites; Sociology.

Although the Encyclopedia is organized in a scholarly fashion, it is an extremely readable and interesting work and most of the articles are written for the lay person. Considering its size and the scope of coverage of the subject, it is well worth the price of $150.00. This is a work that can not only answer many questions, but even more importantly, can spark new and deeper interests in a wide variety of topics dealing with the many aspects of gay and lesbian studies. It is a book that should be in every public, school, and academic library.

Reviewed by Stephen Fowlkes
University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia

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