Saturday, April 6, 2019

Brett Krutzsch's "Dying to Be Normal"

Brett Krutzsch is Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion at Haverford College. His scholarship examines intersections of religion, sexuality, gender, race, and politics in the United States.

Krutzsch applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Dying to Be Normal: Gay Martyrs and the Transformation of American Sexual Politics, and reported the following:
The first words on page 99 of my book finish a sentence that started on page 98 and read, “…the most politicized deaths of the previous two decades: two white, Christian adolescents who were meant to represent all LGBT youth in America.” The two “most politicized” deaths in that sentence refer to Matthew Shepard and Tyler Clementi, two gay college students whose deaths made national headlines and generated widespread support for LGBT issues. Shepard was murdered in 1998; Clementi killed himself in 2010. Both were white, gender-conforming, middle-class, and practicing Protestants.

My book, Dying to Be Normal: Gay Martyrs and the Transformation of American Sexual Politics, examines how LGBT activists turned particular people like Shepard and Clementi into martyrs as a political strategy to promote assimilation. The book primarily focuses on the two decades of 1995 to 2015, and the book’s epilogue looks at the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, which was the largest mass killing of LGBT Americans in the country’s history. Dying to Be Normal explores the period of 1995-2015 because in 1995 doctors introduced medications that dramatically shifted the American AIDS epidemic from a mostly deadly crisis into a more manageable one, and in 2015 the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage a legal possibility throughout the country. The book, therefore, considers how activists shifted the image of the American queer community from one primarily associated with death through unbridled sexual frivolity to one of LGBT Americans as deeply invested in lifelong, monogamous matrimony.

The book analyzes the most prominent LGBT deaths between 1995 and 2015 and the reasons why some deaths became potent political emblems. The book also explores other deaths that LGBT activists tried to use for political purposes, but with much less success. Those deaths overwhelmingly included transgender Americans and queer people of color even though they faced higher rates of violence during those twenty years. Ultimately, the book argues that through the process of political memorialization, and as part of a broader strategy to appeal to America’s dominant class of white, heterosexual Christians, secular LGBT activists commonly reinforced a white Protestant vision of who and what counts as acceptable, “normal” American citizens, which is why I title the book, Dying to Be Normal.
Learn more about Dying to Be Normal at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue