Cruising the Library

Melissa Adler

When I was of college age in the early 1970s, a friend was taking a class called ‘Deviant Behavior.’ It explored various groups from homosexuals to the Gray Panthers. I asked her who defined the norm? She looked at me as if I had two heads, and she never really understood the question.

In my asking, though, I had unwittingly placed my finger on the difficulty. If you have the power to define what is ‘normal,’ you have the power to label anything else as deviant. The Library of Congress took it one step further when it came to sexual behavior, pathologizing anything but heterosexual behavior as perverse and deviant.

Subject headings, including homosexuality or fetishm, cross-dressing or drag queens, would be found grouped under the head of paraphilias, a medical term used by psychiatrists to label deviant behavior. Even literary works, which had nothing to do with medicine were classified there. The books themselves might be kept in the Delta Collection, with access limited to law-enforcement personnel or legislators involved in obscenity laws.

The power of an organization such as the Library of Congress is explored. The struggles of people, ordinary people, living ordinary lives accepted today as ‘normal,’ to be accepted by the Library of Congress, make up the bulk of this fascinating and readable book.

 

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