Perhaps a good book is one that shocks you. In high school, for example, I began reading my (now) favourite fiction writer (Timothy Findley) with a mixture of disgust and insult. Now, I can't get enough of Findley's works. Similarly, though not to the same extent, my sheltered and polite undergraduate academic bubble was shocked when I began to read The Canadian War on Queers: National Security as Sexual Regulation, recently published out of Carleton University. Though I'm not finished the book I think I can still make the comments below.
The content of the book does not shock me, but the approach does. It doesn't shock me to hear anti-establishment, quasi-marxist, militant gay liberation and generally leftist railings inequalities that exist within social, gender, political and sexual structures. These are not new ideas, and certainly ones that occasionally sound pretty good in my ear. Don't think I say these things because I'm conservative. I don't attack these ideas, they've been around for quite some time. That's the problem, the book openings of the address, for example, the contemporary split between the left and right of queer politics in Canada (liberationists vs. equality/integrationists) with ideas straight out (no pun intended) of the 1970's gay liberation movement. As history undergrads we were taught that historical marxism was all but dead. This work seems to defy that, and its militant and activist approach frankly shocked me. It is so blatant in its condemnation of political, military, and social structures that it runs against the academic grain for this history student. Obviously, in social history there is often an agency vs. structure base. This book, however, is militant, it is politically contemporary. In the early pages it clearly outlines that the authors believe that while gains have been made for LGBT Canadians there still exists a war between social and political establishments and the LGBT community.
I end with saying that while I dislike the activist approach I don't necessarily disagree that there are still gains to be made and struggles for Canada's LGBT community. Perhaps what disturbs me the most is the blatant politics of the book in what is clearly a use history for activist purposes. In this, the book sorely lacks historical distance. Its tone makes me view Jack Granasteins ideas in Who Killed Canadian History? with a bit more sympathy then I did before. Maybe a book that shocks makes it a good book, but I do question whether this type of shock belongs in Canadian history.