Michael Warner’s The Trouble with Normal is an influential book-length statement on sexual politics in the United States. Published at the end of the 1990s, it includes discussions of sex scandals like the one that plagued President Bill Clinton, but it primarily focuses on gay and queer politics. Warner writes as a queer person addressing questions important to other queer people, and he challenges mainstream trends in the gay rights movement.
Although Warner is an academic associated with the study of what is called “queer theory,” The Trouble with Normal was published for a non-academic audience. It brings the philosophical and historical insights of queer theory to a study of contemporary culture, in order to explain what a “queer” perspective on politics would look like. Here, “queer” means an opposition to mainstream society, with an eye toward correcting power imbalances and promoting the flourishing of all different types of sex and sexuality.
Written in 1999, before the eventual legal ratification of gay marriage, some of the ideas in The Trouble with Normal may appear dated to the contemporary reader. This is a sign of how quickly sexual politics can change in America. Nonetheless, the book remains vastly influential as a statement about the role of shame in sexuality and the need to maintain queer visibility, against the privatization of gay life. Almost 20 years later, the book has never left the top 25 books in Amazon.com’s “Gay and Lesbian” category, a sign that it continues to be well-read and discussed in both the queer community and beyond.