Yoshino has written a book that is both treatise and memoir. Taking his cue from Erving Goffman's introduction of the term "covering" (in Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity), Yoshino writes from his own experience as a young gay Japanese American who is also a lawyer and scholar at Yale University. Covering, Yoshino proposes, is "to tone down a disfavored identity to fit into the mainstream" (ix). He identifies three historical and individual stages of dealing with disfavored identity: conversion, in which the individual and/or society try to transform an identity to render it more acceptable (for example, attempts to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals); passing, in which the individual hides the undesirable identity to a greater or lesser extent depending on circumstances; and covering, in which the individual openly acknowledges the undesirable identity but suppresses behavioral aspects of the identity that could draw unwelcome attention (for example, a gay male publicly holding hands with or kissing another gay male).

The author discusses these concepts specifically with relevance to his gay identity in part one of the book, detailing how he went through these three phases himself. Part two elaborates on racial and sex-based covering, and part three discusses Civil Rights and legal issues that surround covering. Yoshino argues that contemporary American society imposes covering on certain groups--gays, blacks, women, disabled people, Jews, Asian Americans--and ultimately in some manner on everyone. The bases for this imposition are pressures to conform and to assimilate. He identifies "covering axes: appearance ( . . . 'I own brown suede bucks'); affiliation ('I listen to National Public Radio . . . '); activism ('I do not mind how white television casts are . . . '); and association (' . . . I married a white woman')" (125).

Beyond that, according to the author, our laws and their interpretation by the Supreme Court "instruct the mainstream to ignore [difference] and the outsider group to mute it" (182). This is an inevitable result of the great pluralism of contemporary society--the courts cannot protect all separate groups that exist.

In the final chapter Yoshino proposes a new paradigm for Civil Rights: universal liberty (rather than equality among groups) based on "our common humanity." This paradigm would allow individuals to live "authentically" and in good psychological health. Yoshino invokes the concept of health proposed by theorist, D. W. Winnicott: living according to one's "True Self" while the "False Self" "is reduced to a 'polite and mannered social attitude,' a tool available to the fully realized True Self" (185).


In addition to poignant discussions of the author's experience as a gay young man who did not "come out of the closet" until he was in his early twenties, the sections on racial covering and sex-based covering are of particular interest. When Yoshino was sent by his parents to summer school in Japan (where his grandparents lived) in order to absorb Japanese culture, he found that he "passed Japanese language but flunked Japanese race" (116) because race was defined by behavior as well as by physical traits.

In America, Yoshino has (mostly unconsciously) "covered" his Asian heritage and "moved to the center of American society" but he wonders, "when will we live in a society where Americans will feel central without feeling white" (130). He explores what happened to racial minorities "who breached the social contract of assimilation" such as African-Americans who wear hairstyles that their employers prohibit, or employees who speak a non-English language to each other. Yoshino deplores legal rulings that sanction requirements to assimilate without "any exploration of why the employer is demanding assimilation" (138).

The chapter on sex-based covering is highly illuminating; it explores the experiences of professional women who may be under pressure to both cover and "reverse cover." Males--who remain the dominant group in dictating the rules-- impose these pressures. That is, women must behave like men [for example, cover their role as mothers] in the workplace in order to be respected and to advance, but are penalized when they exhibit behavioral traits that are too "masculine" [being forceful and assertive]. Yoshino details legal cases that reflect these attitudes and inconsistencies. He concludes that "cases brought by the subset of women who are mothers, like cases brought by the subset of gays or racial minorities who 'flaunt', will represent the next wave of civil rights litigation for women" (164).


The book includes extensive notes, bibliography, and index.


Random House

Place Published

New York



Page Count