Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940

Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940

Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940

Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940

Synopsis

"This brilliant work shatters the myth that before the 1960s gay life existed only in the closet where gay men were isolated, invisible, and self-hating. Based on years of research and access to a rich trove of public and private documents, including the diaries of gay men living in New York at the turn of the century, this book is a fascinating look at a gay world that was not supposed to have existed. Focusing on New York City, the gay capital of the nation for nearly a century, George Chauncey recreates the saloons, speakeasies, and cafeterias where gay men gathered, the intimate parties and immense drag balls where they celebrated, and the highly visible residential enclaves they built in Greenwich Village, Harlem, and Times Square. He tours New York's turn-of-the-century sexual underground, including gay bathhouses and backroom saloons. He chronicles the now-forgotten "pansy craze" of the Prohibition years, when Times Square's most successful nightclubs featured openly gay entertainers and when drag balls held in Madison Square Garden and Harlem's largest ballrooms drew thousands of spectators and banner headlines in city newspapers. And he reconstructs the codes of dress, speech, and style gay men developed to recognize and communicate with one another in hostile settings, which enabled many men not just to survive but to flourish. Gay New York offers new perspectives on the gay rights revolution of our time by showing that the oppression the gay and lesbian movement attacked in the 1960s was not an unchanging phenomenon. It had intensified in the 1920s and 1930s as a direct response to the visibility of the gay world in those years. Above all, Gay New York shows that our most intimate sexual identities are stunningly recent creations. It depicts a complex prewar sexual culture in which men were not divided into homosexuals and heterosexuals but into fairies, wolves, queers, and "normal" men. Many of those "normal" men frequently engaged in sexual relations with other men, because sexual normality was not defined by exclusive heterosexuality. This book will change forever the way we think about the gay past - and the American past." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

In the half-century between 1890 and the beginning of the second World War, a highly visible, remarkably complex, and continually changing gay male world took shape in New York City. That world included several gay neighborhood enclaves, widely publicized dances and other social events, and a host of commercial establishments where gay men gathered, ranging from saloons, speakeasies, and bars to cheap cafeterias and elegant restaurants. The men who participated in that world forged a distinctive culture with its own language and customs, its own traditions and folk histories, its own heroes and heroines. They organized male beauty contests at Coney Island and drag balls in Harlem; they performed at gay clubs in the Village and at tourist traps in Times Square. Gay writers and performers produced a flurry of gay literature and theater in the 1920s and early 1930s; gay impresarios organized cultural events that sustained and enhanced gay men's communal ties and group identity. Some gay men were involved in long- term monogamous relationships they called marriages; others participated in an extensive sexual underground that by the beginning of the century included well-known cruising areas in the city's parks and streets, gay bathhouses, and saloons with back rooms where men met for sex.

The gay world that flourished before World War II has been almost entirely forgotten in popular memory and overlooked by professional historians; it is not supposed to have existed. This book seeks to restore that world to history, to chart its geography, and to recapture its culture and politics. In doing so, it challenges three widespread myths about the . . .

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