George Chauncey. (1994). Gay New York: Gender, urban culture, and the making of the gay male world, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books.
p. 1 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 tradition and folk histories, its own heroes and heroines.
p. 1 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 [p. 2] history of gay life before the rise of the gay movement, which I call the myths of isolation, invisibility, and internalization.
p. 2 The myth of isolation holds that anti-gay hostility prevented the development of an extensive gay subculture and forced gay men to lead solitary lives in the decades before the rise of the gay liberation movement.
p. 3 The myth of invisibility holds that, even if a gay world existed, it was kept invisible and thus remained difficult for isolated gay men to find.
p. 4 The myth of internalization holds that gay men uncritically
internalized the dominant culture's view of them as sick, perverted, and immoral, and that their self-hatred led them to accept the policing of their lives rather than resist it.
p. 5 Most gay men did not speak out against anti-gay policing so openly, but to take this as evidence that they had internalized anti-gay attitudes is to ignore the strength of the forces arrayed against them, to misinterpret silence as acquiescence, and to construe resistance in the narrowest of terms, as the organization of formal political groups and petitions. The history of gay resistance must be understood to extend beyond formal political organizing to include the strategies of everyday resistance that men devised in order to claim space for themselves in the midst of a hostile society.
p. 8 How did we lose sight of a world so visible and extensive in its own time that its major communal events garnered newspaper headlines and the attendance of thousands?
We lost sight of that world in part because it was forced into hiding in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s. The very growth and visibility of the gay subculture during the Prohibition years of the 1920s and early 1930s precipitated a powerful cultural reaction in the 1930s. A new anxiety about homosexuals and hostility toward them began to develop, which soon became part of the more general reaction to the cultural experimentation of the Prohibition era that developed in the anxious early years of the Depression. A host of laws and regulations were enacted or newly enforced in the 1930s that suppressed the largest of the drag balls, censored lesbian and gay images in plays and films, and prohibited restaurants, bars, and clubs from employing homosexuals or even serving them. Anti-gay policing intensified during the Cold War, when Senator Joseph McCarthy warned that homosexuals in the State Department threatened the nation's security, and the police warned that homosexuals in the streets threatened the nation's children. Federal, state, and local [p. 9] governments deployed a barrage of new techniques for the surveillance and control of homosexuals, and the number of arrests and dismissals escalated sharply.
p. 9 The primary purpose of this new wave of policing was not to eradicate homosexuality altogether, a task the authorities considered all but impossible, but to contain it by prohibiting its presence in the public sphere. . . where authorities feared it threatened to disrupt public order and the reproduction of normative gender and sexual arrangements.
p. 9 The periodization I propose here is counterintuitive, for despite the cautionary work of historians . . . the Whiggish notion that change is always "progressive" and that gay history in particular consists of a steady movement toward freedom continues to have appeal. This book argues instead that gay life in New York was less tolerated, less visible to outsiders, and more rigidly segregated in the second third of the century than the first, and that the very severity of the postwar reaction has tended to blind us to the relative tolerance of the prewar years.
p. 10 A third reason we have failed to see the prewar gay world is that it took shape in such unexpected places and was so different from own that we have often not even know where to look or what to look for. As in any new field of study, historians first turned to the more easily accessible records of the elite before grappling with the more elusive evidence of the ordinary.
. . . The fact that the working-class gay world took different forms and defined itself in different terms from those of middle-class culture and from those that would develop in the postwar years should lead us not to exclude it from our inquiry, but to redefine the very boundaries of that inquiry.
p. 11 The recognition of the significance of the war has shattered the myth that the gay movement and the gay world alike were invented virtually overnight after the Stonewall rebellion in 1969; historians have shown that a political movement preceded Stonewall by two decades and had its origins in a gay subculture that expanded during the war. But the massive evidence that a generation of men constructed gay identities and communities during the war does not in itself demonstrate that the war generation was the first generation to do so. . . But this does not mean that the war generation was the first generation to leave the constraints of family life and watchful neighbors, nor that it was first during the war that an urban gay subculture took shape.
p. 12 Although the gay male world of the prewar years was a remarkably visible and integrated into the straight world, it was, as the centrality of the drag balls suggests, a world very different from our own. Above all, it was not world in which men were divided into "homosexuals" and "heterosexuals." This is, on the face of it, a startling claim, since it is almost impossible today to think about sexuality without imagining that [p. 13] it is organized along an axis of homosexuality and heterosexuality; a person is either one or the other, possibly both. . . . The belief that one's sexuality is centrally defined by one's homosexuality or heterosexuality is hegemonic in contemporary culture; it is so fundamental to the way people think about the world that it is taken for granted, assumed to be natural and timeless, and needs no defense. Whether homosexuality is good or bad, chosen or determined, natural or unnatural, healthy or sick is debated, for such opinions are in the realm of ideology and thus subject to contestation, and we are living in a time when a previously dominant ideological position, that homosexuality is immoral or pathological, faces a powerful and increasingly successful challenge from an alternative ideology, which regards homosexuality as neutral, healthy, or even good. But the underlying premise of that debate--that some people are homosexuals, and that all people are either homosexuals, heterosexuals, or bisexuals--is hardly questioned.
p. 13 This book argues that in important respects the hetero-homosexual binarism, the sexual regime now hegemonic in American culture, is a stunningly recent creation. Particularly in working-class culture, homosexual behavior per se becomes the primary basis for the labeling and self-identification of men as "queer" only around the middle of the twentieth century; before then, most men were so labeled only if they displayed a much broader inversion of their ascribed gender status by assuming the sexual and other cultural roles ascribed to women. . . Indeed, the centrality of effeminacy to the representation of the "fairy" allowed many conventionally masculine men, especially unmarried men living in sex-segregated immigrant communities, to engage in extensive sexual activity with other men without risking stigmatization and the loss of their status as "normal men."
p. 13 Only in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s did the now-conventional division of men into "homosexuals" and "heterosexuals," based on the sex of their sexual partners, replace the division of men into "fairies" and "normal men" on the basis of their imaginary gender status as the hegemonic way of understanding sexuality. Moreover, the transition from one sexual regime to the next was an uneven process, marked by significant class and ethnic differences. Multiple systems of sexual classification coexisted throughout the period in New York's divergent neighborhood [p. 14] cultures: men socialized into different class and ethnic systems of gender, family life, and sexual mores tended to understand and organize their homosexual practices in different ways. Most significantly, exclusive heterosexuality became a precondition for a man's identification as "normal" in middle-class culture at least two generations before it did so in much of Euro-American and African-American working-class culture.
p. 23 This book reconstructs the gay world that existed before the hetero-homosexual binarism that consolidated as the hegemonic sexual regime in American culture--before, that is, the decline of the fairy and the rise of the closet.
p. 25 This book is not, however, about the making of the gay male world alone, for in mapping the boundaries of the gay world it necessarily maps the boundaries of the "normal world" as well. The prewar gay world was a subculture whose character reveals much about the dominant culture in which it took shape. . . As this suggests, the relationship between the gay subculture and the dominant subculture was neither static nor passive: they did not merely coexist but constantly created and re-created themselves in relation to each other in a dynamic, interactive, and contested process.
p. 25 The process by which the normal world defined itself in opposition to the queer world was manifest in countless social interactions, for in its policing of the gay subculture the dominant culture sought above all to police its own boundaries. Given the centrality of gender nonconformity to the definition of the queer, the excoriation of queers served primarily to set the boundaries for how normal men could dress, walk, talk, and relate to women and to each other.
p. 26 Examining the boundaries drawn between queers and normal men in the early twentieth century illuminates with unusual clarity--and startling effect--the degree to which the social definition of "normal man" has changed in the last century. For the erotic behavior allowed "normal" men three generations ago simply would not be allowed "heterosexual" men today. Heterosexuality, no less than homosexuality, is a historically specific social category and identity.
p. 27 The homosexual displaced the "fairy" in middle-class culture several generations earlier than in working-class culture, but in each class culture each category persisted, standing in uneasy, contested, and disruptive relation to the other.
p. 49 The prominence of the fairy in turn-of-the-century New York and his consistency with the hegemonic gender ideology of the era made him the dominant--and most plausible--role model available to boys and men trying to make sense of vague feelings of sexual and gender differences.
p. 56 For many men, then, adopting effeminate mannerisms represented a deliberate cultural strategy, as well as a way of making sense of sexual difference. It was a way to declare a gay identity publicly and to negotiate their relationship with other men.
p. 65 The most striking difference between the dominant sexual culture of the early twentieth century and that of our own era is the degree to which the earlier culture permitted men to engage in sexual relations with other men, often on a regular basis, without requiring them to regard themselves--or to be regarded by others--as gay. Of sexual abnormality was defined in different terms in prewar culture, the, too necessarily, was sexual normality. The centrality of the fairy to the popular representation of sexual abnormality allowed other men to engage in casual sexual relations with other men, with boys, and, above all, with the fairies themselves without imagining that they themselves were abnormal.
p. 100 Whereas fairies' desire for men was thought to follow inevitably from their gender persona, queers maintained that their desire for men revealed only their :sexuality" (their "homosexuality"), a distinct domain of personality independent of gender. Their homosexuality, they argued, revealed nothing abnormal in their gender persona. The effort to forge a new kind of homosexual identity was predominantly a middle-class phenomenon, and the emergence of "homosexuals" in middle-class culture was inextricably linked to the emergence of "heterosexuals" in that culture as well.
p. 100 As Jonathan Katz has suggested, heterosexuality was an invention of the late nineteenth century. The "heterosexual" and the "homosexual" emerged in tandem at the turn of the century as powerful new ways of conceptualizing human sexual practices.
p. 106 Thus while many fairies created a place for themselves in working-class culture by constructing a highly effeminate persona, many other gay men created a place in middle-class culture by constructing a persona of highly mannered--and ambiguous-- sophistication.
p. 111 Changes in the social organization and meaning of work were particularly significant. Men's participation in what they regarded as the male sphere of productive work, their ability to support families on the basis of that work, and, above all, their skill as entrepreneurs and their independence from other men had long been critical to their sense of themselves both as men and as members of the middle class. But the reorganization and centralization of the American economy in the late nineteenth century with the rise of large corporations transformed the character and meaning of the work performed by many middle-class men. Increasing numbers of men lost their economic independence as they became the salaried employees of other men. . . .
p. 112 As middle-class men's anxieties about their manliness intensified, a [p. 113] preoccupation with threats to manhood and with proving one's manhood became central to the rhetoric of national purpose.
p. 116 The insistence on exclusive heterosexuality emerged in part, then, in response to the crisis in middle-class masculinity precipitated by the manly comportment of working-class men and the subversion of manly ideals and sexualization of male social relations by the fairy. But heterosexuality became even more important to middle-class men because it provided them with a new, more positive way to demonstrate their manhood. . . . Middle-class men increasingly conceived of their sexuality--their heterosexuality, or exclusive desire of women--as one of the hallmarks of a real man. It was as if they had decided that no matter how much their gender comportment might be challenged as unmanly, they were normal men because they were heterosexual.
p. 119 Two dramatic changes in middle-class culture between the mid-nineteenth century and the early twentieth century show that the division of the sexual world into heterosexuals and homosexuals was a new development: the decline of romantic friendships between men as they began to be stigmatized
as homosexuals and the emergence of the hetero-homosexual binarism in middle-class medical discourse.
p. 137 In the closing decades of the nineteenth century and the opening decades of the twentieth, an extraordinary panoply of groups and individuals organized to reform the urban moral order. Although their efforts rarely focused on the emerging gay world, most of them nonetheless had a significant effect on its development.
p. 138 The policing of gay culture in the early twentieth century was closely tied to the efforts of these societies to police working-class culture more generally. The societies' efforts to control the streets and tenements and to eliminate the saloon and brothel were predicated on a vision of an ideal social order centered in the family.
p. 139 The reform societies' campaigns against "prostitution" and other "social evils," in other words, actually constituted much broader campaigns to reconstruct the moral world by narrowing the boundaries of acceptable sociability and public discourse.
p. 254 Harlem's leading churchmen periodically railed against the homosexual "vice" growing in the neighborhood. . . .[p. 256] Many African-American newspapers joined church leaders in attacking homosexuals, as Powell's press coverage shows.
p. 273 Some men lived primarily in the gay world; other men, especially fairies, presented themselves as gay in both gay and straight settings. But most queer men lead a double life. They constantly moved between at least two worlds: a straight world in which they were assumed to be straight and a gay world in which they were known as gay. Managing two lives, two personas, was difficult for some men. But it did not necessarily lead them to denigrate their necessarily compartmentalized gay persona. Most men regarded the double life as a reasonable tactical response to the dangers posed by the revelation of their homosexuality to straight people.
p. 280 . . . the world created by homosexuals in the city's streets, cafeterias, and private apartments became the crucible in which they forged a distinctive gay culture. That culture helped them to counteract the negative attitudes about themselves pervasive in their society, develop strategies that enabled them to survive outside of gay enclaves, and establish a collective identity.
p. 334 The most significant step in the campaign to exclude the gay world from the public sphere was a counterintuitive one: the repeal of Prohibition. For rather than initiating a new era of laissez-faire tolerance in urban life, as is often imagined, Repeal inaugurated a more pervasive and more effective regime of surveillance and control. Repeal made it possible for the state to redraw the boundaries of acceptable sociability that seemed to have been obliterated in the twenties. This had enormous consequences for gay life, for those boundaries were drawn in a way that marginalized and literally criminalized much of gay sociability. Repeal resulted in the isolation of the gay social world from the broader social life of the city, in which it had played such a significant role in the 1920s. This new isolation, in turn, established the conditions that made it possible for gay men and the gay world to be demonized in the even more hostile climate of the postwar period.
p. 353 The revulsion against gay life in the early 1930s was part of a larger reaction to the perceived "excesses" of the Prohibition years and the blurring of the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable public sociability. But it also reflected the crisis in gender arrangements precipitated by the Depression. As many men lost their jobs, their status as breadwinners, and their sense of mastery over their own futures, the central tenets undergirding their gender status were threatened. . . . [p. 354] Lesbians and gay men began to seem more dangerous in this context--as figures whose defiant perversity threatened to undermine the reproduction of normative gender and sexual arrangements already threatened by the upheavals of the thirties. The new laws forbidding gay people to gather openly with heterosexuals in licensed restaurants and bars and banning even the representation of homosexuals bespoke a fear that gender arrangements were so fragile, even a glimpse of an alternative might endanger them. The risk seemed so palpable that special attention was not even given to the threats such contact or images posed to impressionable young people--the usual vehicle for the expression of fears about social reproduction.
p. 355 In the 1950s and 1960s, when the gay and lesbian movement began to challenge anti-gay regulations and customs, they seemed to be the residue of an age-old, unchanging social antipathy toward homosexuality. Openly gay meeting places and overt references to homosexuality were so rare as a result of them that it was hard to believe homosexuality had ever been visible in the public sphere. As the memory of the early decades of the century receded further, those regulations came to seem even more enigmatic, at once inevitable and inexplicable. If homosexuality had always been so invisible and homosexuals had always been confined to the closet why were such rules even enacted?
As this book was shown, those regulations were not simply the inevitable elaborations of an age-old antipathy, nor did they simply ratify the invisibility and isolation of homosexuals.
p. 356 The new regulations not only codified the ban on gay visibility but raised the stakes for those who considered violating it.
p. 358 The marginalization and segregation of the gay world set the stage for broader changes in that world and in American sexual culture.
p. 358 . . . the ascendancy of gay as the primary self-referential term used by men within the gay world represented a subtle shift in the boundaries of the male sexual world. It reflected a reorganization of male sexual categories and the transition from a world divided into "fairies" and "men" on the basis of gender persona to one divided into "homosexuals" and "heterosexuals" on the basis of sexual object-choice.
The transformation in gay culture suggested by the ascendancy of gay was closely tied to the masculinization of that culture. . . Increasing numbers of conventionally masculine men identified themselves as gay, in part, because doing so no longer seemed to require the renunciation of their masculine identities.
p. 359 At the same time, the culture at large paid increasing--and increasingly hostile--attention to this new breed of gay man. Indeed, the homosexual hardly disappeared from public view after the early 1930s, for police bulletins and press coverage continued to make him a prominent, but increasingly sinister, figure. As Americans anxiously tried to come to terms with the disruptions in the gender and sexual order caused by the Depression and exacerbated by the Second World War, the "sex deviant" became a symbol of the dangers posed by family instability, gender confusion, and unregulated male sexuality and violence.
p. 359 As a result of such press campaigns, the long-standing public image of the queer as an effeminate fairy whom one might ridicule but had no reason to fear was supplemented by the more ominous image of the queer as [p. 360] a psychopathic child molester capable of committing the most unspeakable crimes against children. The fact that homosexuals no longer seemed so easy to identify made them seem even more dangerous, since it meant that even the next-door neighbor could be one. The specter of the invisible homosexual, life that of the invisible communist, haunted Cold War America. The new image was invoked to justify a new wave of assaults on gay men in the postwar decade.