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

4.17  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,970 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
Gay New York brilliantly 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 Based on years of research and access to a rich trove of diaries, legal records, and other unpublished documents, this book is a fascinating portrait of a gay world that is not supposed to have existed.
Paperback, 496 pages
Published May 19th 1995 by Basic Books (first published May 1994)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Eric
Jul 25, 2010 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lurid, history, americans
Heterosexuality had not become a precondition of gender normativity in early-twentieth-century working-class culture. Men had to be many things in order to achieve the status of "normal" men, but being "heterosexual" was not one of them.

If many working men thought they demonstrated their sexual virility by taking the "man's part" in sexual encounters with either women or men, normal middle-class men increasingly believed that their virility depended on their exclusive sexual interest in women.
...more
Amy Wilder
Jan 18, 2010 Amy Wilder rated it really liked it
Recommended to Amy Wilder by: Sharon Ullman
This is a big, big book and haven't nearly read it all. It's full of fascinating details that you can just read bits and pieces and be chatting about them for life, like I am. Sometimes you don't have to finish a book for it to change things for you. The vision of New York as it was in 1890-1940 changed forever how I see the struggle for gay rights.

I used to view it as springing suddenly into existence in the 60s on the larger tide of the Civil Rights movement. Stonewall marked a key turning poi
...more
Chris
Jul 30, 2015 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chauncey's history (1994) of the gay world of New York in the early twentieth century is encyclopedic. He did important original research, unlikely to ever be surpassed, mostly through oral interviews. He goes further in synthesizing the data into a convincing theory of the evolution of queer identity from "fairies" whose sexuality is based on behavior, into "gay" and "straight" desire representing the now ubiquitous homosexual/heterosexual divide. The book easily earns a full 5 stars for this w ...more
Courtney
Nov 22, 2015 Courtney rated it really liked it
A dense book about a seldom covered topic, gay/fairy/trade/homosexual/what-have-you men, before the gay rights movement. Chauncey's work is well-written, and a tad long. The length of the book is warranted, and the level of detail provided is impressive---but it's still long. Luckily skipping a chapter that does not particularly interest you will not detract from your reading experience. This is because he is sure to rephrase and refer back (sometimes to previous chapters or mentioned locations ...more
Bill Hsu
Dec 22, 2014 Bill Hsu rated it it was ok
A lot of fascinating material here. Unfortunately, one has to slog through sentences like this (from p. 66):

The strongest evidence that the relationship between "men" and fairies was represented symbolically as a male-female relationship and that gender behavior rather than homosexual behavior per se was the primary determinant of a man's classification as a fairy was that it enabled other men to engage in sexual activity with the fairies --- and even to express publicly a strong interest in suc
...more
Elisa Rolle
I was intrigued by this essay since recently some of my preconceptions are starting to fall down and I wanted a book that helped me to rebuild my basis. If I think to a hypothetic “modern” past (more or less pre II World War) I had the idea the gay culture was more or less “underground”, or better, completely hidden. My idea was that, if you were gay (and yes, I know at the time the word gay had a different meaning, but bear with me), you were also probably fated to be unhappily married, or comp ...more
Kathleen
Dec 22, 2015 Kathleen rated it it was amazing
"But we should never presume the absence of something before we have looked for it."
Donald William
Apr 12, 2016 Donald William rated it really liked it
A must-read for history buffs and queer theorists alike.
Tristan Goding
Oct 23, 2015 Tristan Goding rated it liked it
Those of you who are asleep will be surprised, maybe pleasantly, to know that homosexuality is hardly a new thing. Obviously, when one takes into consideration how far we have come since the time that this book first entered our central hemispheres, it may seem like a new thing to some people, but not to me. In a way, there is irony in that. When I came out, for example, it seemed like everyone knew it at the time except for me. It's the same with many of the folks in this book. Guys have had li ...more
Joseph Stieb
Feb 12, 2015 Joseph Stieb rated it it was amazing
This is one of the more remarkable history books I've read in a while. It is important both in a scholarly sense and to Americans' understanding of their own culture and history. Anyone with a brain knows that there were homosexuals in the past, but for Chauncey to dig up that history with such richness, depth, and clarity is a true achievement.

The basic argument is that a vibrant male gay community formed from the 1890's to the 1920's and began to go into the closet only in the 1930's and 40's
...more
Chris
May 01, 2014 Chris rated it really liked it
One of those "everything you know is wrong" accounts that will rewrite what you think you know about the early 20th century. While gay people hardly had a walk in the part in the 1910s and 1920s, one would imagine, based on the political and social frameworks of the pre-Stonewall decades, that this would have been the worst time of all to be a member of "the third sex," as they were often called (along with "inverts," suggesting that they weren't so much men interested in men as secret women tra ...more
Just A. Bean
Jan 30, 2016 Just A. Bean rated it it was amazing
This has been called a keystone text of queer history by... almost everyone really, and that's totally justified. It changed the narrative of how we saw ourselves, and is gorgeously researched to boot. I'm really glad I finally got around to reading it (having been using it as an actual door stopper for a few years now).

It is a bit of a door stopper. I mostly read it in twenty-page chunks, because it was so dense, and a little bit dryly written (though also often quite funny). However, it was wo
...more
Nelson Minar
Apr 10, 2014 Nelson Minar rated it really liked it
This book is a study of gay society in New York from 1890-1940. It's a wonderful piece of social history, completely destroying the myth that there was no gay life before Stonewall. It also pursues one of my favourite themes, exploring the different ways that men express their homosexuality: "straight" men who would occasionally go out and play, gays who tried to pass, pansies who were outrageous. So much of modern gay consciousness and politics is focussed on "we are all alike", it's refreshing ...more
Oliver Bateman
Apr 01, 2014 Oliver Bateman rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Staggeringly, breathtakingly good. What happens when critical theory meets serious outside-the-box primary source scholarship? This. Want to teach your students what can actually be learned from research or how to substantiate meaningful claims or maybe even how to produce a work of such magnitude that it can't come from anywhere save that place deep inside where obsession intersects with love? This book. I'm not a scholar of sex/sexuality/gender, though I'm goodness knows I've written enough ga ...more
Michael
Sep 17, 2009 Michael rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Historians, Students, Feminists, Gay Activists
Recommended to Michael by: Karen Hagemann
Chauncey's intention is to add to the literature that sets gay rights activism as beginning before Stonewall, by going back to one of the liveliest of the gay scenes of the early twentieth century. He claims that "the gay world that flourished before World War Two has been almost entirely forgotten in popular memory and overlooked by professional historians; it is not supposed to have existed" (p.1). Chauncey denies that this world was one of "isolation, invisibility, and internalization" (p.2), ...more
Joey Diamond
Jun 16, 2013 Joey Diamond rated it it was amazing
Holy shit this book is brilliant. I had been putting off reading if for ages because I've read a fair bit of queer history and it often falls for predictable ahistorical projections and appropriations. This is nothing like that. Quite the opposite of books which tromp the old "everything gets better path", this book makes the reader feel that being a man who had sex with men in the 1920s might well have been the most exciting life ever.

Every chapter would have been revelatory to justify a book
...more
Michael Armijo
Nov 02, 2010 Michael Armijo rated it liked it
I read this book over a matter of 6 days. I've had the book for about a year before I finally read it because I was into so many other books. Anyway, it's much to wordy and quite redundant in parts. It was extremely informational in a historical sense...I grant you that! It's worth reading for someone who wants to know 'what was' in the Gay New York world in the early part of the 20th Century. It's clear that homosexuality and heterosexuality are modern terms of the times and the idea that any ' ...more
Samuel
Apr 13, 2014 Samuel rated it really liked it
I first encountered this book as an undergraduate writing my American Studies thesis on "Mormons and Marriage" and my adviser recommended this as a foundation for acquainting myself with "gay history" so that I could address Prop 8 with greater background. Although this study focuses primarily on sexuality rather than marriage, there is a chronology of legislation limiting the overt practice and congregating of gay men in the 1930s, which served as an interesting parallel to anti-polygamy legisl ...more
Stella
Apr 30, 2007 Stella rated it really liked it
Affluent aristocrats cavorted with the pansy proletariat. Flaming fairies, dressed to the nines, freely walked the rough and tumble streets of ethnic ghettos attracting attention to themselves and to their lifestyles. Music, liquor, and spectacle converged and hypnotized a diverse crowd of thousands at annual gay balls. Despite what the history books tell you (or rather do not tell you), this was the New York gay scene at the early twentieth century—at least, according to historian George Chaun ...more
Victoria
May 22, 2016 Victoria rated it it was amazing
I don't believe words could begin to describe my love for this book. I only had to read bits and pieces of it for a class on sexuality in America, but found myself reading more and more as I used it for further research projects. Chauncey does a thorough job in researching, exploring, and articulating in a way that even undergraduate students who may not even be that interested in the topic (there were a few of those in the class after all) will understand and learn.
Leah
Nov 15, 2008 Leah rated it really liked it
Recommended to Leah by: Layla
This book is brilliantly researched, easy (and often titillating) to read, and challenges (indeed, blows out of the water) the theory that there was no gay social organizing prior to Stonewall. It's kind of a must-read, really, for anyone who wants to say anything about the history of queer visibility, tolerance, and social organization.
However, I did get a bit frustrated with the conflation of gay culture with "who you have sex with." Chauncey addresses this, a bit, but really finds no better w
...more
Eleanor
Jan 03, 2016 Eleanor rated it really liked it
To me, the most interesting part was the larger discussion of all the various uses of "public" spaces by immigrants and working class New Yorkers (who had no private space to speak of) and the way that outside groups tried to regulate what was allowed to happen in public, with special attention paid to the causes of Prohibition (and then the way that post-Prohibition liquor licenses were used to control, in particular, any public expression of homosexuality).

Also, I really love any kind of case
...more
Michael T.
Aug 02, 2011 Michael T. rated it really liked it
You'll never see Popeye & Bluto the same way after this one. That being said, the tone is just a wee bit more academic than the gay romp which both the title and the cover had led me to expect. But some really good information here about how the American, & specifically the New York City, society evolved in it's relations with the gay men & women in their midst. One surprise was what they called the "Pansy Craze", part of the "Roaring Twenties" mindset, even though it happened in 193 ...more
HeavyReader
Mar 18, 2014 HeavyReader rated it liked it
Shelves: queer
I hadn't thought of this book until I saw it on The Best Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Nonfiction list.
https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/1...
When I saw it, I remembered that I read it as part of a class I audited at the University of Kansas, probably around 2002.
Sebastian Fuentes
Sep 13, 2015 Sebastian Fuentes rated it it was amazing
This is the type of work novice historians should strive for. An excellent read about male queer history in America, specifically New York at the turn of the twentieth century. This book is a great example of dense research, quality of writing, and what an impact to a field of study looks like.
John
Oct 29, 2010 John rated it it was amazing
Really fascinating, an analysis of gay culture in New York in the early part of the century, showing how much more prominent it was than we would think today. Chauncey has all kinds of interesting sources, and really does a great job of arguing his thesis that the 'closet' that gay culture came out of in the 70s was created by society in the 30s and 40s as a crackdown on a visible, vibrant gay culture that existed in the 20s and early 30s. Basically he's saying that societal views of sexuality h ...more
Todd Stansbury
Truly enjoyable book that examines the vibrant and visible gay world that existed in New York prior to a World War II. The writing is excellent and aside from learning a lot, it's a great read.
Andrea Hickman Walker
I enjoyed this. I don't understand why people feel the need to police other people's sex lives (except in the cases of children, animals and non-consenting adults), so I found a lot of the material in this quite alien. I gather, however, that there are many people who still believe that they have the right to dictate how other people live. In that respect I found this quite an intriguing historical study, showing that things have not always been the same and that the supposed traditions and hist ...more
Nicole Cordier
Apr 10, 2016 Nicole Cordier rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Fantastic, respectful, groundbreaking work that examines the extensive gay male culture in the early 1900's. Recommended read for everyone, honestly.
AskHistorians
Brilliant work on the evolution of Gay identity and Culture in New York City during the late 19th and Early 20th Centuries.
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“Many gay men resisted the medical judgment that they were mentally ill and needed treatment, despite the fact that medical discourse was one of the most powerful anti-gay forces in American culture (and one to which some recent social theories have attributed almost limitless cultural power).” 0 likes
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