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

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  1,235 ratings  ·  58 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 Based on years of research and access to a rich trove of diaries, legal records, and other unpublished documents, this book is a fascinating portrait of a gay world that is not supposed to have existed.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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Eric
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 4 of 5 stars
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
Elisa Ramblings
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
Chris
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
Nelson Minar
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
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 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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
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
Leah
Nov 15, 2008 Leah rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Michael T.
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
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.
John
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
Jim
This is a real history book with an 80-page source notes section! It’s a fascinating look at how and why what we know today as gay urban culture came together. In writing about gay people in the fictional present, knowing our past and how that forms us is a crucial exercise in back story. Until I read this book, I never knew how recent (big picture-wise) a recognizable “gay community” was. This book covers a ton of topics, including looking at the police repression of gay men and lesbians and ho...more
Shawn Thrasher
I totally recognize this as a great piece of scholarship, in depth, well researched. But for me personally, it was a bit too scholarly, and I lost interest about half way through. I wish I could take some sort of seminar or class, with this as the text book. Or a documentary. Or better yet, a movie version (sort of like Mean Girls was"based" on a book about girl bullies). I guess I needed some sort of love story through the ages sort of "hook" which wasn't happening - everything was too imperson...more
Kevin
This is a juicy one! Should be required reading for...well, everyone. So much fascinating history here. And the section on camp culture is great: "Camp represented a critical perspective on the world--or, more accurately, a stance in relation to the world--that derived from gay men's own experience as deviants. Camp was at once a cultural style and a cultural strategy, for it helped gay men make sense of, respond to, and undermine the social categories of gender and sexuality that served to marg...more
Meghan
This book dispells the myth that homosexuality has always been taboo in American culture. It explores gay culture in New York at the turn of the 19th, 20th century and shows how being "gay" or "stright" is a construct. Sailors used to dock in th harbor in NYC and pick up fairies (common word for gay men at the time). The sailors never considered themselves gay- no one did. They might as easily pick up a woman. Interesting things to think about...
Amanda Cortez
Hands down, my favorite book of the semester. It's a hefty 380 pages long but so well written and interesting that it reads like a much shorter book. The author handles his research masterfully and creates a whole new world for you to see in the pre-World War II era of New York's culture. Once school is finished, I will certainly be revisiting this one for a leisurely stroll through the information rather than a speed read for class. :)
Cookie
The most important, influential book I've read in my first year of jail, I mean, grad school. By an academic historian but totally accessible. Gay New York didn't start for men in the 1950s, or 40s, or 20s, but the 1890s! Read all about the sordid and revolutionary lives of rough trade, fairies, wolves and other hot gay subcultural archetypes. To write such a book about the ladies is my life's goal.
Loyola University Chicago Libraries
This social history is an excellent read for anyone seeking information about pre-Stonewall gay communities in urban America. Chauncey debunks the myth of the closet, demonstrating that contrary to popular belief, pre-WWII gay life was visible and vibrant. He also tackles the creation of the hetero/homo binary, arguing that pre-war gay life was fluid, multifaceted, and based on gender roles.
Aja
The most surprising thing about this book for me was how well it informs some of the gender performance and behaviors of today. I especially like the part of the book that discussed manliness and the need to earn and maintain it. Although the book is talking about the turn of the 20th century, many of the deductions it made could be said of today.
Megrcross
oh man, do I love my queer history! A fascinating view into the gay subculture of turn of the century New York, that really wasn't so 'underground' as we might think. Writing can be a bit dry at times (aka lots of loooong sentences), but the primary sources of pictures, drawings, advertisements and hilarious first hand accounts more than make up for it.
James Weisbach
I enjoyed this a lot - I find gay subculture fascinating, especially before Stonewall when there was no existing political movement. I was amazed to learn how little I know about my own community less than a hundred years ago. I did think this book had a tendency to be redundant. It probably could have accomplished the same thing in half the space.
sdw
This is one of those few books I was assigned in both undergraduate and graduate school courses. A must read for anyone interested in the history of sexuality or theorizing space and place in the formation of communities.
Alison
Really, really interesting history about a culture whose history is largely ignored. He provides really good primary source material that makes his narrative really engaging to read. The book is an interesting look at how upper class constructs of gender and sexuality defined homosexuality in our culture. Really good read.
Robert
This book sat around for quite some time. Although I never read it straight through, I found myself returning to it between books or distractions. Eventually completing the book and wishing I had not as it was interesting. This is all about what life was like for the "gay" world prior to the fight for rights.
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