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Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (Anglais) Broché – 28 avril 1995

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Book by Chauncey George

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AT THE END OF THE 1890s, COLUMBIA HALL (BETTER KNOWN AS PARESIS Hall), on the Bowery at Fifth Street, was by all accounts, the "principal resort in New York for degenerates" and well known as much to the public. Lire la première page
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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index | Quatrième de couverture
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47 internautes sur 47 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Brilliant Social History of the "Gay Male World" 17 novembre 2000
Par Steven S. Berizzi - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
I read a lot of history, but generally not read social history. Nevertheless, this is one of the best books I have read in recent years. According to Author George Chauncey, who teaches at the University of Chicago, a "myth of isolation" "holds that, even if a gay world existed [in New York between 1890 and 1940], it was kept invisible." Chauncey's main premise is that, not only was there a gay New York beginning in the 1890s, it was not invisible.
In the marvelous introduction, Chauncey also makes the profound point that the gay male world of the pre-World War II era "was not a world in which men were divided into `homosexuals' and 'heterosexuals.'" Chauncey proceeds to explain: "This book argues that in important respects the hetero-homosexual binarism, the sexual regime now hegemonic in American culture, is a stunningly recent creation." Later in the introduction, Chauncey writes: "Heterosexuality, no less than homosexuality, is a historically specific social category and identity." Chauncey's study begins in the 1890s, "a time when New York was famous for being a `wide-open town,' [when] some clubs went so far as to stage live sexual performances." The so-called "Bowery resorts were only the most famous elements of an extensive, organized, highly visible gay world." At the turn of the century, men who were "`painted and powdered,' used women's names, and displayed feminine mannerisms" were called "fairies." According to Chauncey, fairies were tolerated, but not respected, in much of working-class society. During this period "Many men alternated between male and female sexual partners without believing that interest in one precluded interest in the other." Men, who "maintained a masculine demeanor and played...only the `masculine,' or insertive role in the sexual encounter" were not considered to be "queer." According to Chauncey: "many workingmen knew precisely were to go to find fairies with whom, if they chose, they need not exchange a word to make their wishes clear." Chauncey explains: "Most commonly, gay men simply offered to perform certain sexual acts, especially fellation, which many straight men enjoyed but many women (even many prostitutes) were loath to perform." If the sexual landscape was fluid in turn-of-the-century working-class New York, a more rigid adherence to the regime of heterosexuality was emerging in middle-class culture. By the 1920s, according to Chauncey, "the style of the fairy was more likely to be adopted by younger men and poorer men who had relatively little at stake in the straight middle-class world, where the loss of respect the fairy style entailed could be costly indeed." Chauncey explains that, in the first two decades of the 20th century, "heterosexuality became more important to middle-class than working-class men" because of the growing belief that "anyone who engaged in homosexual activity was implicated as `being' a homosexual." In Chauncey's view: "The insistence on exclusive heterosexuality emerged in part...in response to the [late-19th, early-20th century] crisis in middle-class masculinity....Middle-class men increasingly conceived of their sexuality - their heterosexuality, or exclusive desire for women - as one of the hallmarks of real men." According to Chauncey: "The association of the homosexual and the heterosexual with middle-class culture highlights the degree to which `sexuality' and the rooting of gender in anatomy were bourgeois productions," which explains why Chauncey asserts that the rigid heterosexual-homosexual dichotomy is a recent creation. This is historical exposition and analysis at its very best
Middle-class sensibilities also were at the center of efforts, beginning early in the 20th century, to police, if not suppress, the "city of bachelors." According to Chauncey: "The city was a logical destination for men intent on freeing themselves from the constraints of the family." In turn, according to Chauncey, middle-class reformers demonstrated a growing anxiety about the threat to the social order posed by men and women who seemed to stand outside the family." According to Chauncey, "World War I was a watershed in the history of the urban moral reform movement" because the war "embodied reformers' darkest fears and their greatest hopes, for it threatened the very foundations of the nation's moral order - the family, small-town stability, the racial and gender hierarchy." The streets of New York "were filled with soldiers and sailors," as a result of which, according to Chauncey, the war "threatened to expose hundreds of thousands of American boys from farms and small towns to the evil influences of the big city." Furthermore, as Chauncey puts it, although "[i]t is impossible to determine how many gay soldiers stayed in New York after the war,...it was, indeed, hard to keep them down on the farm after they've seen gay New York."
There is much else about this book to admire. After Chauncey defines the boundaries of his study, he devotes several chapters to describing in fascinating detail the gay male world in New York between 1890 and 1940, from YMCAs and rooming houses to saloons and gay bars to the baths to assignation hotels. I am simply in awe of the research Chauncey did for his chapter entitled "`Privacy Could Only Be Had in Public': Forging a Gay World in the Streets," the sources for which include not only the predictable secondary materials but also letters, interviews, oral histories, and court files in the New York Municipal Archives. There also is a fine selection of photographs, cartoons, and other visual aids.
The gay world in New York was tolerated by middle-class authorities as long as it did not spread to middle America or to threaten its values. During World War I, when thousands of young Americans in the military visited the city, the relatively open gay life there threatened to corrupt them, and that contributed to the creation of what Chauncey calls "police-state conditions," which evolved until they had firmly taken hold by 1940. I understand Chauncey currently is writing the history of gay New York from 1945 until 1975, and I await publication of that volume with great impatience.
24 internautes sur 24 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Fresh Thinking About Gay History 15 juin 2002
Par disco75 - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Chauncey's book offers serious and original thinking about queer history and about general urban history as well. Freed from the myths that have persisted about the place of homosexuals in U.S. society, the author paints a new portrait of what transpired just before the turn of the last century and into the early decades of the 20th century.
The most important idea he explains is that the concepts of "homosexuality" and "heterosexuality" as we understand them today didn't exist one hundred years ago. Chauncey's research shows that it was adherence to traditional gender role, rather than choice of sex partner, that labelled a man as either a "fairy" or "normal." The author provides detailed descriptions of the process by which working class men in particular could have sexual relations with other men and perserve a "normal" identity so long as the sex partners were effeminate. He uses extensive supporting materials that undergird his conclusions, including accounts of the "pansies" who were not, in fact, demeaned or ostracized but instead were tolerated, courted, and may even have served a vital purpose to working men who had relocated alone to the city to support families that lived elsewhere or to make their way into adulthood.
Chauncey shows how the definition of "invert"-- detour from standard gender role-- shifted gradually to the notion of "degenerate" or "homosexual"-- men who chose other men as sex partners. He makes clear how the emerging definition of homosexuality depended on a similarly new definition of heterosexuality. These subtle but powerful social mores are detailed at length, in convincing prose.
The book explains that there were places in early 20th century society for gays, countering the mistaken belief that the 1960's rebellions brought people out of the closet. The author hints, but doesn't explicitly state, that societal needs may have some not insubstantial effect on how prominent the gay people will be in our communities, or even how many young men may experiment with homosexuality for identity, financial need, or other reasons.
Chauncey's prose is vivid and evocative. He many times, especially in the early parts of the book, uses a hair-splitting preciseness with terms that can become tiresome to a reader. He also shows an academic's obsessiveness with source material: his book is chockful of lengthy source notes in the appendix and footnotes at the bottoms of the pages. These practices make his work explicit for purposes of academics but also tedious for general reading.
He employs other techniques that I believe weakened the impact of the reading. Chauncey summarizes a great deal at the end of each chapter, which dilutes the momentum of his historical survey. He is prone to repetitions of concepts and quotes. He also divided his themes such that each chapter covers expansive times. This has the reader continually moving back to the beginning of his chosen era, which diffuses the reader's sense of progressions over time. My sense is that he was not able to decide if the book were to be textbook for teaching, academic document for university colleagues, or general historical account. Nevertheless, his interesting prose, his unique perspectives, and his strong synthetic thinking make this an important work.
19 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A treasure chest of forgotten lore 31 décembre 2003
Par Charlus - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
This book was preceded in my conciousness by high critical praise and so I approached it with great expectations. And in great part it met these expectations.
More than anything else, this is a work of love, being the excavation of forgotten facts in the history of gay life as it was lived by decades of gay men, experiences now mostly forgotten or scattered in obscure and fading documents. It is an extraordinary work of social archeology, resurrecting a world I never knew exisited. And Chauncey does this in exceptional detail, using clear prose, so that by the end the geography of this world has been salvaged and reconstructed, like Combray from Marcel's teacup.
As the book proceeds, the writing becomes stronger, particularly as the facts become more readily available, and the arguments and conclusions become more convincing. The last chapter is especially good on the submergence of gay life after Prohibition. This book is clearly one of the masterpieces of gay history, on par with John Boswell's work especially in it's dependence on primary sources.
The only criticism I have lies in the fact that Chauncey often has trouble shaping his information and often can't create a forest out of the trees. Especially in the earlier chapters, he often fails to make a summary statement without such a host of qualifiers that you wonder why he bothers in the first place. And as a previous reviewer has noted, there are alot of repetitions that a good editor should have corrected.
Despite all these reservations, for those interested in discovering a lost world, this book will be a revelation.
14 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Fascinating "archeology" in the style of Foucault 10 août 2000
Par Yaumo Gaucho - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Chauncey's work is an excellent primer on the history of sexuality, and on the very historically specific nature of "being gay" or "being straight." He is like Foucault, in that he rigorously approaches the "microhistory of sexuality," but unlike Foucault, Chauncey is clear and easy to read (which forsakes some of Foucault's theoretical sophistication). Chauncey's arguments are cogent and often surprising, and his documentation is impeccable.
This should be a rewarding read for anyone interested in social or urban history. Many people read this is book as a matter of self-identity, but don't let that make you think that it's a book only for gay people: I came to it as a heteroseuxal person who is interested in social and urban history, and found it an excellent, informative, educational, and entertaining read. I'm looking forward to more books from Chauncey.
12 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
History at its Finest 29 août 2006
Par Daniel A. Stone - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
George Chauncey gave himself an incredibly daunting task when he set out to reconstruct the sexual and gender landscape that Gay Male New Yorkers inhabited from the fin de sielce until the beginning of World War II. In order meet this challenge, and make sense of the awe inspiring amount of research he was able to amass, Chauncey finds it necessary to set himself up with a mega question--what did it mean to be a gay man in New York during the period in question?--with a series of much smaller topical questions. From the myriad of smaller questions I have mined Chauncey's work in order to concentrate upon four questions. First, what was the dominant understanding gender, male sexuality and sex practices during the period in question? Second, how did Gay men in New York negotiate their way through a city that was largely hostile to their existence and make themselves visible to each other? Third, how were Gay men able to appropriate public and private spaces for their own purposes? Fourth, how did the increasingly draconian laws and regulations that followed in the Great Depression's wake affect Gay life? Only by exploring these questions can we even begin to understand how Chauncey was able to construct Gay New York.

Chauncey asserts, quite convincingly, that we have a fundamentally different understanding of sexuality and gender than the generations that he studied. Most peoples' understanding of sexuality is a binary one based on the anatomy of the two sexual actors--homosexual if the actors have the same anatomy and heterosexual if they do not. A person attracted to both sexes fits within the small space left between the poles known as bisexual. In sum, our definition is based solely on sex actors' biology. Though by the end of the nineteenth century, this view of sexuality had made some in roads among the medical community and was beginning gain credence among the middle classes, it was not the dominant view of sexual practice of society as a whole and was not the view of huge swathes of working class men from many backgrounds. The understanding that working class men had of sexual practice, as well as the one that much society had, was a gendered view that fit under the rubrics of normalcy and deviance. This understanding allowed normal men to play the penetrating or fellated role in same sex acts and not have their masculinity questioned. The dominant understanding regarded all men who played of gratifier as feminine. Ours is a world where men and women are gay or straight. Theirs' was a world wherein men were men and women were women, but men were also women because sexual aim took precedence over sexual object. This view allowed for a great deal of sexual contact between men where only one of the actors would be viewed as a homosexual.

Gay New York existed as a city within a city. Words were part of an intricate code that, along with dress and affectation, allowed gay men to recognize each other while remaining largely invisible to the outside world. The dropping of certain words in a conversation; a loud suit with a red tie; bleached hair and tweezed eyebrows; the gait of one's walk or the rhythm of one's speech--all these and many other things played their part in allowing gay men to operate in public surreptitiously when the need to do so arose, but they also allowed straight men (or those who were defined above as normal) to identify gay men within realms that were dominantly straight but allowed for a large amount of intermingling between straight and gay men. Putting aside the person of the fairy--a hyperbolic form of gay affectation that most gay men could not maintain without a the threat of ostracism--the great body of gay men had a tenuous position within the communities lived in and sought partners because communities and private vigilance groups hostilities towards their existence, and law enforcements official virtual outlawing of their sexual behavior. To be gay during this period meant knowing how to behave in ways that signify homosexuality to other gay men (and those interested in affairs with gay men) while having that behavior appear ambiguous enough to those of ill will to avoid censure or worse.

Gay men did not always have to operate through the use of coded behavior. In the worlds of rooming houses, or with the connivance merchants, restaurants and saloons, gay men were able to turn much of what would be regarded as public spheres into primarily gay spaces or at least gay friendly. This was certainly the case with several YMCAs' throughout Manhattan. As Chauncey points out Y's had a legendary aura around them regarding gay activity: "some New Yorkers," he writes, "took rooms at the Sloane House for the weekend, giving fake out-of-town addresses."(156) In the case of the YMCA's security could be bribed, indifferent, or it could be the job of gay men to enforce managements rules that would have the effect of hindering openly homosexual behavior. Since it was not until the 1930's that serving gay people became a business liability, many bars and restaurants were happy to have their business. Being a public space, but in point of fact private property these venues allowed for more overt forms of same sex courtship and interaction. Like the YMCA's and rooming houses Gay men were able to operate here under the sufferance of only unofficial supervision and were therefore only obliged to worry about the community where the venue was located and the proprietors. Although there were occassional police raids, or a proprietor could enlist the help of police forces to make his establishment more or less off limits to openly gay people, these venues would still generally allow for a greater freedom of movement and interaction.

Gay life in New York always had to operate underground, beyond both the official and unofficial radars of society because of the possibility of harassment, arrest and sometimes long prison terms. If the first third of the twentieth century was a time where cunning, code, and great circumspection would have to be employed in order to build an actively gay life, then these tools would become doubly necessary to keep the edifice of gay life from crumbling in the period that immediately followed it. With the end of prohibition putting a huge venue, bars, of gay life under the microscope of a newly vigilant law enforcement community--both the police and a new and militant State Liquor Authority--that was becoming more and more hostile to gay life. New Yorkers of this period, because of the economic calamity all people suffered as part and parcel of the Great Depression, also knew a gender anxiety which they had not know immediately before this because of the massive number of men who were no longer bread winners. Coupling all of these factors together with the election of the dynamic, but moralizing Fiorello La Guardia, in 1933 and the campaign to sanitize the city in time for 1939 World's Fair (especially the areas where the greatest number of gay friendly haunts were) and a situation was created where gay life was severely circumscribed.

At the very least, Chauncey is able to thoroughly dispels the notions that Gay life as we know it today began with the Stonewall revolt and the history of Gay life is one of unimpeded progress. As his narrative shows the history of the oppressed shows, we never live in the best of all possible worlds and very often the past can seem much rosier than the present because it was just that.
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