Chauncey Essay

807 words - 4 pages

In his work about gay life in New York City, George Chauncey seeks to dispel the various myths about the gay lifestyle before the Civil Rights era of the 60’s. He distills the misconceptions into three major myths: “…isolation, invisibility, and internalization” (Chauncey 1994, 2). He believes a certain image has taken in the public mind where gays did not openly exist until the 60’s, and that professional historians have largely ignored this era of sexual history. He posits such ideas are simply counterfactual. Using the city of New York, a metropolitan landscape where many types of people confluence together, he details a thriving gay community. Certainly it is a community by Chauncey’s reckoning; he shows gay men had a large network of bar, clubs, and various other cultural venues where not only gay men intermingled the larger public did as well. This dispels the first two principle myths that gay men were isolated internally from other gay men or invisible to the populace. As to the internalization of gay men, they were not by any degree self-loathing. In fact, Chauncey shows examples of gay pride such a drag queen arrested and detained in police car in a photo with a big smile (Chauncey 1994, 330). Using a series of personal interviews, primary archival material from city repositories, articles, police reports, and private watchdog groups, Chauncey details with a preponderance of evidence the existence of a gay culture in New York City, while at the same time using secondary scholarship to give context to larger events like the Depression and thereby tie changes to the gay community to larger changes in the society.
But he does not simply dispel the myths of early 20th century gay life, he also details such myths took shape in the U.S. Towards the end he details the rise of anti-gay sentiment during the Depression era which saw the transformation of gays into a malicious social force rather than a simple curiosity. Now seen as a larger pandemic of moral rot in America, the gay’s old establishments were suppressed, sexuality gutted in Hollywood, and raids were conducted with greater fervor. Parallel to this, the gay community’s identity shifted from the more effeminate “fairy” to a more masculine form; this hybrid of gender identity further shrinking the old guard of the gay community leaving it largely forgotten to the...

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