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vilja

Vilja Reads

I'm a student, so I don't have nearly as much time for leisure reading as I'd like. If I manage to read an entire course book instead of just the assigned chapters, I'll review that here, too.

Gay New York

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

Scholarly and thoroughly researched, Gay New York charts the development of the gay subculture of New York from the late 19th century to the 1930s and the changing conceptions and stereotypes around same-sex attraction and gender variance - inextricably linked through the early social conception of gay men and women as gender-variant. Though confining itself to gay male subculture, the text can't help but brush lesbian history, and also functions as a history of the city's night life during the same period.

 

The book probably rightly deserved a full fourth star but I'm contrary, and wish to protest the fact the book had nothing to say about the distinction between homosexuality and pederasty, or anything at all about the possibility of what we'd now call transsexuality or bisexuality.

 

I'd excuse it on the grounds that the author was using the definitions of he era, except he wasn't - people who would have identified as fairies, queer or inverts by their own testimony were all labeled "gay men" or "homosexual men". I don't believe the word "transsexual" ever came up, and "bisexual" was only in reference to the 19th century use, meaning gender variant, which in turn meant anyone who experienced same-sex attraction. Since the modern view had to be mentioned in order to clarify the content when it came to homosexuality, the lack of mention of bi- or transsexuality smacks of erasure. We've come full circle in this sense - from Krafft-Ebing claiming all people attracted to other people of their assigned sex are trans, to Chauncey ignoring the existence of trans people altogether in favour of classing them all as gay. 

 

Nonetheless, this is a book I devoured because of the insight it gave to the history of modern Western conceptions of same-sex attraction, and a great follow-up to Asbury's The Gangs of New York as a history of that city's social life. I'm hoping to find a lesbian history of the same period to fill in the gaping blank.