George Chauncey on Gay Life in New York City Essay

George Chauncey on Gay Life in New York City Essay

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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 to...


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...e social changes brought about this period. He cites the growing sensationalism of sex covered in the media as a prime driver behind the sexual orthodoxy in American culture (Chauncey 1994, 359). During this witch hunt, he draws a silver lining. Using the scholarship of others such as John D’Emilio, he cites that this period brought a greater bond to the gay community by forging brotherhood of adversity which would then come back into play in the 1960’s as an experiential touchstone for the Civil Rights era (Chauncey 1994, 360). Chauncey nestles his own narrative of the gay community in New York within the larger narrative of gay life in America filling in the gaps of secondary sources through his own primary work.



Bibliography
Chauncey, George. 1994. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the
Gay Male World 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books.

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