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GEORGE CHAUNCEY'S GAY NEW YORK: A VIEW FROM 25 YEARS LATER

  • Brian Stack (a1) and Peter Boag (a1)
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When George Chauncey's Gay New York appeared a quarter century ago, it did so with deserved fanfare. Reviewers celebrated it as “brilliant,” “magisterial,” “exceptional,” “monumental,” “light-years ahead,” “masterful,” “seminal,” “groundbreaking,” “absolutely marvelous,” a “new beginning,” and a “landmark study.” While reviews of Gay New York appeared in the usual American history journals, many of these were uncommonly long, indicating the book's immediate importance. This importance was also felt beyond the discipline of history with reviews appearing in sociological, anthropological, environmental, American Studies, and even speech journals. The Association of American Geographers held a roundtable on Gay New York in 1995 in which a participant dubbed it, “one of the more important texts written by a nongeographer to be included in a canon of new social geography.” Beyond the academy, the popular press also expressed considerable interest in the book, with the New York Times, the New Yorker, the New Republic, and the Gay Community News each taking up the matter of Gay New York in its pages. And beyond the bounds of the United States, scholarly publications in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom also commissioned reviews of Gay New York. A year after its American debut with Basic Books, the parent firm of HarperCollins released it in the United Kingdom, and then eight years later the noted historian Didier Eribon translated it into French for the Parisian publisher Fayard. Within its first few years of publication, Gay New York also collected a number of notable prizes, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for history, the Frederick Jackson Turner Award from the Organization of American Historians (OAH), the Lambda Literary Award for gay men's studies, and the Merle Curti Award from the OAH.

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The authors wish to thank Robert D. Johnston and Marc Stein, whose insights and suggestions helped to improve this essay.

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NOTES

1 See reviews by Bullough, Vern L., American Journal of Sociology 100:6 (May 1995): 1637; Gutiérrez, Ramón, “Mapping the Erotic Body: Gay New York,” American Quarterly 48:3 (Sept. 1996): 506; Plummer, Ken, Contemporary Sociology 24:3 (May 1995): 355; Elder, Glen, “Reading the Spaces in George Chauncey's Gay New York,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 14:6 (1996): 758; Knopp, Lawrence, “Space(s) lost in George Chauncey's Gay New York,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 14:6 (1996): 759; Brown, Michael, “Closet Geography,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 14:6 (1996): 762; Faderman, Lillian, Journal of the History of Sexuality 6:2 (Oct. 1995): 340; Trumbach, Randolph, “The Third Gender in Twentieth-Century America,” Journal of Social History 30:2 (Winter 1996): 500; Miron, Janet, “The Queering of History: A Review Essay,” Maryland Historian 27:1 (1996): 28; and Koppes, Clayton R., “A Golden Age in Gay Gotham,” Reviews in American History 24:2 (Jun. 1996): 304.

2 See reviews by Drescher, Jack, Archives of Sexual Behavior 28:5 (1999): 404–7; Judson, Pieter M., “History Meets Ethnography,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 3:2–3 (1996): 327–31; Cohen, Lizabeth, Journal of American History 84:2 (Sept. 1997): 685–87; Faderman, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 338–40. Some long reviews also included works besides Gay New York. See Hood, Clifton, “New Studies in Gay and Lesbian History,” Journal of Urban History 24:6 (1998): 782–92; Strange, Carolyn, “Bad Girls and Masked Men: Recent Works on Sexuality in US History,” Labour / Le Travail 39 (Spring 1997): 261–75; and Miron, “The Queering of History,” 27–51.

3 See reviews by Bullough, American Journal of Sociology, 1636–37; Gutiérrez, “Mapping the Erotic Body,” 500–06; Bunzl, Matti, “Between Oppression and Affirmation: Historical Ethnography of Lesbian and Gay Pasts,” Anthropological Quarterly 68:2 (Apr. 1995): 121–28; Plummer, Contemporary Sociology 24:3 (May 1995): 355; Elder, Knopp and Brown, “Review Symposium,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 14:6 (1996): 755–70; and Tarbox, James J., Quarterly Journal of Speech 81:3 (1995): 418–19.

4 Holder, Ann, “Fairies and Normals and Queers, Oh My!: Inventing Cultures, Identities and the Closet,” Gay Community News 20:4 (Winter 1995): 1417; Elizar Barkan, “15th Annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes; Winner: George Chauncey's ‘Gay New York’; Out of the Closet, Into the City,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 13, 1994; review in The New Yorker, Aug. 22, 1994, 122; Margo Jefferson, “The Lively Past of New York City's Sexual Mosaic,” New York Times, Aug. 10, 1994, C14; and Christine Stansell, “Closet Space,” New Republic, Nov. 21, 1994, 37–40.

5 Kröller, Eva-Marie, “American Literature,” Canadian Literature 159 (Winter 1998): 198–99; reviews by Peel, Mark, Australian Historical Studies 28:108 (Apr. 1997): 141–43; and Cole, Shaun, Oral History 25:2 (1997): 99100.

6 Chauncey, George, Gay New York (1890–1940), traduit de l'américan par Didier Eribon (Paris: Fayard, 2003).

7 Chauncey, George, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940 (New York: Basic Books, 1994).

8 Newton, Esther, Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in America's First Gay and Lesbian Town (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993); Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky and Davis, Madeline D., Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community (New York: Routledge, 1993); D'Emilio, John, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983); Bérubé, Allan, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two (New York: Free Press, 1990); Weeks, Jeffrey, Coming Out: Homosexual Politics in Britain from the Nineteenth Century to the Present (London: Quartet Books, 1977); Weeks, Jeffrey, Sexuality (Chichester, UK: Ellis Horwood, 1986); Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); Katz, Jonathan Ned, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (New York: Crowell, 1976); Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1: An Introduction, translated from the French by Robert Hurley (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978); Faderman, Lillian, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991); and D'Emilio, John and Freedman, Estelle B., Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York: Harper & Row, 1988).

9 Atkins, Gary, Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003); Kaiser, Charles, The Gay Metropolis: 1940–1966 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997); Beachy, Robert, Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity (New York: Vintage Books, 2014); Faderman, Lillian and Timmons, Stuart, Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians (New York: Basic Books, 2006); Buring, Daneel, Lesbian and Gay Memphis: Building Communities Behind the Magnolia Curtin (New York: Garland Press, 1997); and Twin Cities GLBT Oral History Project, Queer Twin Cities (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010).

Other book-length histories taking the local, case study approach, include Boag, Peter, Same-Sex Affairs: Constructing and Controlling Homosexuality in the Pacific Northwest (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Boyd, Nan, Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Hurewitz, Daniel, Bohemian Los Angeles and the Making of Modern Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008); Stein, Marc, City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945–1972 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000); Howard, John, Men Like That: A Southern Queer History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Johnson, David K., The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); Project, The History, Improper Bostonians: Lesbian and Gay History from the Puritans to Playland (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998); and Stewart-Winter, Timothy, Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

10 For Chauncey's discussion of such issues, see Gay New York, 27.

11 Loftin, Craig M., “Los Angeles and the Closing of the Gay Historical Frontier,” review of Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians by Faderman, Lillian and Timmons, Stuart, Reviews in American History 37:1 (Mar. 2009): 101–9 (p. 108 cited); Stein, Marc, “Theoretical Politics, Local Communities: The Making of U.S. LGBT Historiography,” GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies 11:4 (2005): 605–25.

12 Stewart-Winter, Queer Clout, 10–11; Howard, Men Like That; Boag, Same-Sex Affairs; Johnson, Colin, Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013); and Shah, Nayan, Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality, and the Law in the North American West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).

13 Lyons, Clare A., “Mapping an Atlantic Sexual Culture: Homoeroticism in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia,” William & Mary Quarterly 60:1 (Jan. 2003): 119–54; Capó, Julio Jr., Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami Before 1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

14 Armstrong, Elizabeth and Crage, Suzanna, “Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth,” American Sociological Review 71:5 (Oct. 2006): 724–51.

15 American Experience, episode 10, season 23, “Stonewall Uprising,” directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, aired Apr. 25, 2011, on Public Broadcasting Service; Stonewall, directed by Roland Emmerich (Los Angeles: Roadside Attractions, 2015).

16 See, for example, Timothy Stewart-Winters, “Stonewall and the Politics of Memory,” Process: A blog for american history, http://www.processhistory.org/stonewall/ (accessed Feb. 13, 2018).

17 Garber, Eric, “A Spectacle in Color: The Lesbian and Gay Subculture of Jazz Age Harlem” in Hidden From History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, eds. Duberman, Martin, Vicinus, Martha, and Chauncey, George (New York: New American Library, 1989), 318–31; Duggan, Lisa, Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Violence, and American Modernity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001); Mumford, Kevin J., Interzones: Black/White Sex Districts in Chicago and New York in the Early Twentieth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Shah, Stranger Intimacy; Somerville, Siobhan B., Queering the Color Line: Race and the Invention of Homosexuality in American Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000); and Thorpe, Rochella, “‘A House Where Queers Go’: African-American Lesbian Nightlife in Detroit, 1940–1975” in Inventing Lesbian Cultures in America, ed. Lewin, Ellen (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996), 4061.

18 Chauncey, Gay New York, 207.

19 Chauncey, Gay New York, 276.

20 Butler, Judith, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” Theater Journal 40:4 (Dec. 1988): 519–31; Meyerowitz, Joanne, How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002); Stryker, Susan, Transgender History (Berkeley, CA: Seal Press, 2008); Boag, Peter, Redressing America's Frontier Past (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011). On theory and history, see also Halberstam, Jack, Female Masculinity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998); Sears, Clare, Arresting Dress: Cross-Dressing, Law, and Fascination in Nineteenth-Century San Francisco (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015); Agarwal, Kritika, “What Is Trans History? From Activist and Academic Roots, a Field Takes Shape,” Perspectives on History (May 2018): 1720.

21 Chauncey, George, “‘What Gay Studies Taught the Court’: The Historians’ Amicus Brief in Lawrence v. Texas,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 10:3 (2004): 509–38; , Chauncey, Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today's Debate Over Gay Equality (New York: Basic Books, 2005); “OAH amicus brief written by George Chauncey cited in Supreme Court decision,” Yale University, https://history.yale.edu/news/oah-amicus-brief-written-george-chauncey-cited-supreme-court-decision (accessed Mar. 22, 2018); Organization of American Historians, “Amicus Curiae,” James Obergefell et al. v. Richard Hodges [n.d.], http://files.ctctcdn.com/442c978d001/97b3fd3a-9a36-4e0a-ae22-029456da0824.pdf (accessed Mar. 22, 2018).

22 On the influence of the medical model and top-down approaches, see Duggan, Sapphic Slashers; Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers; and Newton, Esther, “The Mythic Mannish Lesbian: Radclyffe Hall and the New Woman,” Signs 9:4 (Summer 1984): 557–75.

23 Peiss, Kathy, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986); Chauncey, Gay New York, 27.

24 On the experiences of immigrants and ethnic group formation, see Handlin, Oscar, The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations that Made the American People (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1951); Cohen, Lizabeth, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919–1939 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Sánchez, George, Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); and Matsumoto, Valerie J., Farming the Home Place: A Japanese American Community in California, 1919–1982 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993).

25 Rotundo, E. Anthony, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York: Basic Books, 1993); and Bederman, Gail, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880–1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

26 Chauncey, Gay New York, 115.

27 Capó Jr., Welcome to Fairyland; Harris, Andrea, Making Ballet American: Modernism Before and Beyond Balanchine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017); Hoganson, Kristin, Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998); Summers, Martin, Manliness and its Discontents: The Black Middle Class and the Transformation of Masculinity, 1900–1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Boag, Same-Sex Affairs.

28 See, for example, Chudacoff, Howard P., The Age of the Bachelor: Creating an American Subculture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999).

29 Link, Arthur S. and McCormack, Richard L., Progressivism, The American History Series (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1983), 110; Chauncey, Gay New York, 141; Kennedy, David M., Over Here; The First World War and American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980); and Capozzola, Christopher Joseph Nicodemus, Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

30 Heap, Chad, Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Night Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006); and Capó Jr., Welcome to Fairyland.

31 Chauncey, Gay New York, 320; Heap, Slumming; Capó Jr., Welcome to Fairyland; and Loughery, John, The Other Side of Silence: Men's Lives and Gay Identities, A 20th Century History (New York: H. Holt, 1999); Hurewitz, Bohemian Los Angeles.

32 On the debate over the connection between Progressivism and the New Deal, see, for example, Hofstadter, Richard, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. (New York: Knopf, 1955); Brinkley, Alan, “Richard Hofstadter's the Age of Reform: A Reconsideration,” Reviews in American History 13:3 (Sept. 1985): 462–80, esp. 475–77; and Rodgers, Daniel T., Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1998).

33 Canaday, Margot, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009).

34 Chauncey, Gay New York, 9.

35 Gutiérrez, “Mapping the Erotic Body,” 505.

36 Chauncey, Gay New York, 9 (quoted), 12 (quoted), 23, and 360–61.

37 We reached out to Professor Chauncey for clarification about his book in progress, but he did not respond. See https://history.columbia.edu/faculty/chauncey-george/ (accessed Mar. 24, 2018).

The authors wish to thank Robert D. Johnston and Marc Stein, whose insights and suggestions helped to improve this essay.

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