Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The Gay Metropolis 1940-1996

Weaving oral history with precise cultural analysis, THE GAY METROPOLIS is the definitive social, cultural and political history of gay life in the major cities of the world over the last fifty years. Focusing on New York, London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin, Kaiser chronicles how urban centres have been crucial in the genesis and evolution of gay culture. THE GAY METROPOLIS combines intimate stories of people as famous as Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents and Gore Vidal, and as little known as Sandy Kern, a young Brooklyn woman who first heard the word 'lesbian' when a neighbour spied her with her arm around her girlfriend at the end of a wartime blackout.

This was a fascinating read when I first read it a decade or more ago, but I had lent it to a friend and never got it back ..... so I was pleased another friend mentioned it again recently, so I got another copy and enjoyed reading it all over again. As social history it can't be beat. Charles Kaiser has concentrated on New York, but it does not detract from an overall understanding of the 20th Century gay tapestry. 

We go from the closeted 1940s where though, as in wartime London, gay life flourished in secret * (see that extract from Gore Vidal's THE CITY AND THE PILLAR below), to the even more closeted 1950s when being gay was as bad as being a communist and they were hounded from government posts, and there was no mention of gay life anywhere, to the start of the gay, black and women's liberation movements of the 1960s, culminating in that Stonewall uprising in 1969 and the success of plays like THE BOYS IN THE BAND. It was routine in the early sixties for gays to kill themselves in films like ADVISE AND CONSENT, THE CHILDREN'S HOUR and THE SERGEANT, at least the British film VICTIM made an impact, as did SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY at the start of the 1970s when gay activism took to the streets and became more visible as the decade wore on, climaxing with the gay decadence of disco, Studio 54, "After Dark" magazine and the availability of gay material on those new video-cassettes .....

The 1980s though is a whole different story as that strange new illness began making inroads into the gay community and how it responded in the face of political indifference from the Reagan goverment...  there are lots of life stories here, and its all uplifting stuff by the mid Nineties - now 20 years later, the changes to gay life would be unimaginable then.  I think its an essential item for any gay bookshelf, maybe next to Vito Russo's THE CELLULOID CLOSET. Not only that, a very engaging read!  

Kaiser shows how before the sexual freedoms of the Seventies, World War II was a great liberator: "the war had caused a great change. Inhibitions had broken down. All sorts of young men - away from home and their towns and farms for the first time - were trying out all sorts of new things". 

Gore Vidal's 1948 novel THE CITY AND THE PILLAR set in Forties New York:
"Jim went straight to a Times Square bar frequented by soldiers and sailors. He studied the room carefully like a general surveying the terrain of battle. Then he selected his objective: a tall Army Lieutenant with broad shoulders, dark hair, blue eyes. Jim squeezed in beside him and ordered a drink. Jim's leg touched the Lieutenant's leg, a hard muscular leg which returned the pressure. 
"You in the service?" asked the Lieutenant. His voice was slow, deep, far Western.
"Yeah, I was in the army too"
"What outfit?"
They exchanged information. The Lieutenant had served with the infantry during the invasion of North Africa. He was now stationed in the South as an instructor. 
"You live around here?"
Jim nodded. "I got a room downtown".
"I sure wish I had a place. I got to stay on a sofa wih this married cousin".
"That sounds pretty uncomfortable".
"It sure is".
"You could", said Jim, as though he were thinking it over, "stay at my place. There's plenty of room".
The Lieutenant said no, he couldn't do that; they had another drink and then went downtown to bed.

Next, we are going off to that 1970s gay sauna THE RITZ ! 

1 comment:

  1. I don't know THE GAY METROPOLIS but I think I will seek it out at once! When younger I read every gay novel I could get my hands on and several are, of course, classics. Now I can't be bothered or perhaps gay fiction is less common as gay cinema becomes more prevalent. I will still never forget seeing THE BOYS IN THE BAND for the first time on stage.