Taking a Look Beyond the Book.

C. S. Lewis once wrote, ‘Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” Although friendship is always nice, we can perhaps substitute the word “friendship” for another – solidarity, or perhaps even identity. Gay New York, by George Chauncey, proves that the gay movement in US history began far before the Stonewall riots of 1969. Gay men in New York developed a second, secret world for themselves to protect its members against harassment, violence, and police action. When the time came to choose a website to expand our discussion of this topic, I went in search of one that spoke to identity. In the end, I found two great resources that discuss just that.

What does it mean to be manly? Masculine? At the turn of the century, masculinity owned a certain role in society. According to Chauncey, the ability and willingness to support a family were two of its defining characteristics. [2] I now understand the dilemma in which homosexual men (or anyone who felt differently, for that matter) found themselves; the rigidity with which our society approached the world in this period allowed for little wiggle room. For instance, those workingmen in the bachelor world were considered “rough,” while workingmen with families were “respectable.” Domination, of either women or other men, defined masculinity in that time period. Does it still define men today? As I sit here writing, I find myself thinking of the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) show I mindlessly watched last evening before falling asleep. May I note the fact that this was the first time I have ever watched anything related to WWE, but I wondered to myself why on earth this kind of stuff is so exciting, especially to boys ages five to fifteen. Perhaps domination is still a big thing?

In 2009, The Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, presented an exhibition titled XY, which discussed male sexuality and what it means to be a “man.” Their online presentation, with limited visuals from the exhibit, allows visitors to explore their understanding of masculinity. To be called a “man” or “regular guy,” as Chauncey noted, was a compliment, yet the most common phrase. Since it was so common, “the very repetitiveness of such praise implied that men were in danger of being called something else: unmanly…a sissy, even a pansy.” [3] The XY exhibit addresses this question of masculinity or “the other,” separating its sections into categories of what defines a man. The section titled “Clothes Make the Man” reminded me of Chauncey’s discussion of how almost everybody in New York at the time could pick out a “fairy” – by their dress. Any style of clothing allows onlookers to define a person’s character right away.

In addition to the clothing category, the Spencer Art Museum chose to define men in through these categories: “Forever Young,” “Naked,” “Work Hard, Play Harder,” “Degrees of Desire,” and “Man Enough.” The only complaint I have about this site is that it does not provide images for all of the objects and artwork in the exhibit. Fortunately, under each category are listings of every piece that they used, so hopefully visitors should be able to find these images elsewhere.

A really great part of the site, however, allows visitors to create their own captions for several of the images used in the exhibit. Please make sure to have a look. Not only are the images an interesting collection of both homosexual and heterosexual “definitions,” but what visitors decided to write as captions for these images are often telling of our societal prejudices that continue today.

I see Stonewall as the moment in which gay men decided not to be invisible anymore and claim their right to live in a society where they did not have to be invisible. As Chauncey wrote, it was a vast social revolution that helped gay men to identify themselves to the world and find solidarity in their fight for fair treatment. [4] In the midst of battling over what it meant to be masculine or feminine, those with an identity between the two (often called “the third sex”) forged an identity through strength of numbers.

The Stonewall Library and Archives, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida focuses on GLBT cultural and social history. They offer programs like writer’s workshops, film series, and book discussions. Their archive currently holds nearly 5,000 items on GLBT history. [5] They host exhibits in the museum as well as online. Their mission states that they are a “publicly accessible cultural and educational resource that preserves, interprets and shares the remarkable heritage of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community,” serving as center of “enlightenment for our community.” [6] Unlike the previous exhibition, XY, this museum is entirely dedicated to the study of GLBT cultural history.

The website itself currently hosts three online exhibits, which I highly recommend: “Out of the Shadows: Gay America from Kinsey to Stonewall,” “Days Without Sunshine: Anita Bryant’s Anti-Gay Crusade,” and “Pride: Party or Protest?” All have great images and are easy to navigate. Take a look at the sidebar holding the Calendar of Events to keep up with what the museum programs are doing; for instance, you might choose to read The Hour Between by Sebastian Stuart or watch Tony Richardson’s A Delicate Balance (1973).

Through my searching of websites I noticed a trend: most scholarly exhibits, websites, or institutions that I found on homosexuality were created by colleges or college art museums. While it means that most of this scholarship is shared within colleges and not with the general public, hopefully it guarantees that our future of acceptance will be better than our past.

[1] George Chauncey, Gay New York, (New York: Basic Books, 1994), 48.

[2] Chauncey, 79.

[3] Chauncey, 80.

[4] Chauncey, 6.

[5] “About the Archives,” Stonewall Library and Archives, < http://www.stonewall-library.org&gt;, Accessed 27 February 2010.

[6] “Mission,” Stonewall Library and Archives, < http://www.stonewall-library.org&gt;, Accessed 27 February 2010.

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