Author: James Polchin
Source: from publisher for review
Summary: This included some interesting information, but was dry and disjointed.
This is a history of the way gay men were criminalized from the 1920s through the Stonewall Riots in 1968. It describes the many biases in the way crimes committed by or against gay men were portrayed in the media during this time frame. It also discusses how gay rights groups began to track and mobilize around these injustices.
Unfortunately, I could tell within twenty pages that I wasn’t particularly going to enjoy this book. The content was interesting and the author did a good job of making me feel I had the sense of each decade he discussed. However, he did that through a combination of disjointed true crime stories and discussion of attitudes towards homosexuality in the media; the medical professions; and the public at large. Transitions between these sections were pretty rough. The way the true crime stories were told was also quite dry. There were often gruesome details of murder scenes, but very few personal details to bring either victims or criminals to life. We were occasionally told how a crime was resolved, but never given any interesting details about investigations or trials.
Part of the reason the stories were so dry may have to do with a larger problem this book suffered from – there simply doesn’t seem to have been much information available for the author to work with. True crimes involving gay men were not explicitly reported as such. This meant that the author’s conclusions for each decade were based on only a handful of anecdotes he found through difficult digging. I did find his interpretation of the crimes as involving gay men plausible. But I often thought he needed statistics on the crimes to back up his broader claims.
Despite the problems with this book, I can’t disagree with the author that these stories are an important part of gay history. I think it’s worthwhile to be aware of how bad things were for gay men in the fairly recent past. I also thought that the way the gay community rallied around the egregious injustices reported here was fascinating and informative. I’m not sure another author could have done much better with this subject. I do think the writing could have been more engaging, but a lot of the problems seemed a result of the scant historical record. I’d only recommend this if you have a strong interest in the topic though and will be keeping an eye out for a better book on the subject myself.