CRUISINGby Gerald Walker. Published by Sphere, 30p.
In Gay News 17, our leading news story, under the heading ‘Village Murder – Frenzy Times Five’, reported a series of murders in New York’s Greenwich Village. All the victims were gay and the police investigating the crimes and homosexual organisations in the city – the Gay Activist’s Alliance and the Attachine Society – believe the killings are carbon copies of events described in Gerald Walker’s book, Cruising.
Originally published in hardback in this country by W.H. Allen, Cruising was brought out as a paperback by Sphere Books last August. It has not, so far, enjoyed large sales, despite being a best-seller in the States. The book tells of a psychopathic killer, who is obviously a latent homosexual, unable to come to terms with his gay sexuality. He commits a number of brutal and bloody murders, usually mutilating the corpses in the most horrific manner. The murdered men, like the unfortunate victims in New York were all practising homosexuals. Also, as with the recent deadly events in Greenwich Village, all the action in the novel takes place in that district, internationally renowned for its reputation as a gay ghetto.
The story is told by three characters, one of them the killer himself, a young immature college student. The others are the police captain who is in charge of investigating the murders, and a newly recruited police officer, a ‘rookie’, who is detailed to the assignment of posing as a gay, in the hope of his being picked as a fresh victim by the killer.
The insights into the personalities of these three characters is particularly revealing, especially the character study of the murderer and his motives. The story moves along at a fast pace and is hard to put down once one has started reading it.
To say more of this extremely harrowing tale would ruin the final nightmarish twists in the plot. But I can comment on Cruising’s social implications. Whilst admitting that the position of gays in American society is slightly different to their contemporaries in Great Britain, one can easily recognise certain underlying factors. Gays, anywhere, are discriminated against and are generally misunderstood by the majority of society, including the police. As a result, some men – and women -unable to adjust to their sexuality, because of their fear of social pressures and their own ignorance and inadequacies, react in extremely disturbing ways. Sometimes they turn to suicide or live a life of self-repression. Others lead a double life. But in some instances they become uncontrollable, psychopathic killers, like the student in Cruising, or the person responsible for the recent New York slayings.
Gerald Walker’s depth of understanding of gayness in the book is insufficient and at times possibly harmful, all too often settling for the usual, unrealistic stereo-typed image of homosexuals. But the author’s portrayal of police attitudes is extremely significant. Enough in fact, for me to firmly believe that Cruising should become essential reading for all new recruits entering the police force.
To gays – and heterosexuals — Cruising is a fast moving read, that is both morbidly fascinating and exciting. To this reviewer, it also seems to be explicitly accurate in its study of a sexually motivated maniac.
The blurb gives the impression that we might just be in for another of those tacky gay novels rooted in no particular reality and featuring our good friends, Torment, Despair and Misery. Not so. This is an amusing, sensitive and gracefully constructed exploration of a young man’s sexuality. The young man is Keiron Dorrity, a hard-drinking, heavy womanising Merchant Seaman, very attractive and with, among other things, a fascinating tattoo.
His ship has blown up, somewhere in the Far East, and he is now recuperating in a London convent. He is, also, an aspiring writer and a story he types (based on a true story told to him by a ship mate) is bought by a gay magazine. This leads Keron into a world of high-class rent, known as escorting, apparently.
See what I mean? Sounds tacky. But this brief summary does not take into account the width of Keiron’s vision. The novel is cast in the form of a private journal he keeps. Into it crowd the many layers of his life; the nuns – happy, amusing, the world of the handsome, expensive young men – projected with a disarming bonhomie. Madigan really projects the all-boys-together feeling with which the hustling guardsmen keep at bay the threat of homosexuality proper. These are the stories that Keiron writes, and the poems. There are, then, levels of writing from straight forward narrative to attempts at purple prose; but always a sharp eye, a neat image, an ear for dialogue.
Keiron decides that homosexuality is something rather more than what you do with your body. “If it’s a single act, then yes, sure, I am. If it’s a hundred acts, I am – but if it’s an attitude of mind them I wouldn’t say so…” The mature widow of his ship mate and a fascinating young American boy force the division of mind wider. Lots of action (some sexy) lots of fun (some sexy) and a deal of thought. A neat piece of work, to be recommended.
First published, with great noise, in 1971 and this is the third paperback reprint. A winner then. And not without reason. It’s a really thoroughly exciting thriller about the OAS’s final plot to assassinate General de Gaulle. A top professional assassin from outside France is hired to do the job and since no one knows the identity of this killer, or anything about him it might seem foolproof. The story works on two levels: the plans of the killer and the way in which he is tracked down. The detail is incredible, thoroughly researched and convincingly delivered. Mr Forsyth seems to cheat in several places – especially the climax. But with two heroes (the killer and Lebel the policeman) both of whom have maximum reader identification the suspense as they say is killing.
It is very hard to see what useful purpose this slight (and ludicrously overpriced) book serves. Mr Harris certainly tackles a difficult subject about which little is actually known, but about which much is conjectured. In the event he provides remarkably little information with which either to confirm or destroy our wildest conjectures. He seems to take no particular moral standpoint. This seems like praiseworthy objectivity until one notices how words like ‘corruption’, ‘deviant’ and ‘straight world’ creep in, all indicative of a certain attitude which would be better if properly expressed. And while his book is clearly destined to appear on mail-order lists and in the windows of shops like Sterlings, Mr Harris will disappoint those who wish vicariously to feed their buy-a-boy fantasies.
A grant from the Ninevah Trust enabled Mr Harris to work full-time on his research, so obviously he comes across, or trips full-length over, certain extremely relevant ideas and material which he either relegates to an aside, or avoids thinking about. And his field of operation is certainly too narrow for the breadth of his comments.
The field of operation is precisely enough stated: “Male prostitution on Piccadilly”. Sounds exciting until one realises just how limited this is (not to say inaccurate, since it is one corner of Piccadilly Circus and a few cafes, arcades and clubs in Soho he is talking about, certainly not the elegant stretches between Fortnums and Green Park).
So what it boils down to is that our researcher has got to know a few hustlers who hang over the meat rack at the end of the Quadrant, has talked to them, gained a certain degree of confidence and written it all down. The form of the book is apparently logical starting with how boys become hustlers, moving through aspects of the game to leaving the Dilly. Clearly there is little enough to say about this particular group of boys as such and consequently we get some really vague pseudo-sociological comment and real cop-outs like this: “The world of the boys to a large extent revolves around sex where human nature and human desires are seen in all their varied manifestations, the grotesque, the sadistic, the masochistic and, some venture to say, the sublime’.
I mean, really!
This is just romantic guff. Some thirteen years ago Simon Raven published an essay The Male Prostitute In London in Encounter. Harris’s worried, worthy tone is, of course, a stranger to Raven who accepts and smiles knowingly over his brandy. But in that comparatively brief essay, Raven packs in exactly the same information and, indeed, the same conclusions. And the entertainment value is, naturally, much greater. Consider Harris on the clients, offering us mysterious and vague information about men with one leg and someone with a fetish for hair. Consider Raven on clients: “…the clients wear one face only, a face which can never change. For it is the face of a currency note, always as beautiful, however faded and wrinkled, as when dew-fresh from the Mint.” Harris knows this and says it in many strangulated ways.
But if he is seriously going to describe the motivation of the man who seeks a male whore then he has got to do much better than his few random quick sketches.
Actually, as one reaches the end of the book one begins to wonder whether Mr Harris has been writing about male prostitutes at all. “It is my contention that the values of the Dilly boys are an extension of the values inherent in the larger society, only carried to a further extreme. The boys want a greater share of the goods produced by society but are corrupted by their situation.”
So what has happened really is that we have been reading about a few young lads, all of whom seem to have left homes in Scotland or the industrial midlands, found themselves rootless and homeless in central London and have tumbled to an unorthodox way of earning some money. Which is maybe why Mr Harris is vague on the two basic subjects – prostitution and homosexuality. He never seems to be regarding his boys as male prostitutes at all, but as a small (very small) section of a certain class of youngsters. This seems to me to be issue-evading.
On the question of the homosexuality of both boys and clients, Mr Harris is always ambiguous. He makes a major point of what he calls the code of conduct which consists of doing, and not doing, certain sexual things: it seems that cock-sucking is all right, but that anal intercourse is all wrong. This code is a self-protective device to enable the boys (and sometimes the clients) to assure themselves that they are not really gay at all. We hear, for example, of a newcomer to the game who allowed himself to be fucked several times before his peers informed him that this wasn’t done.
Yet we are never actually told what does go on in the hotel bedrooms, smart flats and dingy rooms that the pairs hive off to, And one wonders if, in fact, Mr Harris himself has not accepted the code too much at face value. With such a paucity of evidence on the subject it is impossible to establish the facts of the matter. And this book should do precisely that, not leave one wondering.
We also learn nothing about the physical self-perception of the boys. This too is important (if one is writing about male prostitutes, that is). How clean they are; are special efforts made to present themselves as fresh and attractive; how much of their earnings do they spend on clothes/cosmetics (ie talc, aftershave, shampoo etc); what about crabs and VD? If in fact these are low priorities (we are told that when the boys do score it is almost compulsive that they spend their cash quickly and Mr Harris only hints at beer, coffee and pin tables) then it kind of devalues some of his other suggestions that part of the appeal of the boys is their fresh youth.
“The excessive premium most homosexuals tend to place on youthfulness enhances the I attraction of the boys for the customers who come from all strata and classes in society”. Now there is a deal of truth in this, but also a deal of misapprehension. I don’t think I would agree that most homosexuals place an excessive premium on youthfulness. And though I know that an unlovely, middle-aged woman might well be a successful prostitute and an unlovely middle-aged can’t be, it remains true that hets about town do gravitate towards those cat houses where the girls are young and lovely. And if, as I feel, the boys are undernourished, scruffy and dirty, then the remark about youthfulness seems irrelevant. Mr Harris seems to have just about the usual tolerant/understanding type views of gayness, but again, the above statement implies that the clients are all homosexual. I think this is a dubious assumption. There are many possible reasons why a man who perceives himself (and who Mr Harris perceives) as conventionally straight might buy a boy. (I am aware that since the contact is that of two males then in actual terms it is a homosexual one). And I would suggest that bi-sexuality is one of them; also the feeling that infidelity on a fleeting level with a bought boy is less dangerous to the psyche than direct infidelity with a woman.
If one is looking for well-researched facts, one isn’t going to find ammunition here. I was continually reminded of Laud Humphrey’s Tearoom Trade. Bearing in mind that Humphrey’s methods were possibly ethically suspect, he nevertheless faced his subjects fearlessly and drew some conclusions that were very useful indeed, especially relating to the meaning, and the incidence, of casual male sexual contact among men not regarded as homosexual.
The implications of male prostitution itself are hardly dealt with here – that is the deeply anti-social concept that a man should sell his sex which is conventionally the exclusive priority of the female. Consideration of this would be far more useful than trite remarks about people wanting more than their fair share of the world’s goods.
That hustlers are street people essentially is another interesting aspect, implied but never thought out. This book does accept this idea and there are passages that indicate clearly the sort of bonding between people who live on their wits and in the streets. But one feels this is accidental.
Here and there some useful points are made. That the laws now relating to homosexuality confuse everyone, for example. And that – as opposed to the case of the female prostitute – in the case of male prostitution it is the client that would be charged, not the hustler. It is also made clear that though boys are occasionally busted it is never for soliciting, but for other reasons – drugs perhaps, or petty crime. And Harris also makes a firm statement about corruption when he writes: “Boys are not coerced or compelled to submit to the advances of an adult. There is great doubt whether there is such a thing as corrupting a minor, and most of the boys who are sought, themselves seek.”
This may be the sort of thing some of us would like to hear, but like everything else in the book, it must be taken cautiously. No doubt that once on the game, this is true. But earlier Mr Harris does demonstrate how easy it is to get on the game and indeed how some boys do so almost accidentally (that is, accepting offers of hospitality from strange men without realising the implications). If this experience leads to an awareness of an easy way to make a living, then that could be argued as a sort of compulsion.
Writing in The Times last month, a woman police sergeant of the Juveniles Squad which operates in Soho, had this to say:
“If they are young lads (ie absconders, missing children) men will start speaking to them, take them back to their homes and be nice to them. These boys are usually naive, and often accept. The man demands something more of them. Eventually, they put these lads on the streets as male prostitutes, and they give the men part of their earnings. Their ages range from 14 upwards. Many of these boys end up as permanent homosexuals…”
The WPS must know what she’s talking about, but her evidence has no support in Mervyn’Harris’s book; in fact he makes a point that the boys insist on their independence, and freedom of operations. (One might also wonder, in passing, how a young woman of 24 can be so definite in her statement that many boys end up as “permanent homosexuals”.) In his final chapter, Harris gives pretty strong indications that the boys, when they have left the Dilly “come to some sort of terms with the world as they grow into adulthood and drift back into the straightworld.” Simon Raven drew a similar conclusion in his view of the street hustler.
The book is easy to read and occasionally entertaining; but it never arouses anger, pity or fear. And its information will only be new to those who never realised that male prostitution existed in the first place. No index; books mentioned in the text but no bibliography.
The Fourth Angel is the latest novel by John Rechy, who rose to stardom in gay cultural circles with his first book, City Of Night.
The latter, although weak on literary style, proved itself to be a masterpiece of its kind, as well as a valid study of one of society’s phenomena. City Of Night was concerned with the life and times of a male prostitute in the United States, and the emptiness and despairing dilemma of the central character is graphically described in a way that has never before been so direct and realistic. It is an important book, that deserves to be read by all gays.
Since the publication of that book, Rechy has produced four other novels, the most significant being This Day’s Death, with the most recent being this newly published work.
This time the plot evolves around four teenagers, three boys and a girl, all of whom are aged sixteen. Drug taking is an integral part of the story, and a reader’s response very much depends on his/her individual reaction to ‘pot’ and other ‘dope’. The four kids are bored and disillusioned, and are all very much casualties of modern urban civilisation. One of them, Jerry, the ‘fourth angel’, is still very much affected by the recent death of his mother. The ‘mother fixation’ is a recurring theme in most of Rechy’s work, it usually being an important factor in the story. Those familiar with his other novels will no doubt have drawn their own conclusions as to why this is.
As is also usual in Rechy’s writings, homosexuals have a prominent role to play in the story, although the anal rape scene in this book cannot be described as being primarily gay. But the way in which gayness is treated is relevant to the misguided way societies generally react towards the subject.
The Fourth Angel is a short book, consisting of only 158 pages, but it succeeds in making its point on most of the levels it tries to encompass. A disturbing, slightly despairing tale but honest in its approach, leaving the reader in no doubt that while Rechy does not place blame on anyone or anything, it is clear that, in his opinion American society has much to answer for.
The Taxi is the last book by Violette Leduc, the author of La Batarde and Ravages. It was written shortly before she died from an illness which spoilt the last few years of her life. It was sad that her constant bad health began so soon after she had finally been internationally-acclaimed as an important writer.
Violette was one of the most eccentric and fascinating ladies Paris has ever known. All her life she was an adventuress – a sort of outlaw – long before it became fashionable to be so. She always described herself as a “bastard”. Her lesbianism, which I would rather call her homosexual-orientated lifestyle, was always less than a secret, and her mini-skirts and wigs were forever shocking the ‘good taste’ of Parisian society. She was born in 1908, but always adopted the fashion and looks of teenage girls.
To me it seems that she put all of this into her last work, which is also one of the most wonderful fantasies one could have dreamed of. Unfortunately, no mere review can do justice to her extraordinary imagination. The story is simply told by means of the dialogue between an adolescent sister and brother who decide to spend a day making love to each other in the back of a luxuriously fitted out taxi. They have been able to realise this forbidden dream by stealing a jewel from the aunt they both hate and despise, and then by paying people to initiate them into the arts of love-making.
First they meet a gorgeous whore, Mademoiselle Cytiese, a lady from Pigalle, who teaches the brother. She then introduces the adolescents to a pederast, Dane, who gives lessons to the sister.
The tale begins when they are at last in the taxi, racing across and around Paris, protected from the driver’s eyes by an orange curtain. They make love, eat pâté, drink champagne and talk.
They talk about what they are doing to each other, what they learnt from their strange teachers, and how they were led to this peculiar situation by some kind of irresistible fate. The most enjoyable aspect about The Taxi is that as well as being a long erotic and fantasising poem, it also succeeeds in involving the reader in depths of feeling and passion that are at times almost frightening. It is important to add that the translation from the French by Helen Weaver is excellent, as it accurately matches Leduc’s unique style.
The Taxi will be performed as a play on the Paris stage soon and I look forward to seeing it staged in London in the near future. Through this kind of interpretation, it will not be so much literature, but a more sensual experience that all can indulge their fantasies in. Art is life, and life, when mirrored in Violette Leduc’s The Taxi, is one long, liberating orgasm.
Dr Spock is one of those “slightly disgraceful” but respected “liberals” who use the established forms of communication to condemn established forms of thought, in favour of new established forms of thought. He’s the father of the worst form of mind control — the advice manual, the horrific idea of which is that we need some pillar of soporific liberality to instruct and shape our attitudes, that we are too conditioned into apathy to reason out our own behaviour patterns, or act instinctively.
His book for teenagers contains little that I would imagine they don’t know already, or would want to know, or would do anything to allay fears of that burning sensation which is adolescence. Despite the extended sections on sexual matters, there is scarcely even a passing reference to bisexuality, so often a significant part of our lives. Homosexuality is dispensed with in three brief pages, and classified as either of two conditions, that of a person who takes on the character of a person of the opposite sex, or “appears normal” but desires persons of the same sex. “Men and boys who are effeminate feel like women.” How elucidating for a worried fifteen year old, who not only has to contend with television comedians and parents, but with this repressive bible too.
According to Granada Publishing the original Spock book “Child and Baby Care” sold 23 million copies in the USA alone, and they suppose “that all the parents who read it and all of their children, will want to read this one.” One therefore supposes that Dr Spock’s ideas on homosexuality or anything else, will be for the next few years, one of the major influences on the attitudes of the American public.
Myths about homosexuality are really just the starting point for one long faiiy tale of life. The entire book is full of startling misconceptions and a blatant avoidance of fundamental adolescent feelings, such as the complete disbelief and disagreement of a system which prescribes school, university, job, formalised marriage, and sees marijuana as something which changes “aspects of the personality”, possibly for the worse.
Those of you who have followed the apparently endless priapic saga of the ‘Flaconhurst’ series of novels, written by Horner and his collaborator Kyle Onstott, licked parched lips over that splendid epic of fellatio ‘Child Of The Sun’, wriggled to ‘Santiago Blood’ and ‘The Tattooed Rood’, will not be disappointed by ‘The Mahound’.
If anything the pricks get bigger, the fucking more frequent and more frantic, and the hero and his friend finally capitulate to the erotic pressures of Africa and get their ends (both ends) away with gentlemen! Needless to say Rory Mahound, the staggeringly well-hung Scottish stud of the title is under the influence of a powerful aphrodisiac at the time. But it’s the first time this reader can remember one of Horner/Onstott’s heroes actually enjoying a little bi-sexuality. Who knows where this permissiveness will lead to next!
This is the eleventh in the series of novels written by this phallically obsessed pair, and one of the best. If you’ve got to read trashy erotica, and don’t we all, then you won’t find better than this at W H Smiths. On second thoughts, buy it somewhere else.
Robert Coover’s stories make rather gloomy reading on the whole. A man makes love to his wife, discovers that she’s been dead for three weeks, and has his genitals smashed to a pulp by a disgusted cop etc, etc. In fact savage attacks and mutilations of one limb or another crop up with almost monotonous regularity.
However there are two stories of true brilliant black humour which will probably appear many times in future horror anthologies.
‘The Hat Act’ takes a magician’s stage show to its horrid, illogical conclusion, while ‘The Baby Sitter’ twines the erotic daydreams of six different people and weaves them into a farcical nightmare that ingeniously arrives at a conclusion that has to be read to be believed. I won’t spoil it for you.
‘Edna The Inebriate Woman’ was shown on television some months ago. It was received with enthusiasm, but nothing like the critical acclaim of his earlier work ‘Cathy Come Home’. The reasons are clear – a homeless family has a more immediate appeal than a meths drinking dosser. And yet this book, the background research Sandford used for ‘Edna’, is an even more horrifying indictment of a Welfare State who can spend billions of pounds on destructive weapons and research, and yet has still failed to come to grips with the problems of thousands of sad, wasted people who have somehow lost control of their lives.
Sandford demonstrates with chilling effect how our legal system, law, police, and welfare authorities can turn the inadequate eccentric into a criminal or madman, and that ‘our society is becoming harder and harder for people to live in, and that those who are unable to cope are often not so much helped as given a kick in the crutch.’ Remember that by conservative estimate, 2,000 people will be sleeping rough tonight, in London alone.
For those who care or want to help, there is a list of organisations included who need all kinds of assistance in their endless therapeutic help to the homeless, the addicted, the unfortunates of this world.
The last few years in the publishing world has seen a massive rash of biographies of famous film stars, most of which have been written solely as commercial efforts, and not because the author has any specific feeling or interest for the subject, rather like many of their films have been created, in fact. Sad in this case, because Mitchum is for me one of the genuinely fascinating Hollywood figures, and “It sure beats working” is yet another savage let-down. It’s written in the journalistic style of a local paper, and with its massive quotes from earlier Mitchum interviews and articles, gives the impression that it was written entirely without his personal collaboration.
None of this would matter very much if the author showed any signs of affection or sympathy for his character; but he doesn’t. Everything of interest in Mitchum’s life and everything else is skated over superficially and unfeelingly, from his teens when he lived for a long period as a hobo, we are given no ideas of his motives for living like this, through the early Hollywood bit-part days, through to the big star years.
As the book progresses, instead of becoming a deep character study of a fascinating man, it becomes more and more like a potted history of say a nineteenth century politician, a date and time diary of cardboard figures. The chaper on his arrest for smoking marijuana in 1948 for example, is solely an account of Mitchum’s arrest by one of the policemen responsible, and a rather clipped, non-committal passage on the controversy the event caused in Hollywood, and the difficulties in urging the public not to make pre-judgements on the matter. One has the feeling that Mitchum’s genuine feelings and ideas here have been restrained, for fear of offending his image, or the book’s vast sales potential.
I don’t think I’m being unfair, because even within the very narrow verbal confines of a commercially sponsored American TV chat show, I’ve seen the emergence of a very much more deeply thoughtful man.
This collection of ten short stories were written by Roald Dahl after he had been transferred from active service in the RAF to the post of Assistant Air Attache in Washington in 1942. They originally appeared in a number of American magazines and later as a book, under the collective title of Over To You. This is the first time that they have been available in one edition in this country.
Dahl is probably best known for his two volumes of short stories that were published in the fifties, Someone Like You and Kiss Kiss. The central theme of these was a macabre one, with a controlled hysteria growing throughout them, till they eventually shocked the reader into the reality of the horrific conclusions. The spine-chilling effects they generally had, brought him much international acclaim. Since then he has written a number of children’s books.
I expected Over To You to consist of the type of tales I usually associate with Dahl, and was initially disappointed when I discovered that the book was subtitled ‘Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying’. But once I started reading them, I soon found that each was a form of nightmare, containing the twists and dark irony that make his other stories so surprising and readable.
Dahl’s successful style stems from his ability to draw the reader into the situations he is relating, making everything seem very real and plausible. This leaves one unprepared for the shocking revelations to come. His attention to detail and a fine use of dialogue also contributes to never allowing the stories to appear at all fantastic, despite the fact that they very often are. And as I said earlier it is only when one reaches the end that the reader realises how incredible the sequence of events has been.
The stories are all short and even a brief description of them may possibly spoil the enjoyment and iced thrills readers may derive from them. Suffice to say they are ideal for those who like their prose to be a little different.
I believe I am right in suggesting that this is the first book on homosexuality to be published in this country that is the work of an insider. Our bibliographies have tended to begin with Bryan Mageee and D.J. West who. inevitably, took the view of outsiders not so much looking in (such empathy is beyond them) but rather, subjecting homosexuality and the homosexual to the sort of detached examination that reinforces divisions whereby the homosexual is seen as abnormal. There are other books, essays, papers. But always written from a standpoint that sets the homosexual against the writer’s accepted values which, when not psychiatric, tend to be the product of a male-dominated, heterosexual-emphasised culture.
So the first thing to enjoy (and I do mean enjoy: it strikes me as a very joyful book) is Altman’s tone. His natural acceptance of himself and of all gay people is refreshing. This sense of liberation informs all he has to say: for him the homosexual needs no justification, no excuse and of course, no special pleading – that besetting sin of most British writers, straight and gay, on the subject.
So to say that Altman has written a book “on homosexuality” is inexact. In the course of it he examines theories of causation and related attitudes, but this is a part only of a much larger intention which is to define the new self-awareness of homosexuals and to discuss its implications both for gays themselves and for society as a whole. His own experience has been predominantly in America so it is in that context he writes: but it is clear that the pressures on gay people and the resultant secretive, straight-gay scene there is not so very different from that here. It does seem though, that the gay liberation movements in America are far more together, and far more potent (both internally and externally) than those in this country.
Dennis Altman is 27; he graduated from the University of Tasmania, became a lecturer at New York University and is now a lecturer on American politics at the University of Sydney. “Bring an academic and a movement together and one produces a book”, he comments in the introduction.
Academic disciplines are apparent in every paragraph; not merely in the tremendous range of Altman’s reading (there is a most useful bibliography), but in his ability to extrapolate and bring together information and facts from disparate sources, and in his general cool which results in a rational, firm, but never overstated approach. And the bleaker side of academic writing is missing; the dryness, the dullness, the arrogance, the lack of humour. If nothing else (and its a lot else) this book is always an entertaining, enticing read.
I think this is because a lot of experiential autobiography is present. Altman seems continually to be testing his information against himself and his own experience. This means no dogmatic statements and a touching honesty when he comes up against something he hasn’t quite got himself tv gether on. Were the book an attempt to make a massive, final statement this would be a weakness. As it is, it’s a strength. Dennis Altman doesn’t quite know yet how to relate to transvestites and transsexuals; so instead of blundering along he draws on statements from STAR and Red Butterfly and adds his own tentative ideas. This has the important effect of throwing the issue back at the reader, thus making him work too.
It is not my intention here to placate the lazy by digesting Dennis Altman’s thesis and trying to encapsulate his ideas. For this is a book which must be read by everybody. And I hope it will not be read only by those who have already talked, thought and absorbed a lot on the subject of homosexual liberation. Because to them quite a lot of the book, especially the opening phases, is going to come like old news. Altman’s analysis of oppression and detail of the schizophrenic life-style foisted on gays has been made before. What is new, and good news, is that here it is followed to its ultimate conclusion and stated in full without the aggression of a manifesto.
I was looking for something to quote. I have pencilled some fifty-five passages. Here’s one:
The essence of gay liberation is that it enables us to come out… Those who are touched by the new affirmation discover a new perception of how they have been oppressed by society and social norms, and out of this realisation comes both peace with oneself and anger at the victimisation that we and others have suffered… For the homosexual, the new affirmation involves breaking away from the gay world as it has traditionally existed and transforming the pseudo-community of secrecy and sexual objectification into a genuine community of sister/brotherhood…”
Which comes from the conclusion in which Altman posits the end of the homosexual. In essence I think it sums up the tone, the attitude and the message of this excellent piece of work.