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By exploring a particular problem in the history of gender, sexuality, and homosexuality in early twentieth-century American culture, I hope to demonstrate how radically different the understandings of sex, gender, and sexuality — and even Woman seeking casual sex Chauncey conceptual boundaries among them — were only three generations ago in American culture, and thus to argue for the importance of historicizing these. Not, I should add, between prostitutes and lesbians, which others have explored. Although this linkage was common in the United States, as I will show, its best known manifestations were British.

In Parliament passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which criminalized and implicitly linked both female prostitution and "acts of gross indecency" between males, and seventy years later, init established a single body, the Wolfenden Commission, to study both "homosexual offenses and prostitution. Moreover, reformers drew on the same panoply of sometimes contradictory theories to explain each form of behavior. Each was attributed variously to urbanization and the attendant loss of family-based social controlmale sexual aggression, the inequities of capitalist development, personal failure, or organic degeneration of the moral sensibility.

They also attributed both phenomena to immigration. If the British blamed homosexuality on the French, and the French blamed it on the Italians, Americans in this era blamed it rather more indiscriminately on European immigration as a whole, which many feared had introducted foreign immorality to American shores. Thus this paper focuses more on the dynamics of the working-class street culture in which most homosexually-active men participated than on the discursive practices of the reformers, although it concludes by returning to the latter.

Reformers found that female prostitutes, working men, and the men they usually called "fairies" gathered in the same places in saloons and cabarets, subway stations and dance halls, certain streets and parksand that the prostitutes and fairies had developed similar tactics for evading surveillance, such as their use of their eyes to al interest, and of coded phrases to confirm it.

As one well-informed observer remarked in"a whole jargon unknown to many sexologists" was centered around the fairies, and "our streets and beaches are overrun by [them] An investigator who visited the place several times in while in search of female prostitutes noted that he had "heard of it constantly" and that it made no attempt to disguise its "well-known" character as a "resort for male prostitutes.

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These men I have had these propositions made to me, and made repeatedly. One well-informed investigator claimed in that there were at least six such "resorts" by which he meant saloons or dance halls on the Bowery alone, including one located directly across the street from Paresis. Five years later, just before a crackdown closed most of the most infamous resorts, the Jumbo and several other halls on the Bowery still functioned as "notorious degenerate resorts," according to the men who organized the crackdown, while the "chief attraction" of several places on Bleecker and Cornelia Streets was said to be "perversion.

Indeed, as my book Gay New York shows, the Bowery resorts were only the most famous element of an extensive, organized, and remarkably visible gay subculture, with its own institutions, argot, cultural norms and traditions, and geographical enclaves.

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To the worried anti-vice investigators who reported on Paresis Hall, it represented the most egregious manifestation of urban disorder and degene ration. But to the men who gathered there, it was one of the key institutions sustaining their efforts to forge their own alternative social order. The men at Paresis Hall were not considered degenerate simply or even primarily on the basis of their sexual encounters with other men, what we would now call their homosexuality. And the socalled "normal" men at the Bowery were not considered "normal" because they avoided such sexual contacts, for they responded to — or even invited — the fairies' solicitations without being called fairies themselves.

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Homosexual activity was an insufficient basis for identifying a man as a fairy, that is, and exclusive heterosexuality was neither sufficient — nor a precondition — for a man's identification as "normal. Understanding the highly visible subculture of the "fairies" will help us understand that relationship, as well as the sexual culture of the urban working class which tolerated their presence and in which their own identities were forged. Thus I begin with an analysis of their social world and cultural status, of the strategies of self-representation they developed to negotiate their relations with other men in the streets and saloons of working-class New York.

But they had also transformed such resorts into a haven.

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Other sources indicate that at Paresis Hall, for instance, a group of men had organized a social club, the Cercle Hermaphroditis, which rented private rooms where members could gather by themselves and store their personal effects. Their appropriation of the resources available at Paresis Hall was emblematic of the way in which gay men appropriated and transformed the cultural practices and institutions of their natal cultures as they forged their own.

If some of the Bowery saloons became major centers of gay social life, such saloons were, after all, almost as central to the social lives of many other immigrant, working-class men. Gay men gathered on the same street corners and in the same saloons and dancehalls as their "normal" counterparts did, organized the same sort of social clubs that were popular among other immigrant youth, and sometimes, like the others, rented saloons or dance halls for parties or theatrical events.

They also created cultural institutions and rituals that sustained and enhanced their communal ties and group identity, much as the ethnic theater and dances of their natal communities did.

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In the s the clubs sometimes rented Walhalla Hall, which, ificantly, was the single best known dance hall on New York's lower east side and was also regularly hired by other immigrant youth clubs and ethnic societies for their own dances. By the s gay groups were organizing drags on an almost weekly basis in small clubs and dance halls, and by the end of the decade they were organizing seven or eight enormous drags each year in some of the city's most distinguished ballrooms and hotels, including Rockland Palace in Harlem and Madison Square Garden in midtown.

The largest of these events attracted thousands of dancers and spectators, including numerous celebrities and representatives of respectable society as well as the notice of the tabloid press. More ificant to my argument today, the very prominence of the fairy subculture helped shape the terms by which homosexual relations were understood.

Part of the spectacle of the Bowery resorts, which were subject to searching examination by the metropolitan press and to crackdowns by the police throughout the s and s, showcased at the massive drag balls held in the s, 20s, and 30s, and highly visible in the streets of the city's working-class and amusement districts throughout this period, the effeminate "fairy" provided the predominant image of the "invert" in the public mind and stood at the center of the cultural system by which male sexual relations were interpreted. The fairy constituted the primary pejorative category in opposition to which male sexual "normality" was defined, and thus both influenced the culture and self-understanding of all sexually-active men and offers a key to the cultural archaeology of homosexual practices and mentalities in that era.

They were thus often called "inverts" who had "inverted" their gender rather than "homosexuals" in technical language. In the dominant turn-of-the-century cultural system governing the interpretation of homosexual behavior, especially in working-class culture, one had a gender identity rather than a sexual identity, or even a "sexuality;" one's sexual behavior was thought to be necessarily determined by one's gender identity. Or, to put it in other words, since both the English and French languages are notoriously ambiguous here, one had an identity based on one's "sex" rather than one's "sexuality," which was not regarded as a distinct domain of personhood but as a pattern of practices and desires that followed inevitably from one's manhood or womanhood.

Sexual desire for men was held to be inescapably a woman's desire, and the "inverts'" desire for men was thus not seen as an indication of their "homosexuality" but as simply one more manifestation of their fundamentally woman-like cha racter.

The fundamental division of male sexual actors in turn-of-the century working-class thought was not between "heterosexual" and "homosexual" men, but between conventionally masculine males, who were regarded as "men," and "effeminate" males, known as "fairies" or "pansies," who were regarded as virtual "women," or, more precisely, as a kind of third sex, intermediate between men and women. Taking on the role of the fairy, that is, allowed men to reject the kind of masculinity ascribed to them by the dominant culture, but to do so without rejecting the basic tenets of their culture concerning the gender order.

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Many homosexually-interested men rejected the role of the fairy as inauthentic or too dangerous to their status as "men," but many others embraced it because it embodied a way of understanding how they, as "men," could have the feelings their culture ascribed exclusively to "women.

Although "fairies" were known as "female impersonators," transvestism was not central to their self-representation. Nonetheless, certain clothes were associated with fairies, and in the right context a man could al his identity by appropriating even a single "feminine" — or unconventional — style or article of clothing, such as a colorful scarf, a green suit, swede shoes, or, most famously in the s and 20s, a red tie. Some such cues would be recognized only by other gay men; others would be understood by everyone in the streets.

Perhaps most commonly, and dramatically, men used unusual styles in personal grooming to al their sexual character. As one man noted in"Plucked eyebrows, rouged lips, powdered face, and marcelled, blondined hair" were the essential attributes of the "fairy" Potter, As one government investigator explained in the late s, after being asked how he identified homosexuals when he investigated bars suspected of serving them, "the most striking feature [of homosexuals] would be the fact that although they represent and are dressed as one sex they act and impersonate the opposite sex A limp wrist or an exagerated swivel-hipped, mincing walk — known as "swishing" in the gay world — was regularly caricatured on the vaudeville stage and occasionally seen on the street as a ifier of the "true" fairy, but more subtle stances were also read as gender specific.

As a gay sailor explained, when pressed in to explain how he identified another man as "queer": "He acted sort of peculiar; walking around with his hands on his hips The expression with the eyes and the gestures If a man was walking around and did not act real masculine, I would think [he was queer]" Chauncey, They were "stereotypes," to be sure, but the stereotypical — or conventional — association of such ifiers with "fairies" reveals much about the cultural construction and representation of gender in this period.

The fact that men were identified as Woman seeking casual sex Chauncey on the basis of such minimal deviations from the conventions of masculine demeanor and dress indicates the narrow range of deviation from normative gender styles allowed most men, and suggests the extraordinary sensitivity of men to subtle markers of gender status, thus highlighting the pervasive character of gender surveillance in working class street culture.

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It also confirms what I've already suggested about the articulation of the boundaries of gender and sexuality in the era, for it indicates that an inversion of any one aspect — or at least selected aspects — of one's prescribed gender persona was pd to be symptomatic of a much more comprehensive inversion, which inevitably would manifest itself in abnormal sexual object-choice as well. Many men switched the mannerisms on and off as easily as they changed from feminine to more masculine attire.

This enabled them to manipulate such conventions to avoid being labelled as queer, since by wearing conventional masculine attire and carrying themselves with a "masculine" demeanor most men could pass as straight in hostile settings, even if they chose to camp it up when in a secure gay environment. As a man who moved to New York from Michigan in the s recalled, "back in the early twenties, people had to be quite effeminate to be identified, at least that was true in my case. Another gay man gave the same point a somewhat different emphasis when he commented in the s that the men he knew "talk and act like women, have feminine ways, It was a way to publicly declare a queer identity and to negotiate their relationships with other men.

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The fairies' effeminacy helped them attract men not only by alling their interest but also by establishing the cultural script that would govern their interactions and reaffirm the cultural distance between them and the "men" they sought. By taking on the role of women and making their violation of gender conventions consistent — by insisting, for instance, that men refer to them with women's names and pronouns — they reaffirmed those conventions in a way that allowed "men' to interact with them as if they were women, even though all parties: understood that anatomically they were males.

Van Wagner and myself for Saturday night. He was so obviously a "third sexer," a different species of human being, that his very effeminacy served to confirm rather than threaten the masculinity of other men, particularly since it often exaggerated the conventions of gender difference and deference between men and women. The fairies reaffirmed the conventions of gender even as they violated them: they behaved as no man should, but as any man might wish a woman would.

Their representation of themselves as "intermediate types" made it easier for "men" to interact with them and even have sex with them by making it clear who would play the so-called "man's part" in the relationship. Indeed, it took enormous bravery for men to carry themselves as fairies, and many men did so only in neighborhoods distant from their homes, where they constructed different, more "normal" identities.

Mockery and contempt often colored the public interactions between fairies and other men in the working-class districts, even though gay men themselves sometimes contested the conventions of such ridicule. Moreover, the threat of more violent assaults was an abiding one, although in this the fairies' fate was little different from that of "other" women whom men considered sexually "available. Fairies, like women who crossed certain lines — even such narrow ones as daring to walk down certain streets alone, without male guardianship — were considered fair game as targets of sexual violence by many gangs of youths, as the memoirs and recollections of gay men from this era make clear.

Although I have argued that fairies were considered woman-like in their behavior and self-presentation, that is really too imprecise a term. No single norm governing "feminine" or "masculine" behavior existed in the early twentieth century; such normative gender injunctions varied along class lines and among immigrant groups.

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This returns us to our original question, for in crucial respects the fairies' style was comparable not so much to that of some ideal category of "woman" as to that of a particular sub-group of women or street cultural "type": namely, prostitutes and other so-called "tough girls.

That gay men themselves shared this identification s, in part, for the popularity of "strong" or "tough" women, such as Mae West, as gay icons and drag personas: they were regarded as women who disdained convention, were determinedly and overtly sexual in character, and did what they needed to get what they wanted. Moreover, both fairies and prostitutes congregated in many of the same locales and used some of the same techniques to attract attention; indeed, the fairy's most obvious attribute — his "painted" face — was the quintessential marker of the prostitute.

And while fairies, like prostitutes, played the so-called "woman's part" in sexual relations with men, both groups were identified as engaging in certain forms of sexual behavior, particularly oral sex, which many working-class and middleclass women alike rejected as unbecoming to a woman, "dirty," and "perverted. As a result, many men seem to have regarded fairies in the same terms they regarded prostitutes, and this conflation may have made it easier for them to distance themselves from the fairies — and to use them for sexual purposes in the same way they used female prostitutes.

Thus a Mr. Farley, owner of a newsstand in the basement of the Times Square Building at Forty-second Street and Broadway, complained to a visitor in that "whenever the fleet comes into town, every sailor who wants his d[ick] licked comes to the Times Square Building.

It seems to be common knowledge among the sailors that the Times Square Building is the place to go if they want to meet any fairies. In no way, however, did he indicate that he thought the sailors looking for sex with the fairies were themselves fairies or otherwise different from most sailors. The visitor, a private investigator, himself observed "two sailors New York State Liquor Authority agents investigating a sailors' bar in Brooklyn in October,reported that, shortly after midnight, "several males who were apparently' fags' enter[ed] the premises in groups of twos and threes.

The investigators did not regard the marines who left with the fags as "fags" themselves, nor did they otherwise question the marines' status as men. Indeed, their final report recommended that the state close the bar precisely because it "permitt[ed] prostitutes to congregate with male customers On the contrary, they regarded the sailors' response to the solicitations of "fags" as no different in kind from their responses to those of female prostitutes.

By the s and twenties, it was increasingly common or both gay-and straight-identified men to sell sexual services to gay-identified men. But before then the predominant form of male prostitution seems to have involved "fairies" selling sex to men who, despite the declaration of desire Woman seeking casual sex Chauncey by their willingness to pay for the encounters, identified themselves as normal, though they were sometimes called "trade," the term originally used for the customers of female Woman seeking casual sex Chauncey.

Indeed, while the term "fairy" was widely used to denote a flamboyantly effeminate and homosexually-active man whose self-presentation resembled that of a prostitute, numerous references in the early twentieth century make it clear that the word w as sometimes used more precisely to denote men who actually worked as prostitutes selling sexual services to "normal" men. There were well-known resorts such as Paresis Hall where men and fairies openly interacted, as well as numerous saloons in the Italian Lower East Side where neighborhood men knew they could go to meet young fairy prostitutes.

Other fairy prostitutes plied their trade along the Bowery, Fourteenth Street, Forty second Street and other major thoroughfares, as well as in the city's major parks, where they used their hair, make-up, and demeanor and in some cases women's clothes to al their sexual character.

One "fairy," a female impersonator from a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn where he was known as "Loop-the-loop," reported to a doctor in that he often worked in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. His efforts at female impersonation would not have persuaded any of his clients that they were having sex with a woman, given the inartfulness of his costume and the heavy growth of hair on his legs and arms he complained of the hair himself, but added that "most of the boys don't mind it".

But his costume and demeanor — like that of the fairies at Paresis Hall — did ify to "the boys" that he was not a normal man, either, but rather a third sexer, with whom they could have sex without complicating their understanding of their own sexual character Shufeldt, While "fairies," "trade," and other "men" all engaged in what we would define as homosexual behavior, they and the people who observed them were careful to draw distinctions between different modes of such behavior: between "feminine" and "masculine" behavior, between "passive" and "active" roles, between desire for sex with a man and desire for sex.

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