Christopher Street, published from 1976 to 1995, modeled itself as the gay New Yorker, complete with cartoons meant to be urbanely witty. It was Very Important, Very Serious, Very Literary, and Very Intellectual, at least until its publisher, Charles Ortleb, gave its contents over to every HIV-denialist conspiracy that graced his inbox.
Sometime during its first year of publication, Christopher Street apparently published a rather nasty review of John Rechy’s The Sexual Outlaw. I say apparently because I don’t have a copy of that review, but I do have Rechy’s scathing response published in the June 1977 issue. Apparently, the reviewer found Rechy’s book, which documents three days and nights of a hustler, “prurient,” “garbage,” and “pornographic.” It was the “garbage” part that got Rechy riled up. He suggested that the reviewer hadn’t bothered to read the essays interspersed throughout the book documenting “a wide range of subjects relevant to homosexuality-brutality against homosexuals, arrests, entrapment, fag hags, S&M, cops, the Bible, a bathhouse and a park raid, Judy Garland, the gay sensibility, the myth of child molestation, ‘glittering bisexuality,’ and heterosexual hypocrisies, among other subjects.”
Which totally makes me want to read the book.
Anyway, as Rechy goes for the closer, I can’t help but feel that he suddenly turned into a prophet, crying in the wilderness with pinpoint accuracy:
Now I find a disconcerting political split in the gay world: On the right, we have what I have come to call the “new closetry.” On the left, we have the “new puritanism.” The former is the attitude, perpetuated by some gay periodicals, that to say that all is fine is to make everything be fine. As long as you learn how to set a correct table for a party of six, or even eight, well, then, things are splendid. Soon, “they” may even “allow” us to get married, and then, joy of joys, we can become just as straight, thank you, as bona fide straights!
\On the left, the new puritanism is, oh, so superior to sex. It takes every opportunity to state overtly or imply that gay freedom has little, if anything, to do with the sex act. That is ludicrous. Gay freedom has everything to do with sex. It is not for setting an incorrect table that they bust us daily.
Caught between the new closetry and the new puritanism, we are in danger of being pushed into that gray, ugly middle-class limbo. One should warn against that, against the imitation of straights, against our being absorbed into a relentlessly straight-oriented grayness. We are not being “accepted” that way. We are being erased, our specialness denied — and we are special, just as heterosexuals are special in their own way.
John Rechy. “Unfinished business.” Christopher Street 1, no. 12 (June 1977): 59-60.