scholarship: queer sex in the archives


via Notches:

As Stein showed in City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves, Drum advanced a vision gay culture defiantly at odds with prevailing homophile norms. Groups such as the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis had long advocated a respectability politics that privileged assimilation and normalcy, to counter the pernicious stereotypes about queer people disseminated by the government, psychiatry, and the mass media. Part of that framework entailed downplaying sex and sexuality for a buttoned-up professionalism. Polak countered that by celebrating sex, indeed breaking new ground when Drum began publishing full-frontal nudes in 1965. Showing nude men was something neither the homophile press nor physique magazines would venture to do at the time, for fear of both disrepute and obscenity charges (a well-founded concern, as witnessed by earlier charges against physique publishers Bob Mizer, Al Urban, and a slew of others). Polak’s embrace of “prurience” led to the expulsion of his Janus Society from ECHO, the East Coast Homophile Organizations, in 1965.

Stein’s agenda was not to retell this story, but rather to use it as a window into historiography. The importance of Drum, he argues, was self-evident: not only did it successfully pave the way for more graphic and erotic gay representations and clearly anticipate aspects of gay liberation culture, but it also had far more expansive circulation than any of the more canonical homophile periodicals, such as ONE, Mattachine Review, or The Ladder. Since canon-formation is precisely the outcome of the three factors in Stein’s subtitle, the question becomes, why the omission of Drum in the more familiar narrative of homophile politics—and, as a corollary, how does restoring it force a reconsideration of respectability politics?

Read the whole piece over at Notches.


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