The Sexual Outlaw: A Documentary by John Rechy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Rechy seems to me to be unappreciated in our time, perhaps because of his frank use of sex. He has some good ideas in this book but I don’t know that they were all fully explored or that they necessarily stand up over time.
The book is a valuable piece of history, one that I think will stand up for generations, showing the pursuit of sex and interaction with police over a period in the seventies. There’s always been the idea, are gay men so promiscuous because they’re men, because they’re gay, because they’re oppressed, why? This book attempts to answer some of those questions and I think it would be interesting to take these ideas and re-work them against modern concepts. For example I think with liberation a lot of anonymous cruising areas have disappeared. Or have they just moved to the internet?
There are several incidents described which almost defy belief in our time:
A youngman cruising: “The judge threatens to hold you incommunicado for three months—for ‘psychiatric examination,’ insisting that all homosexuals are insane.”
“A man is cruising. Two men drive by and call him a ‘fucking queer.’ Through their window, you swing at one angrily. They turn out to be vice cops, and you’re charged with assaulting an officer.”
The piece on the slave auction in particular stands out.
The last twenty percent of the book delves into S & M, or what Rechy would I think call then the problem of S & M. With the recent release of the Fifty Shades of Grey trailer, you can’t call S & M exclusively for self-hating gays looking to act out the experiences of their tormentors. I will acknowledge that there is some of that, I think all oppressed people take on characteristics of their oppressors. But Rechy is not always reasoned in his arguments:
“I heard, increasingly, intellectualized defenses of Manson, even of Hitler. From there the defense of S & M is easy.”
Comparing things to Hitler is a guaranteed way to bring the conversation to a stop.
On Fisting: “this activity has already resulted in death and permanent crippling.”
Let’s check this with Google. I had never heard this idea before that people who want to be fisted are really looking for ways to die. Silly. Especially when Rechy himself uses this at the end of his book The Coming of the Night, published in 1999, so perhaps his attitude has evolved. I checked Google, I don’t see evidence of fisting making someone crippled, there are a very few cases documented of people dying, but it doesn’t seem to be any different from other large items that could be inserted.
He is more reasoned in his depiction of a specific S & M scene:
“In effect, the ‘S’ says, ‘You are the queer now, not me, and I’ll punish you for it, just as I was punished for it—and I’ll call you the names others would call me, and have called me.”
But I don’t think you can generalize it like that. I think in our society there is still an element of punishment and self-abuse for wanting sex period, not just gay sex. Also I think there’s a larger element of self-hating gays that Rechy touches on with older gay men and transsexuals being excluded from the community that I think goes deeper to the root of the problem that the S & M theory does and could have been explored more.
The main value of the book is the time being described. A time when you would call the police for help after being attacked and:
“A cold voice accuses from the telephone: ‘What were you doing in a queer park at midnight?’”
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