Indecent Advances: The Hidden History of Murder and Masculinity Before Stonewall

Indecent Advances: The Hidden History of Murder and Masculinity Before Stonewall

A skillful hybrid of true crime and social history that examines how popular culture, the media, and the psychological profession portrayed crimes against gay men in the years leading up to the Stonewall Riots.In his skillful hybrid of true crime and cultural history, James Polchin provides an important look at how popular culture, the media, and the psychological professi...

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Title:Indecent Advances: The Hidden History of Murder and Masculinity Before Stonewall
Author:James Polchin
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Indecent Advances: The Hidden History of Murder and Masculinity Before Stonewall Reviews

  • Roy

    I am Amazed in Polchin's dedication to telling queer history and including the crimes aganist gay men in a time where LGBTQ rights did not exist to right before stonewall. A must read for those who love history and true crime.

  • Carley Moore

    A must read for lovers of American history, teachers, print scholars, and anyone who is queer or cares about queer people!

    Polchin uncovers a lost archive through a close-reading of newspaper accounts of violence against queer men in pre-Stonewall New York. The results are fascinating and disturbing.

    I love this book and think everyone should read it. It's going to win big prizes because honestly there is nothing like it. It's historical, but a page-turner and makes you care deeply (if you already

    A must read for lovers of American history, teachers, print scholars, and anyone who is queer or cares about queer people!

    Polchin uncovers a lost archive through a close-reading of newspaper accounts of violence against queer men in pre-Stonewall New York. The results are fascinating and disturbing.

    I love this book and think everyone should read it. It's going to win big prizes because honestly there is nothing like it. It's historical, but a page-turner and makes you care deeply (if you already didn't) about the lives of queer men who dared to love, cruise, and try to find community, when there was very little. Polchin weaves research from the era about sexuality and the made-up "homosexual panic," newspaper accounts that turned murder into lurid stories designed to sell copies, and well-known queer literary figures like James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams, and the often problematic Carl Van Vechten.

    Lastly, this is a perfect read for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. It helped me understand why so many queer people rose up at this moment. They were tired of being policed, killed, and having their stories taken from them in service of a homophobic narrative.

  • Bob Nadal

    A remarkable and disturbing look at the oppression of homosexuals from WWI through the 60s. James Polchin did an amazing job gathering together the psychiatry, journalism, entertainment and true crime stories from the era. He shows how they reinforced the rigid stereotypes, fears and hatred that continue through today.

  • Marta

    Before this book, I had not been too familiar with this part of US history, and it was interesting to read about through analysis of related news articles. The tone is meticulously researched, but that also means it feels academic - more like reading a textbook. A worthwhile read.

  • Mark

    An engrossing, well-researched look at true crime and prejudicial treatment of gay men in the decades leading up to Stonewall. I found this book incredibly interesting but also very disturbing. The term "indecent advances" was often used in earlier decades as a defense in court by murderers of gay men; justification for why they acted out and killed as they did (by saying the victim made "indecent" or "improper advances" on them). All too often, the perpetrator/killer thus got off with a lighter

    An engrossing, well-researched look at true crime and prejudicial treatment of gay men in the decades leading up to Stonewall. I found this book incredibly interesting but also very disturbing. The term "indecent advances" was often used in earlier decades as a defense in court by murderers of gay men; justification for why they acted out and killed as they did (by saying the victim made "indecent" or "improper advances" on them). All too often, the perpetrator/killer thus got off with a lighter sentence for their crime, as courts almost saw them doing society a bit of a service by getting rid of those whom they deemed "sexual perverts". There were all manner of sneaky, creative crimes and set-ups during these earlier decades to ensnare LGBTQ people. Did you know that, after WWI, there were actually "stings" where straight members from the Navy/service were sent out to flirt with, then trap gay men in the cities? I did not know about this... insane and troubling.

    Polchin also delves into psychological studies and views of the time, where researchers and psychoanalysts would look at photos of young men and point out specific feminine features which could suggest the male was highly prone to being gay, or acting out on homosexual tendencies. In today's light, these observations seem ludicrous, but nonetheless, these were widely held tenets.

    As a member of the LGBTQ community, this was a troubling read for me occasionally. I love reading about true crime, but this felt like it hit close to home at times. It is important we understand and are aware of this shocking history so we are not doomed to repeat it. Despite how much I got into this, it was a touch dry at times, which is why I can't quite bump it to 4 stars, but anyone interested in both true crime and LGBTQ history might find this read worthwhile. (I did round it to 4 stars for Good Reads, which does not allow 1/2 stars.)

  • AJ Burgin

    I really wanted to like this book, and I do, to a certain extent. The central claim is solid, but it feels like a journal article that got teased out into a full-length book. There’s a lot of repetition and some pretty shallow analysis that sometimes loses the through-line.

  • Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: This included some interesting information, but was dry and disjointed.

    This is a history of the way gay men were criminalized from the 1920s through the Stonewall Riots in 1968. It describes the many biases in the way crimes committed by or against gay men were portrayed in the media during this time frame. It also discusses how gay rights groups began to track and mobilize around these injustices.

    Unfortunately, I could tell within twenty pages that I wasn't particularly going to enjoy

    Summary: This included some interesting information, but was dry and disjointed.

    This is a history of the way gay men were criminalized from the 1920s through the Stonewall Riots in 1968. It describes the many biases in the way crimes committed by or against gay men were portrayed in the media during this time frame. It also discusses how gay rights groups began to track and mobilize around these injustices.

    Unfortunately, I could tell within twenty pages that I wasn't particularly going to enjoy this book. The content was interesting and the author did a good job of making me feel I had the sense of each decade he discussed. However, he did that through a combination of disjointed true crime stories and discussion of attitudes towards homosexuality in the media; the medical professions; and the public at large. Transitions between these sections were pretty rough. The way the true crime stories were told was also quite dry. There were often gruesome details of murder scenes, but very few personal details to bring either victims or criminals to life. We were occasionally told how a crime was resolved, but never given any interesting details about investigations or trials.

    Part of the reason the stories were so dry may have to do with a larger problem this book suffered from - there simply doesn't seem to have been much information available for the author to work with. True crimes involving gay men were not explicitly reported as such. This meant that the author's conclusions for each decade were based on only a handful of anecdotes he found through difficult digging. I did find his interpretation of the crimes as involving gay men plausible. But I often thought he needed statistics on the crimes to back up his broader claims.

    Despite the problems with this book, I can't disagree with the author that these stories are an important part of gay history. I think it's worthwhile to be aware of how bad things were for gay men in the fairly recent past. I also thought that the way the gay community rallied around the egregious injustices reported here was fascinating and informative. I'm not sure another author could have done much better with this subject. I do think the writing could have been more engaging, but a lot of the problems seemed a result of the scant historical record. I'd only recommend this if you have a strong interest in the topic though and will be keeping an eye out for a better book on the subject myself.

  • Corey Ledin-Bristol

    I am sorry to say it but this book was dull. You would think that such a topic would elicit some kind of emotions but the book us written in such a sterile, efficient style it comes across as someone just reading news articles.

  • Eli

    James Polchin’s “Indecent Advances” takes a microscopic look at a subject mired within an American sociopolitical dark age. With a surgeon’s precision, Polchin excises “ripped from the headlines” stories of violence against gay men between the 1920s and 1960s from the burgeoning crime obsessed culture. These true-stories are abhorrent; the author frequently uses terms like “skull smashed” to describe the acts done to men lurked in tearooms and hotels across the United States.

    It’s a fascinating s

    James Polchin’s “Indecent Advances” takes a microscopic look at a subject mired within an American sociopolitical dark age. With a surgeon’s precision, Polchin excises “ripped from the headlines” stories of violence against gay men between the 1920s and 1960s from the burgeoning crime obsessed culture. These true-stories are abhorrent; the author frequently uses terms like “skull smashed” to describe the acts done to men lurked in tearooms and hotels across the United States.

    It’s a fascinating subject—one whose implications ranged from the “gay panic” defense to the Kinsey experiments. Despite the lurid and relevant matter, Polchin approaches the stories with the panache of a Reuters article. In this way, “Indecent Advances” is a passive experience. The stories of these men are detached, unemotional and tepid. After a couple of chapters the book begins to feel like a microfiche, with similar stories running into one another, regardless of era or location.

    But it’s the lack of connection to the modern age which makes “Indecent Advances” such a misfire. At a time where violence against the LGBT community is higher than ever, Polchin’s dry and impersonal voice makes these issues seem like a problem of the past.

  • Vette

    I really tried to read this book, but it was so dull. The writing wasn't engaging and it just felt like he was listing cases that could've been attacks on or by gay men but you have to read between the lines of the language at that particular time period. The author lists cases were no perpetrator was ever found and then just moves onto another investigation. The ones he does try to give full detail about aren't that interesting to be honest. I was really hoping to find out more about the discri

    I really tried to read this book, but it was so dull. The writing wasn't engaging and it just felt like he was listing cases that could've been attacks on or by gay men but you have to read between the lines of the language at that particular time period. The author lists cases were no perpetrator was ever found and then just moves onto another investigation. The ones he does try to give full detail about aren't that interesting to be honest. I was really hoping to find out more about the discrimination gay men faced, the author does touch on this a little but not enough to keep my attention.

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