Edmund White writes of the Crisco-Slathered Gay 70’s in City Boy


City Boy,
Edmund White's new memoir of life in New York around the time of Stonewall gets a review in the NYT.

Writes White: "I was a living contradiction. I was still a
self-hating gay man going to a straight psychotherapist with the
intention of getting cured and getting married. There was no
‘gay pride’ back then — there was only gay fear and gay isolation and
gay distrust and gay self-hatred."

From Dwight Garner's review:

Orgies; leather bars; tabs of LSD; sex on the balconies of gay dance
halls, in the abandoned piers along the Hudson River and in the dunes
on Fire Island;
group sex with American Indians and Norwegian flight attendants from
Minnesota — it’s all here in exacting and eye-popping detail. He
captures the “odor of brew, harness, sweat and Crisco” that began to
fill gay men’s nostrils in the mid-’70s.

Mr. White was a kind
of sexual werewolf. As midnight approached, he says, “my hands began to
sprout hair, and my teeth to sharpen.” He sleeps with so many
well-known writers and artists that this crackling if lightweight
memoir can read less like a prelude to “And the Band Played On,” Randy
Shilts’s stately book about the early days of AIDS, than an all-boy
update of “I’m With the Band,” Pamela Des Barres‘s trippy and
picaresque rock groupie memoir.

He describes a quickie with the travel writer Bruce Chatwin here; a three-way with the poet John Ashbery
there. The notches Mr. White claims on his bedpost are vast and
crisscrossing, and he likes to run his fingers along them in wistful
horndog memory.

Sounds like a page-turner.

Also of note: Marriage equality supporter and devoted fan John Irving supplies the book's cover blurb: "A wise and humane treatise on the delicate differences between love and friendship."

City Boy [amazon]


  1. says

    Actually its FILMS that need to be made that take place in the 70’s.

    I mean what do we have.

    Milk, Tales of the City, Boys in the Band, Cruising, and Falcon VideoPacks 1 -17

    Not a GREAT visual documentation in my eyes. (Well except for Falcon. LOL)

  2. Derrick from Philly says

    “I was still a self-hating gay man going to a straight psychotherapist…”

    That term “self-hating” is thrown around so often by gay men (other minorities also). Sometimes I think whatever real meaning the term had before is now gone. Now, when some other gay guy tells you that you are “self-hating” it usually translates, “I don’t like you.”

    Ironically, when more “normal-acting” gay men began to dominate the gay world in the late 70s, they told us feminine guys (& transfolk) that we were “self-loathing” because we embraced & celebrated our womanly ways. Yet, I can’t remember any SELF-ADMITTED fem who had to run to psychotherapists. We knew what we were by the age of 3 or 4. We couldn’t get into a damn closet even if we spent all of pre-puberty and adolescence in masculinity finishing school.

    If we queens had mental difficulties it was ALWAYS because of the gay-bashing we received from straight folks and later, the fem-bashing we received from gay men (those who were traditionally masculine, or atleast tried to see themselves as such).

    And the “SELF-ADMITTED” part of being fem is very important. THat’s the part that actually prevents the “self-hatred”. Who’s going to start hating themselves at age 4 because you accept being a sissy. The defiance is there at age 3 or 4. But again, the self-admission is the key– there’s nothing sadder than a queen who doesn’t have a clue that he has feminine ways. Oh, Lord, it’s excruciating when he says,”Why, no, I’m not macho, but I’m just like any other guy.” Oh, my, po’ thaing.

    Another thaing: Mr White, and others like Samuel Delany (one of the nicest gay folks I’ve ever met), describe a sort of solitary cruising for those gay men who were indistinguishable from straight guys back in the 70s and before. Feminine males rarely hung out alone. We always traveled in groups or packs (like vixens). For us, “GAY” was more social than it was SEXUAL–well, that’s when we very young before we discovered the joy of whoring.

    Because we were “gay social” fems began the modern concept of “gay”; you “normal acting” gay guys took over and have dominated “gay” since the 1980s. That’s nice, but where did all the fun go?

    “Well, Mister or Miss Derrick Smarty Tight Pants, why do old queens consume so much alcohol if they’re not self-loathing?”

    Because it’s the only way we can cope with loathing you, honey.

    Also, there’s the issue of unexpected mirrors–but that happens for everybody who aint blind or crazy.

  3. Brian in Texas says

    Check out “Gay Sex in the 70s” for a great documentary about living as a gay man in 70s New York. It’s available through Blockbuster.

    People actually used Crisco for lube?? Yuck

  4. Chitown Kev says

    @Derrick From Philly

    Oh, I loathe the use of that term “self-hating” as if there’s only one acceptable way to be and to think gay (or black for that matter). Though the term does have its’ uses.

    But, GIRLFRIEND, I must challenge you on this:

    “For us, “GAY” was more social than it was SEXUAL–well, that’s when we very young before we discovered the joy of whoring.”

    No, honey, I am willing to bet that you and your crew knew full well the joys of whoring. I know good goddamn well that when that magical looking piece of trade came along y’all said, in the words of the Queen of Soul, “girl I gotta go.” Come up in here and play Miss Polly Purebread, will you? (lol)

  5. Jeff In Boston says

    Crisco is awful. Once you get that smell in your orange and brown shag carpet — not that I would know, mind you — you can never get that shit out and your apartment always smells like a cheap Italian bakery.

  6. Jeff In Boston says


    This is the only time you’re actually self-aware enough to know you self-hate. Believe me, a comment like that proves you do it almost all the time without knowing it. Acceptance the first step toward a cure! Kisses!

  7. Derrick from Philly says


    You’re right about the whoring, but it didn’t really go full force until our late teens. Remember, this was still during the years when at age 17 you had to be home at a certain time. What I was trying to say is that gay people who were gender role non-conforming didn’t seem to have the inner turmoil that men like Edmond White seem to have.

    Now, that I think about it there were always exceptions: I mentioned Samuel Delany. Even though he was technically bisexual and not openly gay, he didn’t have all that inner turmoil concerning his sexuality. So, there always exceptions (Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, Isherwood, Williams–their demons if any were not caused by their sexuality). So, yes, there were gay men who could “pass” who weren’t going to psychotherapist.

    I guess, as usual, I was just making a case for those of us who are often scorned as “stereotypes”. I think we “stereotypes” who ACCEPTED ourselves (back in the 70s) may have had “attitudes” but it was NEVER becaue we hated being gay. It was a queen’s version of self-defense.

    Now, the queens who were mean to me in highschool actually thought they were successfully “passing” (in the closet). They didn’t accept their feminine ways–thought they were just “stylish” young men. BUllShit! They were highschool queens just like me–an all boys highschool at that (no action though–not at Central. At Edison High and Ben Franklin? Oh, yes). I often wondered what those bitches thought made me notice them in the first place– thought we could be “girlfriends”. It wasn’t gaydar, it was femdar…dammit! Silly middle-class bitches (Their parents were professionals–had a little money. I was from North Philly, you know, like Cinderella or Ella Cinders).

    Damn, maybe I am a little bitter. That was 34 years ago. Dayum.

  8. Brian in Texas says

    I wasn’t joking about the “Gay Sex in the 70s” documentary dvd being available at blockbuster. It’s really well done and interesting. It ran on the Sundance Channel a while back too.


    As far as Crisco goes, ya i know people used it, but dang, there wasn’t lube sold at the local drug store that was marketed to str8 people that the gays then could have used?

    I wouldn’t use Crisco to cook with much less to use for sex.

    I’m 27 btw.

  9. John D says


    As I stretch my memories back to the early 80s (since I, old fart that I am, came out about the time that you were born), there weren’t a lot of lube choices way back then.

    I was in the crowd that was making nervous jokes about never thinking we were going to buy condoms (the druggist would think we were straight) and the lube choice was KY. And it was sometimes tough to find.

    Over the years, lube choices have expanded. I did a double take when my local drugstore started carrying Astroglide.

    A straight friend explained to me that what I considered the useless amount of lubrication on a lubricated condom was perfectly sufficient for heterosexual sex. People engaging in vaginal sex just don’t have the same lubrication needs.

    And while I’ve never tried Crisco, it has to beat Vasoline.

  10. rich says

    No matter the post, the comments on this blog always push me to lose hope for our future.

    So much in fighting, so many people with nothing but snarkiness in them. So few of you who show a human side.

    Frankly if I wasn’t one, I probably wouldn’t like homo’s for all the petty bitching and bickering we display.

    Please, bring back Mister Nice Gay, he may have been oppressed, but at least he was worth sticking up for.

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