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Response to Review no. 1026

I am most grateful to Justin for his thoughtful review of my book; it is an excellent summary of its content and potential implications – far better than its own author could provide! However, it is rare for historians to be given an opportunity to engage with such positive discussions of their work so I would like to take this chance to pursue a few issues.

Let’s start with what might be called hustler agency. Justin observes that ‘for the most part these men are observed rather than heard’. It was a point that I made myself when I observed that we meet the hustler through the interventions of others, and indeed end my book with the suggestion that its readers might become complicit in such vicarious contact (p. 271). I was interested not so much in hustler sex work but what hustlers and trade might tell us about the complex relationship between what is habitually referred to as homosexuality and heterosexuality. The reader will observe that many of my subjects (if I can so term them) met rather depressing ends at young ages so would not have been available to talk anyway. Some, as I quoted Gore Vidal, moved on to working-class anonymity: ‘When I was young there was a floating population of hetero males who wanted money or kicks or what have you and would sell their ass for a period of their lives. Later they would marry and end up as construction workers or firemen or in the police department’ (p. 103). There were one or two whom it would have been unethical to contact or reveal; one, for example, is an aged Hollywood actor. However, Professor Bengry might have mentioned the few cases where the hustler did speak. The fascinating Herbert Huncke forms something of a leitmotif in the book and gets the epilogue pretty much to himself. David Wojnarowicz makes some dramatic appearances. Then there is John Rechy, one of the more substantial entries in the index. At a less literary or artistic level, I quote the dictated life story of a Puerto Rican gangster (p. 89). While I agree that more could be made of the photographs, there were ethical issues involved here too, and one of the image providers placed reasonable restrictions on the precise linkage between image and text. I could have said more about some of the men photographed (indeed the information is scattered throughout the book for the careful reader), but I could not name or provide specific detail for some of those pictured.

While my reviewer somewhat glossed over the chapter on effeminacy, chapter five, it is actually an important one, not just because it is a neglected history, nor because homosexual male distancing from effeminacy is rarely discussed in homosexual histories, but because the effeminacy/homosexuality link is central to my argument about the social and cultural acceptability of certain heterosexual–homosexual interactions. Hence my examples of the Korean war veteran assuring the hustler Joe Dallesandro ‘We’re not queers’ as he rubbed his leg and promised to blow him, and the puzzlement of John Cheever’s son about his dying father’s sexuality: ‘I wanted to tell you … your father has had his cock sucked by quite a few disreputable characters’ (pp. 177–8). I sought to make sense of a world where homosexuality was so marked by effeminacy that men who had sex with other men were not necessarily homosexual.

Justin muses about the fate of the hustlers’ world after the late 1960s but does not mention that I have a whole chapter on this (the conclusion, chapter seven) that runs to nearly 30 pages. It discusses some of – indeed more than – the issues my reviewer raised in his reflections. It discusses Paul Morrissey’s 1982 hustling film Forty Deuce, the artist David Wojnarowicz’s published and unpublished hustling journals, John Rechy’s later work, Bruce La Bruce and Rick Castro’s Hustler White (1996), sociological studies of hustlers and HIV, Keith Haring and Madonna’s Puerto Rican trade obsessions, Larry Clark’s work, and Richard Taddei’s hustler photography. Just a few pages, I know, but I urge the reader to look at them. Perhaps another book on the post-1960s will follow.