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Contacts Desired

Gay and Lesbian Communications and Community, 1940s-1970s

Whether one thinks homosexuals are born or made, they generally are not born into gay families, nor are they socialized to be gay by their peers or schools. How then do people become aware of homosexuality and, in some cases, integrate into gay communities? The making of homosexual identity is the result of a communicative process that entails searching, listening, looking, reading, and finding. Contacts Desired proposes that this communicative process has a history, and it sets out to tell that story.

Martin Meeker here argues that over the course of the twentieth century, a series of important innovations occurred in the networks that linked individuals to a larger social knowledge of homosexuality. He points to three key innovations in particular: the emergence of the homophile movement in the 1950s; the mass media treatments of homosexuals in the late 1950s and early 1960s; and the popularization of do-it-yourself publishing from the late 1940s to the 1970s, which offered bar guides, handmade magazines, and other materials that gay men and lesbians could use to seek one another out. In the process, Meeker unearths a treasure trove of archival materials that reveals how homosexuals played a crucial role in transforming the very structure of communications and urban communities since the postwar era.
"Contacts Desired is a valuable and enduring work of scholarship, surely the best book in gay and lesbian history this year."--Gay and Lesbian Review


“In this highly original and well-crafted study, Martin Meeker moves beyond the genre of the local community history to show how much gay activists in the 1950s and ‘60s devoted themselves to creating new communications networks that would link people across community boundaries and resist the major media’s silencing or demonization of homosexuals. Meeker’s vivid account of the first gay guidebooks, newspapers, and publishing companies and of how early activists worked to change the mass media’s representation of gay life provides an innovative framework for analyzing the early gay movement and helps explain how San Francisco became the promised land to so many lesbians and gay men. This is a revelatory and utterly fascinating book.”--George Chauncey, author of Gay New York

George Chauncey | George Chauncey

"Readers of the Hobby Directory, a typewritten newsletter for ’men and boys’ published in the, 1940’s, occasionally placed ads seeking correspondence with like-minded ’Navy men’ who shared their interests in physical culture, ballet, and sunbathing. Such requests, which appeared under the innocuous heading ’Contacts Desired,’ help Martin Meeker rethink the contacts that gay and lesbian Americans desired between the late 1940’s and the early 1970’s. By placing ’the politics of communication’ at the center of his story, he offers an interpretation of postwar America more nuanced and textured than earlier accounts that focused solely on politics or sex. . . . In Contacts Desired, Martin Meeker draws on years of research in community archives and dozens of oral histories he conducted with activists, pulp authors, and bar patrons. . . . Contacts Desired is a valuable and enduring work of scholarship, surely the best book in gay and lesbian history this year."

Christopher Capozzola | Gay and Lesbian Review

"Using archival materials and nearly 50 interviews with surviving gay pioneers, Meeker is able to provide a richness of detail throughout the book to give readers a clear sense of the enormous obstacles, problems and resistance the early activists had to overcome."

Paul Vernell | Chicago Free Press

"Contacts Desired makes a notable contribution to the burgeoning field of gay and lesbian history."

Karen Christel Krahulik | Journal of American History

"Contacts Desired is crammed full of thoroughly researched history. It will be useful to students of organizational history or underground publishing, as well as queer studies."

Teresa Bergen | Oral History Review

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Source Note
Introduction - The Sexual Communication Network as an Agent of Change
Part 1 - Homosexuals Today—The 1950s
1. Establishing a Homosexual Headquarters
2. Organizing Lesbian Connections

Part 2 - The Homosexual Revolution in the 1960s
3. Building the Lesbian Grapevine
4. Publicizing the Gay Life
Part 3 - Do-It-Yourself into the 1970s
5. Assembling a Lavender Baedeker
6. Shaping an "Amazon Network"
Epilogue - The Study of Sexuality in the Internet Age


AHA Committee on Lesbian and Gay History: John Boswell Prize

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