978-0-415-15898-5 / 0415158982

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About the book:

Roger Stigliano's 1988 film Fun Down There follows naive Buddy Fields as he departs from his tiny home in the Finger Lakes, where he can't even enjoy a moment to himself (ahem) without his parents' and sister's interference, and heads for the big city. Long before Buddy reaches the East Village and embarks on some rather quotidian adventures, the camera lingers for quite some time on his diminishing figure as he walks down a dusty country road schlepping his bag. The audience titters, probably from defensive identification: It can be a protracted, difficult, even tedious journey away from family and familiarity to the crowded strangeness of the metropolitan environment, yet many gay men have made it--with varying degrees of success and satisfaction.

Editor David Higgs's anthology Queer Sites: Gay Urban Histories Since 1600, derived from the 1993 Toronto conference of the same name, documents that collective journey--both physical and metaphorical--as gay men have taken it to such diverse locales as Paris, Moscow, Amsterdam, London, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, and, of course, San Francisco (New York doesn't get its own chapter). Higgs, a professor of history at the University of Toronto, establishes in his introduction the book's parameters (such as "Terminology" and "Identity"), but don't let these dry categories dissuade you from dipping into the book's fascinating essays. In fact, just like any good city, the bulk of the book provides a sort of historical playground that the seriousness of the editor's purpose can barely contain. We learn from Michael D. Sibalis, for example, that in addition to instituting a number of influential sociopolitical reforms, Napoleonic France decriminalized the act of sodomy--so long as it wasn't committed in, say, a vespasienne, or public urinal. Randolph Trumbach provides the best pseudonyms for those effeminate boys speaking palare around Piccadilly. And Higgs himself details the horrors of the Portuguese Inquisition; many men escaped persecution, however, by pleading in terms of the age-old Mediterranean active-passive dichotomy of roles. Though some of the chapters read a little too much like city guides, the book as a whole provides a vigorous scholarly account of some of our trips down the Yellow Brick Road. --Robert Burns Neveldine

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