Book Review – The Joy of Gay Sex

The Joy of Gay Sex

Dr. Charles Silverstein and Felice Picano

Paperback, 2003 (Third Edition)

 

We are back in the world of banned books, and because of that, I need to preface this review with the following – I am neither gay nor a man.  I was, however, on the board of directors (and a founder) of a GLBT outreach and have many gay friends and family members.  So I am going to review this one anyway.

The first edition of the book was written in the late 70s, back when being gay was taboo and existed in the seedy underworld of America, hidden in back alleys and big cities, where people hid gayness and had gay sex like it was a fetish.

According to the prologue, the author (Dr. Silverstein with the help of somebody else) had intended a book made up of encyclopedia entries, blowjob erotica and sketches of men in the middle of whatever.  By the time the censorship was over, they had a dry, textbook of a book.  The anectdote of a little old lady who confused The Joy of Gay Sex with The Joy of Cooking was especially funny.

This book has, supposedly, been expanded and updated since then.  My problem with it is that the book is still geared towards that seedy underside of 70s gay culture.  The book is full of references to bath houses and glory holes and everything else.  But to put this book in context, the reprint was in 2003, so it was coming while Massachussettes was debating being the first state to allow gay marriage (the vote passed in Nov.), twenty years after they had named AIDS.  So when I read entry after entry talking about this great big scary epidemic of omg AIDS and everything else, it really pissed me off.

It pissed me off for a lot of reasons much too political to get into in depth here.  But really, because for every gay dude who went to a rave and screwed around in the bathroom, there were at least as many men out there who just wanted to be out of the closet and in regular society without persecution for the people they love.

And that is where I think this book failed.  Because they did not upgrade the book for the culture and society of today, they updated the entries they already had. What I failed to see was entries that said that something was popular in the 70s but had gone out of use.  What I failed to see were entries that painted the homosexual male as anything other than a sex-crazed pervert out to get as much cock as they could possibly have as fast as they could with footnotes and paragraphs that said watch out because everyone has AIDS.

So the book, in my opinion, is a failure.  While it paints a glorious picture of the early 1980s when everyone was suddenly dying of a mysterious disease that nobody understood, the same worlds that we get Angels in America and Borrowed Time, what it totally, epically fails at is bringing the book into modern times.  Bringing it to issues that would actually affect the average gay man today.

Like I said, I know I am not a gay man, but I know enough of them to know that the seedy 70s world that this book implies is not the world that everyone is a part of today.  I mean, this book lists married men as a category (meaning men who are married to women), but totally fails to talk about gay marriage at all.

I appreciate the research that went into this book 30 years ago for the first edition.  But because the book failed to update for the society of today (and partially because the illustrations are sometimes a bit creepy – think strong gay men with heart tattoos in odd places), I think the book falls short of what is needed today.  I keep thinking about the prologue and the book that the author wanted to do, and I really miss that.  This book is an AIDS IS COMING OMG trainwreck and just as outdated as it is current.  So for that I give it a 2/5.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Steven M. Moore
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 13:24:40

    Hi Mandi,
    Amazing the changes that have occurred in the last thirty years, or even the last ten. In “The Clones and Mutants Series,” I introduced lesbian protagonist Kalidas Metropolis. This is a sci-fi series (soon to be a trilogy), not GLBT lit. Maybe that’s why readers have accepted Kali, but I’m more inclined to think that most reasonable people don’t react negatively to sexual orientation and same-sex marriages anymore. Unfortunately, my state NJ still plods along with civil unions, which, at least here, are not equivalent to same-sex marriages.
    ‘Nough for politics. My main point is that authors writing about the future have to also extrapolate social trends if they want their book to “seem real.” All my fiction deals with future events (near future = more thriller than sci-fi; far future = more sci-fi than thriller), so I’m obsessive about such things. I don’t know if I’m getting it right, but I’m certainly trying.
    BTW, I’m not a gay man, but I’m not for discrimination either. To paraphrase and extend MLT, I dream of a society that turns a blind eye to race, religious preferences, sexual orientation, and alternate lifestyle choices. We’ve come a long way; there’s a long way to go still. Maybe reissues of old books like this help us see the road we have traveled, but I don’t think they help in determining our future course that leads to that just society.
    r/Steve

    Reply

    • Mandi M. Lynch, author
      Sep 07, 2013 @ 16:03:47

      A reissue may help see the road that was traveled, but if you’re issuing a non-fiction book under the guise of it still being relevant and useful, then it needs to be. I have many gay friends, and looking at this book made me all-the-more aware that I never want this type of society for those people. But if somebody was coming out today and turned to this book, they’d have a very big chasm between what they expected and what society really was. And that is dangerous.

      Reply

    • Mandi M. Lynch, author
      Sep 07, 2013 @ 16:05:40

      Also, at least NJ allows civil unions. I’m from Ohio, which I call a super-hate site, since gays aren’t allowed marriage, civil-union, adoption, or a plethora of other things, which is weird since there are many many gay-friendly areas in the state.
      I had a conversation about this with an Aussie friend, and they allow civil unions for everyone (gay or straight) and view weddings as a more religious and less-legal thing. I wish we’d do that.

      Reply

      • Steven M. Moore
        Sep 07, 2013 @ 19:41:28

        I didn’t bother looking up the publisher of this book, but I’ll mention that many reissues of non-fiction books are so far out of date that they can only have historical interest at best. The reader should not only check the print date but also the number of editions. This comment especially applies to anything remotely scientific, technological, or medical.
        The problem with NJ is that the privileges and benefits that correspond to civil unions don’t match those that correspond to same-sex marriages in other states. Other than that, I fully agree with your comment a propos Australia (and probably many other countries more enlightened than ours). In the future I dream of, any kind of marriage is just a social contract that brings the same benefits and privileges that anyone else in said social contract enjoys. It should merely formalize the commitment of two people to live together. (In a recent book, I even mention a contract between three, but I realize we had better resolve the issue of two first.) Who these two people are shouldn’t be an issue, only their desire to make the commitment.
        As for Ohio, it’s sometimes weird in many ways. To go beyond this discussion, who can forget the nut who let all his wild animals loose? As a fiction writer, I’m often amazed at how often reality is stranger than fiction. I think Clancy said something like, “The problem with fiction is that it must seem real.” If I wrote a story containing some strange things that occur here in the tri-state area, for example, reviewers might criticize me for writing an improbable story!

      • Mandi M. Lynch, author
        Sep 07, 2013 @ 20:13:14

        I used to have a critique group. Every time I slipped in something true into a story, they’d tell me that part was not at all believeable. Once I had an argument with a woman who said that “no man ever” would know details of what a woman was wearing when he met her. I texted a friend who told me down to my jewelry what I was wearing the day he met me in person eight months prior. Just because it’s not in one person’s experience, doesn’t mean that it’s not plausible. In the aforementioned case of Australia, civil unions have the same rights as marriage. This is the problem we’re having in the USA. As long as civil unions are treated differently, of course everyone’s going to advocate for marriage.

        As for this book, The reissue came with a supposedly complete edit to make it relevant for the times. If they edited past articles, I’d hate to see where they started. It seems like all they did was add in a few things that wouldn’t have been articles way back when (mostly internet/computer stuff) and not touch anything that was written prior.

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