Ode to ‘Joy’: A Classic Crosses a Milestone

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MOST PEOPLE probably remember 1977 as the year of Star Wars, the Son of Sam slayings, and the death of Elvis, but for many gay men the year’s most notable event was the October publication of The Joy of Gay Sex, by Charles Silverstein and Edmund White. It was the first book from a mainstream publisher that dared to examine the “how” of homosexuality rather than the “why” approach of both psychologists and priests. The book’s explicit descriptions of gay sex practices, fully and beautifully illustrated, rendered it quite controversial: many bookstores in the U.S. kept it hidden under the counter, forcing customers to come out of the closet when asking for it by name.

Subtitled “An intimate guide for gay men to the pleasures of a gay lifestyle,” the book’s contents were forthrightly erotic, but for me the biggest turn-on was the blurb on the back cover proclaiming The Joy of Gay Sex to be “America’s best selling guide to gay lovemaking.” Yes, lovemaking! How often, even in gay circles, has sex between men been acknowledged with such a romantic and respectable word?

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