Sadownick (Sacred Lips of the Bronx, 1994) has combed the archives of modern gay history in search of specific accounts of sexual liaisons and examples of the shifting mindsets of successive generations of gay men. Beginning with ex-GIs' memoirs of WW II barracks assignations, he relates anecdotes of furtive, fearful cruising in YMCAs, parks, and public toilets during the postwar years, when perpetual threats of police entrapment and arrest kept nearly all gay men closeted. Having established quickly that gay sex in the '50s and '60s was a generally shadowy business, Sadownick fills in the pre-Stonewall period with alternately pointless and overfamiliar anecdotes about the early gay-rights activists, Allen Ginsberg's poetry, and contemporary psychological theories of sexuality. With the arrival of the modern era of gay liberation in 1969, the narrative picks up libidinous steam, quoting amply from journals, memoirs, and fictional accounts of anonymous sex in bathhouses and sex clubs. While these quotes demonstrate conclusively that gay men in the '70s were exceedingly promiscuous and staggeringly audacious in their pursuit of new sexual thrills, the point has hardly been in question. The era's excesses led to burnout among many men even before AIDS curtailed promiscuity, and for most of the '80s grief, confusion, and condoms quelled the exuberance of the sexual revolution. But the past several years have witnessed an unsettling tendency to defy AIDS through unsafe sex and drug use. When explaining such trends, Sadownick lets loose annoyingly facile bolts of analysis that cry out for clarification: "Oppressed or not, many homosexual men lusted after men who symbolized the `masculine archetype' as it filtered through their feelings for their fathers."
And since Sadownick generally considers only the most clichéd gay lives in New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, this sexual history is far from definitive.