Willy (Translated by Lawrence R. Schehr). “The Third Sex”, University of Illinois Press, 2007.
When Paris was Tres Gay
“The Third Sex” by Willy and translated By Lawrence R, Schehr is an amazing curiosity of a book. Originally written in 1927 by someone who was quite famous back then is a look at the Paris that was. What is really curious about it is that we do not know who really wrote it. The translator says that even though the name of the author to whom the book is attributed—this Willy—which was the nom de plume of Henri Gauthier-Villars merely put his name on the book in much the same way he put his name on the novels of Colette Claudine. We now know that no one really knows who wrote this book. Whoever this Willy is, he is the person that managed to get the book published and Schehr gives us the first English translation of it.
The book looks at Paris before homosexuality became a category and in reading the book I believe that the book s not exactly sure what it is. It has a little bit of everything in it—pornography, literary criticism, a thesis on the social issues of the times and whatever else anyone can think of. It seems to me to be a book about homosexuality before we knew what the term actually meant. It is about something that no longer exists and in reading “The Third Sex” we get the feeling that we are watching that something disappear from the face of the earth. The people as well as the ideas in the book are dead and even though the title suggests it is about sex, it is about much more. The book has sex but it also has philosophy and it also contains terminology that we today are totally unfamiliar with. Some of the words such as “goniometry” and “concupiscence” are mystifying and without the “Oxford Dictionary of the English Language” I would be quite lost.
The book does seem to have an air of scientific authority but it is almost impossible to tell when science stops and Willy takes over
What is interesting is that the book contains names of places (like the Adonis Bar) and not only hours of operation but the best time to be there. However the places he names are long gone so we can’t check his facts. So what is the book good for? Simply it is a fascinating look at a time that was when we, as gay men, did not exist in the minds of many so we were not thought much about much less the subject of rude gossip or erotic speculation. I am sure that if the people that are mentioned in the book were to be alive today, they would be quite shocked at the way we live now and that the world not only knows what we are but that we are here.