Behind the Mask of the Mattachine: The Hal Call Chronicles and the Early Movement for Homosexual Emancipation”– sex. politics and desire

Sears, James. “Behind the Mask of the Mattachine: The Hal Call Chronicles and the Early Movement for Homosexual Emancipation”, The Haworth Press, 2007.

Sex, Politics and Desire

Amos Lassen

The Mattachine Society is what began the movement for gay rights long before Stonewall. James Sears takes us back to the beginnings of the modern homosexual movement and to those unfamiliar names that were the early heroes of our movement. This is the first history of the activists that organized gay people and Sears looks at one in particular, Hal Call who was the consummate early activist. “Behind the Mask of the Mattachine Society” is a vivid history and Sears manages to create a wonderful book about an organization that we should know about but don’t. Here is the genesis of the gay movement and it is examined richly and in great depth.

Using interviews, documents and analysis, Sears brings history to life, Hal Call was a “hard-nosed, self-sacrificing genius who energetically saved the movement” and with the study of Call the man, we have a history that has been hidden for all too long. At almost 600 pages in length, we get our history which reads like a living document. Sears looks at the debates with in our community all the way back in the nineteenth century and gives a penetrating look at those who made waves. We go up to the 60s and we watch Hall Call wrest power of the Mattachine Society from its founder Harry Hay and then save the movement from the probes of McCarthy.

The Mattachine Society was visionary both in its agenda and its self sacrifice. Hal Call was the first openly gay journalist in America and crusaded against government censorship of male sexual imagery. He was the leading conservative voice in the entire gay movement and his influence was great but largely unnoted. When he “stole” the leadership of the Society in 1953 he ruined the image that it had once had and it became a front for his own commercial enterprises. Yet the truth of the matter is a great deal more complex than this and this is what Sears finds. Even though he was contradictory, he was not only a political conservative but a sexual libertine and realized that sex was the single factor that brought all gay men together and it was sex that built a community.

The research that Sears did to write this work is monumental. He puts a whole new spin on everything, By doing so he lets us see those men that have been regarded as Communists—the founders of the Mattachine.

The book is interesting on every page and by reading it we learn what it was to be a gay man in the 1940s and 50s. The behind the scenes stories are fascinating and the new biography of Hal Cal fills in a lot of what we did not know.

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