The question then is, do the subcultures of homosexuality prior to the 1970s provide a basis for the hermeneutic description of lesbian and gay classification? This essay plans to focus on comparatively analysing homosexual subcultures beginning with the Harlem Jazz age in America and the Queer urban lives in the West End of London both at the end of World War I (1930s). Then will be focusing on the subcultures of the 1940s after World War II including butch and femme and queer culture.
This essay will attempt to discover how influential the subcultures were on the luminosity of gay identity and to understand how the suppression the subcultures underwent led to the evident gay liberation movement.
As the twentieth century began, a homosexual subculture began to profile within New Yorks Harlem. This was during the Harlem Renaissance period roughly between 1920-1935 - known as the ‘Jazz Age’. They were identified as an Afro-American subculture, where black lesbians and gays met each other on street corners or in cabarets and rent parties, creating their own language, social structure and complex network of institutions (Huggins 1991).
A fundamental historical factor that is relevant to understand the gay subculture in Harlem was the influx of Afro-Americans into the northern urban areas. This migration was caused by America’s involvement in World War One leading to an increase of northern industrial production ending immigration and allowed career opportunities to be opened up to the African community (Garber 1989).
Homosexuality was clearly a part of this world and created a new form of art throughout Harlem that attracted many artists, writers and entertainers. The social and sexual acceptance and attitudes were best represented through the genre of ‘blues’, which told tales of loneliness, love, luck and depicted an insight to the adversities of the New Negro Immigrant world.
Because of the low economy of Harlem, many residents struggled to pay rent. Occasionally, a “rent party” was thrown, charging admission to the public, in order to raise money for people who couldn’t afford their homes. This became a popular social outing for the gay and lesbian community as it provided safety and privacy.
“One of these rent parties a few weeks ago was the scene of a tragic crime in which one jealous woman cut the throat of another, because the two were rivals for the affections of a third woman. The whole situation was on a par with the recent Broadway play [about lesbianism, The Captive], imported from Paris, although the underworld tragedy took place in this locality. In the meantime, the combination of bad gin, jealous women, a carving knife, and a rent party is dangerous to the health of all concerned.” (The New York Age, 1926)
‘Buffet flats’ were an after-hour spot in someone’s apartment used for travelling Afro-Americans that had been refused service in white hotels. These ‘buffet flats’ frequently encouraged homosexual prosperity. This was seen as the place where illegal activities such as drinking, gambling and prostitution were readily available (Garber 1989).
However, disregarding the semi-tolerant attitude towards homosexuality the Afro-American community had shown, black lesbians and gay males still had to overcome many adversities. Racism across the Mason-Dixon line occurred, creating economic failure, unemployment and a segregation of communities. Police and the judicial systems continually threatened black homosexuals,