Badpuppy Gay Today

Wednesday, 05 March, 1997


An Intimate History of the Sex Lives of Gay Men--Postwar to Present

by Patricia Conklin


The recently departed Michael Callen, famed AIDS activist, musician and long-time survivor, had many admirers who now miss his passionate public expressions of sex wisdom. Callen, however, left a startling legacy among his survivor-companions. This legacy, surfacing powerfully in a new book, Sex Between Men, proves that a continuity of ideas and values, if not of a physical immortality, does exist. Author Douglas Sadownick, Callen's close friend, has penned a volume resurrecting Callen's searching, vital spirit, allowing it to whisper wisely into the silences of our most intimate physical/emotional encounters.

Douglas Sadownick went regularly to the dying thinker's bedside, faithful to the end. He saw, not surprisingly, that a living mood can transcend death's blank darkness and he vowed to tell what he knew of Callen's contributions to humanity's understanding that sexual consciousness need not be staid and static, but is continuously open to an ever more powerful and satisfying awareness. Sex Between Men, therefore, is more than mere theorizing about male sexuality. It is a space shuttle, packed with investigative data. The author, with a gutsy taste for futurism, talks in the tone of a non-judgmental adventurer. From heavenly perches he sees the globe with a fond and earnest caring, sending Callen's message to other futurists who are eager to vanquish their erotic weariness. To Sadownick, there's more to our discovery of sex/affection than most ever imagine.

The message embodied in Sex Between Men says our approaches to sex are in a highly transformative or developmental stage. Changes had already been occurring rapidly, even before the onset of this era of AIDS. While there's no seeming design, no deliberate cosmic plan, there does exist an extraordinary body of evidence pointing to social alterations, mutations, and modifications leading humankind to new variations as colorful and exciting as its uncounted fantasies themselves. Sadownick knows we're being weaned away from old-fashioned sexual habits and that pressured behavioral demands melt while old rusty chains, keeping us shackled to a host of unimaginative repetitions, break.

The author's research, covering the last 50 years of gay male behavior, strikes out toward majestic heights. Using often vivid quotes from interviewee experiences, readers recognize those faint familiar tunes they themselves have often sung. Sadownick's interviews are cleverly arranged. At first they seem to leave readers in limbo, but the author rescues in the nick of time, finding men lonely at the baths; at a disco, breathing hard after dancing; or slumped over a bar at closing time. From these ordinary perches, Sadownick lifts them to new levels. The panorama widens and sexual interchanges assume a new significance. Each level aims to increase--in same-sex contacts--the maximization of human affection. On one level learn of a sexual awareness that increases not only personal pleasure but the happiness of recognizable outcasts, including the bald, the effeminate, the fat, the foolish and the boring, all types too seldom included as comrades who are worthy of attention.

Any gay man who dares to regard himself as knowledgeable about sex needs the spirited counsels that pop up regularly in this extraordinary book. Those unwilling to rethink sexual habitualism may turn away, but even so Sadownick proves an able opener for closed minds. To men who understand sexuality as adventuresome shoots into greater spaces, Sex Between Men opens its shuttle doors onto alluring futureworlds, places where satisfaction continuously develops and where perplexity and defeat are perpetually diminished.

No single book about sexuality will appeal to everybody. Taste, certainly, is a matter of taste. But Sadownick gives, in the Ian Young tradition of psycho-history, a psycho-social chronicle. There are several other major works examining masculine sex, including Homosexual Behavior Among Males by Wainwright Churchill and The Geography of Perversion by Rudi C. Bley. But when meeting today's sexual quandaries head on, one feels hard pressed to recommend a more provocative and challenging approach than Sadownick's prodigious, Sex Between Men.

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