The Other Side of Silence--Men’s Lives and Gay Identities: 
A Twentieth-Century History
By John Loughery
The Other Side of Silence--Men’s Lives and Gay Identities: A Twentieth-Century History by John Loughery, Henry Holt & Company, Inc., 1998, 507 pages, $35
 Book Review by Jack Nichols
Only under the most favorable circumstances is a masterful writer drawn to explore mountains of research material surrounding an entire century’s history. That a talent such as Pulitzer Prize finalist John Loughery’s has been so employed on behalf of 20th Century gay male history is therefore cause for much rejoicing. 

A long-time art critic for the Hudson Review, Loughery has spent the last half-decade—often traveling afar—pasting together fresh interviews and original manuscripts, utilizing his own extraordinary powers of observation. The result is an energized, exciting work that will remain in the forefronts of scholarship as long as historic records do. The Other Side of Silence delves into the heart of almost every aspect of gay male experiences in our times. And, as other historians have noted, Loughery’s accomplishment is eminently readable.

Professor Martin Duberman calls this book “a splendid achievement, a beautifully argued and written, comprehensive, subtle and evenhanded book.  It is all at once deeply informed and entirely accessible—a rare combination in the world of historical writing that usually divides between opaque scholarship and oversimplified popularization. Loughery is the happy exception who combines impressive research with lucid prose.”

Historian James T. Sears calls The Other Side of Silence “a must read,” that’s “broad in scope, rich in description, provocative in insight.” Sears celebrates Loughery’s brilliant prose as illuminating “in a very human manner.”

Yes, John Loughery is the sophisticate’s dream historian. His ability to turn understatements into explosive insights is unrivaled. With only a few well-chosen words he can ably capture the whole of a  philosophic perspective. The adjectives he chooses to describe still-living personalities arrive home with pure gusto. 

In his painstaking search for historic facts Loughery has scaled the highest mist-covered peaks without fearing a fall. The result is so sturdy and assured, so certain in its intuitive awareness, that it sings—atop the roof of the world-- with a kind of wondrous power that only a muse could bring to such a task.

This reviewer began earnestly studying The Other Side of Silence on a cross-country trip to Los Angeles to meet or reunite with many of the legendary personalities described by Loughery. These founders of the movement, who were to gather May 22 at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, were on hand to celebrate the life of the late journalist/archivist Jim Kepner as well as the past 50 Years of the gay and lesbian rights movement. 

Loughery’s magnificent book leaps along that mythic edge whereon these same visionaries have danced with lively purpose. The 20th Century itself, in fact, gets an enviable second life in his pages.

Behind once-seemingly frail acts of courage these visionaries have performed Loughery discovers core motives. Describing the “towering figure” of Frank Kameny, for example, Loughery finds a reservoir of “bottomless indignation”. Kameny’s personal approach to social injustice is thus captured more effectively in two words than could be accomplished in lengthy paragraphs. 

Randolfe Wicker admits also that what Loughery has said of him is fully on target.  He laughed heartily at the author’s humorous catch-all phrases about him. “These lines should appear on your tombstone,” I told Wicker, reading aloud two quotes describing his early 1960s exploits when he’d become, perhaps, the first openly gay man to appear on radio and TV.

Wicker’s “taste for the limelight was not easily satisfied,” notes the shrewd historian.  Another line says that after Wicker had moved to Manhattan in 1961—at the age of 23—“he was viewed by conservative gay men in New York as something of a crackpot with an ungovernable need to talk to reporters.”  Bingo!

GayToday’s  esteemed reviewer, Jesse Monteagudo, wrote in the June issue of Lambda Book Report that The Other Side of Silence follows upon an already distinguished collection of histories that compose “a large and fascinating body of work.”  “It was only a matter of time,” observes Monteagudo, “before a historian would take that body of work and do for gay men what Lillian Faderman did for lesbians in her award-winning history Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers.”  John Loughery, proclaims Monteagudo, “is that historian…(and) The Other Side of Silence is that history.”

Loughery  begins his century-long accounts providing information about little-known sex scandals in Newport, Rhode Island where the lusty behaviors of both clergy and sailors required the immediate intervention of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, later to be President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

“Much of what is interesting and refreshing,” about The Other Side of Silence, says Monteagudo, “comes from primary sources, namely the personal stories of dozens of men who Loughery himself interviewed.”

After the successes of Loughery’s previous works such as John Sloan: Painter and Rebel (which got an unblemished New York Times review, the author then becoming a Pulitzer biographical finalist) it seemed certain that his long-in-the-making work of history would evoke similar enthusiasms.

Loughery recalls that in earlier parts of the century and even still today-- “some men and women, we know, took their secret and their shame to their graves. Others acted on it (and still do) in self-destructive ways. A large number found their way to happiness and fulfillment. But still others chose to move beyond silence, to see what could be done, what humane capital could be made, out of that childhood or adolescent sense of otherness.”

“We have yet to reap,” he says, “the full benefit of their daring, doubts, instructive failures and hard-fought triumphs.”

If there was ever a book that can be called an emerald-studded mirror, flashing images of such darings, doubts, failures and triumphs, it is The Other Side of Silence.