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The Sexual Outlaw: A Documentary: A Non-Fiction Account, with Commentaries, of Three Days and Nights in the Sexual Underground

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This angry, elegant outcry against homosexual oppression is an explosive nonfiction account, with commentaries, of three days and nights in the sexual underground of Los Angeles in the seventies.


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This angry, elegant outcry against homosexual oppression is an explosive nonfiction account, with commentaries, of three days and nights in the sexual underground of Los Angeles in the seventies.

30 review for The Sexual Outlaw: A Documentary: A Non-Fiction Account, with Commentaries, of Three Days and Nights in the Sexual Underground

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Sensational and thrilling, The Sexual Outlaw tests the limits of the novel, alternating between documentary, autobiography, polemic, and press clips. In terse prose, John Rechy documents the daily life of a reticent hustler, a stand-in for the author himself, over the course of a weekend; rages against homophobia, classism, and racism; and attacks facets of gay culture that mimic or uphold oppression, from the trope of the fag hag to the cruelty of S/M. Lurid descriptions of sex and life on the Sensational and thrilling, The Sexual Outlaw tests the limits of the novel, alternating between documentary, autobiography, polemic, and press clips. In terse prose, John Rechy documents the daily life of a reticent hustler, a stand-in for the author himself, over the course of a weekend; rages against homophobia, classism, and racism; and attacks facets of gay culture that mimic or uphold oppression, from the trope of the fag hag to the cruelty of S/M. Lurid descriptions of sex and life on the streets sit beside fast-moving critiques of American culture. Across sections the author manages to center his work on his own experiences, blurring the line between life and art, and he argues for seeing promiscuity and vanity as virtuous. Published just before the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, it’s not difficult to see why the novel slipped into obscurity, but it seems an inventive capsule of the time and an invaluable, if dated, contribution to American gay literature.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Wally

    Half porn, half autobiography, half polemic - yes, it adds up to too much. But it's a fascinating journey. Rechy is to vanity what Mailer is to misogyny, at the same time the best exemplar and clearest sighted chronicler. Half porn, half autobiography, half polemic - yes, it adds up to too much. But it's a fascinating journey. Rechy is to vanity what Mailer is to misogyny, at the same time the best exemplar and clearest sighted chronicler.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ed Erwin

    A perfect read for Pride weekend. This book shows gay life in the 1970s and how repressed it was by society at large. The repression is not surprising, but some of the details are. If a man was caught inviting another man home for sex, or was caught kissing another man in public, they could be arrested, publicly named, and put on a sex-offender registry. In many cases he could lose his job and even be forced into therapy. Interestingly, when a male prostitute was caught charging money to let a m A perfect read for Pride weekend. This book shows gay life in the 1970s and how repressed it was by society at large. The repression is not surprising, but some of the details are. If a man was caught inviting another man home for sex, or was caught kissing another man in public, they could be arrested, publicly named, and put on a sex-offender registry. In many cases he could lose his job and even be forced into therapy. Interestingly, when a male prostitute was caught charging money to let a man have sex with him, the prostitute was usually let off with a mere fine, and not added to the sex-offender registry. The book is structured as a documentary, hence the subtitle, pretending to be following the character "Jim" as he goes out looking for, and having, many, many sexual encounters, mostly in public places at night over the course of one weekend. (These are very sexually explicit.) These chapters cut in-and-out with clippings from newspapers and thoughts from Rechy. These are often rants about how much he hates S and M, and about the hypocrisy of the police who at the time were embroiled in a sex scandal of their own involving underage girls, for which they were never seriously punished. Also included is a first hand account police raids, and of one of the earliest L.A. gay pride parades. (It was in 1976, and, yes, an elephant was involved.) As soon as the parade was over, police swooped in on anyone who tried to continue the party. Outdoor night-time orgies in the park have never appealed to me. But in the given context where mere flirting in a bar could get you in serious trouble, who knows what I would have done. This book is not read nearly as often as City of Night, but it should be. If I remember correctly, City of Night was almost wall-to-wall sex and had less documentation of other aspects of life, even though it did include a first-hand account of one of the first gay "riots", the 1959 Cooper Do-nuts Riot, which was long before Stonewall in 1969 or the Compton Cafeteria riots in 1966. The character "Jim", in both novels, is clearly based on Rechy himself. And he isn't always a sympathetic character. He doesn't shy away from documenting how he hurts others, such as through his rejection of anyone not sexy enough, nor how unfulfilling his sex hunts often are. Near the end, Rechy wonders whether the promiscuous gay life would continue if someday there were more openness and less oppression. Well, I wonder, too! I suppose I could try to find out. But here it is pride weekend, and even without a continuing COVID pandemic, I'd be sitting at home reading.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Adam Dunn

    Rechy seems to me to be unappreciated in our time, perhaps because of his frank use of sex. He has some good ideas in this book but I don’t know that they were all fully explored or that they necessarily stand up over time. The book is a valuable piece of history, one that I think will stand up for generations, showing the pursuit of sex and interaction with police over a period in the seventies. There’s always been the idea, are gay men so promiscuous because they’re men, because they’re gay, be Rechy seems to me to be unappreciated in our time, perhaps because of his frank use of sex. He has some good ideas in this book but I don’t know that they were all fully explored or that they necessarily stand up over time. The book is a valuable piece of history, one that I think will stand up for generations, showing the pursuit of sex and interaction with police over a period in the seventies. There’s always been the idea, are gay men so promiscuous because they’re men, because they’re gay, because they’re oppressed, why? This book attempts to answer some of those questions and I think it would be interesting to take these ideas and re-work them against modern concepts. For example I think with liberation a lot of anonymous cruising areas have disappeared. Or have they just moved to the internet? There are several incidents described which almost defy belief in our time: A youngman cruising: “The judge threatens to hold you incommunicado for three months—for ‘psychiatric examination,’ insisting that all homosexuals are insane.” “A man is cruising. Two men drive by and call him a ‘fucking queer.’ Through their window, you swing at one angrily. They turn out to be vice cops, and you’re charged with assaulting an officer.” The piece on the slave auction in particular stands out. The last twenty percent of the book delves into S & M, or what Rechy would I think call then the problem of S & M. With the recent release of the Fifty Shades of Grey trailer, you can’t call S & M exclusively for self-hating gays looking to act out the experiences of their tormentors. I will acknowledge that there is some of that, I think all oppressed people take on characteristics of their oppressors. But Rechy is not always reasoned in his arguments: “I heard, increasingly, intellectualized defenses of Manson, even of Hitler. From there the defense of S & M is easy.” Comparing things to Hitler is a guaranteed way to bring the conversation to a stop. On Fisting: “this activity has already resulted in death and permanent crippling.” Let’s check this with Google. I had never heard this idea before that people who want to be fisted are really looking for ways to die. Silly. Especially when Rechy himself uses this at the end of his book The Coming of the Night, published in 1999, so perhaps his attitude has evolved. I checked Google, I don’t see evidence of fisting making someone crippled, there are a very few cases documented of people dying, but it doesn’t seem to be any different from other large items that could be inserted. He is more reasoned in his depiction of a specific S & M scene: “In effect, the ‘S’ says, ‘You are the queer now, not me, and I’ll punish you for it, just as I was punished for it—and I’ll call you the names others would call me, and have called me.” But I don’t think you can generalize it like that. I think in our society there is still an element of punishment and self-abuse for wanting sex period, not just gay sex. Also I think there’s a larger element of self-hating gays that Rechy touches on with older gay men and transsexuals being excluded from the community that I think goes deeper to the root of the problem than the S & M theory does and could have been explored more. The main value of the book is the time being described. A time when you would call the police for help after being attacked and: “A cold voice accuses from the telephone: ‘What were you doing in a queer park at midnight?’”

  5. 5 out of 5

    Pete Dematteo

    very arresting book but it was so outdated that it seemed antiquated, at least as the AIDS plague and the united states is concerned. I disagree with rechy's argument that based upon being oppressed, gays have the right to embrace promiscuity. that's just like saying that since one is an African-American, they have the right to be alcoholic. the loneliness of deviance doesn't have to put one in life risking situations. Jim could possibly have benefitted from some controversial, cultish 12 step p very arresting book but it was so outdated that it seemed antiquated, at least as the AIDS plague and the united states is concerned. I disagree with rechy's argument that based upon being oppressed, gays have the right to embrace promiscuity. that's just like saying that since one is an African-American, they have the right to be alcoholic. the loneliness of deviance doesn't have to put one in life risking situations. Jim could possibly have benefitted from some controversial, cultish 12 step program such as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, even briefly, to get him through initial abstinence, but that's only what he wanted when and if he rarely felt rejected by a potential sex partner. Escapade after escapade to medicate Jim's emptiness became monotonous. Since he was so utterly disconnected from his true feelings of utter isolation and self-hatred via non-stop and constant sexaholic rampaging, it was impossible to get to know Jim. Ten years or so onwards, he would have been risking his life just as a chronic alcoholic or drug addict would have been with the onset of the AIDS crisis, which would have made this compulsion a far messier high, indeed. Opportunities to act out sexually would have been greatly reduced and therefore taking far more time and effort than they did in the 70's. His desire to abstain from such caustic behavior would have been greatly intensified, in all probability, not only because of AIDS but the newly forming 12 step groups, which may or may not have been of benefit to him, as he was, after all, a free thinker. An unsettling but thought-provoking book and the result of having to endure adolescents via clandestine behaviors, endless condemnations, and bullying.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ioana

    For me, it is immensely surprising how a recently acquired freedom becomes an entitlement. What was thirty or forty years ago a struggle, I take for granted today. The efforts of those who suffered, who were crushed, who lived distorted lives bend in quietly in the result. This book is a protest against oblivion, a reminder of what happened, streaked with personal experiences of what was then a revolutionary way of life. Let's note the sociological aspects: the manners in which society moved all For me, it is immensely surprising how a recently acquired freedom becomes an entitlement. What was thirty or forty years ago a struggle, I take for granted today. The efforts of those who suffered, who were crushed, who lived distorted lives bend in quietly in the result. This book is a protest against oblivion, a reminder of what happened, streaked with personal experiences of what was then a revolutionary way of life. Let's note the sociological aspects: the manners in which society moved all its resources to sanction a certain category of people. Dedicated cops, judges, psychiatrists, the media - all interested to censure a private behavior, to regulate sexual relations between consenting adults. I wonder what happened with all those vice cops after all these actions were stopped. The second aspect is the description of the under the above circumstances gay encounters. The sexualhunt, says the author, is the revolution. This is the manifesto against heteronormativity, adopted because of freedom and equality. And because no consented sexual behavior should be censored by society. There is no embellishment of the acts or of the setting. Communion happens in the dark and in the dirt. It is also - we are told at the end of the book - crippling, as it stifles intimacy. It is also a world where old and ugly people are sidelined. The third aspect is the author (or his point of view). Jim falls a little bit apart from the hustler's condition. He is looking for freedom and desire, not survival. He looks the demons of this world in their eyes and decides to defy them. He looks for desire, as gaze, as touch, as availability. He is devastated by the hint of rejection. His weapon is his self-love. This Narcissus uses as a mirror the eyes of beautiful others.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alan Smith

    Since this is my 69th review at "Goodreads" I wanted to pick something a bit, urm, sexy - and Rechy's "Sexual Outlaw" is one of my all time favorite books about sex. The book is a documentary about the homosexual scene in Los Angeles in the mid seventies. In fact, it is two narratives in one - the first is a series of vignettes, which together make up the book's main theme, the persecution of the gay lifestyle in the US at that time. Interspersed with this is a kind of third person diary which ta Since this is my 69th review at "Goodreads" I wanted to pick something a bit, urm, sexy - and Rechy's "Sexual Outlaw" is one of my all time favorite books about sex. The book is a documentary about the homosexual scene in Los Angeles in the mid seventies. In fact, it is two narratives in one - the first is a series of vignettes, which together make up the book's main theme, the persecution of the gay lifestyle in the US at that time. Interspersed with this is a kind of third person diary which takes us through the weekend of "John", a thinly disguised avatar of the author, as he spends his downtime hunting in the sexual arena, screwing as many partners as he can. As a heterosexual, my experience of anti-homosexual discrimination is, by definition, second-hand. Yet I really felt the unfairness and futility of the way gay people were (and are) persecuted. In short, it's a book which succeeded in what it set out to do - make its point to those who would not otherwise have had it brought home to them. Rechy is an exceptionally lucid writer, who packs a punch! I'd recommend this to anyone who is seeking an opinion as to whether or not it is right to revile someone because their lifestyle is different from yours.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sabrina Chap

    I honestly don't even know where to start. John Rechy is a fucking national treasure, and I'm upset I've only now just discovered him. An insanely talented writer, his cinematic fictions are here interspersed with deeply thought-provoking essays on the gay experience. Merging together fact and fiction, in Rechy's 'The Sexual Outlaw: A Documentary', he illustrates the desires for both acceptance and redemption that fuel queer lives. By switching between the fictionalized, porn adventures of his mai I honestly don't even know where to start. John Rechy is a fucking national treasure, and I'm upset I've only now just discovered him. An insanely talented writer, his cinematic fictions are here interspersed with deeply thought-provoking essays on the gay experience. Merging together fact and fiction, in Rechy's 'The Sexual Outlaw: A Documentary', he illustrates the desires for both acceptance and redemption that fuel queer lives. By switching between the fictionalized, porn adventures of his main character, Jim (a male hustler obsessed with sexual redemption and acknowledgment) and examples of homophobia entrenched in both our legal and media systems, Rechy blows the lid off gay, male stereotypes and penetrates their usefulness and recklessness in a damaged society. I've never read a book that fully encompasses the yin and yang of a human before. Twisting the delight of sexual liberation through the pain of degradation, this unflinching portrait of queer politics is a must-read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michael Flick

    Sad book—monotonous chronicle of days hustling interspersed with essays on sexual politics, identity, and the violence society directs against homosexuals. The author lives to be desired [286 “[He] doesn’t want them, merely wants them to want him.], but it never satisfies: “It doesn’t matter that so many have admired him, adored him—yesterday, last night, today, minutes earlier, no. Not even the glorious orgasm earlier matters, this moment. Each moment bears its total reality in his hunting exis Sad book—monotonous chronicle of days hustling interspersed with essays on sexual politics, identity, and the violence society directs against homosexuals. The author lives to be desired [286 “[He] doesn’t want them, merely wants them to want him.], but it never satisfies: “It doesn’t matter that so many have admired him, adored him—yesterday, last night, today, minutes earlier, no. Not even the glorious orgasm earlier matters, this moment. Each moment bears its total reality in his hunting existence—now. The past evaporates.” [page 138]

  10. 5 out of 5

    The Literary Chick

    A living, breathing documentary of cogent essays and media reported events interspersed with vivid scenes of the life of the « sexual outlaw ». While other documentaries such as the excellent And The Band Played On, offer a tight history of the story it relays, The Sexual Outlaw cuts to vivid almost cinematic scenes of the male homosexual sex hunt.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lorraine

    very clever and interesting. the dude can write.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Curtis Westman

    Enlightening.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Niles Hunter

    Mind boggling documentary of a hallucinatory point in history you could only get in print, not images.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Caty

    I lied. I never really finished reading this book, but left it at a client's house & rediscovered it when I went there for another call. I am so happy now to devour it completely! I lied. I never really finished reading this book, but left it at a client's house & rediscovered it when I went there for another call. I am so happy now to devour it completely!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jerome Baladad

    very good introductory read for those who'd like to know more about gay cruising (set during pre-AIDS days). very good introductory read for those who'd like to know more about gay cruising (set during pre-AIDS days).

  16. 4 out of 5

    S. K.

    My first gay themed book. This book thrilled me no end when I read it more than two decades ago. Both for its explicit descriptions and also for its frank depiction of homosexual life in America all those years ago.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Rosenthal

    The most important and well-conceived "history" book I have read yet. The most important and well-conceived "history" book I have read yet.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Clancy Signal describes this documentary novel as "honest and informative...not pleasant reading" and I would agree with him. The subject matter of homosexual culture and the injustices that the the LA police subjugated homosexuals to in the 1970s is interesting and shocking at the same time. The actions of the LA police during certain incidences, less than forty years ago, that are documented in this book are shocking, disgusting and eye opening. The novel also has an unusual style and format a Clancy Signal describes this documentary novel as "honest and informative...not pleasant reading" and I would agree with him. The subject matter of homosexual culture and the injustices that the the LA police subjugated homosexuals to in the 1970s is interesting and shocking at the same time. The actions of the LA police during certain incidences, less than forty years ago, that are documented in this book are shocking, disgusting and eye opening. The novel also has an unusual style and format as it switches regularly between the story of Jim during three days of his life on the 'sex hunt' to extracts from newspaper articles, speeches and regular voice overs from the author to create a well researched and argued text on the life, portrayal and treatment of homosexuals. Anecdotal evidence also brings the homosexual subculture and experience to life and paints a disturbing portrayal of America in the 1970s. What stops this from receiving a five star rating is the fact that I find the protagonist Jim to be extremely vain and obsessed with sex and his own body image. Whilst reading this book I lost count of the many people that he had sexual encounters with or was offered sex with or that he rejected. It seemed almost impossible to me but it also seems to match the underground homosexual subculture that John Rechy depicts in this novel. I think that this book is clearly an accurate depiction of the homosexual subculture that Rechy often refers to but it is uncomfortable reading at times - not because of the frank way that Jim goes about looking for sex or even the language that Rechy uses when describing these sexual encounters - but because of the vain, desperate and ultimately lonely existance that Jim seems to live. As a reader I couldn't help but feel sorry for him and ultimately feel sorry for John Rechy in turn, at his desperation to be simultaneously close to and far away from his sexual partners and the homosexual culture that he is part of. Ultimately, this novel was eye opening and shocking to me and the fact that these documented incidences of abuse from the police were only a short time ago is almost frightening but unfortunately my inability to find any sort of redeeming feature in the character of Jim made me struggle to finish this book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Samy Rose

    Another world I never knew existed. Street hustlers, young men with their own version of homosexual relations. Retaining self esteem in the face of persecution by police as well as their own well defined sexual preferences as to what they would do, who was "better" than who, who was more beautiful. John Rechy lived the life he portrays. He went on to college, to become a famous (notorious?) writer of a number of books on this type of life... living the roles he wrote about. He became an ivy leag Another world I never knew existed. Street hustlers, young men with their own version of homosexual relations. Retaining self esteem in the face of persecution by police as well as their own well defined sexual preferences as to what they would do, who was "better" than who, who was more beautiful. John Rechy lived the life he portrays. He went on to college, to become a famous (notorious?) writer of a number of books on this type of life... living the roles he wrote about. He became an ivy league professor...and his students knew his work was largely autobiographical. Some even spoke to him when he was on the street. This book was written in the 1970s. What an eye-opener it must have been. And what a battle cry for freedom from persecution by police. A summer issue of UTNE has a great article about sex workers and the rights and benefits they should have. Get it and read it. Sure to change sterotypes and expectations.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Haden

    Before I write my review let me state I am gay, lest you think my thoughts are based in homophobia. What a dreadful book, I did struggle through to finish it for a book group however it was indeed a struggle. Graphic sex aside there just was nothing to the book, I could not engage with a single character and such plot as there was just did not hold me.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    jon read this in college for a class and recommended it. it's easy to see how it was very revolutionary for its time (published in 1977), but i didn't really like it much. basically, it alternates between essay chapters about the state of gay life in LA (mostly about how the cops targeted gays at the expense of other crime) and chapters about "john," a thinly-disguised autobiographical character who is a promiscuous hustler. jon described those chapters as "cock, balls, protein shake, cock, ball jon read this in college for a class and recommended it. it's easy to see how it was very revolutionary for its time (published in 1977), but i didn't really like it much. basically, it alternates between essay chapters about the state of gay life in LA (mostly about how the cops targeted gays at the expense of other crime) and chapters about "john," a thinly-disguised autobiographical character who is a promiscuous hustler. jon described those chapters as "cock, balls, protein shake, cock, balls, protein shake," and that's pretty accurate. it got pretty boring. i also think it may have contributed to a grievous judgement error i made at work related to gay porn. (don't ask).

  22. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Fresquez

    John Rechy's documentary novel chronicles a 3-day "sex hunt" by Jim, a narcissistic hustler living in LA during the mid-1970s. Candid commentary about the persecution of the gay lifestyle in the U.S. is included as vignettes between Jim's story. The book details gay sex before the AIDS era and gives insight to the abusive treatment gays suffered by law enforcement. The novel is more than 30 years old but many themes continue to be relevant in our present time. John Rechy's documentary novel chronicles a 3-day "sex hunt" by Jim, a narcissistic hustler living in LA during the mid-1970s. Candid commentary about the persecution of the gay lifestyle in the U.S. is included as vignettes between Jim's story. The book details gay sex before the AIDS era and gives insight to the abusive treatment gays suffered by law enforcement. The novel is more than 30 years old but many themes continue to be relevant in our present time.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bill Gatlin

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mel

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tina

  27. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Brickman

  28. 5 out of 5

    Justin

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kentie1964

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tanea

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