Tuesday, November 5, 2019

John Ibson's "Men without Maps"

John Ibson is emeritus professor of American Studies at California State University, Fullerton.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Men without Maps: Some Gay Males of the Generation before Stonewall, and reported the following:
The 99th page of my book describes two of the large photo albums put together by Ambrose Edens, a Texas Christian University Professor of Religion, definitely one of the most interesting of the “males of the generation before Stonewall” upon whom Men without Maps concentrates. Edens didn’t leave behind the sort of written evidence—memoirs and correspondence, for instance—that many of my work’s other subjects did, so I had only his several photo albums and some highly revealing interviews I conducted with some friends and colleagues of his as the primary material on which to base my investigation of his interesting life. Page 99 deals entirely with two of these albums, describes the photos in them, and speculates about the significance that the snapshots in the albums may have had for Edens. Since those albums are but one piece of evidence about him, since my discussion of the albums occurs early in my treatment of Edens, and since he is only one of the several men discussed in my book, I don’t think page 99 is necessarily the most representative single page one might select to get a sense of what my book is about. It does, however, provide a browser with a good example of my writing, to help that browser decide whether I tell a good enough story to make an entire book of my story-telling appealing.

As the title of my book suggests, I think that American men of the mid-twentieth century who were drawn to other men may aptly be described as mapless, as persons whose society gave them precious little guidance, except by way of scorn, for how to live their lives, how to be in the world, insofar as their queer sexual yearnings were involved. Acting on their yearnings was still a crime, of course, and their country’s popular culture provided no affirmative models whose sexuality might seem similar to their own. By contrast, of course, many sorts of “maps” for heterosexuals were all over the place in midcentury America, free for the asking, their acceptance indeed often insisted upon.

Men who achieved a fame of some sort appear in my book, but most of the men about whom I’ve written are more ordinary than that, with the records of their lives preserved in certain archives, such as the Human Sexuality Collection at Cornell. Unlike most of the other men studied so far by my historian colleagues, the men in my book were not prominent leaders of the midcentury period’s burgeoning homosexual-rights organizations. Getting to know these “men without maps” has much to tell us about midcentury American sexuality, of course, its opportunities and definitions, its challenges and its rewards. A recurring theme in my book is that studying these mapless men informs us not only about meanings of queerness during the period, but also about the constrictions on expressions of same-sex affection that any American man of the midcentury period was likely to encounter.
Learn more about Men without Maps at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue