From Publishers Weekly
Many people presume San Francisco's gay-friendly character began in the 1970s, but this engaging if sometimes facile social history uncovers sexually tolerant roots that go back much further. Boyd, a women's studies professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, shows that as far back as the Gold Rush of 1849, the city manifested a charmingly lax attitude toward enforcement of public morals-gaining a reputation as a "wide-open town"-and repeatedly resisted civic moralists who tried to enforce antivice laws. By the 1930s and the fall of Prohibition, the city hosted "publicly visible queer cultures and communities" with tourist-friendly nightclubs and bars. While Boyd relies on standard historical texts and sources such as police records for basic city history, the book is deeply informed and enlivened by 42 oral histories she gathered with lesbians and gay men who have lived in San Francisco since the 1930s. Five are partially reprinted here, and this terrific material allows Boyd to explore topics that have traditionally been ignored by gay historians: how drag shows helped stimulate the tourist economy of the city; how its African-American community engendered changes in the structures of the gay community; how a distinct lesbian public space evolved with the advent of such bars as Mona's in the 1930s and '40s; and how the city put itself at the forefront of transgender activism in the 1950s and '60s. Boyd has a keen ear for distinctive details, and it is this (rather than her major contention, that "the politics of everyday life were every bit as important as the politics of organized social movement activism") that drives this welcome study.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"[An] insightful and thought-provoking study of the social, economic, cultural, sexual, gender and geographic factors that created San Francisco as the gay capital of the U.S."--Kevin McAteer, "Out In the Mountains""For anyone interested in as-yet-untold queer history, this is a must-read."--"New York Blade News""In its vivid re-creation of bar and drag life, its absorbing portraits of central figures in the communities, and its provocative chronicling of this period in the country's most transgressive city, Wide Open Town offers a fascinating and lively new chapter in American queer history."--"Pink Pages""A dynamic, immanently readable study of the making of queer public culture in San Francisco."--Benjamin Shepard, "Left Turn"""Wide-Open Town" is a well-researched and well-written history of an essential topic that manages to be scholarly without being dull. To those who came of age after Stonewall, this book is a vivid look at a bygone era, and of the women and men who made gay San Francisco what it is today."--Jesse Monteagudo, "Gay Today""Boyd zones in on the city's status as a destination for 'sex and race tourism' and its concomitant reputation where, sexually speaking, anything goes."--"Bookforum""Shows that as far back as the Gold Rush of 1849, [San Francisco] manifested a charmingly lax attitude toward enforcement of public morals -- gaining a reputation as a "wide-open town..." Boyd has a keen ear for distinctive details, and it is this... that drives his welcome study."--"Publishers Weekly""Boyd provides deeply detailed context by relating the broader American social and historical forces at work, as well as the personal perspective of oral histories. ... [A]s San Franciscois virtually gay Mecca, Wide-Open Town is recommended for large public libraries as well."--"Library Journal""The book is deeply informed and enlivened by 42 oral histories she [Boyd] gathered with lesbians and gay men who have lived in San Francisco since the 1930s . . . and this terrific material allows Boyd to explore topics that have traditionally been ignored by gay historians. . . . Boyd has a keen ear for distinctive details, and it is this . . . that drives this welcome study."--"Publishers Weekly""A vital book, a fact-packed chronicle of the people and the places that kept San Francisco 'open.' It not only demonstrates the richness of the city's early gay culture but also seeks to validate the influence of the (not so) underground bar culture on generations of queer San Franciscans and on the city they call home."--"San Francisco Chronicle