A critical look at true crime stories in the years leading up to the Stonewall uprising, in which the figure of the queer man was both criminal and victim, offering readers tales of vice and violence that aligned gender and sexual deviance with tragic, gruesome endings.
Polchin...presents a reflective, thoughtful first book that perfectly blends true crime and the history of discrimination against gay men in the 20th century ... Polchin expertly uses men's stories between World War I and the Stonewall Riots to prove that the fight for equal treatment is not over, and that the history of the LGBTQ+ movement is not always one of activism and celebration ... This insightful history of crimes perpetrated against gay men is essential for social history fans. Readers who enjoy well-researched, deliberate social commentary will appreciate Polchin's enlightening and descriptive style.
...a grisly, sobering, comprehensively researched new history. The subject matter doesn’t make for light reading; Polchin admits to feeling 'haunted' by what he discovered in archives. But it’s impossible to understand gay life in twentieth-century America without reckoning with the dark stories. Gay men were unable to shake free of them until they figured out how to tell the stories themselves, in a new way ... Polchin’s historicizing observations seem valid and accurate, as far as they go, but, if a nineteen-thirties murder was a little more likely to start with hitchhiking, and a nineteen-sixties murder with a pickup in a bar, the variations seem minor compared with the transhistorical—almost ahistorical—sameness of the underlying pattern, a threat that seems to have been a constant presence in gay lives for most of the century.
Although excerpts from sources as stylistically disparate as tabloids, texts, novels, and the Physicians’ Desk Reference curb the fluidity of the prose, they enrich the scope of the book’s analysis to an extent otherwise impossible. Tracing the journey of viciously persecuted people necessitates traveling treacherous, unmapped roads where the final picture is more of a mosaic in progress than a complete work of art ... James Polchin’s Indecent Advances inspires further exploration into the hidden histories of marginalized populations and how the violence they suffer might be the result of a system that excludes some people from its protections, exiling them to places where they are made more vulnerable.