Nowadays, we tend to think that gays were hidden until the 1960’s when the sexual revolution happened. People were protesting for women’s rights and gay rights. In 1973 psychology even removed homosexuality from the DSM’s list of mental disorders. This may lead people to conclude that before the 1960’s, non-heterosexually oriented people were secretive and hiding, right? Wrong! In the 1920’s until the early 1930’s, there were huge balls and parties that were very open about different types of sexuality. A very well-known place is the Rockland Palace in Harlem created by a black fraternal organization.
Historically, blacks migrated up north into urban area such as Harlem because they were transitioning from the slavery era to working up North at factories. Most of the African Americans moved to Harlem. Nowhere else in the country could you find an area so large and concentrated by African Americans. Harlem became known as the “new negro capital.” There was a variety of African American people ranging from black schoolteachers to black millionaires, giving life to Harlem with their youth, music, and openness. Harlem became very huge in their art and music styles, in particular, jazz and blues. Blues music was used by African Americans to express their sexual feelings and their hardships they had previously faced starting from the civil war when slavery was still present. African Americans accepted homosexuality and thus created a culture in the 1920’s-1930’s in which people could have fun and sexually express themselves.
The Rockland Palace was famous for throwing balls in which men would dress up as women. It was known as the “faggot’s ball” or costume balls. The palace attracted many people such as high class white men and women, it was a very diverse crowd. Not everyone there was homosexual, though it was very evident that there were gays, lesbians, and transsexuals, it was accepted. Some people just came there to observe the balls.
The Rockland Palace is related to queer culture because it represents how queer culture isn’t this new phenomenon that didn’t exist or was hidden until the 1960’s. Most people believe that homosexually orientated people didn’t exist or came into the public eye during the sexual revolution. The Rockland Palace proves that it is not true and that there were places where people overtly gay or transsexual would go and be themselves. Another way the Rockland Palace is related to queer culture is because it was created by a black fraternal organization. This is important because nowadays, people tend to think that African American culture is more homophobic than white culture but in reality, when Africans were first brought to America they were very sexually open. They believed that homosexuality is just a natural part of life.
In class we discussed Chauncey’s work. He pointed out how there was a “whole gay world” before World War II but multiple people don’t know that and believe in these myths. The three myths were: myth of isolation, myth of invisibility, and myth of internalization. Harlem and the Rockland Palace is an example that debunked all of the myths that Chauncey believed people had. The myth of isolation is not true because at the Rockland Palace, people were openly gay there and everyone knew that it was a place to go if you wanted to immerse yourself in queer culture. This also disproves that queer culture was invisible because people went there knowing that it was a spot where other gays, lesbians, and transsexuals hung out at. Lastly, Harlem clearly did not internalize the dominant culture. They used the Rockland Palace to express their differences in art and sexuality through jazz and blue music and the costume balls.