The Gilded Closet

The Swank World of Gay Gents in New York

Perhaps, then, the one evil that the gilded closet could not protect against was shame. "Let's not lose sight of the fact that many people were full of self-hatred," says author Edmund White. "They went to psychiatrists, they tried to commit suicide, all that stuff." Yet their anxieties impelled these men toward a sense of playful mutual affection that seems quite innocent now. "Gay life, especially sexual life, was coquettish, playful, even romantic," says White. "I get the feeling that it was all slightly sentimental, in the sense that maybe one man would sit at a piano and sing a love ballad to another."

Despite this paradox of innocence and shame, the world these men made for themselves was truly, wildly gay—in a way that can only be envied in this more wary, self-serious age.

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